Seminars CI & CII: the modern Oxford Viking diaspora

This is a very contrived title intended to cover the facts that the next two seminars I have to report on were both given by people from Oxford, but whereas the theme of diaspora with the first one, which was Lesley Abrams presenting to the Institute of Historical Research’s Earlier Middle Ages Seminar on the 8th June 2011, was explicit both in an Oxford academic being away from the Dreaming City Spires and also in actually being about diaspora, the latter, Patrick Wadden presenting to the Medieval Church and Culture seminar in Oxford, was just about Vikings abroad. Both interesting papers however as I shall now report!

Map of Viking migration routes, by Suzanne Kemmer

Map of Viking migration routes, by Suzanne Kemmer

Lesley’s title was “Migration, Diaspora, and Identity in the Viking Age”, and it posed a question that we’re also wont to set in exams round here but to which, all the same, we don’t really have an answer, to wit, once the various Scandinavian populations had settled in the various parts of the world that they did in the ninth to eleventh centuries (say), was there anything remaining that identified them together, if so what, and how long did it last? She defended the use of the term `diaspora’ despite its political loading, but argued for a cultural identity preserved at courts most of all and trickling down in greater or lesser degree to the localities connected to those courts. This took some fairly subtle argumentation and my notes are pretty dense, but I made special emphasis marks in the margin (as I do) where she suggested that towns were the obvious fora for the transmission of a cultural repertoire and that that repertoire was both portable and purchasable, that is, you can buy your way into a Scandinavian identification. (This fitted quite snugly with what Jane Kershaw had argued in the same room a few months before, of course.) Into this also came the great disparity of origins among the warband apparently executed on the Ridgeway, along with the filed teeth of one of the skeletons, a particularly painful piece of display, so many seminars were linking up here for me. Also discussed, indeed, was how much the links fed back to the homelands, and how far they were directly connected themselves, just one of many dispersed networks that were webbed over the various lands where Scandinavians were or had gone: politics, family, marriage, trade, exploration, raiding and war, as well as Christian missions of course, a myriad of individuals making choices in which we try to discern trends. Art styles especially criss-crossed this, and though the use of such styles don’t tell us much about the movements of peoples or the origins of the wearers, it does tell us that élite fashion moved fast and that for a while these places and styles were fiendishly à la mode. I do begin to wonder if modern fashion isn’t even a working analogy; I know little enough about it but I am conscious that with many of the same designers exhibiting in New York City, London, Paris and wherever else, while no-one would say there is no local style in those places nonetheless we can speak of haute couture with some justification as a single cultural layer. And perhaps nearly as money-hungry!

Portal of the urnes stave church, Norway, in the Ringerike style, photographed by Nina Aldin Thune

Portal of the urnes stave church, Norway, in the Ringerike style, photographed by Nina Aldin Thune and available under a Creative Commons license; if you web-search images of Ringerike style, however, what you'll mainly get is people trying to sell you jewellery, QED

Of all the papers I’ve been to at the IHR, which is a few, I think I have more notes from the discussion after this one than any other. This is in part because I find this stuff deeply interesting but also because Alan Thacker, David Bates, Barbara Yorke, John Gillingham, Stephen Baxter, Ryan Lavelle, Gareth Williams, Andrew Reynolds and various others too can obviously say quite a lot about these things when in the same place. When Lesley publishes this work, it’s almost going to be a shame that the discussion here won’t be published with it, but it was one of those seminars where you can feel the ideas being hammered out on the forge, real constructive criticism and contributions of information knocking the metal into something with tempered and genuine strength. It also left me with a new regard for Lesley’s cool head in dealing with this barrage and the depth to which she’s thought this stuff out. It will make a terrific and sensitive publication.

