THE COMING OF THE VIKINGS

NOW on still unconsolidated Europe there came a fresh storm. In the eighth century the Scandinavian tribes began to expand. On the shores of the North Sea and of the Baltic they learned to become daring seamen and traders and were not long in becoming equally daring raiders. The Viking period began. In the far north the seamen from the fiords colonised Iceland, from which they were later to colonise Greenland and even reach America. They harried all the North Sea coasts in their long ships. As kingdoms arose in Scandinavia, they passed from raiding to conquest. The north of Scotland, the Western Isles and Ireland became the seats of Viking principalities. In the ninth century their attacks were shaking even the kingdom of England to its foundations, and it took the political and military genius of Alfred the Great, the creator of an early English navy, to confine them to the north, and make them acknowledge an English king. Finally, there came the great organised invasion of the foreign power of Denmark which, under Canute (1016-35), created an Empire of the North Sea, an empire which might have lasted, had not the native English been too strongly entrenched. Under his weak successors the older stock reasserted itself and, restoring native kings, began to absorb the invaders. Across the Channel, the inroads were no less destructive. The Vikings ravaged and plundered the whole coast from the Rhine to the Loire. The successors of Charles the Great did their feeble best, but the defence really rested with the local nobility. Despite the nobles' best endeavours the longships were masters on the Rhine, the Seine, and the Loire, and twice they were beaten back only with the greatest difficulty from Paris itself, now becoming the capital of the kings of France. From devastation came once again conquest. The bands of Rollo were finally bought off with the cession of Normandy (912). France was spared further Viking invasions, and the Normans took up the task of conquest of other lands. They were no longer pirates, but state-builders, and Norman states arose in Sicily and Italy and even in Antioch. But they did not last. The only permanent Norman conquest was in England (1066), which ended in the destruction of the old Saxon rule and the establishment of a Norman kingdom. Norman rule took nearly a century and a half to yield to the spirit of the land and by the ensuing fusion to establish one of the main factors in the creation of the modern English. In France the effect of the Norse settlement in Normandy was salutary. The weak descendants of Charles the Great were set aside and the strong man of the period, Hugh Capet, founded a dynasty which was to last for centuries and which became a potent influence in making France what we know it to be to-day. In Eastern Europe the Scandinavians who controlled the . Baltic appear as fighting traders rather than as freebooters, though they had no objection to acting as the latter when opportunity offered. They controlled the carrying trade down the old ways that led to Constantinople. Out of trading posts grew cities ; in Tsargrad, as the sagas (old Norse epics) call Constantinople, Viking axemen formed the imperial bodyguard. The Slav tribes of the upper Dnieper, disorganised and exposed to attack from Asiatic invaders, invited the Swedish merchant, Rurik, to be their king. He accepted, and in Kiev laid the foundations of the Russian empire. Kiev soon became a power, and Rurik's successors sought to conquer even Byzantium ; but the effort was too great for the young empire and the outcome was its acceptance of Greek Christianity, the greatest conquest the Greek church ever made.