What impact did the Vikings have on North Britain? Shortly before the ninth century, North-west Europe was exposed to raids and attacks from the Scandinavians. They had discovered the wealth that could be obtained from the richer communities of Britain and Frankia, both in currency and natural resources (the latter being found especially in Ireland). As time went on, during the course of the ninth century, the leaders of the attacks on these countries grew more ambitious and soon there were different motives for raiding these places.
Many leaders had become content to stay and settle permanently in these abundantly icher countries. This process of Viking settlement led to the integration of two cultures, between the peoples of the settled countries and the Vikings, this integration enveloped languages and religion mainly. This essay will seek to distinguish what impact the Scandinavian settlement had on the region of North Britain, in particular Scotland and the islands surrounding the coast of Scotland.
Firstly to be able to fully assess what impact was had, one firstly must look at the nature of society and settlement before the Scandinavian invasion. By the end of the Roman occupation in Britain, the area that we now call Scotland consisted of many different Kingdoms. There were four distinct groups within the borders that are now Scotland. In the east were the Picts with Kingdom between Forth and Shetland. While in the West the people of Dal Riata, the Goidelic speakers, with their royal fortress in Argyll.
Then there were the Brythonic peoples in the South making the Kingdom of Strathclyde with their centre being Dunbarton Rock and finally the English or Angles who settled in the South East. At the beginning of the Viking raids into North Britain he region had been divided into four ethnic groups of Britons, English, Gaels and Picts. Or rather three distinct political regions, Northumbria, Pictland and Strathclyde, into which further there were a multitude of various kingships and lordships, creating a somewhat complex web of power during this time.
Eventually it would come down between the Gaels and Picts, were power was regularly disputed between the two. However by the 8th Century the distinctiveness of the two peoples had clearly lessened, bloodlines had been diluted by marriage in what one assumes ere attempts at bridging peace or gaining pre-eminence over the other. Unfortunately the records of much of early Scottish History are not written, with many lost or destroyed, which can make a survey of pre-Viking Scotland somewhat difficult.
There is little to no written evidence between the Seventh Century text of Adamnan’s Life of Columba and Tactitus’ account of Agricola, leaving around five centuries of history in the dark. Despite this we are still able to make fair assumptions due to details and evidence in various different texts including the Orkneyinga Saga and Irish and English annals and chronicles. However it is still important to treat these texts with care considering the Norse Saga was written by an unknown Icelandic scribe while the annals and chronicles are susceptible to certain bias.
One of the most often popular citations from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle; an entry under 793, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery, dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the ixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter. The extract describing the Viking raid on Lindisfarne; this is often considered the opening deluge into Viking attacks in Britain. In 795 the Vikings sacked Iona, in 802 they burned it and in 806 they killed sixty eight of the community living on the island. This was the first attack in close proximity to Scotland. They’re had been previous attacks on other areas such as Lindisfarne and Rechru which is ow Rathlin Island off the north coast of Antrim, as it is recorded in the Annals of Ulster, “The burning of Rechru by the heathens, and Sci was overwhelmed and laid waste. Again the Annals of Ulster mention the abruptness of “the devastation of all the islands of Britain by pagans”. Soon after, Orkney, Shetland and the majority of the western Isles had fallen to the new Scandinavian settlers. In 839, the Vikings had enjoyed a major victory in which the King of Fortriu, Eogan mac Oengusa and the King of Dal Riata, Aed mac Boanta were both killed in battle. In 867 the Vikings had eized control of Northubria forming the Kingdom of York .
Which is also mentioned in the Annals of Ulster; “The dark foreigners won a battle over the northern Saxons at York. ” Approximately three years after, Dunbarton was also taken over as well, leaving a newly combined Pictish and Gaelic kingdom which had been brought together by Cinead mac Alpin ( or more commonly known as Kenneth Alpin), leaving the Kingdom almost entirely encircled by the new Scandinavian settlers The usual perception of Vikings plays reference to their role mainly as raiders, being disruptive and destructive.
