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Why Were The Vikings So Successful?


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#21 sunday

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 1540 PM

Richard, are you implying that Global Warming will bring, on top of rising sea levels, more tornadoes, more hurricanes, more Gore smugness, etc., also more Viking Raids?

 

OMG, OMG, OMG!


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#22 urbanoid

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 1551 PM

Didn't you hear that global warming oppresses women? Just add Viking raids to make their oppression even worse.


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#23 Yama

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 1623 PM

It appears to me that Norse society was much more dynamic than other European cultures at the time. Viking expansion is notable as it was relatively small - and seemingly more primitive - culture colonizing richer & more populous ones. In this sense Vikings compare to Mongols and other Eurasian nomadic cultures. One reason perhaps is that much of the population was made up of free landowners: although Scandinavia had slavery, there was no serfdom.

Though, Viking colonization was mostly limited to coastal regions, they seldom made much inroads against powerful European inland cultures, with exception of Russia, to where they were apparently invited. They don't seem to have been too interested about less developed regions: there were very few attempts to colonize Baltic region despite its close proximity, and North American colonization seems to have been abandoned largely due to lack of interest. The Vikings seem to have been driven by the principle of 'go big or go home'. They went for the big prizes, high risk-high return regions to raid, trade or lord over. Fighting over scraps with warlike, but materially poorer American or Baltic natives was apparently not worth it.
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#24 Richard Lindquist

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 1650 PM

It appears to me that Norse society was much more dynamic than other European cultures at the time. Viking expansion is notable as it was relatively small - and seemingly more primitive - culture colonizing richer & more populous ones. In this sense Vikings compare to Mongols and other Eurasian nomadic cultures. One reason perhaps is that much of the population was made up of free landowners: although Scandinavia had slavery, there was no serfdom.

Though, Viking colonization was mostly limited to coastal regions, they seldom made much inroads against powerful European inland cultures, with exception of Russia, to where they were apparently invited. They don't seem to have been too interested about less developed regions: there were very few attempts to colonize Baltic region despite its close proximity, and North American colonization seems to have been abandoned largely due to lack of interest. The Vikings seem to have been driven by the principle of 'go big or go home'. They went for the big prizes, high risk-high return regions to raid, trade or lord over. Fighting over scraps with warlike, but materially poorer American or Baltic natives was apparently not worth it.

You had a very small colony in Iceland trying to support an even smaller colony in Greenland trying to get a foothold on the North American continent.  Remember that European colonization of the North American mainland only succeeded by the massive die offs of the native population through European diseases and the population resources of England, France, and Spain.  Jamestown and Plymouth would have been overwhelmed by the Indians had it not been for the fact that the Indian populations were decreased by 80-90%.  The small boatloads of Vikings never could have made a permanent place in Newfoundland and later Canada without immediate followup by fleets of ships with reinforcing pioneers.


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#25 Olof Larsson

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 1747 PM

Didn't you hear that global warming oppresses women? Just add Viking raids to make their oppression even worse.

 

Actually (AFAIK) there is not a single contemporary source that mentions vikings raping.

Murdering, plundering and taking peoples as slaves. Yes

Raping. No.

 

There are however sources mentioning local christians raping for instance nuns after a viking raid.

 

It seems that rape was one of three crimes that was always punished by death.

They were rape, stealing the iron tip of a ard and...well draft dodging.

 

In some areas at least, the "fiery cross" used when the local militia was called up was an arrow,

with a burnt string tied to the rear end, with the meaning that it's time to go to war (the arrow)

and if you fail to show up, we will burn down your farm and hang you (the burnt string).

 

Murder was not that serious, and besides the victim might have said something to deserve it,

so a fine was a better compromise.


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#26 Richard Lindquist

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 1858 PM

 

Didn't you hear that global warming oppresses women? Just add Viking raids to make their oppression even worse.

 

Actually (AFAIK) there is not a single contemporary source that mentions vikings raping.

Murdering, plundering and taking peoples as slaves. Yes

Raping. No.

 

Well, slave women were often used sexually against their will.  Free women in Viking society were a lot better off and more respected than in other cultures.

 

BTW, I also have read that the Viking raids were "religious wars" against Christianity in retaliation for the forced conversion of the Saxons and the destruction of the sacred pillars of Irmunsill by Charlemagne.


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#27 Yama

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 1926 PM

BTW, I also have read that the Viking raids were "religious wars" against Christianity in retaliation for the forced conversion of the Saxons and the destruction of the sacred pillars of Irmunsill by Charlemagne.


That may have been motivation for Danes, who came to conflict with Charlemagne's empire. Maybe less so for their northernly cousins, but maybe they just emulated the Danes?
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#28 Tony Evans

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 2045 PM

Oddly enough, my parents are in the hands of the Vikings right now, raiding Vienna.


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#29 toysoldier

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 2235 PM

I have heard somewhere that they bathed often, and ate more fish than red meat, so maybe they were healthier altogether. Probably had better physiques, more stamina, clearer minds, smaller and rarer fits of diarrhea...


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#30 Ivanhoe

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Posted 14 September 2014 - 2310 PM

Does it count if standing up?