Page from a c.1150 manuscript of Dudo of St-Quentin's History of the Normans in the British Library

Page from a c.1150 manuscript of Dudo of St-Quentin's History of the Normans in the British Library

Patrick’s paper on the 14th June 2011 was a quieter affair, and less wide-ranging but still full of interest; his title was “Ireland and the Normans c. 1000: the evidence from Dudo of St-Quentin’s History of the Normans“, and he was looking for links between Normandy and Ireland ‘before the Normans’, in the words of a major textbook on the Emerald Isle.1 Dudo’s History is an immensely problematic source, with legend and fact both misreported, but as Patrick observed we still have to use him and it is a fact that some of his stories of Normandy do contain Irishmen, so that at the very least we know he knew the place existed. In fact we can say a bit more than that, as Patrick went on to show, but the question is how much can we substantiate? Patrick argued that at least we should allow that he is careful about ethnonyms, because he was in fact doing ethnogenesis, writing history for a new ‘people’ (in whatever sense the Normans were a people at that point). Dudo separates Hibernenses and Scoti for example, and it’s probably not just out of ignorance. What it is, however, remains to be worked out… The connections could be found in the other direction, too, Patrick pointed out, as St Ouen, Norman saint par excellence, was being culted in Dublin by a point somewhere in Bishop Dúnán I’s lifetime, 1028-1074. There’s more to do here, but when you’re dealing with sources that tell you things like, “The Men of the Isles fought with the Men of the Isles” and give no more details, it may take a while to do…


1. Donnchadh Ó Corráin, Ireland before the Normans (Dublin 1972, 2nd edn. forthcoming).

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39 responses to “Seminars CI & CII: the modern Oxford Viking diaspora

  1. This map with wiking migrations dates… just made me think on the gothic expansion of the start of the christian era. Did you know someone who has worked on the paralelism wiking-goth?

    • There must be some work at least based on the supposed Scandinavian ancestry of the Goths, but I would expect the kind of work that really went anywhere with the parallel to be dealing in, shall we say, unfashionably racialist terms. (Not necessarily racist, though I bet that’s out there too.) I don’t know of it myself, but this is the sort of thing where Carl or JPG may have something to add, if you’re reading guys?

      • Genuinely Scandinavian origins for the Goths per se as we see them in history (and even archaeology) are, at present, considered greatly exaggerated. Recall that our earliest historical Goths pop up on the fringes of the Roman world, in the Black Sea region, only in the 3rd century AD. Even accepting a general participation of such Goths in the Chernyakhov culture only takes us back to the 2nd century AD, while the debatable (or at least debated) possible Gothic associations with the Wielbark culture takes us back only to the early 1st century AD and to the lower Vistula. While I will let Guy Halsall and Peter Heather and others thrash out the details, suffice it to say that there is probably no reason to think of a “Gothic migration” from Scandinavia, though there good reasons to think about cultural exchanges and influences between the Gothic and Scandinavian worlds at various points — which is not really a particularly surprising thing to think. As for the similarity of the arrows on maps … well, many such maps of “Gothic migrations” may well stem from traditions that give more historical credence to Jordanes than is now considered wise, but in any event, any arrows starting from the Vistula and crawling overland (or over river) towards the Mediterranean will look similar, whether we are speaking of Goths or Varangians/Rus. On the other hand, Gothic arrows would move thence westward, and mostly overland, while Viking incursions through the Mediterranean would come eastward from the Atlantic at least as easily if not more so than from the Black Sea. (I would suspect that the arrow from Byzantium to Italy on this post’s map owes something to the accounts of Varangian participation a Byzantine expedition to Italy in 1038, which famously included future Norwegian king Haraldr Sigurðarson harðráði.) Anyway, we can probably dispense with traditional notions of a Scandinavian ancestry for the Goths in the Jordanian sense (and much else in Jordanes). I would suggest there were genuine “Gotho-Scandinavian” connections, but likely much of the sort that we see linking elites elsewhere in the Germanic world at various times in various places (just slightly more obscure to us).

