Chapter 25: The fury of the men of the North – The Vikings
The origins of the Vikings lie, like all original Indo-European peoples, in the ancient Nordic homeland between the Black and Caspian Seas in southern Russia. Part of the earliest wave of Indo-European settlers, the Vikings were originally one of the Germanic tribes who settled in southern Scandinavia and Denmark, and who gave rise to the Goths and the Anglo-Saxons in later times.
What made the Vikings unique was that they, of all the original Indo-European tribes, retained their original nature in all aspects longer than any other such tribe—culturally, linguistically and militarily. The Vikings clung to the original Indo-European religions longer than anyone else—they clung to their language longer than anyone else, and kept their warlike countenance longer than any others.
These traits were evidenced well into the 12th Century, and their direct descendants, still unaltered genetically, reside in large parts of Scandinavia and Iceland. In the latter country the language of the Vikings is still the official language.
[Kemp mentions several Viking stories that, like most of what he said about ancient history, I knew nothing—like how Paris was raided in 840 and how they landed in America five hundred years before Columbus. A few pages later he says something about the saga of Harald Hardraada:]
Harald was the half brother of King Olaf the Stout, a king of Norway who was chased out of his country while trying to violently convert his countrymen to Christianity. Olaf fled to the Viking settlements in Russia, which had become Christianized, and raised an army to stage a comeback in Norway. Olaf returned to Norway in 1030, with his 15 year old half brother, Harald, at his side. Together they fought their pagan countrymen but were defeated. Olaf was killed (he was later made a saint by the Christian Church and is to this day patron saint of Norway) and Harald severely wounded.
The young Harald fled back to Russia, stopping in Kiev to enlist in the army of King Yaroslav, winning great prestige as a soldier. From there he went to Constantinople where he enlisted in the emperor’s Varangian guard, an elite army unit made up exclusively of Vikings and Rus recruited from the Norse settlements in Christian Russia. For a decade Harald fought for the Eastern Roman Empire, winning not only great fame but also great wealth.
In 1044, he went back to Kiev and married the daughter of King Yaroslav. By 1047, he had worked his way back to Norway where he claimed the Norwegian throne, his royal family tie combined with his by now legendary exploits being enough to silence opposition to his becoming king.
During the next nineteen years, Harald continued trying to Christianize his countrymen, earning for himself the name of “hard ruler”.
[After two more paragraphs Kemp ends the chapter with this sentence:]
The death of Harald Hardraada at Stamford Bridge marked the final disappearance of the true adventurer Scandinavian spirit: after him there would be no more Vikings and their raids.