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Northmen (Vikings)

The Scandinavians who, in the ninth and tenth centuries, first ravaged the coasts of Western Europe and its islands and then turned from raiding into settlers. This article will be confined to the history of their exodus.

Tacitus refers to the "Suiones" (Germ., xliv, xlv) living beyond the Baltic as rich in arms and ships and men. But, except for the chance appearance of a small Viking fleet in the Meuse early in the sixth century, nothing more is heard of the Scandinavians until the end of the eighth century, when the forerunners of the exodus appeared as raiders off the English and Scottish coasts.

In their broad outlines the political divisions of Scandinavia were much as they are at the present day, except that the Swedes were confined to a narrower territory. The Finns occupied the northern part of modern Sweden, and the Danes the southern extremity and the eastern shores of the Cattegat, while the Norwegians stretched down the coast of the Skager-Rack, cutting off the Swedes from the western sea. The inhabitants of these kingdoms bore a general resemblance to the Teutonic peoples, with whom they were connected in race and language.

In their social condition and religion they were not unlike the Angles and Saxons of the sixth century. Though we cannot account satisfactorily for the exodus, we may say that it was due generally to the increase of the population, to the breaking down of the old tribal system, and the efforts of the kings, especially Harold Fairhair, to consolidate their power, and finally to the love of adventure and the discovery that the lands and cities of Western Christendom lay at their mercy.

The Northmen invaded the West in three main streams:

  • the most southerly started from South Norway and Denmark and, passing along the German coast, visited both sides of the Channel, rounded the Breton promontory, and reached the mouths of the Loire and the Garonne. It had an offshoot to the west of England and Ireland and in some cases it was prolonged to the coasts of Spain and Portugal (where Northmen came into contact with Saracen ) and even into the Mediterranean and to Italy.
  • The midmost stream crossed from the same region directly to the east and north of England, while
  • the northern stream flowed from Norway westward to the Orkneys and other islands, and, dividing there, moved on towards Iceland or southwards to Ireland and the Irish Sea.

The work of destruction which the first stream of Northmen wrought on the continent is told in words of despair in what is left of the Frankish Chronicles, for the pagan and greedy invaders seem to have singled out the monasteries for attack and must have destroyed most of the records of their own devastation. A Danish fleet appeared off Frisia in 810, and ten years later another reached the mouth of the Loire, but the systematic and persevering assault did not begin until about 835. From that date till the early years of the following century the Viking ships were almost annual visitors to the coasts and river valleys of Germany and Gaul.

About 850 they began to establish island strongholds near the mouths of the rivers, where they could winter and store their booty, and to which they could retire on the rare occasions when the Frankish or English kings were able to check their raids. Such were Walcheren at the mouth of the Scheldt, Sheppey at that of the Thames, Oissel in the lower Seine, and Noirmoutier near the Loire.

For over seventy years Gaul seemed to lie almost at the mercy of the Danes. Their ravages spread backwards from the coasts and river valleys; they penetrated even to Auvergne. There was little resistance whether from king or count. Robert the Strong did, indeed, succeed in defending Paris and so laid the foundations of what was afterward the House of Capet, but he was killed in 866. In the end the success of the Danes brought this period of destruction to a close; the raiders turned into colonists, and in 911 Charles the Simple, by granting Normandy to Rollo, was able to establish a barrier against further invasion.

Meanwhile, England had been assailed not only from the Channel and the southwest, but also by Viking ships crossing the North Sea. The Danes for a time had been even more successful than in Gaul, for Northern and Eastern districts fell together into their hands and the fate of Wessex seemed to have been decided by a succession of Danish victories in 871. Alfred, however, succeeded in recovering the upper hand, the country was partitioned between Dane and West Saxon, and for a time further raids were stopped by the formation of a fleet and the defeat of Hastings in 893.

To Ireland, too, the Northmen came from two directions, from south and north. It was one of the first countries of the West to suffer, for at the beginning of the ninth century it was the weakest. The Vikings arrived even before 800, and as early as 807 their ships visited the west coast. They were, however, defeated near Killarney in 812 and the full fury of the attack did not fall on the country until 820. Twenty years later there appear to have been three Norse "kingdoms" in Ireland, those of Dublin, Waterford, and Limerick, with an overking, but the Irish won a series of victories, while war broke out between the Danes coming by the Channel and the Norwegians descending from the north. For the next century and a half the Danish wars continued. Neither party gained a distinct advantage and both the face of the country and the national character suffered. Finally in 1014, on Good Friday , at Clontarf, on the shores of Dublin Bay, the Danes suffered a great defeat from Brian Boru. Henceforth they ceased to be an aggressive force in Ireland, though they kept their position in a number of the coast towns.

