Ethnogenesis of the Northmen


Ethnogenesis, from the Greek words ethno: meaning group of people, and Genesis: meaning coming into being.  This word portrays the beginning of people’s, and the people under discussion is that of the Northman, or Norse.

Between the 9th and 10th centuries, after the raids of the Muslims and Magyars, an influential group of Scandanavian warriors sailed their Drakkars south in the summer where they indulged in looting and pillaging along the coasts and river valleys of Western Europe.  The Viking ships, called Drakkars because of the artistic design of a dragon head carved into the front of the boat, were the main modes of transportation and carried between 50 and 100 men.  They were powered by a single sail with oars and were devastating because of their speed and ability to sail up the shallow rivers of Europe for surprise engagements.

These newest invaders sought loot, tribute, and heroic reputation, and to get these they ravaged lands, looted churches and monasteries, took slaves for work and ransom, defeated many who opposed, and then put insurmountable fear into the towns that lay in their path.  The Scandanavian expansion included Norwegians moving into Ireland and the coasts of Western Britain; Swedes moving into the Eastern Baltic and all along Northwestern Russia; and the Danes, who attacked Eastern England, Frisia, the Rhineland, and infiltrated Western France itself.  It was by the early 9th century that raiding parties grew larger and turned into settling parties, which turned into expeditionary armies seeking to take land and settle it.  This is due to the Vikings Dakkar, hastily-built defenses, military preparations, and an afterlife that glorified death on the battlefield that enabled them to raid successfully and become a terror for those living in undefended towns and villages along waterways.

By the late 9th century Vikings sailed the North Atlantic and settled Iceland.  By the late 10th century, the age of Viking Expansion came to an end with the extension of royal authority and the Christianizing of the Scandanavian kings.  It wasn’t until the 11th century, and recently discovered in 1961, that Leif Erickson sailed further west and landed at Jellyfish Creek in Northern Newfoundland, which indicates a temporary occupation of North America by Vikings.  According to Europe and the Middle Ages, Marc Bloch pointed out that the Vikings were the last outside invaders of Western Europe until the allied landings in 1944 during World War II.

A source that gives people a look into the time period is the Annals of Ste. Bertin, which gives brief detail on the accounts of the Vikings. The source analyzed is from 843-859, and begins with the Northmen coming to Nantes and killing many, pillaging the city, and then plundered lower Aquitaine.  The Annals then mentions how in 844 the Northmen  ascended as far as Toulouse where they pillaged both sides of the bank of the Garonne, but when they left the region for Northern Spain were overcome by attacks from cross bowmen and combat against Saracens.

The Nine Worlds of the Tree of Life in Norse Mythology
The Nine Worlds of the Tree of Life in Norse Mythology

Next, The Annals mentions that in 845 the Northmen sailed the Seine and came upon Paris without any resistance.  This marked an engagement against Charles the Bald who saw that victory was not an option and made an agreement by gift of 7,000 livres.  The Northmen then sailed the Elbe and battled Louis of German who won the day by the help of their Lord Jesus Christ.  These accounts are followed by the Northmen arriving without opposition before Tours in 853-854.  Luckily for those being invaded, Agius, bishop of Orleans, and Buchard, bishop of Chartres, gathered soldiers and ships to stop them.  This only had the Vikings abandon their design and return to the lower Loire, and set off to ascend on the city of Angers.

The Northmen then attempted to go overland in 855 to the city Poitiers, only to have the Aquitanians battle them so that no more than 300 escaped.  The Annals concludes that the Norhtmen made a long sea voyage all the way to Valence, and returning to the island where they had fixed their habitation, Camargue.

Abbo’s Wars of Count Odo with the Northmen in the reign of Charles the Fat is a detailed account of the Northmen in 885 trying to attack Paris.  They came with an estimated 700 ships  and attempted to use their numbers to intimidate Parisians.  It is written by Abbo that Siegfreid was the commander of the Northmen and he appeared at the walls of the city to negotiate surrender.  Bishop Gauzelin conversed with Seigfried, who told the bishop to throw open the gates and nothing the bishop or Count Odo owns would be touched, along with the lives of those in the city.  The bishop replied that he was entrusted by Emperor Charles to keep safe the city and assure its peace.

The following morning battle ensued.  Abbo mentioned that the Northmen approached “the Tower”. Because it blocked access to the Great Bridge that connected the right back with the island the city is built on.  The battle raged and heroes were made, of which Count Odo, his brother Robert, and Count Ragenar distinguished themselves for bravery.  Abbo tells of the Northmen retreating with their wounded only to regroup and attack the next day with as much ferocity.  The Battle for Paris was quelled by Charles the Bald giving the Northmen 700 pounds of silver to leave France.

The Chronicles of Ste. Denis based on Dudo and William of Jumiegesi is a brief account of the 10th century that revolves around a Norman named Rollo, a pagan, baptized in 912.  Chronicles begins with King Charles giving the province of Flanders and Duchy of Normandy to Rollo, and acquiring him to show allegiance by kissing the Kings foot.  Rollo swore allegiance but would not kiss the foot, and proceeded to convert him and his men to Christianity.  Chronicles also mentions the good Rollo did for the community by dividing land among his followers, constructing new buildings, giving inviolable rights and laws to his subjects, rebuilding churches and restoring temples, repairing walls and fortifications of the cities, and supplying  the land that was given to him with provisions for future rebellions.

The demonstration of ethnogenesis by the Northmen sailing, pillaging, and settling, is creating  new cultures and mingling with old ones all over Europe.  The Northman sailed and marched over much of Europe and left material and generic culture wherever they traveled.  In doing so it created a beginning of people’s (ethnogenesis) that assimilated many of whom they came across.  The Northmen did not always inhabit the land they pillaged, which allowed other cultures to come and inhabit the lands they pillaged, so as to even set up ethnogenesis for other groups.




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