More about the Vikings:

1. Setting the scene

In the Nordic countries something starts happening around the 9th century that people even far away will soon experience. The Vikings enter the scene. Who are they? What are they seeking? What are their achievements?

The Vikings were skilful shipbuilders and navigators. Thanks to these skills the Vikings came to make themselves known over large areas of the ‘then known world’, in places such as Novgorod and Kiev in the east, Malta in the south and also America in the west, a part of the world that was not yet ‘discovered’ as we use to say in our euro-centric way.

It is from old books found in Iceland that we learn that the Vikings went to America. We are told that a Viking ship was driven during a storm to a strange coast, which is thought to have been what is now known as Labrador. When the captain of the ship returned home he told what he had seen. His story made a young Viking prince, called Leif the Lucky so excited that he decided to sail to the newly discovered coast. There he found wild grapes in such plenty that he called it Vinland, or the land of Vines. This might be part of what is now the Rhode Island.

Much of what the Vikings did can be seen as a forgotten or even an unknown history, as we will find out when we follow in their footsteps. Take their landing in America. When the Vikings came there they did not know that they had come to a continent that others in Europe did not know about. And elsewhere in Europe no-one knew that the Vikings had sailed to America. That is why we say that it was Columbus who discovered America, although he went there nearly 500 years later. (Famous Men of the Middle Ages, by John Henry Haaren, [1904], at ROLLO THE VIKING DIED 931 A.D.

The Vikings are specially known for their raids. This gave them high visibility in their time. But there is much more to the Vikings that you will find out when playing this game and following them to their different destinations.

When taking about the Vikings we’re threading the borderline between reality and saga. What we know about them, we partly know from archaeology, where facts can be established through scientific analysis. In this game you can, through your own excavations, discover for yourself things that the Viking left behind.

In addition toi Sagas we know about about the Vikings from other sources such as chronicles written by monks. The learned argue about the historical accuracy of these sources. We need not bother about this. We will mainly learn what they told in their time. The sagas were written down some 200 years after the events they describe. Until then the stories were told and thereby transmitted as an oral tradition from one generation to another. In the time of the Vikings there were not many people who knew to read and write. This is one explanation why there are not many hard facts to go by, describing their lives and deeds. Through legal documents we do, though, get some hard facts.

We must also be aware that literature is flavoured by the one who is telling the story. Whose point of view is he or she presenting? To give you an idea of different ways of looking at the Vikings, here is first a description of the Germanic peoples given by an Arabic geographer from the times of the Vikings: "they have large bodies, gross natures, harsh manners, and dull intellects...those who live farthest north are particularly stupid, gross and brutish". (cited in Western Civilisations, p 276)

In the Nordic sagas, again, the Vikings are pictured as strong and brave. Wisdom was held in high regard, and being a good poet was a skill that a king cherished most in the men he surrounded himself with. “Of all his guard the king most prized his skalds; they occupied the second high seat.” (Egil’s saga, p. 6)

And here an example of how we today look at the Vikings / Normans. "From (their) Scandinavian inheritance the Normans derived their sea-faring, much of their trade and commercial prosperity which they shared with the Nordic world, their love of adventure, their wanderlust which led to the great period of Norman emigration in the eleventh century, their dynamic energy, and above all perhaps, their powers of assimilation, of adoption and [strategic] adaptation ... " [Tnn 23]” (Rollo the Walker and Relatives) LOPPU 1. SIVU

2. A time of flux

There are certainly many reasons why people are on the move. So why did the Vikings suddenly appear in so many different places?

Here some suggestions:

Adventure: without an adventurous mind the Vikings would hardly have entered on the extensive excursions they did.

Economy: They did not only raid, they also traded.

Power and pretence: In the 9th century a state formation process started in what is now Norway. Before that the big families or clans had, on an equal footing, handled their joint affairs at gatherings called things. Now, some big families started conquering the other families. This was the case with Harold Shockhead. “Harold, son of Halfdan Swarthy, was heir after his father. He had bound himself by this vow, not to let his hair be cut or combed till he were sole king over Norway, wherefore he was called Harold Shockhead.” This we are told in Egil’s saga.

Many Vikings were more or less forced to leave their country because they had got on bad terms with the king or other powerful men. “[M]any fled abroad from this tyranny, and much waste land was then colonized far and wide, both eastwards in Jamtaland and Helsingjaland, and also the West lands, the Southern isles, Dublin in Ireland, Caithness in Scotland, and Shetland. And in that time Iceland was found. (Egil’s saga p. 3)