        • I suppose that the bit there where any actual parallels might be drawn, if any, is this:

          … any arrows starting from the Vistula and crawling overland (or over river) towards the Mediterranean will look similar, whether we are speaking of Goths or Varangians/Rus.

          But, at best, what we get there is a kind of geographical determinism whereby all roads lead to the Black Sea, and of course, the New Rome…

          • Thanks guys! I was thinking more about culture than ethnos, more about ideas/concepts/myths than archaeological evidence.
            Dudo presented Rollo as Dacian in the XIth century, Wiking expansions were IXth , Jordanes in the VIth ‘remembered’ Thule. Maybe there was some even older evidence of northern migrations traditions?

            • Actually, I suspect this is people reading Jordanes — or at least getting wind of ideas that proceeded from Jordanes. It seems likely that a variety of relevant texts — Getica, but also things like the Historia Langobardorum and even Tacitus’s Germania were known to the ninth-century Franks (and could have been accessible to the Anglo-Saxons, though this is a bit more speculative). There seems to have been something of a “Gothic boom” in Charlemagne’s time, in any event, and sme of this enthusiasm probably spilled over into ASE on up at least into Alfred’s day. (I’ve chatted about this sort of thing virtually with Craig Davis at Smith on and off over the last year or so, and he has a more developed picture than I could provide off-hand in these comments.) And there is the well-known, but often troubling, medieval habit of using Dacia as a label for Dania (Denmark) and Scythia for Sveciae (Sweden), and of course Getae for Gothi … and this leads to all sorts of panic and alarm, especially for Beowulf-scholars (but let’s not go there!). Ultimately, I don’t think there was any “tradition” of a “Gothic migration” in Scandinavia because I don’t think there was any “Gothic migration” or element thereof that involved Scandinavia in any significant way. IMO, Dudo presents Rollo as a “Dacian” because “Dacian” and “Dane” were interchangeable terms as far as Dudo is concerned. (And it would be a valid question, asking to what extent medieval writers might have mixed up information about Dacia and Dania because they thought they were the same, but that’s a different thing than there having been any real connection between any real Danes and Dacians — or people in Dacia, anyway). On the other hand, there probably were rather old connections between the Gothic world and Scandinavia. (Consider, for example, the linguistic fossils in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, like the name Harvaðafjöll which must reflect a regular process of sound changes from an original form *karpat-, or the curious apparent transformation of the Tervingi into the sword-name Tyrfingr; a lot clearly got changed in the 8 centuries or so between the point at which the original elements reached Scandinavia and the saga MSS that we have were written). For my part, I find this sort of thing more intriguing than Jordanes’s almost certainly fictitious migrations — but Jordanes has sold more books than I have …. ;)

