The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Northmen
NORTHMEN, and Normans, names usually given, the former especially to the ancient and mediæval inhabitants of Scandinavia, or Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and the latter to that portion of them who conquered and settled in Normandy. From the year 787 the Danes made incursions along the English coast. In 851 they wintered in England, and in the reign of Ethelred a footing was established; and they finally ruled England for more than 30 years. As early as 852 the Scandinavians had a king in Dublin, and there were princes of the same race governing petty sovereignties at Waterford and Limerick. The Shetland isles, the Orkneys, and the Hebrides were early conquests of the Northmen. Scotland was visited by them at different times between the 8th and 11th centuries. Iceland was discovered by the Northmen in 860, and settled in 874. In 876 or 877 Greenland was discovered, and a colony was planted there by Eric the Red in 983-'5. (See Iceland, and Greenland.) This led, according to the Icelandic sagas, to the discovery of the mainland of America by Bjarni, son of Herjulf, in the year 986. About 1001 Leif, son of Eric the Red, set sail with 35 men to pursue the discovery of Bjarni. He visited first an island seen by Bjarni, and named it Helluland (Flatstone Land), supposed to be Newfoundland; next Markland (Wood Land), supposed to be Nova Scotia; and last Vinland (Vine Land), supposed to be the coast of New England. Leif built houses and wintered in Vinland, and in the spring loaded his vessel with timber and returned to Greenland. About 1002 Leif's brother Thorvald went to Vinland with 30 men, and wintered at the same place, which is supposed to have been on Mount Hope bay, Rhode Island. In the succeeding year he sent a party to examine the coast, who were gone all summer. In 1004 he himself explored the coast eastward, and was killed in a skirmish with the natives; and in 1005 his companions returned to Greenland. In the spring of 1007 Thorfinn Karlsefni, a rich Icelander, set sail for Vinland with three ships, 160 men, and some cattle. He passed three winters on the coast of Massachusetts, where his wife bore a son, Snorro; but finally, finding the natives hostile, he went back. The old Icelandic manuscripts make mention of visits to Vinland or to Markland in 1121, 1285, and 1347. The truthfulness of the sagas is confirmed by Adam of Bremen, almost contemporary with the voyage of Thorfinn, who states, on the authority of Sweyn Estrithson, king of Denmark, that Vinland received its name from the vines which grew wild there. The latest documentary evidence in relation to the intercourse between Greenland and America is the Venetian narrative of the visit of Nicolò Zeno, about 1390, to Greenland, where he met with fishermen who had been on the coast of America. (See Zeno.)—In Russia the Northmen were called Varangians, or sea rovers. Rurik, a Northman, occupied Novgorod in 862, and founded the dynasty which gave sovereigns to Russia until 1598. About 865 the Varangians appeared with a fleet before Constantinople; and it was not until an alliance made between Vladimir the Great, who adopted Christianity, and the Greek emperor (988) that the incursions ceased. Soon afterward a Varangian body guard was adopted at Constantinople, and from this time until the fall of the eastern empire the Byzantine sovereigns trusted their lives to no other household troops. The Codex Flateyensis of Iceland gives the number of the Varangian guard in the 11th century at 300. Among the antiquities in the museum of Christiania are Byzantine coins of 842-'67, found in ploughing the fields of Aggerhuus in Norway.—A Danish invasion penetrated to the Meuse in 515, and was repelled. Gottfried, king of Jutland, ravaged the French and Spanish coasts, even within the strait of Gibraltar. Their great invasion of France, however, was delayed until after 841; from which period the whole coast of western Europe from the Elbe to the Guadalquivir was a prey to the Northmen. In 837 they had sacked Utrecht and Antwerp, and fortified themselves on the island of Walcheren. Rollo devastated Holland, and appeared upon the Seine, while Gottfried ravaged the valleys of the Meuse and Scheldt. They burned and sacked Cologne, Bonn, Treves, Metz, and other cities, stabling their horses at Aix-la-Chapelle in the cathedral church of Charlemagne. A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine, came to be part of the Catholic litany. Hasting, at the head of a band of Northmen, sacked Bordeaux, Lisbon, and Seville; defeated the Moorish conquerors of Spain at Cordova; crossed the straits into Morocco; overran Tuscany; returned to France, and embraced Christianity. With safe winter quarters in Spain, they extended their ravages to Naples, Sicily, and the coasts of the Greek empire, and in the autumn of 885 laid siege to Paris. At last King Charles the Fat bought off the Northmen with 700 pounds of silver, and a free passage to the upper Seine and Burgundy. The most redoubtable of the Northmen afterward was Hrolf, better known as Rollo, first duke of Normandy, and direct ancestor in the sixth generation of William the Conqueror. From Charles the Simple he accepted the hand of a daughter, together with a tract of Neustrian territory N. of the Seine from Les Andelys to the sea (the N. E. portion of modern Normandy), in exchange for Christian baptism and an oath of fealty (912). Rollo distributed among his followers the lands of Neustria, to be held of him as duke of Normandy. Thus were laid the foundations of the feudal system which William transplanted into England (1066-'87). The Normans adopted the language of the vanquished province, but greatly modified it. It was the langue d'oil (the langue d'oc being south of the Loire), which became the peculiar medium of romantic poetry.