3. How it started

The Vikings ‘wrote history’ during the 9th to 12th centuries. This was a period of great popular movements. The Roman Empire laid in ruins and the folks that had been subdued by the Romans fought among themselves not only for a living space, but also for power and pretence. This is a sad trait in the human species, as it makes so many innocent people suffer. The Vikings were no exception to this. They could be extremely violent. They thus partook in much violence that local populations were submitted to along with Muslims and Hungarians. It was a depressive sight. Towns laid in ruins or enfeebled. The cultivated land had equally suffered disastrously, often being reduced to desert. (Bloch, p 39) These invasions so permeated the time that reflections of them are to be found both in legal enactments and in prayers. So for example, a rural lease from the area around Lucca, dating from 876 provided for the payment of rent to be suspended 'if the heathen nation should burn or lay waste the houses and their contents or the mill" (Bloch, p 41) Prayers might go like this: "Eternal Trinity...deliver thy Christian people from the oppression of the pagans" (Provence); "from the savage nation of the Northmen, which lays waste our realms, deliver us, O God" (northern Gaul); 'against the arrows of the Hungarians, be thou our protector' (Modena) (Bloch, p 41) To the anxiety of the time also contributed constant wars between different warriors and big men who strove towards domination in the own kinship group. (Anderson, p 98) ) “

4. The forgotten history

The Vikings are well known for their impressive ships and their raids. But they did so much more, that is not properly remembered.

One way of giving the Vikings wider publicity is to arrange exhibitions over the traces they have left in the places where they were. You are the one to arrange these exhibitions, and you will also be the curator.

In addition to being an archaeologist and a curator, you almost have to become a detective, to unravel the Vikings’ ‘forgotten’ history. Why was it forgotten? This is something you will find out when following in their footstep. Here a hint. At one point the Vikings became called Normans. By then they changed many of their habits, and here is a glimpse of perhaps their greatest achievements – in the Kingdom of Sicily

“Under the Norman ruler Roger II (1112-1154), Palermo the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily, was the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the West. It was the granary for North Africa, and the largest supplier of silks and silk fabrics to the European continent. It was foremost in astronomy, geography, and other sciences, drawing heavily on the intellectual resources of the Moslem world and, through it, on those of the East, including possibly China. Its medical school at the University of Salerno was the best in Europe. Literature and learning at the royal court at Palermo combined the best of the Latin, Arabic, and Greek traditions. French poetry and Arabic poetry was read, and Plato, Euclid, and Ptolemy were translated into Latin. The palaces and cathedrals of twelfth-century Sicily, combining the Norman Romanesque style of architecture with Byzantine mosaic art, remain among the greatest artistic treasures of Europe.” (Berman, Law and Revolution p. 413).

Vikings’ did all this!

6. Starting from home

But let’s start by looking at what the Vikings’ life looked like at home. The Vikings are also called the Northmen because they came from the north of Europe, from what is now Norway, Denmark and to some degree they also came from Sweden and Finland, and from Iceland, which was a land where they settled: We will hear more about Iceland, when we follow our Viking heroes Kveldulf and Egil* in the Egil Skallagrimson’s Saga, or Egil’s saga for short.

The saga starts with Kveldulf who is Egil’s grandfather. We are told that he was a man so tall and strong that none could match him, and in his youth he roved the seas as a freebooter. When he married Salbjorg he settled on his estate. “Wealthy he was both in lands and chattels; he took baron’s rank as his forefathers had done, and became a great man. It was told of Ulf that he was a great householder; it was his wont to rise up early, and then go round among his labourers or where his smiths were, and to overlook his stalk and fields, and at times he would talk with such as needed his counsel, and good counsel he could give in all things, for he was very wise. But everyday as evening drew on he became sullen, so that few could come to speak with him. He was an evening sleeper, and it was commonly said that he was very shape strong. He was called Kveldulf.”

Kveldulf and Salbjorg had two sons Thorolf and Grim.

When Thorolf was twenty years old, he made him ready to go a harrying. Kveldulf gave him a long-ship so he could go ‘a harrying’. This he did with Eyvind and Aulvir ” they roved the seas in the summer, and got them wealth, and had a large booty to divide. For several summers they were out roving, but stayed at home in winter with their fathers. Thorolf brought home many costly things, and took them to his father and mother; thus they were well-to-do both for possessions and honour.” (p. 1)

7. Norway takes shape

In the saga we learn how Norway is formed. “Harold, son of Halfdan Swarthy, was heir after his father. He had bound himself by this vow, not to let his hair be cut or combed till he were sole king over Norway, wherefore he was called Harold Shockhead.”

“So first he warred with the kings nearest to him and conquered them, as is told at length elsewhere. Then he got possession of Upland; thence he went northwards to Throndheim, and had many battles there before he became absolute over all the Thronds. After that he purposed to go north to Naumdale to attack the brothers Herlaug and Hrollaug, kings of Naumdale.” …..

This is how they looked at the situation. “Then will the same need be upon you as was upon us, to guard your wealth and liberty, and to try everyone from whom you may hope for aid. And I now offer myself with my forces against this tyranny and wrong. But, if you make the other choice, you must do as the Naumdalesmen have done, and go of your own will into slavery, and become Harold’s thralls. My father though it victory to die a king with honour rather than become in his old age another king’s subject. Thou, as I judge, wilt think the same, and so will others who have any high spirit and claim to be men of valour.’”

