The History and Impacts of Vikings on Our World
The classic view of Vikings as bloodthirsty seafaring heathens who raided and raped their way across the peaceful settlements of the Frankish Empire is not the actual way Vikings acted. Despite this view of Vikings as conquerors and thieves, during the Viking age of glory they also migrated, traded, and adopted Christianity. Regardless of the amount of Viking activity during this time their overall impact of their activity in the political entity of the Frankish Empire was minimal. Vikings were originally from Scandinavia (now known as Norway, Denmark, and Sweden) and lived there from the 8thcentury to the 11th century. Although they were thought of as one united group of Northmen, they were actually separate groups. The three main Viking groups came from Norway, Denmark, and Sweden groups. The period from the 8thcentury to the 11th century was considered the Viking age, the period when Vikings explored, raided, migrated and built settlements throughout Europe. The Vikings raided many different lands, one of which was the Frankish Empire. The Frankish Empire was a post-Roman barbarian kingdom located in Western Europe. During the Viking age the leaders of the Franks were dying without heirs, leaving the Empire grasping for leaders. This led to internal battles for power within the Frankish Empire making them susceptible to attack. The Vikings saw vulnerability they could take advantage of within the Frankish Empire. The Vikings were after wealth which they could obtain through being mercenaries and looting. Most of the wealth in the Frankish Empire was concentrated in monasteries.
When people, or in this case an Empire, is divided, the separation makes easier to take advantage of them. When people are divided, they cannot work efficiently together, and therefore are more vulnerable to an attack. An Empire united is stronger than an Empire separated. Within the Frankish Empire during the Viking age there was an abundance of infighting due to the struggle for leadership, dividing the people. At the beginning of the Viking age Charlemagne ruled the Frankish Empire, but eventually he died, and the Empire was passed down to his son, Louis the Pious. After Louis the Pious’ death, civil wars followed due to a power struggle because the Empire was split into three kingdoms for his three sons: Charles the Bald (western), the eldest, Lothar I (middle), and Louis the German (eastern). The Frankish Empire was a great Empire and unification of the Empire gave it more power than when it was divided into three kingdoms. It is easier to conquer small divided lands than a great Empire. By dividing the kingdom for his sons, Louis the Pious made the Frankish Empire more vulnerable to attack. After the death of Lothar, his kingdom was split between his sons, further dividing and weakening the Empire. Eventually the whole middle kingdom was inherited by one of Lothar I sons, Lotharingia.
However, Lotharingia died without an heir, leaving the middle kingdom without a ruler. Because the middle kingdom did not have a leader, Charles the Bald and Louis the German fought for power over the middle kingdom. The rulers, Charles the Bald and Louis the German were focused on their internal conflicts and not the protection of their land. The people who held the most power, the nobles, obtained followers and then fought each other for more power. The instability within the kingdoms led to the Vikings invading them because the Vikings recognized the weakness and instability and took advantage of it.
The Vikings had numerous opportunities to become even wealthier than they actually did while the Frankish Empire struggled with leadership. The continuous difficulty in establishing and maintaining leadership led to vulnerability within the Frankish Empire and infighting. These internal conflicts made it easier for the Vikings to obtain the transportable wealth, like jewelry, they were after. The Vikings craved wealth, and not only did they get it from looting villages, cities, and monasteries but also by being mercenaries for Frankish people who wanted to hire them to get rid of their Frankish enemies. Aside from gaining wealth from the Frankish Empire, the Vikings did not impact the political entity of the Frankish Empire significantly. If anything, due to infighting within the Frankish Empire the Franks themselves impacted the political entity of the empire more than the Vikings. An empire that fights regularly is an empire that has a chance at winning a battle unlike an empire that does not. When King Carlomann fought the Vikings in the year 882 he and his army were able to defeat the Vikings at Avaux. If the Vikings had been after more than wealth the impact to the Frankish Empire may have been drastically different. The Vikings could have gained more power and land. Although the impact on the Frankish Empire as a political entity was marginal other aspects of the Frankish Empire were impacted.
