Norsemen refers to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language, belonging to the North Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish, and Danish in their earlier forms.
Norseman means "people from the North" and applied primarily to Nordic people from southern and central Scandinavia. They established states and settlements in areas that are now part of the Faroe Islands, England, Scotland, Wales, Iceland, Finland, Ireland, Russia, Canada, Greenland, France, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Germany, as well as outposts in Sicily and North America.
Norse and Norsemen applied to the Scandinavian population of the period from the late 8th century to the 11th century, without much precision as to where in Scandinavia they came from; for example, Adam of Bremen writes of "[t]he Danes and the Swedes, whom we call Norsemen". The Old Frankish Nortmann "Northman" was Latinized as Normanni, most famously in the prayer A furore normannorum libera nos Domine ("From the fury of the Northmen release us, O Lord!"), attributed to monks of the monasteries threatened with plundering by Viking raids in the 8th and 9th centuries; this specific formulation is now thought to be apocryphal, but the monks of Compiègne prayed, De gente fere normannica nos libera quæ nostra vasta, Deus, regna ("From the savage Norse tribe who plunder our kingdom, God, release us"). The word entered Old French as Normands, whence the name of the Normans and of Normandy, which was settled by Norsemen in the 10th century.
Vikings was a common term for Norsemen in the early medieval period, especially in connection with raids and monastic plundering by Norsemen in the British Isles. The Norse were also known as Ascomanni, ashmen, by the Germans, Lochlanach (Norse) by the Gaels and Dene (Danes) by the Anglo-Saxons.
The Gaelic terms Finn-Gall (Norse Viking or Norwegian) and Dubh-Gall (Danish Viking or Danish) and Gall Goidel (foreign Gaelic) were used for the people of Norse descent in Ireland and Scotland, who assimilated into the Gaelic culture.
In the eighth century the inrush of the Vikings in force began to be felt all over Pictland. These Vikings were pagans and savages of the most unrestrained and pitiless type. They were composed of Finn-Gall or Norwegians, and of Dubh-Gall or Danes. The latter were a mixed breed, with a Hunnish strain in them.
However, British assumptions of where the Vikings came from were not quite correct. Those who plundered Britain lived in what is today Denmark, Scania, the western coast of Sweden and Norway (up to almost the 70:th latitude) and along the Swedish Baltic coast up to around the 60:th latitude and Lake Mälaren. They also settled on the island of Gotland. The border between the Norsemen and more southerly Germanic tribes, the Danevirke, today is located about 50 kilometres (31 mi) south of the Danish-German border. The southernmost living Vikings lived no further north than Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and travelled to Britain more from the east than from the north.
The northern part of the Scandinavian peninsula (with the exception of the Norwegian coast) was almost unpopulated, but the few who lived there were Sami, the native people of northern Sweden and large areas of Norway, Finland and the Kola peninsula in today's Russia.
The Slavs, the Arabs and the Byzantines knew them as the Rus' or Rhōs, probably derived from various uses of rōþs-, i.e. "related to rowing", or from the area of Roslagen in east-central Sweden, where most of the Vikings who visited the Slavic lands came from. Archaeologists and historians of today believe that these Scandinavian settlements in the Slavic lands formed the names of the countries Russia and Belarus.
The Slavs and the Byzantines also called them Varangians (ON: Væringjar, meaning sworn men or from Slavic варяги supposedly deriving from the root "вар"—"profit", as coming from the North they would profit by trading goods and not producing them, which had a negative connotation in Slavic culture of that time), and the Scandinavian bodyguards of the Byzantine emperors were known as the Varangian Guard.
In the Old Norse language, the term norrœnir menn (northern men), was used correspondingly to the modern English name Norsemen, referring to Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, Faroe Islanders, Icelanders, Orcadians, etc.
The modern Scandinavian languages have no common word for Norsemen. Usually they are referred to as Vikings: Vikinger in Danish and Norwegian, and Vikingar in Swedish.
The word nordbo, (Sw.: nordborna, Da.: nordboerne, No.: nordboerne or nordbuane in the definite plural) is used for both ancient and modern people living in the Nordic countries and speaking one of the Scandinavian Germanic languages. The modern people of Norway, Sweden and Denmark identify themselves as skandinaver (Scandinavians).
On occasions, in Sweden (but rarely in Norway or Denmark), Finland is also mentioned as a "Scandinavian country". The Finnish language is not Germanic or even Indo-European, but Finland was for around three centuries a part of Sweden (1521-1807), and around 6% of the Finnish population still use Swedish as their first language. In the Åland islands Swedish is by far the dominant language, but elsewhere in Finland the share of Swedish-speaking people has been dropping ever since Finland became a free country in 1918, after World War I. Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands are also geographically separate from the Scandinavian peninsula. The term Nordic countries is therefore used to encompass the Scandinavian countries, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroes, and Finland.
Notes and references
- Cited in Nancy Marie Brown, The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, Orlando: Harcourt, 2007, ISBN 9780151014408, p. 83.
- Francis Palgrave, The History of Normandy and of England till 1101, Volume 1 General relations of mediaeval Europe, the Carolovingian Empire, the Danish expeditions in the Gauls, and the establishment of Rollo, London: Parker, 1851, OCLC 825208557, p. 460.
- Michael Lerche Nielsen, Review of Rune Palm, Vikingarnas språk, 750–1100, Historisk Tidskrift 126.3 (2006) 584–86 (pdf pp. 10–11) (Swedish)
- Louis John Paetow, A Guide to the Study of Medieval History for Students, Teachers, and Libraries, Berkeley: University of California, 1917, OCLC 185267056, p. 150, citing Léopold Delisle, Littérature latine et histoire du moyen âge, Paris: Leroux, 1890, OCLC 490034651, p. 17.
- According to Brown, p. 83, the closest that has been found in a manuscript is ab incursione alienigenarum, libera nos Domine ("From the invasion of foreigners, deliver us, O Lord!").
- Adam of Bremen 2.29.
- Baldour, John Alexander; Mackenzie, William Mackay (1910). The Book of Arran. Arran society of Glascow. p. 11.
- Scott, Archibald Black (1918). The Pictish nation, its people & its church. Edinburgh/London: T. N. Foulis. p. 408. OCLC 4785362.
- "About Nordic co-operation". Nordic Council of Ministers & Nordic Council. Retrieved 25 March 2014. "Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland work together in the official Nordic co-operation."