Next spring king Harold went southwards along the coast with a fleet, and subdued firths and fells, and arranged for men of his own to rule them. Earl Hroald he set over the Firthfolk. King Harold was very careful, when he had gotten new peoples under his power, about barons and rich landowners, and all those whom he suspected of being at all likely to raise rebellion. Every such man he treated in one of two ways: he either made him become his liege-man, or go abroad; or (as a third choice) suffer yet harder conditions, some even losing life or limb. Harold claimed as his own through every district all patrimonies, and all land tilled or untilled, likewise all seas and freshwater lakes. All landowners were to be his tenants, as also all that worked in the forest, salt-burners, hunters and fishers by land and sea, all these owed him duty.

Harold wanted Kveldulf to join him. He did not agree to this but offered his son Thorolf to join him if he wanted. So he did, but Thorolf met his death in the service of the king. Now the king approached his brother Skallagrim with the same request, to which Skallagrim answered: ’It is well known how far superior to me was Thorolf in every point, and he got no luck by serving thee, O king. Now will I not take that counsel; serve thee I will not, for I know I should get no luck by yielding thee such service as I should wish and as would be worthy. Methinks I should fail herein more than Thorolf.’

The king was silent, and his face became blood-red. Aulvir at once turned away, and bade Grim and his men go out. They did so. They went out, and took their weapons, and Aulvir bade them begone with all haste. He and many with him escorted them to the water-side. Before parting with Skallagrim, Aulvir said: ’Kinsman, thy journey to the king ended otherwise than I would have chosen. I urged much thy coming hither; now, I entreat thee, go home with all speed, and come not in the way of king Harold, unless there be better agreement between you than now seems likely, and keep thee well from the king and from his men.’ (p. 24) LOPPU 2. SIVU

Settling in Iceland

Skallagrim went his way with his comrades till he reached home; he then told Kveldulf of this journey. Kveldulf showed him well pleased that Skallagrim had not gone to the king on this errand to take service under him; he still said, as before, that from the king they would get only loss and no amends. Kveldulf and Skallagrim spoke often of their plans, and on this they were agreed, that they would not be able to remain in the land any more than other men who were at enmity with the king, but their counsel must be to go abroad. And it seemed to them desirable to seek Iceland, for good reports were given about choice of land there. Already friends and acquaintances of theirs had gone thither - to wit, Ingolf Arnarson, and his companions - and had taken to them land and homestead in Iceland. Men might take land there free of cost, and choose their homestead at will.

So they quite settled to break up their household and go abroad. Thorir Hroaldson had in his childhood been fostered with Kveldulf, and he and Skallagrim were about of an age, and as foster-brothers were dear friends. Thorir had become a baron of the king’s at the time when the events just told happened, but the friendship between him and Skallagrim continued. Early in the spring Kveldulf and his company made ready their ships. They had plenty of good craft to choose from; they made ready two large ships of burden, and took in each thirty able-bodied men, besides women and children. All the movable goods that they could carry they took with them, but their lands none dared buy, for fear of the king’s power. And when they were ready, they sailed away: first to the islands called Solundir, which are many and large, and so scored with bays that few men (it is said) know all their havens.

Egil settled in Iceland where his grandfather’s coffin had landed.

Chapter 29 - Of Skallagrim’s industry.

Skallagrim was most industrious. He had about him always many men, whom he set to seek diligently all such provisions as could be got there for man’s sustenance, because at first they had but little live-stock compared with the needs of their numerous company. But what live-stock they had went every winter self-feeding in the woods. Skallagrim was a good shipwright, and westwards of Myrar was no lack of driftwood. He had buildings set up on Swan-ness, and had another house there. This he made a starting-point for sea-fishing, seal-hunting, and egg-gathering; in all these kinds there was plenty of provisions to get, as well as driftwood to bring to him. Whales also often came in there, and whoso would might shoot them. All such creatures were then tame on the hunting-ground, as they were unused to man. His third house he had on the sea in Western Myrar. This was even a better place to look out for driftwood. There, too, he had land sown, and called it Acres. Over against it lay islands, among which whales were found; these they called Whale-islands. Skallagrim also sent his men up on the salmon-rivers to fish. He set Odd Lonehouse by Cleave-river to see to the salmon-fishing there. Odd dwelt under Lonehouse. Lonehouse-ness has its name from him. (Egil's saga p. 29)

Chapter 47 - Of the further harrying of Thorolf and Egil.

Harold Gormsson had then taken the kingdom in Denmark, his father Gorm being now dead. The land was then open to harrying; freebooters often lay off the Danish coast. Aki knew Denmark well both by sea and land. So Egil inquired of him diligently where the places were that promised good booty. But when they came to Eyrar-sound, then Aki said that up on land there was a large trading town named Lundr; there, he said, was hope of plunder, but ’twas likely that the townsmen would make resistance. The question was put before the men whether they should go up or not. Opinions were much divided, some liking, some letting it; then the matter was referred to the leaders. Thorolf was rather for going up. Then Egil was asked what counsel he thought good. He recited a stave:

’Wolf-battening warrior,
Wield we high gleaming swords.
In snake-fostering summer
Such deeds well beseem.
Lead up to Lundr:
Let laggards be none!
Spear-music ungentle
By sunset shall sound.’