During the earlier attacks on Ireland, the Scottish Islands and especially the Orkneys had become a permanent centre of Norse power and the home of those who had been driven out by Harold Fairhair. They even returned to help the king's enemies; to such an extent that about 855 Harold followed up victory in Norway by taking possession of the Orkneys. The result was that the independent spirits amongst the Vikings pushed on to the Faroes and Iceland, which had been already explored, and established there one of the most remarkable homes of Norse civilization. About a hundred years later the Icelanders founded a colony on the strip of coast between the glaciers and the sea, which, to attract settlers, they called Greenland, and soon after occurred the temporary settlement in Vinland on the mainland of North America.

But the prows of the Viking ships were not always turned towards the West. They also followed the Norwegian coast past the North Cape and established trade relations with "Biarmaland" on the shores of the White Sea. The Baltic, however, provided an easier route to the east and in the ninth and tenth centuries it was a Swedish Lake. By the middle of the ninth century a half-mythical Ruric reigned over a Norse or "Varangian" Kingdom at Novgorod and, in 880, one of his successors, Oleg, moved his capital to Kiev, and ruled from the Baltic to the Black Sea. He imposed on Constantinople itself in 907 the humiliation which had befallen so many of the cities of the West, and "Micklegarth" had to pay Danegeld to the Norse sovereign of a Russian army. The Varangian ships are even said to have sailed down the Volga and across the remote waters of the Caspian.

There is, however, a second stage of Norse enterprise as remarkable, though for different reasons, as the first. The Norman conquests of Southern Italy and of England and in part the Crusades, in which the Normans took so large a share, prove what the astonishing vitality of the Northmen could do when they had received Christianity and Frankish civilization from the people they had plundered.

It is impossible to account for the irresistible activity of the Northmen. It is a mystery of what might be called "racial personality ". Their forces were rarely numerous, their ships small and open, suited to the protected waters of their own coasts, most unsuitable for ocean navigation, and there was no guiding power at home. Their success was due to the indomitable courage of each unit, to a tradition of discipline which made their compact "armies" superior in fighting qualities and activity to the mixed and ill organized forces which Frankish and English kings usually brought against them. Often they are said to have won a battle by a pretended flight, a dangerous manoeuvre except with well-disciplined troops. Until Alfred collected a fleet for the protection of his coast they had the undisputed command of the sea.

They were fortunate in the time of their attack. Their serious attacks did not begin till the empire of Charlemagne was weakened from within, and the Teutonic principle of division among heirs was overcoming the Roman principle of unity. When the period of reconstitution began, the spirit of discipline, which had given the Northmen success in war, made them one of the great organizing forces of the early Middle Ages.

Everywhere these "Romans of the Middle Ages " appear as organizers. They took the various material provided for them in Gaul, England, Russia, Southern Italy, and breathed into it life and activity. But races which assimilate are not enduring, and by the end of the twelfth century the Northmen had finished their work in Europe and been absorbed into the population which they had conquered and governed.

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Ni 70

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(NICOLETANA) Diocese in the Province of Quebec, Canada, suffragan of Quebec. It comprises the ...

Nicomedes, Saint

Martyr of unknown era, whose feast is observed 15 September. The Roman Martyrologium and the ...

Nicomedia

Titular see of Bithynia Prima, founded by King Zipoetes. About 264 B.C. his son Nicodemes I ...

Nicopolis

A titular see, suffragan of Sebasteia, in Armenia Prima. Founded by Pompey after his decisive ...

Nicopolis

(NICOPOLITANA) Diocese in Bulgaria. The city of Nicopolis (Thrace or Moesia), situated at the ...

Nicopolis

A titular see and metropolis in ancient Epirus. Augustus founded the city (B.C. 31) on a ...

Nicosia

A city of the Province of Catania, in Sicily situated at a height of about 2800 feet above the ...

Nicosia

Titular archdiocese in the Province of Cyprus. It is now agreed (Oberhummer' "Aus Cypern" in ...

Nicotera and Tropea

(NICOTERENSIS ET TROPEIENSIS) Suffragan diocese of Reggio di Calabria. Nicotera, the ancient ...