The Great Army was formed around 865 and lasted for about 30 years. Despite the name “Great Army” they mainly went around raiding England and the Frankish Empire. However, there was more than one Great Army, there was also one that invaded the British Isles. The Great Army that invaded the British Isles and were able to successfully take over, at least for a while. The Vikings could have had different goals for the different locations due to the differences in the British Isles and the Frankish Empire, like their size. However, another factor is that despite the Vikings being viewed as one united group, they were not. So perhaps the different Great Armies were just two separate Vikings groups with two separate goals. Through general knowledge of vast armies, normally an army of that size would generally not be going around just raiding and plundering. They would have a greater goal, that greater goal would ordinarily be power and land. The Great Army did not just go around raiding and plundering they would also demand tributes instead as an alternative to raiding. During the Viking age the Vikings had many opportunities to obtain more than the wealth that they acquired. Through the formation of the Great Army they had a vast army that could have taken over land and gained power.
Certain aspects within the Frankish Empire were more affected than others by the Vikings. One of these aspects was Christianity, more specifically the monasteries. Due to the fact that the Vikings were more interested in gaining wealth than power and land, monasteries were often the focus of the attacks by the Vikings. Monasteries were places of great wealth, accumulated through donations of their followers. As a result of innumerable attacks on monasteries it is sometimes assumed that the Vikings were attacking the monasteries for religious reasons, but this was not the case. Although Vikings were normally pagans their attacks had to do with the wealth of the monasteries as well as the monasteries lack of fortification and defense. Many sources written about these Viking attacks were from the perspective of a member of the church, therefore creating a bias against the Vikings, painting a picture of more violence than might have occurred. “The Annals of Saint-Vaast” for the Years 882 to 886 were written at a monastery and consequently written by a member of the church.
These annals are records of events that occurred each year. In 882 the Vikings devastated the entire kingdom of Condé where the source mentions how monasteries and churches were reduced to ruins, and how members of the Christian religion were either killed by sword or hunger or even sold abroad. Another important piece of information that was written was that “No one resisted.” The violence done by the Vikings through their attacks was not just blamed on them but also the rulers for their lack of resistance to the Vikings attacks This source expresses a belief that the Franks didn’t resist because they just accepted they would be defeated. These attacks on monasteries didn’t directly impact the political entity of the Frankish Empire but they impacted the people, within the empire. The Vikings interaction with Christianity through their raids could have been what led some of them to convert from paganism to Christianity. Harold II Bluetooth was a Viking and ruler of Denmark who eventually converted to Christianity. In this way it could be said that in some way the Vikings were impacted by Christianity through their raids of monasteries.
Not only did they impact Christianity in the Frankish Empire through their raids, Vikings also impacted Christianity and the culture we know today. Through Vikings conversion to Christianity they instilled some of their own traditions into Christianity. For example, in Viking religion they had a belief in the world tree, which was an ash tree that was thought to be holy. The Vikings belief of the World tree could have been the starting foundation to having a Christmas tree. They introduced a tradition that was important to them into Christianity, keeping an important religious belief of their own. By instilling their traditions into their newfound belief in Christianity, they impacted the culture we know today.
The Frankish Empire was breaking down internally during the Viking age. This led to a vulnerability the Vikings were able to take advantage of. The portrayal of the Vikings through general knowledge is one of violence. Even the portrayal in most primary sources depict Vikings as violent barbarians, like “The Annals of Saint-Vaast.” Although throughout the Viking age they do kill and enslave people, they mainly are after wealth. Most of the primary sources about the Vikings are written from the perspective of a servant of the Christian religion creating a negative bias about the information provided. In spite of the fact that killing did occur, Vikings did not just go around killing people and taking their land. The Vikings main impacts on the Franks were through raiding by stealing and also through families of the people they murdered. The people may have lived in constant fear of invasion and possible death.
The Vikings may have had a marginal impact on the political entity of the Frankish Empire. But it appears they could have had a cultural impact on the world, like the creating a foundation for the creation of Christmas trees. While one event like the raiding of the Vikings, may have had a minimal impact on one thing, like the political entity of the Frankish Empire, it may have a larger impact on other things, like people’s lives and monasteries.
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