After that they made them ready to go up, and they came to the town. But when the townsmen were aware of the enemy’s coming, they made against them. A wooden wall was round the town; they set men to guard this. A very fierce battle was there fought. Egil, with his following, charged fiercely on the gate nor spared himself. There was a great slaughter, the townsmen falling one upon another. It is said that Egil first entered the town, the others following. Then those of the town fled, and great was the slaughter. But Thorolf and his company plundered the town and took much wealth, and fired the buildings before they left. Then they went down to their ships. (p. 47)

Chapter 48 - Of the banquet at earl Arnfid’s.

Thorolf stood northwards with his force past Holland, and they put into a harbour there, as the wind drove them back. They did not plunder there. A little way up the country dwelt an earl named Arnfid. But when he heard that freebooters had come to land there, he sent his men to meet them with this errand, to know whether they wished for peace or war. Upon the messengers’ coming to Thorolf with their errand, he said that they would not harry there, that there was no need to harry there or come with warshield, the land being not wealthy. The messengers went back to the earl, and told him the issue of their errand: but when the earl knew that he need not gather men for this cause, then he rode down without any armed force to meet the freebooters. When they met, all went well at the conference. The earl bade Thorolf to a banquet with him, and as many of his men as he would. Thorolf promised to go.

On the appointed day the earl had riding-horses sent down to meet them. Thorolf and Egil went, and they had thirty men with them. When they came to the earl, he received them well; they were led into the dining-hall. At once beer was brought in and given them to drink. They sate there till evening.

But before the tables were removed the earl said that they should cast lots to drink together in pairs, man and woman, so far as numbers would allow, but the odd ones by themselves. They cast then their lots into the skirt of a cloak, and the earl drew them out. The earl had a very beautiful daughter then in the flower of youth; the lot decreed that Egil should sit by her for the evening. She was going about the floor of the hall amusing herself. Egil stood up and went to the place in which the earl’s daughter had sat during the day. But when all took their several seats, then the earl’s daughter went to her place. She said in verse:

’Why sittest in my seat, youth?
Thou seldom sure hast given
To wolf his warm flesh-banquet.
Alone I will mine own.
O’er carrion course thou heard’st not
Croak hoarse the joying raven,
Nor wentest where sword-edges
In warfare madly met.’

Egil took her, and set her down by him. He sang:

’With bloody brand on-striding
Me bird of bane hath followed:
My hurtling spear hath sounded
In the swift Vikings’ charge.
Raged wrathfully our battle,
Ran fire o’er foemen’s rooftrees;
Sound sleepeth many a warrior
Slain in the city gate.’

They two then drank together for the evening, and were right merry. The banquet was of the best, on that day and on the morrow. Then the rovers went to their ships, they and the earl parting in friendship with exchange of gifts. (p. 48)


‘Job on offer’

The brothers Thorolf and Egil were standing southwards along Saxony and Flanders, when they heard that the king of England wanted men, and that there was in his service hope of much gain. So they resolved to take their force thither. And they went on that autumn till they came to king Athelstan. He received them well; he saw plainly that such followers would be a great help. Full soon did the English king decide to ask them to join him, to take pay there, and become defenders of his land. They so agreed between them that they became king Athelstan’s men.

England was thoroughly Christian in faith, and had long been so, when these things happened. King Athelstan was a good Christian; he was called Athelstan the Faithful. The king asked Thorolf and his brother to consent to take the first signing with the cross, for this was then a common custom both with merchants and those who took soldiers’ pay in Christian armies, since those who were ’prime-signed’ (as ’twas termed) could hold all intercourse with Christians and heathens alike, while retaining the faith which was most to their mind. Thorolf and Egil did this at the king’s request, and both let themselves be prime-signed. They had three hundred men with them who took the king’s pay.

Chapter 51 - Of Olaf king of Scots.

Olaf the Red was the name of the king in Scotland. He was Scotch on his father’s side, but Danish on his mother’s side, and came of the family of Ragnar Hairy-breeks. He was a powerful prince. Scotland, as compared with England, was reckoned a third of the realm; Northumberland was reckoned a fifth part of England; it was the northernmost county, marching with Scotland on the eastern side of the island. Formerly the Danish kings had held it. Its chief town is York. It was in Athelstan’s dominions; he had set over it two earls, the one named Alfgeir, the other Gudrek. They were set there as defenders of the land against the inroads of Scots, Danes, and Norsemen, who harried the land much, and though they had a strong claim on the land there, because in Northumberland nearly all the inhabitants were Danish by the father’s or mother’s side, and many by both. Bretland was governed by two brothers, Hring and Adils; they were tributaries under king Athelstan, and withal had this right, that when they were with the king in the field, they and their force should be in the van of the battle before the royal standard. These brothers were right good warriors, but not young men. (p. 51)

’I wish this summer,’ said Egil, ’to go eastwards to Norway and see after the property of which king Eric and Bergonund robbed me. Atli the Short, Bergonund’s brother, is now in possession. I know that, if a message of yours be added, I shall get law in this matter.’ The king said that Egil should rule his own goings. ’But best, methinks, were it,’ he said, ’for thee to be with me and be made defender of my land and command my army. I will promote thee to great honour.’ Egil answered: ’This offer I deem most desirable to take. I will say yea to it and not nay. Yet have I first to go to Iceland, and see after my wife and the property that I have there.’