Nider, John

Theologian, b. 1380 in Swabia; d. 13 August, 1438, at Colmar. He entered the Order of Preachers ...

Nieremberg y Otin, Juan Eusebio

Noted theologian and polygraphist, b. of German parents at Madrid, 1595; d. there, 1658. ...

Niessenberger, Hans

An architect of the latter part of the Middle Ages, whose name is mentioned with comparative ...

Niger, Peter George

(NIGRI, German SCHWARTZ) Dominican theologian, preacher and controversialist, b. 1434 at ...

Nigeria

A colony of British East Africa extending from the Gulf of Guinea to Lake Chad (from 4° 30' ...

Nihilism

The term was first used by Turgeniev in his novel, "Fathers and Sons" (in "Russkij Vestnik", Feb., ...

Nihus, Barthold

Convert and controversialist, b. at Holtorf in Hanover, 7 February, 1590 (according to other ...

Nikolaus von Dinkelsbühl

Theologian, b. c. 1360, at Dinkelsbühl; d. 17 March, 1433, at Mariazell in Styria. He ...

Nikon

Patriarch of Moscow (1652-1658; d. 1681). He was of peasant origin, born in the district of ...

Nilles, Nikolaus

Born 21 June, 1828, of a wealthy peasant family of Rippweiler, Luxemburg ; died 31 January, ...

Nilopolis

A titular see and a suffragan of Oxyrynchos, in Egypt. According to Ptolemy (IV, v, 26) the ...

Nilus the Younger

Of Rossano, in Calabria; born in 910, died 27 December, 1005. For a time he was married (or ...

Nilus, Saint

( Neilos ) Nilus the elder, of Sinai (died c. 430), was one of the many disciples and ...

Nimbus

(Latin, related to Nebula, nephele , properly vapour, cloud), in art and archaeology signifies ...

Nimrod

Also N IMROD ( nmrd of uncertain signification, Septuagint Nebród ). The name of ...

Ninian, Saint

(NINIAS, NINUS, DINAN, RINGAN, RINGEN) Bishop and confessor ; date of birth unknown; died ...

Nirschl, Joseph

Theologian and writer, b. at Durchfurth, Lower Bavaria, 24 February, 1823; d. at ...

Nisibis

A titular Archdiocese of Mesopotamia, situated on the Mygdonius at the foot of Mt. Masius. It is ...

Nithard

Frankish historian, son of Angilbert and Bertha, daughter of Charlemagne ; died about 843 or ...

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Noah

[Hebrew Nôah , "rest"; Greek Noah ; Latin Noah ]. The ninth patriarch of the ...

Noah's Ark

The Hebrew name to designate Noah's Ark, the one which occurs again in the history of Moses' ...

Noailles, Louis-Antoine de

Cardinal and bishop, b. at the Château of Teyssiére in Auvergne, France, 27 May, ...

Nobili, Robert de'

Born at Montepulciano, Tuscany, September, 1577; died at Mylapore, India, in 1656. He entered the ...

Noble, Daniel

Physician, b. 14 Jan., 1810; d. at Manchester, 12 Jan, 1885. He was the son of Mary Dewhurst and ...

Nocera

DIOCESE OF NOCERA (NUCERINENSIS) Diocese in Perugia, Umbria, Italy, near the sources of the ...

Nocera dei Pagani

(NUCERIN PAGANORUM; dei Pagani ="of the Pagans") Diocese in Salermo, Italy, at the foot of ...

Nocturns

( Nocturni or Nocturna ). A very old term applied to night Offices. Tertullian speaks of ...

Nogaret, Guillaume de

Born about the middle of the thirteenth century at St. Felix-en-Lauragais; died 1314; he was one ...

Nola

(NOLANA) Diocese ; suffragan of Naples. The city of Nola in the Italian Province of Caserta, ...

Nola, Giovanni Marliano da

Sculptor and architect, b., it is said, of a leather merchant named Giuseppe, at Nola, near ...

Nolasco, Saint Peter

Born at Mas-des-Saintes-Puelles, near Castelnaudary, France, in 1189 (or 1182); died at ...

Nollet, Jean-Antoine

Physicist, b. at Pimpré, Oise, France, 19 November, 1700; d. at Paris, 25 April, 1770. His ...

Nominalism, Realism, Conceptualism

These terms are used to designate the theories that have been proposed as solutions of one of the ...

