Rampaging Hordes – or Darlings of the Dark Ages?

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"Never
before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now…
Behold, the church of St Cuthbert, splattered with the blood of
its priests, despoiled of all its ornaments… given up as prey
to a pagan people."

The religious
scholar, Alcuin of York, writing in the late 8th century, had just
experienced a bad case of the Vikings. Fiery dragons had been seen
in the sky, followed by the arrival of raiders in longboats. For
the next two centuries, the pattern of mayhem continued, and the
caricature of the Viking as a kind of Scandinavian pillage idiot
became thoroughly established.

Last week,
a different picture of the invading Norsemen emerged from a conference
of academics at Cambridge University. Far from disgracing themselves
on our shores, the Vikings can now be seen as model immigrants,
whose successful assimilation into British society holds lessons
for our own time. Their image problem largely stems from their failure
– what, with all that plundering to do – to find time
to record their own history; meaning that chronicling their presence
was left to those on the receiving end of their, shall we say, pragmatic
approach to revenue gathering.

"Most
people’s image of the Vikings centres on their arrival and the disruption
it brought, but that only continued for a very short time,"
says Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, a Cambridge professor
of Celtic studies who organised the conference. "Afterwards
they started building settlements and interacting with the locals
and influenced them in many ways. They provide a clear example of
how a particular group came into a sophisticated, established society
and the resulting interaction was positive."

Read
the rest of the article

March
16, 2009

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