King Athelstan gave then to Egil a good merchant-ship and a cargo therewith; there was aboard for lading wheat and honey, and much money’s worth in other wares. And when Egil made ready his ship for sea, then Thorstein Eric’s son settled to go with him, he of whom mention was made before, who was afterwards called Thora’s son. And when they were ready they sailed, king Athelstan and Egil parting with much friendship. Egil and his company had a prosperous voyage; they came to Norway eastwards in Vik, and sailed their ship right into Osloar-firth. Up on land there Thorstein had estates, and also inwards as far as Raumarik. And when Thorstein landed there, he then preferred his claim to his father’s property before the stewards who were settled on his farm. Many lent help to Thorstein in this matter: a meeting was held about it: Thorstein had there many kinsmen of renown. The end was that it was referred to the king’s decision, Thorstein meanwhile taking to him the safe-keeping of his father’s possessions. For winter lodgment Egil went to Thorstein’s with eleven more. Thither to Thorstein’s house was moved the wheat and honey; a merry time of it they had that winter. Thorstein kept house in grand style, for provisions were in plenty. (p. 81) LOPPU SIVU 3.

The Vikings meet Christianity

One novelty that the Vikings encountered was Christianity. It was a new and strange religion that they often had to take a stand on.

The confrontation between Christianity and the Germanic folk religions took diverging and often dramatic expressions. … There is a strong flavour of practical necessity in this process. People were often left with no alternative, which the case of Harald Bluetooth illustrates. In 826 the exiled Danish king Harald Klack (Bluetooth ) agreed to baptise both himself, his wife and the 400 men who followed him, as a condition for support for his policies from the Frankish Emperor Louis the Pious. In order to make sure that the Danes would live up to their promises, they were accompanied by the monk Ansgar and his companion Ödbert, and with them missionary work speeded up in the North. (Baeksted, p. 215)

Or rational reasoning, as was the case when Edwin of Northumberland with his men discussed the attitude to take towards this religion. One of the arguments, which weighted in favour of Christianity was for them the following: "What comes after the worldly, and what preceded it, we do not know. If this new religion will bring some clarity about this I feel we should adopt it". (translation VS, Baeksted, p. 219) (Storlund, Social relations, p. 9)

Conversion could also be the product of democratic deliberation as was the case when the Icelandic 'ting' in 1000 by majority decision decided to adopt Christianity. In Egil’s saga we learn that many families ‘sprinkled their children with water’.

Egil’s saga Chapter 91 - Grim takes the Christian faith.

Grim of Moss-fell was baptized when Christianity was established by law in Iceland. He had a church built there, and ’tis common report that Thordis had Egil moved to the church. And this proof there is thereof, that later on, when a church was built at Moss-fell, and that church which Grim had built at Bush-bridge taken down, the churchyard was dug over, and under the altar-place were found human bones. They were much larger than the bones of other men. From the tales of old people it is thought pretty sure that these were Egil’s bones. Skapti the priest, Thorarin’s son, a wise man, was there at the (p.123) time. He took then the skull of Egil, and set it on the churchyard fence. The skull was wondrous large, but still more out of the common way was its heaviness. It was all wave-marked on the surface like a shell. Skapti then wished to try the thickness of the skull. He took a good-sized hand-axe, and brandishing it aloft in one hand, brought down the back of it with force on the skull to break it. But where the blow fell the bone whitened, but neither was dinted nor cracked. Whence it might be gathered that this skull could not easily be harmed by the blows of weak men while skin and flesh were on it. The bones of Egil were laid in the outer part of the churchyard at Moss-fell. (p 124)

This is how it started. The Vikings underwent many transformations. One of them is that both in England and Italy the Normans became crusaders, bearers of the true faith, self-styled “soldiers of Christ” … (Berman, p. 435)

Vikings transform into Normans

Rollo the Viking can be seen as a portal figure for the transformation of the Vikings. He had been a pain in the ass, but not lacking taste. Through colourful 'diplomatic' manoeuvres he managed to gain the title Duke of Normandy. It is hear that the Vikings turned into Normans. Of this you will learn more by following the Normans adventures in Italy. This will bring you all the way to Malta.

