Vikings and Englishmen - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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End of Roman society, feudalism, rise of religious power, beginnings of the nation-state, renaissance (476 - 1492 CE).
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By Suska
#13444650
I'm interested in learning about it. Not sure what all, so to start with a banal question, What were Vikings called by Englishmen and other Europeans around the turn of the first millenium CE?

insights on life in England at the time? Any depictions that ring true out there? Really going for realism here, not 19th century neo-romantic medievalism like Ivanhoe etc. Gotta get past that. Were these people smart? crazy? drunkards? I dunno.
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By Potemkin
#13444745
I'm interested in learning about it. Not sure what all, so to start with a banal question, What were Vikings called by Englishmen and other Europeans around the turn of the first millenium CE?

'Norsemen', I believe. The name 'Norman' is derived from that.

insights on life in England at the time?

Could you be more specific?

Any depictions that ring true out there? Really going for realism here, not 19th century neo-romantic medievalism like Ivanhoe etc. Gotta get past that.

The early medieval period has been romanticised beyond all recognition by the Victorians and then Hollywood. Getting a clear, historically accurate insight into that period is almost impossible now.

Were these people smart? crazy? drunkards? I dunno.

They were pretty much as smart, crazy and drunk as we are now.
User avatar
By Suska
#13445039
They were pretty much as smart, crazy and drunk as we are now.
This is my general perspective. I like that you bring it up. When we talk about history we have all sort of assumptions like progress and regionalism of traits, we're looking at a highly pixelated version. Whereas I find it useful to think about it in terms of, well if I go just down the road, and I can do this barefoot in a torrential rain in about 5 minutes, I can see a house full of people who really don't behave like I do, they don't profess what I do, in subjective terms; I wouldn't want to be like them. So why do we assume there isn't a mathematical genius dickering about with obscure questions living in a Norse village? The life in a Norse village seems rather less diverse than our lives, I've traveled the world, my neighbors haven't left Missouri. But even so, isn't there something like an analog of this math nerd - I can't imagine anything plausible but I think you see what I mean. There would have been all sorts of people at all sorts of times and to say that these people were like such and such because the limits of their world was much sharper than ours is probably incorrect.

They would have had variety in accordance with the possibility of variety, the limits of their world would have made that variety seem much more pronounced to them than it does to us, so you're back in the same place really, with some people complaining about each other like every new thing was an omen of apocalypse, and with other people finding their peace without any help at all in conditions that would make it seem impossible.

England at the turn of the first century, but not in an historical manner, or even a manner of anthropology, I've read enough to know in a general way what to expect in terms of the events and the ways of life. What I'm curious about is the ways in which I can be surprised about them.

Recently I've been looking into the Stultifera Navis and it occurred to me that this is representing to me an unusual practice; that of sticking all your idiots and criminals on a ship and giving them some made up mission guaranteed to take them to some place from which they won't come back. this comes from looking at Qatz's whacky fascination with Foucault. His theory seems to have been that people used to be far more accepting and that at some point that stopped being the case and this is where modernity was first conceived - the punishment of people for being insane. I'm sure you're familiar with the role of jesters and court fools. That was replaced by advisors and priests.

Well here is a supposition then that I find very interesting; the early middle ages was not at all a sane or consistent place. That we have imposed sanity - even if we want to call that narrowness and say that we have eliminated genius too. I'm not making a judgement, but it does seem to me that people are naturally insane and sanity is imposed, maybe even simply posed - I don't think we've won that war so much as made uniform the insanity, sorted insanities into firm and narrow categories by social engineering. We've lost the variety, perhaps upped the intensity and made no one really sane who was insane.

From the perspective of the people aboard the ship of fools, looking back, maybe some of them understood well enough what was happening. But they weren't the insane ones for launching off on an exciting journey, the insane ones were the wicked, greedy and mean people who stayed behind.

But I digress. I only meant to suggest that perhaps there were differences, they are hard to find and get at. Which is why I bring it here.
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By Arthur2sheds_Jackson
#13455110
Suska try this as a starting point http://www.lindisfarne.org.uk/793/
User avatar
By Suska
#13455161
bleh... thanks I guess...

No offense but that was elementary school reading.
User avatar
By Stormsmith
#13455273
I'd start with the museum in York. Archeologists found enough tangible remains of the Vikings that the museum was able to re-create a bit of a community. (York was inhabited for eons. If memory serves, - bear in mind I have the memory of a goldfish, the Romans had three capital cities of which York was one, and I think the norsemen followed suit, so the archeological finds were pretty good, what with it being a trading centre with a major church, and apparently, at one time, a centre for intellects).

You ask about life at the end of the first millenium...That's about when there was a general change in office, if you will, and the Normans took over. William the Conquor was as harsh on Yorkshire as the Norsemen had been, and I've wondered what effect that would have had on advancing knowledge and technology. In theory, the blending of two cultures should push things along a little, but a lot of the Roman technology, ie, underground heating systems etc was lost, and rather quickly at that. I would think evidence of everyday genius should show up in the advancement of knowledge and technology, especially when you're at the cusp of a major change in society which would give farmers and artisans, metal workers ect, the opportunity to look at technologies and techniques that might be quite new to them.