Nomination

The various methods of designating persons for ecclesiastical benefices or offices have been ...

Nomocanon

(From the Greek nomos , law, and kanon , a rule) A collection of ecclesiastical law, the ...

Non Expedit

("It is not expedient"). Words with which the Holy See enjoined upon Italian Catholics the ...

Non-Jurors

The name given to the Anglican Churchmen who in 1689 refused to take the oath of allegiance to ...

Nonantola

A former Benedictine monastery and prelature nullius , six miles north-east of Modena ...

Nonconformists

A name which, in its most general acceptation, denotes those refusing to conform with the ...

None

This subject will be treated under the following heads: I. Origin of None; II. None from the ...

Nonnotte, Claude-Adrien

Controversialist; b. in Besançon, 29 July, 1711; d. there, 3 September, 1793. At nineteen ...

Nonnus

Nonnus, of Panopolis in Upper Egypt (c. 400), the reputed author of two poems in hexameters; ...

Norbert, Saint

Born at Kanten on the left bank of the Rhine, near Wesel, c. 1080; died at Magdeburg, 6 June, ...

Norbertines

(C ANONICI R EGULARES P RÆMONSTRATENSES ). Founded in 1120 by St. Norbert at ...

Norcia

(NORSIN). A diocese and city in Perugia, Italy, often mentioned in Roman history. In the ...

Norfolk, Catholic Dukes of

(Since the Reformation) Under this title are accounts only of the prominent Catholic Dukes of ...

Noris, Henry

Cardinal, b. at Verona, 29 August, 1631, of English ancestry; d. at Rome, 23 Feb., 1704. He ...

Normandy

An ancient French province, from which five "departments" were formed in 1790: ...

Norris, Sylvester

( Alias SMITH, NEWTON). Controversial writer and English missionary priest ; b. 1570 or ...

Norsemen

The Scandinavians who, in the ninth and tenth centuries, first ravaged the coasts of Western ...

North Carolina

One of the original thirteen States of the United States, is situated between 33° 53' and ...

North Dakota

One of the United States of America , originally included in the Louisiana Purchase. Little was ...

Northampton

(NORTANTONIENSIS) Diocese in England, comprises the Counties of Northampton, Bedford, ...

Northcote, James Spencer

Born at Feniton Court, Devonshire, 26 May, 1821; d. at Stoke-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, 3 March, ...

Northern Territory

(Prefecture Apostolic) The Northern Territory, formerly Alexander Land, is that part of ...

Northmen

The Scandinavians who, in the ninth and tenth centuries, first ravaged the coasts of Western ...

Norton, Christopher

Martyr ; executed at Tyburn, 27 May, 1570. His father was Richard Norton of Norton Conyers, ...

Norway

Norway, comprising the smaller division of the Scandinavian peninsula, is bounded on the east by ...

Norwich, Ancient Diocese of

(NORDOVICUM; NORVICUM). Though this see took its present name only in the eleventh century, ...

Notaries

( Latin notarius ). Persons appointed by competent authority to draw up official or authentic ...

Notburga

Jean-Baptiste Belgian statesman, b. 3 July, 1805, at Messancy, Luxemburg ; d. at Berlin, 16 ...

Notburga, Saint

Patroness of servants and peasants, b. c. 1265 at Rattenberg on the Inn; d. c. 16 September, 1313. ...

Nothomb, Jean-Baptiste

Jean-Baptiste Belgian statesman, b. 3 July, 1805, at Messancy, Luxemburg ; d. at Berlin, 16 ...

Notitia Dignitatum

(Register of Offices). The official handbook of the civil and military officials in the later ...

Notitia Provinciarum et Civitatum Africae

(List of the Provinces and Cities of Africa). A list of the bishops and their sees in the ...

Notitiae Episcopatuum

The name given to official documents that furnish for Eastern countries the list and hierarchical ...

Notker

Among the various monks of St. Gall who bore this name, the following are the most important: ...

Noto

(NETEN). Noto, the ancient Netum and after the Saracen conquest the capital of one of the ...

Notoriety, Notorious

( Latin Notorietas, notorium , from notus , known). Notoriety is the quality or the ...

Notre Dame de Montreal, Congregation of

Marguerite Bourgeoys, the foundress, was born at Troyes, France, 17 April, 1620. She was the ...

Notre Dame, School Sisters of

A religious community devoted to education. In the United Sates they have conducted parish ...