The Viking ancestor Rollon appears

EARL RAGNVALD was King Harald's dearest friend, and the king had the greatest regard for him. He was married to Hild, a daughter of Rolf Nefia, and their sons were Rolf and Thorer. Earl Ragnvald had also three sons by concubines, - the one called Hallad, the second Einar, the third Hrollaug; and all three were grown men when their brothers born in marriage were still children. Rolf became a great Viking, and was of so stout a growth that no horse could carry him. Wherever he went he must go on foot; and therefore he was called Rolf Ganger. (Later Rollon)

He plundered much in the East sea. One summer, as he was coming from the eastward on a Viking's expedition to the coast of Viken, he landed there and made a cattle foray. As King Harald happened, just at that time, to be in Viken, he heard of it, and was in a great rage; for he had now forbid the plundering within the bounds of the country. The king assembled a Thing, and had Rolf declared an outlaw over all Norway.

When Rolf's mother heard of it she hastened to the king, and entreated peace for Rolf; but the king was so enraged that here entreaty was of no avail.

Then she spoke up:

"Do you think, King Harald, in your anger,
To drive away my brave Rolf Ganger
Like a mad wolf, from out the land?
Why is your cruelty so fell?
Think twice, king, it is ill
With such a wolf at wolf to play,
Who, driven to the wild woods away
May make the king's best deer his prey."

Rolf Ganger went afterwards over sea to the West to the Hebrides, or Sudreys; and at last farther west to Valland, where he plundered and subdued for himself a great earldom, which he peopled with Northmen, from which that land is called Normandy.

Rolf Ganger's son was William, father to Richard, and grandfather to another Richard, who was the father of Robert Longspear, and grandfather of William the Bastard, from whom all the following English kings are descended. From Rolf Ganger also are descended the earls in Normandy.

What follows is from the Icelandic sagas.

1. After once being made an outlaw and shooed from Viking Norway, the giant warrior Rollo had to make it far away from home. He lived by the sword.

2. After much turmoil he won a district large enough to feed him, he got Normandy in three strides from the French king Charles the Simple - and married Poppa (Papia), the daughter of a count, and later the king's daughter or sister Giselle (Gizella). With Poppa he had four children, possibly. Some details are hard to verify.

3. From then on he and his family could rule what was to become the best part of France for centuries. They also took over England and Wales - and Normans also conquered the southern half of Italy, including Sicily, and several other tracts bordering on the Mediterranean Sea. (Rollo the Walker and Relatives)

“the Rollo story is largely historical fact, according to the Icelander Snorre Sturlason in Heimskringla, Book 3, section 24; Book 7, section 19, and other Icelandic sagas from medieval times, as the Orkneyingers' Saga, section 4.”

Very severe discontent with King Harald led many to settle elsewhere - not only in distant parts of Norway, but also the out-countries of Iceland and the Faroe Isles. They were discovered and peopled, in part by Celtic woman slaves, as genetic studies of Icelanders show.

The Northmen had also a great resort to Hjaltland (Shetland Isles) and many men left Norway, flying the country on account of King Harald, and went on Viking cruises into the West sea. In winter they were in the Orkney Islands and Hebrides; but marauded in summer in Norway, and did great damage.

Many were also the mighty men who took service under King Harald and became his flock in the land with him. (20)

From the Landnama Book [Lb]:

“The story of Rollo is especially interesting to us, because Rollo was the forefather of that famous Duke of Normandy who, less than a hundred and fifty years later, conquered England and brought into that country the Norman nobles with their French language and customs.” (Famous Men of the Middle Ages, by John Henry Haaren, [1904], at ROLLO THE VIKING DIED 931 A.D.

“After settling in Normandy in 911 the Norse rulers, starting with Duke Rollo, assimilated the governmental institutions of the Franks and established themselves as first-rate administrators…. Soon after the conquest of England, the Norman rulers introduced inquests of various kinds into English practice, the most famous being the Domesday tax census of 1086. The Normans also introduced into England their own earlier practice of sending special justices to hold local courts, and they established a new system of central agencies of finance in both polities. Berman

“In the early decades of the eleventh century, Norman knights began going from Normandy to Italy, singly and in small groups, to serve as mercenary soldiers and othervise to make their fortunes. Among them were 11 sons of a pentty Norman bron named Tancred de Hauteville. Trancred’s sons led an ever increasing number of other Norman countrymen, together with local mercenaries, in successful military raids on Apulia, Calabria, and Capua. By the 1050s they had established themselves as rulers of large parts of the southern Italian peninsula and were getting ready to attack Sicily.

For centuries Italy south of Rome had been chiefly under the rule either of Byzantium or of Islamic caliphates, or of both and the population was predominantly Greek and Arab but also Latin, and, to a lesser extent, Jewish. In addition, some places were under Lombard rule.” The pope’s move. Berman, p. 409

The forgotten history

“The history – and especially the legal history – of the Duchy of Normandy, like that of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, have not been emphasized by modern historians because the duchy itself ceased to be an independent polity during the thirteenth century. In an age of nationalist historiography, these countries that eventually “didn’t make it” either have been forgotten – like Norman Sicily – or have been treated as part of some other country’s history – in Normandy’s case, that of France, which eventually conquered it, or else of – England, which it had previously conquered.” Bergman, Law and Revolution, p. 459. “The Duchy of Normandy, by its direct influence on both England and France, played a major part in the formation of the Western legal tradition.” Bergman, p. 461.