 

   


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#31 Murph

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Posted 26 December 2017 - 0929 AM

Return from the dead, since I am watching Vikings on Netflix. Was the shield wall really that good a defense?
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#32 FALightFighter

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Posted 26 December 2017 - 0950 AM

Re: Shield Wall, if you have a group of large, strong, young, healthy fighters (IIRC, the average adult Scandinavian skeleton from the Viking age is ~5'8", while the rest of western Europe is ~5'0"), standing together with large shields against a force that consists primarily of a levy of peasants armed with farm implements- yeah, it was probably fairly effective.

 

At Hastings, a shield wall stood all day against repeated cavalry charges, and was not broken, even under arrow barrages, until the poorly disciplined fyrd followed a feigned retreat.  


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#33 DougRichards

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Posted 27 December 2017 - 0458 AM

Return from the dead, since I am watching Vikings on Netflix. Was the shield wall really that good a defense?

 

Well see what happens when a riotous rabble throws itself against a shield wall held by some of Texas's finest.  Then think how that would have gone with sticks with pointy bits being held by both sides?  One side with shields, the other without.

 

Well, some of the rabble may have been riding horses....  but contrary to LOTR imagery, few horses are going to hurl themselves on  to the pointed bits held by the defenders: hence the success of the Napoleonic square, which was essentially a shield wall with four sides against cavalry.

 

Only missile troops, or cunning, would disrupt a shield wall.


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#34 a77

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 1330 PM

Return from the dead, since I am watching Vikings on Netflix. Was the shield wall really that good a defense?

 

Yes shield wall was a fantastic defense, trained and disciplined warrior in a shield wall was almost impossible dislodge from the front. One tactic the vikings did use was svinfylking "swine snout" a triangle formation to break a shield wall, but. you need to flank the wall or a heavy cavalry charge to break it effective, but disciplined warrior will break a cavalry charge.

 

Think of shield wall as the trench of WW1.

 
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#35 Redbeard

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Posted 07 May 2018 - 0748 AM

I seriously doubt if there was a dominating religious motive for the raiding, I anyway don't know of any sources mentioning it. In some ways you could say that the "raids" only got truly successful when the Norse became Christians -  like Svend Forkbeard and Canute the Great's conquest of England in first half of 11th Century.

 

And now we are at sources - if women had been taking part in the raids in anything but a few instances I'm absolutely positive that we would have had numerous sources about. that would also then have been top news. So if you find some skeletons and classify half of them as women your classification probably is wrong.

 

But as others have already stated the surprise element was important in Viking raiding. It was practically impossible to garrison every place against even a single ship (20-40 men) - which could show up, raid and be gone again inside a few hours.

 

In 10th century power was centralised in at least Denmark (Harald Bluetooth 965) and this made it possible for his son and grandson (Svend Forkbeard and Canute the Great) to organise "raids" with hundreds of ships - i.e. full scale invasions. Some sources indicate that raids showed up after Hastings, but were paid off in silver. In 1086 a large raid/invasion of England was planned and ships and men where gathering but some of them got "pissed" and killed the King (Canute IV). He later was made a Saint, as he was killed in a Church in front of the Altar.

 

In the next centuries focus from Denmark shifted to the Baltic areas where the Danish Kings got "Papal license to crusade", but the raids/invasions were organised and carried out very much like the late Viking raids/invasions.


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#36 a77

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Posted 11 May 2018 - 0603 AM

 

Murder was not that serious, and besides the victim might have said something to deserve it,

so a fine was a better compromise.

 

 

This must be necromancy to make a comment that is so old ;) Murder was a crime but not that serious...as you pointed out... the victim's family could get compensation or know wher to take revenge. However lönmord "murder in secret" (the offender will not be known)  was one of the worst crimes you could carry out. So the saga is a bit funny, the potagonist sneak in the night to set fire to his enemy's house, but after deed, he scream out his name in the night and tell that it was he who did it. Now its not a lönmord, the killer his known, hence only a "ordinary" murder.

     
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#37 Sardaukar

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Posted 11 May 2018 - 2248 PM

Burnt Njall's Saga is pretty good in this area. Can be found online in english:

 

http://sagadb.org/brennu-njals_saga.en


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#38 DougRichards

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Posted 12 May 2018 - 0159 AM

Everyone knows that the Vikings fought against the Moors somewhere in the Med, otherwise 'The Long Ships' would never have been filmed.

 

Mind you, riding the Mare of Steel would have been somewhat painful.


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#39 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 13 May 2018 - 0200 AM

Good film IIRC.

 

Seri Plokhy's book 'The Gates of Europe' gives a very good account of the Vikings using Ukraine as a transit route to the med, and one Viking King was even killed there when they had to get out the boat to carry it up a waterfall. They played a key role in the establishment of Rus. Ukraine can into Baltic? :)


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#40 DougRichards

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Posted 13 May 2018 - 0503 AM

Good film IIRC.

 

Seri Plokhy's book 'The Gates of Europe' gives a very good account of the Vikings using Ukraine as a transit route to the med, and one Viking King was even killed there when they had to get out the boat to carry it up a waterfall. They played a key role in the establishment of Rus. Ukraine can into Baltic? :)

 

Actually 'The Vikings' of 1958 was just as interesting a movie. 

 

 

and it gave Ernest Borgnine an early taste of small ship handling in front of a camera.


Edited by DougRichards, 13 May 2018 - 0504 AM.

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