Notre Dame, Sisters of (of Cleveland, Ohio)

A branch of the congregation founded by Blessed Julie Billiart. In 1850, Father Elting of ...

Notre Dame, University of

(Full name is the University of Notre Dame du Lac ). Notre Dame is located in Northern ...

Notre-Dame de Namur, Institute of

Founded in 1803 at Amiens, France, by Bl. Julie Billiart (b. 1751 d. 1816) and ...

Notre-Dame de Sion, Congregation of

Religious institute of women, founded at Paris in May 1843, by Marie-Théodore and ...

Nottingham

(NOTTINGHAMIEN) One of the original twelve English dioceses created at the time of the ...

Nourrisson, Jean-Felix

Philosopher, b. at Thiers, Department of Puy-de-Dôme, 18 July, 1825; d. at Paris, 13 June, ...

Nova Scotia

I. GEOGRAPHY Nova Scotia is one of the maritime provinces of Canada. It forms part of what was ...

Novara

(NOVARIENSIS). A diocese and the capital of the province of Novara, Piedmont, Italy, noted ...

Novatianism

Novatian was a schismatic of the third century, and founder of the sect of the Novatians; he ...

Novatus, Saint

St. Novatus, who is mentioned on 20 June with his brother, the martyr Timotheus, was the son of ...

Novello, Blessed Agostino

(Matteo Di Termini), born in the first half of the thirteenth century, at Termini, a village of ...

Novena

(From novem , nine.) A nine days' private or public devotion in the Catholic Church to ...

Novice

I. DEFINITION AND REQUIREMENTS The word novice , which among the Romans meant a newly acquired ...

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Nubia

Located in North-eastern Africa, extending from Sennar south to beyond Khartoum and including the ...

Nueva Cáceres

(NOVA CACERES) Diocese created in 1595 by Clement VIII ; it is one of the four suffragan ...

Nueva Pamplona

(NEO-PAMPILONENSIS). Diocese in Colombia, South America, founded in 1549 and a see erected by ...

Nueva Segovia

(NOVAE SEGOBIAE) Diocese in the Philippines, so called from Segovia, a town in Spain. The town ...

Nugent, Francis

Priest of the Franciscan Capuchin Order, founder of the Irish and the Rhenish Provinces of said ...

Nugent, James

Philanthropist, temperance advocate and social reformer b. 3 March, 1822 at Liverpool ; d. 27 ...

Numbers, Use of, in the Church

No attentive reader of the Old Testament can fail to notice that a certain sacredness seems to ...

Numismatics

(From the Greek nomisma , "legal currency") Numismatics is the science of coins and of ...

Nun of Kent

Born probably in 1506; executed at Tyburn, 20 April, 1534; called the "Nun of Kent." The career of ...

Nunc Dimittis

(The Canticle of Simeon). Found in St. Luke's Gospel (2:29-32) , is the last in historical ...

Nuncio

An ordinary and permanent representative of the pope, vested with both political and ...

Nunez, Pedro

(Pedro Nonius). Mathematician and astronomer, b. at Alcacer-do-Sol, 1492; d. at Coimbra, ...

Nuns

I. ORIGIN AND HISTORY The institution of nuns and sisters, who devote themselves in various ...

Nuptial Mass

"Missa pro sponso et sponsa", the last among the votive Masses in the Missal. It is composed of ...

Nuremberg

(NÜRNBERG) The second largest city in Bavaria, situated in a plain on both sides of the ...

Nusco

(N USCANA ) Diocese in the province of Avellino, Italy, suffragan of Salerno ; dates from ...

Nussbaum, Johannn Nepomuk von

German surgeon, b. at Munich 2 Sept., 1829; d. there 31 Oct., 1890. He made his studies in the ...

Nutter, Robert, Ven.

English martyr ; b. at Burnley, Lancashire, c. 1550; executed at Lancaster, 26 July, 1600. He ...

Nuyens, Wilhelmus

Historian, b. 18 August, 1823, at Avenhorn in Holland ; d. 10 December, 1894, at Westwoud near ...

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Ny 4

Nyassa

Vicariate Apostolic in Central Africa, bounded north by the Anglo-German frontier, east by Lake ...

Nympha, Tryphon, and Respicius

Martyrs whose feast is observed in the Latin Church on 10 November. Tryphon is said to have ...

Nyssa

Vicariate Apostolic in Central Africa, bounded north by the Anglo-German frontier, east by Lake ...

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