The two most prominent families to arrive in the Mediterranean were descendants of Tancred of Hauteville and the Drengots, of whom Rainulf Drengot received the county of Aversa, the first Norman toehold in the south, from Duke Sergius IV of Naples in 1030. The Hautevilles achieved princely rank by proclaiming Prince Guaimar IV of Salerno "Duke of Apulia and Calabria". He promptly awarded their elected leader, William Iron Arm, with the title of count with his capital of Melfi. Soon the Drengots had attained unto the principality of Capua, and the Emperor Henry III had legally ennobled the Hauteville leader, Drogo, as dux et magister Italiae comesque Normannorum totius Apuliae et Calabriae in 1047. (Wikipedia, "The early Norman castle at Adrano.) LOPPU SIVU 4.


The way to Malta over Sicily

(The Deeds of Count Roger of Calabria and Sicily and of Duke Robert Guiscard his brother. By Geoffrey Malaterra)

As we have learned the Vikings were great story tellers. This was one way of ‘documenting peoples lives’. The monk Geoffrey Mallaterra, who was asked to document the lives of the Norman family Hauteville that moved to southern Italy describes the purpose of documentation as follows: “Handed down from the ancient philosophers to the generations who have followed them, the custom has grown up that the deeds of brave men should be recorded in writing and transmitted to posterity. This prevents actions which ought to be remembered, and those who have performed them, being consigned to oblivion; and, even more, it enables those deeds which have been entrusted to writing and are read about and known by future generations, to make those who did them seem to live on through the memory of their lives.” (M1, p. 2)

Had the monk Geoffrey Malaterra not recorded the deeds of the Normans in southern Italy, this forgotten history might largely have been left to oblivion or to archaeological stuff only.

Concerning the style of the text, Malaterra notes that “the prince himself urged me to write in words which were clear and easy to understand, that the meaning of what was written should be apparent to everyone.” (M1, p. 2).

“Roger, that most celebrated of princes, was taught by many authors who used to read out to him the histories of the ancients. On the advice of his followers he determined to record for later generations his victories, won in the face of great difficulties and dangers, namely his conquest through force of arms first of Calabria and then of Sicily, and he instructed me to prepare myself for the task of writing this down. In view of the benefits which he has already conferred upon me, I am not in a position to refuse to do anything which he has instructed me to perform. But I commence my task timidly, for my style lacks learning and my powers of expression are poor. It is as though I was in the middle of a very deep lake and knew not how to swim.” (M1 p. 3)

Book I, Rollo’s story pp. 4-

After having given an account of how the Viking Rollo became the Duke of Normany and the role the Vikings /Normans came to play, Malaterra considers it “proper to say something about the character of this people. (3) They are a most astute people, eager to avenge injuries, looking rather to enrich themselves from others than from their native fields. They are eager and [indeed] greedy for profit and power, hypocritical and deceitful about almost everything, but between generosity and avarice they take a middle course. Their leaders are however very generous since they wish to achieve a great reputation. They know how to flatter, and are much addicted to the cultivation of eloquence, to such an extent that one listens even to their young boys as though they were trained speakers. And unless they are held in thrall by the yoke of justice, they are a most unbridled people. When circumstances require they are prepared to put up with hard work, hunger and cold; they are much addicted to hunting and hawking, and they delight in fancy clothes and elaborate trappings for their horses and decorations on their other weapons. They derive the name of their land from their own name: north in the English language means 'the northern wind' [aquilonis plaga], and since they come from the north they are called Normans and their land Normandy.” (M1, p. 6)

La Cuba, a Siculo-Norman palace in Palermo

From these bases, the Normans eventually captured Sicily and Malta from the Saracens, under the famous Robert Guiscard, a Hauteville, and his young brother Roger the Great Count. Roger's son, Roger II, was crowned king in 1130 (exactly one century after Rainulf was "crowned" count) by Pope Anacletus II. The kingdom of Sicily lasted until 1194, when it fell to the Hohenstaufens through marriage.

In the western direction we have William the Conqueror as the portal figure. His way to England went via Normandy, whereas others took a shorter route. egil's saga.

The story of the 11 Tancred sons from Hauteville

Here starts the story of how the 11 sons of the family Tancred from Hauteville, became central players on the political scene in Southern Italy, presented by Malaterra.

