The New International Encyclopædia/Normans

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NORMANS (OF. Norman, Normand, from Dan. Normand, Icel. Norþmaþr, Northman, from Icel., AS. norþ, OHG. nord, Ger. Nord, north, probably connected with Umbrian nertro, to the left, Gk. νέρτερος, nerteros, lower + maþr, Goth. manna, AS., OHG. man, Ger. Mann, man). A name generally restricted in its application to those sea rovers who established themselves in the part of France called, after them, Normandy; but sometimes embracing also the early inhabitants of Norway. During the Middle Ages the name Northmen, or Norsemen, was often used in a broader sense, to denote the entire population of Scandinavia. The Germans and French called the piratical hordes who ravaged their shores Normans or Northmen; the Saxons, usually Danes or Eastmen. They were also distinguished by the latter as Mark(or March)men (from Denmark), as Ash-men (i.e. men of the ashen-ships), and as the Heathen. The primary cause of the plundering expeditions southward and westward across the seas, undertaken by the Norse Vikings, ‘Sea-Kings,’ was doubtless the overpopulation and consequent scarcity of food in their native homes; besides, the relish for a life of warlike adventure, conjoined with the hope of rich booty, strongly attracted them. Finally, discontent with the ever-increasing power of the greater chiefs or kings induced many of the nobles with their followers to seek new homes.

The first Danish Norsemen made their appearance on the eastern and southern coasts of England about 787. In 795 they settled in some of the towns on the coast of Ireland. After 832 their invasions of England were repeated almost every year. In 851 they wintered for the first time in the island, and after 866 obtained firm footing there. The Anglo-Saxon Ethelred I. fought valiantly against them. His brother, Alfred the Great (q.v.), after a long and doubtful struggle, partially reduced them to subjection; nevertheless, he was compelled to leave them in possession of Northumbria and East Anglia, and had not only to defend himself against a new and fierce invasion led by the famous rover Hastings (q.v.), but to contend against the revolts of his Dano-Norman subjects, which continued to trouble his immediate successors. A period of external peace ensued; but in 991 the invasions of the Danes and Norwegians began anew. The Saxon King, Ethelred II., at first sought to buy them off by paying a sort of tribute money, called Danegeld (q.v.); but the massacre of the Danes living in England, by command of that monarch, November 13, 1002, was avenged by four expeditions under the Danish King, Sweyn, who frightfully wasted the country, and finally conquered it in 1013, dying the following year. His son, Knut, or Canute (q.v.), after carrying on a struggle for the supreme power with Ethelred and his successor Edmund Ironside (q.v.), at length, on the death of the latter, became sole monarch of England, which now remained under Danish or Norse rulers till 1042. The government of the country then reverted into the Saxon hands of Edward the Confessor (q.v.), who was succeeded in 1066 by Harold II. (q.v.), son of the powerful Godwin (q.v.), Earl of Wessex; but in October of the same year Harold lost his life and crown at the battle of Hastings, and William the Conqueror, a descendant of a Norwegian chief who had settled in Normandy, once more established a Norse dynasty on the throne of England.