            • I think there might be a one or two mass-migrations worth of professional archaeologists out there who’d gladly sweep down across any number of frozen rivers, steppes and marshes, like the tribe of Dan, or the Assyrians, or the Thracians, or Scythians, or the Getae, or the Dardanians of Dacia, or the Danai of Macedonia (let alone the other lot, you know, the more famous Dardanoi over in the Dardanelles, in Illium as opposed to Illyricum — and goodness knows whether they were Thracian or Phrygian), and rearrange some cosmology at the suggestion that archaeological evidence is not to be connected with ideas, concepts and myths…
              Eastern Mediterranean prophets and Aegean historians had been alternately worrying and fantasising about nasty northerners since they first put pen to papyrus (or whatever it was they were using) and decided they were civil southerners, used to nice towny places, where the air smelt good – and got all anxious that the quiet life was bad for their moral fibre. Are the northerners up there, or were they inside us all along, just waiting to get out? Herodotus thought Scythians were jolly brave for Thracians, and by the time the Romans started being serious about being Roman — and certainly by the time they began to fancy that they’d descended from Dardanoi – everyone who was anyone knew that the Getae were Scythians. Or Thracians. But that Strabo he knew a thing or two, one of which was that it was clear as day that the Getae were Daci, because it stood to reason (didn’t it?): that’s were they lived. And Pliny thought so as well, so he must have been right. Ovid and Horace and the others, they’re in clover: just how many fierce un-Roman tribes are there up there? Or is it across? Who knows who they all are? Or where they came from before they got to where they are now. And if they’re related. Do they themselves? And which way is north anyway? So what do the guys later on who’ve been reading all this stuff do with some other pesky upstarts, hanging about the Danube shiftily with their funny habits and perfect musculature? Easy. Goths and Getae, said Julian the Apostate, are peas in a pod, which really threw the cat among the Phrygians. So the Jonny-come-latelies (aka the rest of your late-antiquers: Orosius and his lot), may be all of a flutter about northerners with strange ideas, moving the furniture, but they’ve got it easy, they’re sorted: Dacia’s where we get Goths. Got it? With this kind of back-catalogue, Paulinus of Nola has an field-day when he gets to talk about the Getae and Daci and their ‘necks unsubdued by war’. And whatever these scary northerners think about all this, I bet some of them are reading some of the same stuff. Jordanes was. And you know, we can still do the whole Scythian thing – and how big exactly is Scythia anyway? Begins with Sc-. That’s got to mean something… By the time you get to Isidore, he’s got a bit of tidying up to do, but I’m not sure he quite manages. (And goodness knows it’s more complicated still with everybody else getting in on the genealogical act). As long as the old poets and geographers are still being read, you can do all kinds of fancy footwork. What order did they write in again? What about you poor guys up north who’ve gone and got civilised? Where do you lot stick your northerners? Bede’s in there like a greased ferret of course. The Picts! Of course! Scythians! (Practically makes us Romans doesn’t it?) After that its Goths, Gauts, Getae, Geatas, and Juti, and sometimes I think you can pretty much do as you please (can’t you?) because there’s not much in the way of peer review going on, and everyone’s cribbing each other. Asser and the ‘Old English Orosius’ (as we call ‘him’, as if he were some bloke in Winceastre) knew that boatloads of diasporic long-haired tourist shipped out from Dacia (bringing the occasional furry object for exchange too, to be fair), and they didn’t mean Hungary. Frankly, once you’ve got through this lot – and your Paul the Deacons et al. – and you’ve digested Fredegar and his Frankish Trojans (or is it the other way round), by the time you get along to Dudo, it’s little wonder that he’s got himself in a terrible tangle and identified Antenor and his Trojans (who went into exile from Dardanian Illium to Dacian Illyricum (or damn it, was it Dardania?)) as Danai. Nobody cares really, but it certainly makes a good story, and no doubt lots of post-Conquest exiles in Denmark were tickled pink to read about . Maybe that’s why they try calling Fyn ‘Phaeonia’ for a bit in the twelfth century. The Hungarians were sitting pretty though. At least they knew how to get home from the pub.
              It’s all Geats to me (and I’m sure I’ve left half of the important ones out). And frankly if anyone tells you they /know/ what was going on, they’re wrong. But really, I think Jerome did it. He was always on about the bloody north. Moan, moan, moan. Typical southerner. As if he didn’t have a clue how impressionable people might be, later on, and him getting all existential like that.
              Somebody should write a book about it.

              • <applauds at length (as deserved by the length of the excursus)>

                • What early medieval scholarship really needs is a combined master-map of everything, superimposing your Vikings ‘European Tour 795-941′ on a good old-fashioned Rome v’s All Comers route-map, superimposed in turn by this one, perhaps, to illustrate what the Magyars did, when they launched their own Dacian outsplurge (look at the Hungarian plain: hovering like a sort of dangerous primordial blancmange). It would all make everything much clearer, and help peaceful cosmopolitan types rest assured that we all may as well call ourselves Dacians now, if we feel like it. Such a pity about all those uppity southerners and easterners with their wicked ways: must be the warm air. Or maybe it’s something in their genes?