Anyway, as you'll recall, twenty years after Willie Wombat took over, he published the DoomsDay Book. Its dull reading, but if you read between the lines, it will give you some insight into what life was like at the end of the Dane period, since its an amazingly thorough accounting of property and holdings.
There was a British tv series that aired here a couple of years ago that had unearthed a number of viking sites, and showed previously unknown advances in agriculture. I had a look for it on youtube, but couldn't spot it. It'll show up somewhere.

PS As to mathmatics,I'd look at the engineering of the major buildings of the day.

As for insanity, didn't churches look after the less dangerous nuts? I would imagine there would be little tolerance for the criminally insane, unless they were born into the highest levels of society. The Caligulas and Neros, the Eric Bloodaxs, the George III's. ok George wasn't criminal, just nutz. The rest, I speculate, wound up in prisons, as slaves or dangling on the end of a rope.
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By BurrsWogdon
#13474349
I've been to that museum. You get to ride around in a little trolly as badly crafted village scenes go by. I liked the Drambuie trolly ride better. They give you booze at the end.

I don't know if anyone said this but I believe "viking" is an activity. My understanding is that they were called "Dene" by the Anglo-Saxons. I think "Norseman" is derived from the language "Norse".

From what I've read they were tearing all the Roman construction apart to build thatch roof buildings. The Saxons that is. The Scandies built their lodges. My understanding is that life was pretty much hanging around scared shitless that the boats would come at which point you'd run and hide in a Burgh. The heathen bastard pagans only had a few horses until they stole some more and didn't have the resources for a siege. After a while Alfred would come out and somehow defeat them. You didn't want to be fyrd. The fyrd was undoubtedly fucked. The "great fyrd" that is. Never mind the samurai worrying about the shield in the other thread, imagine going up against one with a sharpened hoe.

I suppose when you weren't getting thrown up the glacis, Alfred was cramming Jesus down your throat. I think he even managed to cram it down at least one Dane's throat, in exchange for a sizeable chunk of real estate.
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By BurrsWogdon
#13477519
Apologies for not editing my last post but the option isn't available to me just now.

A question occurred to me: how do we know that they were not drunker than we? I would think at minimum they'd have been consuming "small beer"? I would think meals would have been considerably smaller and farther between. On average maybe they were more prone to being drunk.
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By Potemkin
#13477523
A question occurred to me: how do we know that they were not drunker than we? I would think at minimum they'd have been consuming "small beer"? I would think meals would have been considerably smaller and farther between. On average maybe they were more prone to being drunk.

My understanding is that most beer and wine was much weaker than modern varieties. Beer was almost universally drunk back then simply because it was the only safe way of getting water into your system. The main purpose of drinking beer back then was not to get drunk but to quench one's thirst, which is absolutely not the case now.
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By Cookie Monster
#13477538
If it was just for water, isn't it a bit too much effort to go for beer given the time and effort it takes to prepare it.
If the water wasn't clean, they could just have boiled it to make it suitable for drinking.
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By Stormsmith
#13477690
My understanding of the Celtic lifestyle, which is broadly applied to most of western Europe was people drank beer to get drunk. Certainly the Romans drank wine with that end in mind. Even the bible cautions against strong drink, meaning there was strong drink available from the earliest times. (Remeber Noah and his son's? Lot's daughters got their father squiffy so they could each sleep with their dad. Their goal was to give him sons as he had none by his wife whom had become a pillar of salt) And there were drugs.

People were people. I doubt the average guy/ess was interested in becoming blotto before morning milking was done, but, when the chores were done, getting high was probably as popular then as now.
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By Suska
#13477775
Certainly the spirit of hard drink was passed to us from somewhere. You probably encounter as much excess as you ever would, there are differences and there is always variety. It seems likely that fermenting spirits goes back quite a ways, possibly linked to agriculture. My understanding of the era was that Vikings and Saxons and Romans did imbibe. It's said to have been a critical factor in Russia going Orthodox instead of Islamic.

The image I get is that its fair to say at least in frontier towns and among soldiers there's more than a few earnest drunks. Deadwood, I take it could have been set in the Roman Empire era.
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By BurrsWogdon
#13478474
I thought small beer had diminished alcohol content as the result of being the product of the third wash and hence there would have been two previous and more powerful brews. That said, point well taken, the first rendering may not have been very strong comparatively. One would think the sugar content of mead would produce relatively high alcohol content (along with residual sugar=headache that might lead to increased instances of madness 8) ) though. I don't know whether mead was in fashion.

One of the "five precepts" discourages intoxication as well. I believe distillation dates to Mesopotamia as well as fermentation.