It was also Danish Norsemen, in particular, who ravaged the western coasts of the European mainland, from the Elbe to the Garonne. As early as 810 the Danish King, Gottfried, had overrun Friesland; but the power of Charles the Great was too much for these undisciplined barbarians, and they were overawed and subdued for a time. Soon after his death, however, they recommenced (c.820) their piratical expeditions, and, favored by the weakness and dissensions of the Carolingian rulers, became, during the ninth century, the terror and scourge of Northwestern Germany and France. They plundered Hamburg several times, ravaged the coasts of the Frisians (whose country then extended as far as the Scheldt), and in 843 firmly planted themselves at the mouth of the Loire. Ere long they swarmed up the great rivers into the interior of the country, which they devastated far and wide. In 842 they were at Rouen. In 845 they ascended the Seine and plundered Paris—an exploit which was frequently repeated. In 885 not less than 40,000 of these Vikings, in 700 vessels, are said to have ascended the river from Rouen, under the leadership of one Siegfried, and besieged the capital for ten months. It was only saved at the expense of Burgundy, which was abandoned to their ravages. In 881 Louis III., King of the West Franks, inflicted a severe defeat on the invaders at Vineu, near Abbeville, in Picardy; but neither that nor the repulse which they sustained from the brave German monarch Arnulf near Louvain in 801 could hinder them from making fresh irruptions. In 892 they appeared before Bonn, and tradition says that bands of Danish rovers penetrated even into Switzerland, and established themselves in the Canton of Schwyz and the Vale of Hasli. From their settlements in Aquitania they proceeded at an early period to Spain, plundered the coasts of Galicia in 844, and subsequently landed in Andalusia, but were defeated near Seville by the Arab prince Abd-ur-Rahman. In 859-860 they forced their way into the Mediterranean, plundered the shores of Spain, Africa, and the Balearic Isles, and penetrated up the Rhone as far as Valence; then, turning their piratical prows in the direction of Italy, entered the Tyrrhenian Sea, burned Pisa and Lucea, and actually touched distant Greece before their passion for destruction was satiated. Doubtless Norwegian rovers also took part in these so-called Danish expeditions. We know that as early as the beginning of the ninth century they made voyages to the north of Ireland, Scotland, the Hebrides, the Orkney and Shetland Isles; and the increasing power of Harald Haarfagr (q.v.), in the ninth and tenth centuries, exciting great discontent among the smaller chiefs, great emigrations took place, and these islands became the new homes of these Norwegian Vikings. About the same period colonies were settled in the Faroë Isles and Iceland, from which some Vikings proceeded westward across the North Atlantic to Greenland about 983, and thence about 20 years later southward to a region which they called Vinland, believed by some to be the coast of Canada or of New England, thus probably anticipating the discovery of America by Columbus by nearly 500 years. From Norway also issued the last and most important expedition against the coast of France. It was led by Hrolf or Rollo (q.v.). Hrolf forced Charles the Simple to grant him possession of all the land in the valley of the Seine, from the Epte and Eure to the sea (911 or 912). The invaders firmly planted themselves in the country, which henceforth went by the name of Normandy (q.v.). They and their descendants are, strictly speaking, the Normans of history. They rapidly adopted the more civilized form of life that prevailed in the Frankish kingdom—its religion, language, and manners. At a later period, the twelfth century, they even developed a great school of narrative poetry, whose cultivators, the Trouveurs, or Trouveres, rivaled in celebrity the lyrical troubadours of Southern France. But though the Normans had acquired comparatively settled habits in France, the old passion for adventure was still strong in their blood; and in the course of the eleventh century many nobles with their followers betook themselves to Southern Italy, where the strifes of the native princes, Greek and Arab, opened up a fine prospect for ambitious designs. In 1059 Robert Guiscard (q.v.), one of the ten sons of the Norman Count Tancred de Hauteville, all of whom had gone thither, was recognized by Pope Nicholas II. as Duke of Apulia and Calabria. His brother and liegeman, Roger, conquered Sicily. Roger II. of Sicily united the two dominions in 1127 and in 1130 assumed the title of King of Sicily; but in the person of his grandson, William II., Norman dynasty became extinct, and the kingdom passed into the hands of the Hohenstauffen family. These Normans of Italy played also a considerable rôle in the Crusades, especially in the first, of which Bohemund I. (q.v.) and Tancred (q.v.) were among the principal leaders. See Crusade. The Swedish Norsemen directed their expeditions chiefly against the eastern coasts of the Baltic—Courland, Esthonia, and Finland—where they made their appearance in the ninth century, at the very time when their Danish and Norwegian brethren were roving over the North Sea, the English Channel, and the Bay of Biscay, and were establishing themselves on the shores of England and France. According to the narrative of the Russian annalist Nestor, they appear to have penetrated into the interior as far as Novgorod, whence they were quickly banished by the native Slavic and Finnish inhabitants, but were as quickly solicited to return and assume the reins of government. Rurik (q.v.) founded one kingdom at Novgorod (862), which stretched northward as far as the White Sea. His successor, Oleg, united with that a second, established by other Swedish adventurers at Kiev. (See Russia.) For a long period these Norsemen, who, it appears, became completely identified with their Slavic-speaking subjects in the tenth century, were dangerous enemies of the Byzantine Empire, whose coasts they reached by way of the Black Sea, and whose capital, Constantinople, they frequently menaced, as, for instance, when Igor is said to have appeared before the city with upward of 1000 ships or boats, about the middle of the tenth century. Earlier in the same century these warriors had found their way into the Caspian Sea, and actually penetrated as far as Persia. Partly from them and partly from native Scandinavians came those soldiers who from the ninth to the twelfth century formed the bodyguard of the Byzantine emperors, the celebrated Varangians (q.v.). Consult: Depping, Histoire des expéditions maritimes des Normands (2d ed., Paris, 1843); Freeman, History of the Norman Conquest (Oxford, 1867-76); Delare, Les Normands en Italie (Paris, 1883); Keary, Vikings in Western Christendom (London, 1891); Du Chaillu, Viking Age (New York, 1890); Oman, History of the Art of War (London, 1898).