                  • Oh, I’m so pleased by that Magyar map, not just because of the dangerous primordial blancmange (a phrase that is going into the first lecture I can squeeze it into) but also because it unquestioningly includes the 942 raid into Spain, using both the alternative routes that have been suggested for it and drawing them in such a way as to take them a good couple of hundred miles south of Lleida, where they actually turned round. Marvellous. (Also, the word `outsplurge’ should be substituted for `invasion’ or `migration’ in all textbooks forever with immediate effect.) As for the southerners and easterners I blame all that wine, it leads to warmth of the humours and therefore indolence you know, not like good cooling phlegmatic beer.

                • Also, I particularly liked the phrase “threw the cat among the Phrygians”, which I hope to remember to use liberally from now on, whether in relevant contexts or not (most likely, usually not! :)).

                  • Surely there is no context where you might be speaking in English where that wouldn’t become relevant as soon as you said it! :-) Man I wish we could get this blog’s audience to the same party sometimes, it would be fantastic. Can’t you blag funding for Kalamazoo or Leeds somehow Carl?

                    • Har! I think I might have to sack Miklagarðr myself in order to raise such funds. Down around these parts, I’ve encountered a few furtive medievalists, but I am not sure that any universities or departments actually have any official line in medieval studies or topics that could be called upon to justify such expenses.

                    • I was being told the other day that there is a medieval cluster building up in São Paulo, for some reason, and my source had good things to say about it, so apparently there is a South American academic public for medieval studies, somewhere…

                    • Now I just really can’t see the replies in most of these threads! But, yes, anyway, there is some sort of group centered around São Paulo and/or Rio, I think. Brazil, anyway. I have contact with at least one or two of them through Academia.edu, though I’ve not really communicated with even these to any useful extent. They have a journal focused on Celtic and Germanic studies — all very ASNCky — at http://www.brathair.com/revista/en/index.html, itself somehow attached to a study/research group. There might well be utility in trying to establish myself as a northern outlier and nucleus for further development (since there is no organization that attempts to provide structure for Colombia’s few and scattered persons with medieval interests (let alone Celtic or Germanic). There’s a guy I know at my uni in the humanities faculty (one of these sorts of degree-less faculties, much like my languages/cultures dept, that clings precariously to life in largely vocationally oriented institutions) who has domes tuff with high medieval French Arthurian narratives, and I’ve discussed forming a Asociación Medieval de America Latina, which could rejoice in the delightfully barbaric sounding acronym AMAL ;) or, if Englished MALA, which would be equally entertaining to me, if for different reasons …. But it’s a hard row to hoe!

                    • I don’t want to change the blog’s theme but this is kind of ridiculous. How are you even replying, Carl? Either way: I fear that the acronyms might be the best result of such a plan but they are good enough to proceed anyway, dammit.

                    • Well now. How hard would it be for you get to the Crimea? It’s not that far from Miklagarðr…

              • Yes, that’s the southerner’s way, from Julian to Dudo; i was still reading yesterday a fascinating XVIIIth gothic sequel (Florez et al).

                The dificult part is to me is to make reasonable guesses about what people of those centuries (ie, normands,franks,goths) thought about themselves, and his origins.

                • Absolutely. Which is why historians need archaeologists, and why they need to let them the diggers do what they do without working from syntheses of contradictory texts, jumbles of names, and the absurdly heavy burden of Tacitus (Carl’s already made the big point about /him/: but the Translatio s. Alexandri played a big role in spreading the news on what Germanic people do). There have been interesting developments in Iceland since the late 1990s, where having loudly proclaimed the need to stop working from the sagas, archaeology has moved forward in leaps and bounds: when that gets them back to what the sagas say (as it /sometimes/ seems to, that’s all well and good, and all the more interesting for everybody. But meanwhile, as long as textual specialists insist on teaching courses called things like ‘Vikings!’ (in language and literature departments as often as anywhere else) and publish student readers on the aforesaid ‘Vikings’ which stick passages from the sagas alongside Ibn Fadlan with little or no source critical comment (mentioning no names), most students are still getting left stranded in the early years of the C20th (and look where that got the last lot). Which is why we need Lesley Abrams to bring it all together and show us the big picture.

