Vikings Changed the World

At some point in the 9th century, a Viking was accused of being a “child-lover” because he didn’t want to impale babies with his spear. Vikings are known as gruesome-raiders which struck fear into the heart of villagers throughout medieval Europe. They were pagans who worshiped Odin and Thor – believing that an eternal feast awaited them in Valhalla. Today, Viking culture inundates our everyday life. Early morning TV has commercials for Viking River Cruises. “Bluetooth,” which connects electronics, is named after a Vtumblr_npgzguhvtp1un9i1ko1_1280iking king. Four days out of each week are named after Norse Gods: Tuesday (Tyr), Wednesday (Wodan which was Anglo-Saxon for Odin), Thursday (Thor), and Friday (Frigg). Dublin, York, and Kiev were a few major cities founded by Vikings for trade. The Normandy region of France was named after Viking inhabitants. The modern states of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine were first centralized by Vikings. Iceland, Greenland, and North America were first discovered by Vikings. The nautical terms of starboard, port, and keel were created by the Vikings. Most importantly, the Mad Max series was inspired by the Vikings. I was able to learn more about Vikings in this month’s edition of National Geographic and the book – The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings by Lars Brownworth.

The Vikings homeba3c6b3f59deb9c86cf5d8950c8c38d06dse was in Scandinavia between 800 and 1100 AD. There were the Norse (modern day Norway) to the west, the Swedes (modern day Sweden to the east), and the Danes (modern day Denmark) to the south. The actual word “viking” is believed to derive from the Vic region near the Oslo Fjord where iron was plentiful for sword production – eventually all raiders were referred to as “Vic-ings.” There were two types of Vikings: homesteaders and raiders. The Vikings had permanent communities which tried to live off the land and coast. There were also men who sought out fame and fortune on the sea – these were the “sea wolves” that changed the world. These Sea Wolves mastered the construction of the longboat and were able to sail quickly to any location. These men were motivated by treasure, women, and power. The more a raiding party could collect, the more respected they were on their return to Scandinavia. The first raids occurred at monasteries in Ireland, England, and France. Monasteries at the time stored many valuable relics, manuscripts, and currency. osebergskipet1A raid would usually consist of a few longboats (picture to right) quickly docking with 10-50 Vikings, subsequent killing of inhabitants, collection of plunder, and a quick getaway. Vikings were fierce warriors and their strengths were stealth, quickness, and cunning. Eventually, the raids started to dry up and the Vikings were forced to travel further from their homes; they would eventually reach as far as Italy.

Some of the greatest Vikings wanted more than just plunder, they wanted land. Forces
would eventually conquer Irish, French, English, and Eastern European armies to control huge swathes of territory. They controlled key ports and became handsomely wealthy through trade, extortion, and sheer intimidation. To find more land, many Vikings traveled west and eventually founded Iceland and Greenland – getting as far as North America; they were never able to permanently settle the Western Hemisphere because of limited colonists. To the a3e4c310d1c9ca0d11ac277a991d9b40east they settled into modern day Ukraine and traded with the Byzantine Empire. Vikings in the east were called “Rus,” (picture to left) which is the origin of the word “Rus-sian.” Eventually, the Vikings in these land-grab areas would lose much of their raiding culture and eventually became established monarchies. Many Viking kings decided to adopt Christianity to unite their strongholds which many times consisted of several types of ethnic groups and cultures; Scandinavia also shifted to a monarch structure to have better relations with European kings. In the end, the Viking culture fizzled out with the creation of Christian domains which promoted domestic virtues over sea-faring vices. Overall, the Vikings altered the political and social landscape wherever they went and are in large part responsible for the unification of Scotland, France, Britain, The Holy Roman Empire, and the kingdom of Sicily. They were pagans, who more than any other medieval power, spread Christianity throughout the world. Their enduring reputation truly held up to the Viking belief that all men are mortal – only the noble name can live forever.

The Unlucky Irish

Michiganders are some of the worst people when it comes to complaining about the weather. Every winter in Michigan is like being trapped in a dark refrigerator for 6 months. Winter sucks and I definitely contribute my fair share of whining: “I haven’t seen the sun for a week, I’m moving to Hawaii!,” “If I have to scrape ice off my car one more time I’m going to just drive with my head out the window!,” “I’m sick of soup but its the only thing that keeps me from hypothermia!,” etc. Even sex sucks because it takes a half hour to remove all the layers of clothing; nothing gets me turned on more than seeing my wife strip off her seasonal-big-fluffy-bright-pink socks. Most people would agree that Michigan winters are worthy of complaints but Michiganders take weather misgivings to whole other level. Once the snow begins to thaw, the pink-socks get retired, and the sun begins to shine, Michigan becomes the most beautiful place in the summer. Here’s the thing though, Michigan fricks still complain about the heat, humidity, stickiness, brightness, and bugs. I mention all of this complaining because I just read a book that makes Michigan seem like a paradise no matter what season it is. Hungry for Home: A Journey from the Edge of Ireland by Cole Moreton tells the story of the people who once lived on the inhospitable Blasket Islands off the coast of Ireland.

The Blasket Islands are a collection of six islands that are situated off the west coast of Ireland (click here for map). The original settlers of these islands were monks seeking solitude in the medieval ages; eventually more inhabitants would make their way in pursuit of safety from threatening land owners on the mainland. The population of the Blaskets at its peak was 160 people. The islands were very hard to live on because there was little natural shelter, few trees, insignificant arable land, and extremely harsh weather. During the winter, the Blasket Islands were pounded by unrelenting rain storms which made it impossible to cross the channel to the main land. Because the island was such a harsh environment, the community was isolated from the changing politics of Ireland and hence preserved their original Gaelic customs. Irish was the spoken language on the island and it was one of the last places on earth where Gaelic was used in its ancient form. For this reason, in the early 20th century many language scholars visited the island to document the islanders dialect and customs to preserve the culture. Beginning in the mid 1800’s, as a result of the potato famine, a large portion of Irishmen began to immigrate to the United States. The inhabitants of the Blasket Islands followed suit and by the 1940’s the island only had half of its peak population.

The dwindled population was primarily made up of older men and women who were too poor or too stubborn to leave their inhospitable lifestyle. Few youth remained and without their strength it was almost impossible to do the daily work required to survive on the harsh landscape. In the 40’s, extremely-severe winters forced the inhabitants to send out emergency messages for food and many died because of malnutrition. The last remaining islanders were removed by the government in 1953 to a nearby settlement on the mainland; close enough to still see the Blasket Islands but safe from future threats of starvation. There were only 22 inhabitants left in 1953 during the evacuation and almost all of them were extremely relieved to be getting off the cursed island. Today, the Blasket Islands are a popular tourist destination during the short summer season. I thought this story was amazing because it made me appreciate where I live. Compared to the Blaskets, Michigan is a paradise. I have food, shelter, health-care, security, and a great community. As the winter approaches we should realize that there are places much colder, darker, and inhospitable. Think of these places and find contentment-I guess those fluffy-pink socks aren’t all that bad 🙂