“There was a certain knight of quite distinguished family who possessed this village by hereditary right from his ancestors. He was called Tancred, and he married a wife called Moriella, who was notable both for her birth and her good character, and as the years went by he received from her in lawful manner five sons, who were in the future to become counts: namely William, known as 'the Iron Arm', Drogo, Humphrey, Geoffrey and Serlo. Their mother died while their father was still a young man and unsuited for celibacy, but this good man detested extra-marital unions and therefore married again, preferring to be contented with one legitimate union rather than soiling himself with the filthy embrace of concubines, mindful of the word of the apostle: 'to avoid fornication let every man have his own wife' [I Corinthians vii.2], and of what follows: 'whoremongers and adulters God will judge' [Hebrews xiii.4]. So he married Fresenda, a lady who in birth and morals was by no means inferior to his first wife. In due time he had from this union seven sons, who were of no less worth or dignity than their brothers mentioned above. We shall list their names here. First there was Robert, called from his birth 'the cunning' [Guiscardus], afterwards prince of all Apulia and Duke of Calabria, a man of great wisdom, ingenuity, generosity and boldness. The second was called Mauger, the third William. the fourth Aubrey, the fifth Hubert, the sixth Tancred, the seventh and youngest Roger, later the conqueror and count of Sicily. (M1, p. 7).

Here we have an example of why people had to move to new places. “They saw that their own neighbourhood would not be big enough for them, and that when their patrimony was divided not only would their heirs argue among themselves about the share-out, but the individual shares would simply not be big enough. So, to prevent the same thing happening in future as had happened to them, they discussed the matter among themselves. They decided that since the elders were at that time stronger than those younger to them, they should be the first to leave their homeland and go to other places seeking their fortune through arms, and finally God led them to the Italian province of Apulia.” (M1, p. 8).


Among power struggles on many fronts, there was also the struggle of the Pope of Rome for indefendence from the emperor and ... “First, Robert Guiscard and Roger needed the blessing of the papacy to make them kings. Otherwise they had power but not authority. … Only the Bishop of Rome could legitimate their power and their conquests and thus make them permanent – just as only they could legitimate his political independence from the emperor and thus make it permanent. By recognizing each other’s legitimacy, the pope and the Norman ruler of Sicily established the first two modern states in Europe, the one an ecclesiastical state, the other a secular state.” Berman, p. 412.

“The Normans of southern Italy enthusiastically embraced the(se) goals of the papal party. They were delighted to lead armies in crusades against the Saracens (and Greeks), and eventually to establish peace and trade among the polyglot peoples of their own and neighbouring kingdoms. Also they were, like their fellow Normans in Normandy and in England, great administrators and lawyers; they came to share the papacy’s faith in the reforming and redeeming power of legal institutions.” (Berman p. 413)

“Their ties with Rome helped the Normans to create in southern Italy not only a legitimate state power but also a brilliant civilisation – indeed, the wealthiest and most powerful state and the greatest center of art, science, and technologyt in the West in the mid-twelvth century.

The times when the 11 Tranced brothers made their way toward the south of Italy were very troubled ones, with a lot of fighting going on, of which more later.

"In 1053 a group of Norman mercenaries led a Christian assault on Malta and Sicily, and recaptured both islands from the Saracens. (Heritage Malta | Museum of Archaeology)

The Middle Ages

The Arabs in Sicily were divided, and taking advantage of the situation, Count Roger the Norman, after a series of campaigns, subdued that island to Norman Rule. Count Roger had invaded Malta to make sure his southern flank was secure from a possible Arab attack, having reduced the Arabs to a state of vassalage and releasing the foreign Christian slaves, he returned to Sicily without even bothering to garrison his prize.

In Sicily itself the Normans followed the same enlightened policy and although the Christian Faith was regarded as the official religion there, nobody was persecuted because of his race or for his religious beliefs.

In 1127, Roger II the son of Count Roger led a second invasion of Malta; having overrun the Island he placed it under a more secure Norman domination under the charge of a Norman governor. He also garrisoned with Norman soldiers the three castles then on the islands. From about this period the Maltese moved back gradually into the European orbit to which they had belonged for a thousand years prior to the Arab interlude.

Because the last Norman king died without a male heir, the new masters of the Maltese islands came, in turn, from the ruling houses of Germany, France and Spain: the Swabians (1194); the Angevins (1268); the Aragonese (1283) and finally, the Castilians (1410).

(When the Norman Period came to an end, the Fief of Malta was granted to loyal servants of the Sicilian Crown: these Counts, or Marquises of Malta, as these nobles were styled, looked on the fief simply as an investment a source for the collection of taxes and something that was bartered or sold when no longer viable.

The last feudal lord of Malta. Don Gonsalvo Monroy, had been expelled from the Island following a revolt and at the Court of Sicily the count demanded that the strongest measures be taken against the insurgents. At the same Court the representatives of the Maltese offered to repay the 30,000 florins originally paid by Monroy for the Fief of Malta; they also asked for the Island to be incorporated in the Royal Domains once they had redeemed their homeland. The king, Alphonse V. impressed by their loyalty, called Malta the most notable gem in his crown, thus the capital of Malta came to be called Notabile although, then, as now, the Maltese continued to call the town Mdina.)

Text by Vivan Storlund