          • Miklagarðr! Well, like they say: follow the money …. :)

            • Knew I should have left it to Carl before getting all excitable: kept the page open too long to realise he’d already covered it without the histrionics (historionics?). But I see I also accidentally deleted something towards the end, a matter close to my heart at present. I meant to say: ‘no doubt some educated post-Conquest English exiles in Denmark were delighted to remember all the Dacians and Thracians of Horace and Ovid and Paulinus they’d read wide-eyed in pueritia, and were able to place themselves in a noble tradition of exile in the north’. /That’s/ the really interesting northern migration, for my money: the one from the southern north to the northern north which was a few centuries too late for Boniface.

  2. I’m just using the generic “Leave a reply” box at the bottom of the page. :) And, yes, the plan is probably doomed, but the acronyms alone would justify at least some sort of effort. :)

  3. Pingback: Contagions Round-up 16: Pestilence and Burials « Contagions

  4. Also using the generic Reply option. :)

    After reading a bit, it seems that vikings and goths were considered as sharing a common ascendance in XI-XIIth centuries.
    Dudo explicitly equated Getae and Gothi, and discerns between Dani and Daci, (ie: ‘Dani sumus, Dacia advecti huc, Franciam expugnare venimus’). In other words, Dudo considered denmarks as dacians, that’s not a mistake, maybe just a common concept in his time).
    It seems to me that in the process of christianization of normands, the dinastic pact between Rollo an Charles included also a mythical part, ie, the ‘trojan’ ascendance, nothing really special. Curiously enough, other normand figures not so akin to this pact, were left in the ‘gothic’ side of the myth.
    The dificult part, seems to be to know what ‘Dacia-Gothia’ he was talking about. There were at least four ‘gothic’ (or so considered) european regions. West Gothia in the mediterranean side, East Gothia in the Black sea coast, Gotland-Guttons in the Baltic shores, and Getae-Dacia in the south-est Europa.
    Overall, it seems to me that is not impossible that IXth century vikings were connected in his time with the gothic identity, and imo that’s not a minor consideration.

    • I would say that there was indeed probably a sense within the Western European Christian “intelligentsia” at this time that Scandinavians, or at least some Scandinavian peoples, could be justifiably understood to have “Gothic” connections. On the other hand, I think that (at various times, by various actors) “Gothic connections” were also claimed (or at least arguably seem like they may have been appealed to) by the English and Franks — to the extent that there was a trend (on and off) for Gothic connections from roughly Charlemagne’s time onwards. Of course, the idea was likewise enthusiastically taken up by post-conversion Scandinavian rulers as well. After all, kings of Sweden included titles that implied an identification of the Götar and Goths up until quite recently. Danish kings also implicitly claimed ruler-ship over the “Goths”, though with the understanding that this referred to the people of Gotland. (Neither claim would be considerable justifiable in the light of contemporary academic understandings, but the concepts probably retain relatively considerable popular currency.)

      • That makes perfect sense. I am trying to understand the gothic identity evolution (at least in western europe), but I am still unable even to simply bound the question! Not even chronologically, ie: I would not start-it at Charlemagne, but probably at Pharamond! :)

  5. Indeed, the Crimea and Miklagarðr are conveniently close to each other — but, alas, still inconveniently far from me. I need piratical venture capitalists to set me up with a ship and a raiding crew; we’ll sort it out from there! :)

  6. Pingback: Seminars CXLVII-CXLIX: Chroniclers, Kilwa and Vikings In Normandy | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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