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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Medieval History of Norway – The Viking Age (793-1066) Pt. 1

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Due to the natural and climatic features, community land tenure was poorly developed in Norway; separate yards were the private property of the owner, who either used it himself or leased it. The land was usually inherited by the eldest son; the younger ones received their share of movable property, and often went to seek happiness in a foreign land. In the eighth century, the raids of Scandinavians on Europe acquired unprecedented proportions. The participants of these raids were called the Vikings. Formally, the attack on the monastery of St. Cuthbert on the island of Lindisfarne in 793 is considered to be the starting point of the Viking Age. However, it is obvious that the Scandinavians have committed predatory raids before.

Medieval chroniclers suggested that the Vikings went into predatory campaigns because of overpopulation or poverty. However, modern research refutes this view. One of the main motives of the Viking campaigns, writes E. Rösdal, was the quest for fame and wealth, as evidenced by skaldic songs and runic stones. The Vikings also searched for new trading bases and places for settlements. In addition, at this time, fundamental changes were taking place in Norwegian society. Frequently the horse kings themselves often went on expeditions. Among them, the most famous are Eric Bloodaxe and Harald Hardrada.

There are two periods of the Viking expeditions: in the first, the Norwegians swim across the sea in small detachments, attack only the shores and islands and go home for the winter; in the second, they are assembled by large troops, go inland, remain for the winter in a country that is being robbed, build fortifications there and, eventually, settle in them. In some of the lands visited by the Vikings, this period begins earlier, in others – later: in Ireland and at the mouth of the Loire – in 835, in England and along the lower reaches of the Seine – in 851. The Vikings visited almost all parts of Europe: sailed around the Iberian Peninsula, plundered the Baltic states, landed in the Apennines, traveled around Kievan Rus and even served in the Varangian guard of the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople.

In the Viking Age, at the end of the 9th century, the south-western lands of Norway were unified for the first time. This credit belongs to Harald the Fairhaired. He won a decisive victory over the combined army of Yarlov in the battle of the Hafrsfjord. The traditional date of this battle is 872. Harald also managed to subdue the Orkney and Shetland Islands.

Eric Bloodaxe

Harald the Fairhaired is considered the first king of the country. His descendants ruled the country until 1319. However, the Icelandic tradition calls his rule tyranny. Snorri Sturluson, who wrote his sagas three hundred years later, even claims that the king had taken the land away from the bonds and only returned them as a flax (the so-called “take away the donal”). However, historians believe that in this case we are talking only about the introduction of a tax on land property, and Harald did not interfere in the form of land relations.

Harald left behind many sons, two of whom became kings of Norway. When he was still alive, he appointed his son Eirik, nicknamed the Bloody Axe, as his co-ruler. After the death of Harald, Eirik had to fight with his brothers for supremacy in Norway. First, he defeated two brothers who fell in battle. However, soon another one appeared in the country, the youngest son of Harald, born of a concubine. He was brought up by the English king Etelstan. Hakon promised the bonds to restore their ancient rights and quickly received their support. As a result, Eirik was forced to leave Norway and go to England, where he found his death.


Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary
Danielsen R., Durvik S., Grönli T., Helle K., Hovland E. History of Norway. From the Vikings to our days

History from the Vikings to Our Own Times
Khlevov A.A. The forerunners of the Vikings
Kuznetsov A.Ye. History of Norway
Keizer, Jacob Rudolph . Norges Historie

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