Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Vikings Are Coming! The Vikings Are Coming!

Odin by R Ahlfeld
 To celebrate the Largs Viking Festival, we're going to have a few weeks of Viking Related mayhem. Vikings have of course left their mark all across Britain, they apparently even managed to attack London Bridge at one point. But what's their connection with the West of Scotland?


According to the early Viking sagas, the outer islands of Scotland were conquered by Ketil the Flatnosed, a great warrior who had gained fame and fortune in Iceland. He created a network of peace alliances throughout Scotland and Ireland, and the many warriors he brought with him soon began to marry and settle with locals. This led to the creation of the so-called Gall-Gaedhil, or foreign Gaels, a Viking led warrior force who adopted Celtic culture and operated mainly on the west coast of Scotland and the north of Ireland. These fierce Celto-teutonic warriors seemed to be under Ketils command and seem to have been instrumental in giving the Vikings a foothold in the Scotland and Ireland. However, for reasons unknown, Ketil and most of his family returned to Iceland, taking with them across the seas many elements of Scottish culture. But Ketils son in law Olaf remained and none were as fierce as he in their subjugation of the Celtic lands under Viking control.

Olaf the White

In 853 Olaf the White arrived in Dublin and he and his ally Ivar took control of the Norse settlement there. Olaf  and his son Ivar's ambitions went beyond plunder to conquest and political control with the founding the Kingdom of Dublin. Over the next fifteen years, the Dublin became one of the most successful of all the Viking settlements in Britain, and Olaf began to cast his eyes further a field to the rich and prosperous Kingdom of Strathclyde. The Clyde and her islands represented a means of linking the powerful Viking strongholds of Dublin and York, further strengthening the Norse foothold on the British isles

Vikings on the Clyde

After a series of preliminary raids against the firth of the Clyde, in 870 Olaf sailed up river with a fleet of 200 Longships, laying siege to the capital of Strathclyde, Dumbarton. Olaf was accompanied by Ivar One Legged, and his host of fierce warriors, fresh from their capture of York. For four months, the Viking invaders surrounded the rock, but were unable to penetrate its defences. Only when the well inside the walls dried up, did the Norsemen finally gain their victory at Dumbarton as "they wasted the people who were in it by hunger and thirst". Once the rock was seized, the invaders plundered and destroyed it, taking "all the riches that were within it and a great host of prisoners were brought into captivity. The Vikings left as swiftly as they arrived, their fleet carrying back to Dublin the rich treasures and proud sons of the now fallen Kingdom of Strathclyde.


The Viking destruction of Dumbarton did not represent the end of the Norse presence on the Clyde. Today, one of the most enduring monuments to the Scandinavian presence on the Clyde is the collection of mysterious so-called Hogback tombstones which are displayed at the Old Govan Parish Church. These carved stones are found in clusters, mainly on the estuaries of the Clyde and Forth, and are thought to have been an invention of Irish settlers, influenced by Teutonic carving styles. The Govan collection is the largest in Scotland, consisting of five stones, all of which have animal carvings on them. One theory suggests that after the destruction of Dumbarton, Govan took over as the royal centre for Strathclyde, within which a stone carving school may have developed, drawing upon techniques developed by Viking settlers. There are even hints that the stones may represent an even closer bond between the Kings of Strathclyde and the Norse nobles, possibly even ties of blood or marriage. However, for now the stones remain silent about their mysterious origin.

The Viking Legacy

The countless Viking raiders and settlers, who came to these shores, left a permanent mark on the landscape and culture of Strathclyde.  We have today many place names on the north and west coasts which are a testimony to the thousands of "Wolf-coats" who braved the fierce oceans in search of new lands. Nom, the old language of the Islands has its roots in Norse and was still found to be spoken in some isolated areas up until the 18th century. It is all true to say that Norse found its way into the Scots dialect, and runic inscriptions formed some of the earliest script used within Scotland. It is ironic then, that a culture often perceived as intent on destruction, should have left behind such a rich legacy, which includes the enduringly mythical image of the Viking warrior that to this day continues to have a powerful affect on the imagination.

(article Neil Bristow)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.