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  Vikings

The term Viking is borrowed from the Scandinavian term for the Norse warriors who raided the coasts of Scandinavia, the British Isles, and other parts of Europe from the late 8th century to the 11th century.

Vikings exerted influence throughout the coastal areas of Ireland and Scotland, and conquered and colonized large parts of England.

Coastal parts of Scotland, the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland, together with the Isle of Man, came under Viking attack and settlement. While many nordic people were involved in raiding parties, many others sought land and opportunities for settlement.


There were few parts of Scotland which were not affected by Vikings who even intervened on one side or another in native feuds. The Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland came under Viking political control and this remained the situation for centuries. In mainland Scotland, Viking settlement tended to be mainly in narrow coastal areas of the south-west, the west and the extreme north.

Viking Orkney
The first vikings arrived in Orkney in the 8th century. They quickly took control and were overlords to all peasants and farmers. genetic studies of Orkney show that to this day the majority of males show a Nordic Y chromosome, suggesting that most people there are descended from vikings.

The sagas tell us that some of these Vikings were pirates, perhaps escaping Norway as much as raiding abroad. Orkney and Shetland were used as a base for raids on Scotland, England, Ireland, and, Norway.

In time, Orkney came to be ruled by Jarls established by royal authority from Norway. Toward the end of the 9th century, a force led by King Harald Fairhair and Earl Rognvald of More or Moeri in West Norway came to Orkney to put down the Viking pirates who had attacked Norway from bases in Orkney and Shetland. Harald made a grant of Orkney and other territory to Earl Rognvald. He transferred these lands to his brother, Sigurd.

Sigurd the Mighty ruled Orkney as the first Jarl or Earl. He died in Scotland after defeating Melbrigda Tusk, Maormor of Ross.

Orkney was never an independent state in the Viking days. However, during the late 10th century to the mid 11th century the Earldom was dominant in northern Scotland, the northern Isles and Ireland. This was during the rule of Sigurd the Stout (980-1014 CE) and Thorfinn the Mighty (1014-1065 CE). It is important not to over-emphasise the role of raiding and plunder. The Vikings in Orkney remained a largely agricultural economy with dispersed settlements.

After the death of Earl Thorfinn, the Earldom was ruled by his two sons Paul and Erland. Like other Orkney Vikings, they joined Norse kings on raids and military campaigns. The two brothers fought in England with King Harald Hardrada in 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

Viking Aberdeenshire and Moray
Between 950 and 960, Vikings from Orkney were led by the sons of King Eric Blood-Axe on raids upon the Buchan coast. They were defeated and sagas suggest it was on the slopes of the Aldie Hill at Cruden.

Gamrie ( or Gardenstown) was attacked in 1004 by Norsemen in search of provisions for their storm-bound fleet. They were defeated and the skulls of their leaders wer built into the walls of St John's Church.
Danes under the command of Canute landed at Cruden in 1012. They built a fort on the links, but King Malcolm II gathered an army and engaged the Norsemen. Casualties on both sides were high, and the peace treaty following this battle agreed:

  • The Vikings had to evacuate the North-east of Scotland.
  • During the lifetime of King Malcolm and King Sueno of Denmark, neither country would wage war on the other.
  • The field of battle was to be consecrated and made a burial place for the dead.
  • The Danes as well as the Scots were to receive a decent and honourable burial.
The King of Denmark sent a blue marble stone to be placed on the graves of some of his high ranking officers. This stone was later placed against the wall by the east gate of the parish church at Cruden.

Some of the Danes, instead of leaving Cruden by boat decided to join their countrymen in Moray by going overland. They were involved in fighting at Memsie. Cairns were erected to mark the graves of the dead and can still be seen at Memsie today.

Some say the name Cruden derives from Chroch Dain, Croja Danorum, Croya Dain or Crushain which in different languages means 'slaughter of the Danes'.

Along the Coast, near Inverness, on the Black Isle is a bay called Port an Righ which means 'Bay of the Kings'. Legend says that three sons of Danish kings that were drowned here during an expedition in the 10th century.

Viking Ayrshire
In 1263 King Haakon IV, a viking king, sailed into the waters off Largs with a huge fleet. He wanted to capture more land and add the islands of Cumbrae and Bute to his Kingdom. The Scottish King of the time, King Alexander knew of the impending battle, so he filled all his castles in the West with armed men and also had an army ready and waiting at Camphill on the Haylie Brae, which lies between Largs and Kilbirnie.

Storms raged over Largs on the 1st of October 1263, and the Viking longships were blown ashore. The site of the resulting Battle of Largs lay between the beach road from Largs to Fairlie and Broomfields. The Scottish army forced the Vikings back to their ships. This was the last raid by Vikings on mainland Scotland. According to tradition on the night of the attack a barefoot Norseman stepped on a thistle and cried out in pain. This alerted the Scots and helped them win the battle. Other sources of information suggest, it was a hard fought battle with many killed or wounded on both sides and it was not clear who had won.

Every year the people of Larg's celebrated with a Viking festival. A Viking village is built, the battle of Largs is re-enacted and a great fireworks display takes place at the Pencil, which marks the place of the battle site.

Many place names in Largs use Viking words, for example Haco Street, after King Haco and Danefield Avenue after the Viking language Danish.
 
Viking Blood in Scotland
The modern Scots are a genetic mixture deriving from ancients Picts, Albans (Scots), Brythonic Celts, and more recent invaders such as Vikings (Danes and Norwegians), along with Jutes, Saxons and Frisians (North german tribes).

Genetic studies show people falling into 'haplogroups' - ancient genetic family groups that show the flow of populations around Europe. Genetic fingerprints associated with the Danish, Norwegian and other tribes are all present in the Scottish population to some degree. Areas such as Orkney show that they are more Viking than Celt, as do the Western Isles - all Viking strongholds at some time. They are still true Scots since the modern Scots are a mixture of all these races who made their home here.

Name studies also show that many names derive from Nordic origins. For example, Wilson (son of Will) takes the Nordic form ( father+son) rather than the Gaelic or Pictish form (mac). Families such as Wilson are spread all over Scotland, and genetic studies show they are made up of Nordics, Saxons, Danes, Jutes and others who commonly used the name William (Willem) and who adopted Wilson as their patronymic when surnames began to become common (11-13th century). Other families such as MacWilliams (son of Will) show they come from the Gaelic lines.

Other names such as Gunn (clan Gunn) originate from Nordic families named Gunnar and Gunnarson.

The blood of the vikings lives on in Scots families and Clans to this day and is an important part of our heritage. The viking heritage centre at Largs even shows how our clan system was adapted and improved by the Nordic clan system brought by our celtic cousins from the Nordic countries.