If I'm not mistaken distillation was working it's way from Ireland to Scotland around this time... and Norseman (Lachlanach) were doing their thing in Ireland as well (I think "Dublin" is of Norse derivation). Perhaps Vikings helped spread the uisce. They were traders when they weren't murderous raping squatters, right? Isn't that why the long ship prows were removable?

I imagine more motivation to remain steadily numb in those times, but I can't imagine comparable supply.

I would also like to resist the argument that beer offers as primary functions only thirst quenching (about all "American Pilsner" is good for) and getting pissed (colloquialism specially selected ;) ). Beer tastes good.
By three_lions
#13536501
Information on Anglo-Norse relations comes to us mainly through copies of origianl sources such as the Ango-Saxon Chronicles. No original copies of the Chronicles exist, so we are reading reproduced Norman history. York was the centre of Viking rule. It was captured by a Viking king called Ivar the Boneless. Eventually, most of Northumbira was ruled by the Vikings. King Alfred the Great spent much of his life leading Wessex into war with the Vikings. Viking rule in England remained until 1066. Pre-Norman England is very interesting to study. The problem is that not enough original sources survive to get a good account. Much of what we know was written by Normans.
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By Prosthetic Conscience
#13537251
No, the oldest surviving copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dates back to 891, and more than one surviving copy is pre-Norman: http://www8.georgetown.edu/departments/ ... intro.html

If anyone wants to check how they use or spell 'Viking', 'Norseman', 'Northman' or 'Dane', go ahead, but a knowledge of Old English is useful: http://www8.georgetown.edu/departments/ ... asc/a.html

"Deniscra" is in the entry for 787 meaning 'Danish'; 'Northmen' seems to turn up in other versions of that entry - see eg http://www.lindisfarne.org.uk/793/ .

York was the centre of Viking rule. It was captured by a Viking king called Ivar the Boneless. Eventually, most of Northumbira was ruled by the Vikings. King Alfred the Great spent much of his life leading Wessex into war with the Vikings. Viking rule in England remained until 1066.


A rather sketchy and misleading summary. Under Alfred, what is now England was divided by a line roughly from London to Liverpool, with the Danes to the north (aka 'Danelaw') and the English to the south. Alfred's grandson Athelstan reunited it all, and is normally reckoned the first king of all England. Fighting with Danes continued, but from then until Ethelred lost to the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard (who then promptly died), over 100 years after Ivar and Alfred, there wasn't a stable Danish kingdom in England. But by then the royal families were marrying each other - Ethelred's widow, Emma, was the daughter of the Duke of Normandy (ie another 'Northmen' branch), and she then married Cnut, Sweyn's son. York was in no sense the centre of Danish rule - Winchester (capital of Wessex) and London were the main centres (Cnut died, and is buried, in Winchester). But Anglo-Saxon rule happened again - Edward the Confessor, Ethelred's son, held the throne for 22 years up to 1066.
By three_lions
#13537998
I appologise for my rushed explanation. I also made an awful mistake by saying that no original copies were left. What I meant to say was that I am of the opinion that the chronicles are only a portion of history and give a more slanted view of the times. This is a slanted view from the Wessex perspective.
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By Quantum
#13538690
Cookie Monster wrote:If the water wasn't clean, they could just have boiled it to make it suitable for drinking.

The alcohol in the beer kills most water-borne pathogens and is more effective than merely boiling water, as some of the bacteria survive the boiling process and multiplies, rendering it undrinkable.

Potemkin wrote:The early medieval period has been romanticised beyond all recognition by the Victorians and then Hollywood. Getting a clear, historically accurate insight into that period is almost impossible now.

Do you think that can happen to the current period if most records of this civilisation is destroyed? Will the historians of the future romanticise this period in the same manner of modern historians on Vikings, if the scenario in the previous sentence happened?
By three_lions
#13540286
Certain aspects of the Middle Ages have been romanticised by literature and film. When I talk with people about this period in history, they usually know only folklore such as Robin Hood or King Arthur. They also have a very limited view of Chivalry as being this sort of romantic relationship between Knights and women. On the other hand, I would say the Vikings have been characterised as a group of yobs raping and murdering for sport. This is not a fair representation of the Vikings. I am not sure we will ever get the public to properly understand the complex nature of the Middle Ages.
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By Potemkin
#13540296
Do you think that can happen to the current period if most records of this civilisation is destroyed? Will the historians of the future romanticise this period in the same manner of modern historians on Vikings, if the scenario in the previous sentence happened?

Undoubtedly. Take the Kennedy era as an example - historians might piece together some story about a noble young king leading a court called 'Camelot' in the 'White House'. They will probably draw 'reconstructions' showing JFK sitting with his knights around a Round Table in full plate armour, and describe his struggle against the evil Red Knight Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis before he was treacherously slain by Mordred, er, I mean by Lee Harvey Oswald. What, you think it can't happen? Most popular accounts of the early Middle Ages are no better.
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