However conquerors and colonists made a more positive contribution by encouraging commerce, the growth of towns and re-shaping political structures. We can see this by the fact that much of North England had been reshaped due to the formation of Danelaw. During the 890’s the Danes had even introduced a new currency within Danelaw.
The impact of the Viking commerce that took place in towns and cities within Danelaw should not go un-noticed; cities such as York remained for centuries after a place of importance in terms of trade and wealth. The fact that they introduced new coinages shows the impact that they had n the politics of the areas they settled and similarly the law codes that they issued in the names of King Edgar and King Knut, would suggest that they did have a greater impact than what the lack of evidence would suggest.
Further north in Britain, areas may have experienced different levels of influence such as the Orkneys or the Hebrides, unlike most other areas of Scotland, land was not fertile and offered little in means of agriculture, however these Eastern Isles of Scotland had fertile lands, landscapes conducive to farming and more than not, the new Scandinavian settlers most likely helped to exploit this. The Norse presence heavily influenced Scotland’s language. Undoubtedly the gaelic language more than like must have undergone minor changes throughout the centuries preceding the arrival of the Norse settlers.
The Norse domination of the Hebrides lasted for almost 500 years, until the conclusion of the Treaty of Perth in 1266, and the Scandinavian language century. While in Orkney and the Shetlands remained under the control of the Scandinavians until they were pledged in 1468-69 by King Christian I of Denmark to the Scottish crown, and the Scandinavian language remained until as late as the ighteenth century. However the native languages of the Northern Isles underwent a complete Norse transformation.
Despite this, the gaelic language in the end did prevail, but the Norse dominance can still be seen today, particularly in places names, such as on the Isle of Lewis where four fifths of the place names are Norse. It is slightly harder to determine the extent to which the Vikings influenced religion in North Britain, or where they themselves were influenced by religion. The Viking impact is assumed to be damaging, but in order to fully understand this we would eed to have a clear idea on what the pre-existing structures, in this case, the Church were already like.
Indeed many Viking studies have made assumptions about the social nature and political practices in Viking Scotland (which may need to be revised). However it may be a fair assumption to make, that like in many other areas throughout Britain, the Vikings had quickly accepted Christianity and therefore a parallel may be able to be drawn in such places like Scotland also. The Viking settlement in the North may have accidently played an early role in the creation of odern day Scotland or Alba.
Where previsously before the land had been divided between Picland, Strathclyde and Dal Riata. The new settlers almost acted as a catalyst in uniting these separate Kingdoms together against a common enemy – the Norse. The extent of the Viking impact in North Britain is still today a largely unanswered one, the lack of written evidence from the area adds to making the task harder. However based on other evidence from sources of the same time such as the Annals of Ulster or the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles one can gain a fair idea of the impact which was had.
The fact that the islands of Orkney and the Hebrides remained under Viking control for a such a long period of time is a clear marker of the impact which was had. To add to this is he linguistic impression on place names in North Britain still stands today as evidence of what was once a Scandinavian dominated area and culture as well. Bibliography; Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, (transl. Rev. James Ingram. ), (London, 1823), (Everyman Press, London, 1912), electronic edition (ed. ) Douglas B. Killings Ouly 1996), http://omacl. org/ Anglo/part2. html, Accessed 14/4/13 Annals of Ulster, S. Mac Airt & G.
Mac Niocaill’s, (Dublin, 1983), electronic edition compiled by P?¤draig Bambury, Stephen Beechinor, Funded by University College, Cork and Professor Marianne McDonald via the CELT Project. http://www. ucc. ie/celt/online/T100001A/ accessed (14/4/13) Burns, W. E, “A Brief History of Great Britain” (New York, 2009) Fellows-Jenson, Gillian, “Viking Settlement in the Northen and Western Isles- the Place-Name Evidence as seen from Denmark and the Danelaw’, Fenton and Pallison (ed. ), “The Northern and Western Isles in the Viking World” (Edinburgh, 1984) Hadley, Dawn, Viking Raids and Conquest’,
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