Saturday, April 25, 2015

Discovery of Reindeer Antlers in Denmark may Rewrite Start of Viking Age

Ancient Origins

A team of scholars says their new research is rewriting when and where the Viking age began. The official date for the start of Viking voyages was a 793 AD raid in England. But researchers say people from Norway sailed to Ribe, Denmark, on peaceful missions much earlier—around 725 AD.
Archaeologists from the University of Aarhus in Denmark and the University of York in the United Kingdom found the useful commodity of Norwegian reindeer antlers buried in the earliest archaeological layer of Ribe’s old market. Ribe was the first commercial city in Denmark.
This caribou with its magnificent rack in Alaska is the same species called reindeer in Scandinavia.
This caribou with its magnificent rack in Alaska is the same species called reindeer in Scandinavia. (Photo by Dean Biggins/Wikimedia Commons)
The sailing trips from Norway to Denmark helped the sailors establish the technology and skills necessary to do the later military raids and long-distance voyaging the Vikings did, they say.
“Ultimately, the researchers agree that the discussion of when the Viking era began is also one of semantics,” says an article in ScienceNordic. “It all depends on what you mean by Vikings. Morten Søvsø from Southwest Jutland Museums suggests that we should be careful with the labels we give to people who lived in the past. ‘They didn’t go around knowing they were Vikings. If you want to argue that the Viking age in fact started when they had contact with the wider world, then this study supports this view—but it will always be a rationalisation,’ says Søvsø.”
Another researcher, James Barrett of Cambridge University in England, told ScienceNordic he’s not convinced the people who sailed to Ribe in the early eighth century were Vikings, though he says it’s valuable research.
“Where we do not necessarily agree entirely is in the perception of whether towns and trade also helped to start the Viking age," says Barrett, a specialist in medieval archaeology.
Ribe is Denmark’s oldest commercial center. It looks much different in this photo than it did when Norwegians came around 725 AD to trade reindeer antlers.
Ribe is Denmark’s oldest commercial center. It looks much different in this photo than it did when Norwegians came around 725 AD to trade reindeer antlers. (Photo by Wolfgang Sauber/Wikimedia Commons)
There is a related debate among Nordic archaeologists—whether Ribe was central to Viking society early in Viking history. The article in ScienceNordic says it seemed an early link between the oldest commercial center in Denmark and the Vikings would be obvious, but archaeologists had no physical evidence to confirm it.
"This is the first time we have proof that seafaring culture, which was the basis for the Viking era, has a history in Ribe. It's fascinating," said Søren Sindbæk, one of the authors of the new study published in the European Journal of Archaeology.
The trips across the Skaggerak Strait or down the North Sea to trade antlers in Denmark may have prepared the Vikings for longer voyages.
‘Ingolf tager Island i besiddelse’ by P. Raadsig, 1850, depicting Ingólfr Arnarson, the first settler of Iceland, newly arrived in Reykjavík.
‘Ingolf tager Island i besiddelse’ by P. Raadsig, 1850, depicting Ingólfr Arnarson, the first settler of Iceland, newly arrived in Reykjavík. (Wikimedia Commons)
"The Viking Age becomes a phenomenon in Western Europe because the Vikings learned to use maritime mobility to their advantage,” Sindbæk said. “They learned to master sailing to such an extent that they get to the coast of England where the locals don't expect anything. They come quickly, plunder the unprepared victims, and leave again—a sort of hit and run."
Model of a Viking age trade ship in the Ribe Viking Museum
Model of a Viking age trade ship in the Ribe Viking Museum (Wolfgang Sauber/Wikimedia Commons)
The Vikings went on to do raids and set up colonies elsewhere in Europe and as far east as Russia. They went on voyages of thousands of kilometers to Iceland, Greenland and Canada.
"We can now show that the famous Scandinavian sea voyages, which eventually led to the discovery of Iceland and Greenland, have a history of some commercial travel, not just raids. Previously we were inclined to say that yes, once you can sail across open water, you can also sail to the commercial towns -- now we can turn the equation around and say that trading towns may have been an important part of the drive behind developing new technologies, "says Sindbæk said. “The peaceful exchanges—trading—will take up more of the story, and the military voyages, which are also important, must now share the space.”
Deer antlers were important to Danes because they were used in making combs, needles and other tools. A householder was likely able to find enough for home use, but a comb maker may not have been able to. So some Norwegians decided to gather what was for them a waste product and take them to Denmark, where they were a valuable commodity, Sindbæk said.
Featured image: The Vikings were known as great seafarers. They were able to reach lands such as Britain through their mastery of the seas. Image source.

History Trivia - Athens surrenders to Sparta

April 25

404 BC Athens surrendered to Sparta, ending the Peloponesian War.  

799 Pope Leo III was attacked during a procession in Rome due, in part, for recognizing Charlemagne as patricius of the Romans, which upset the delicate balance between the Byzantines and the west that his predecessor had established. He fled to Charlemagne, who escorted the Pope  safely back to Rome where he oversaw a commission that vindicated Leo and deported his enemies. Leo would later crown Charlemagne the first Holy Roman Emperor


Friday, April 24, 2015

History Trivia - Greeks enter Troy using the Trojan Horse

April 24

1184 BC The Greeks entered Troy using the Trojan Horse (traditional date).

709 Saint Wilfrid died. A monk of Lindisfarne Abbey and later Bishop of Hexham, Wilfrid spread the Benedictine Rule and worked to establish Roman Catholicism over the influence of the Celtic Church in England.

 1585 Pope Sixtus V elected. Sixtus was unanimously elected successor to Gregory XIII, who had left the Papal States in disarray. He defined the college of Cardinals and is considered the founder of the Counter-Reformation.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

St George’s Day: 10 things you (probably) didn’t know about him

History Extra
St George slaying the dragon. © Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Library / Alamy

St George’s Day is upon us once again, and interest surrounding the festival of England’s primary patron saint shows no sign of abating. It’s common knowledge that, according to legend, St George killed a dragon, but what else do you know about him?

Here, writing for History Extra, Jonathan Good, associate professor of history at Reinhardt University in Georgia, brings you 10 lesser-known facts about England’s patron saint…

1) St George is not English

If he ever existed (and there’s no proof he did), George would likely have been a soldier somewhere in the eastern Roman Empire, probably in what is now Turkey. According to legend, he was martyred for his faith under Emperor Diocletian in the early fourth century, and his major shrine is located in Lod, Israel.

2) His earliest legends were so outlandish that the Pope condemned them

Early Christians were known to exaggerate the tortures endured by their martyrs, but St George is in a league all of his own. According to one source, St George was torn on the rack, hit on the head with hammers until his brains oozed out, forced to drink poison, torn on a wheel, boiled in lead, and much else besides – all over a period of seven years.
A fifth-century decree attributed to Pope Gelasius declared that, lest it give rise to mockery, the details were not be read out in church.

3) He was one of several military saints honoured in the Byzantine Empire

Others included Theodore, Demetrius, and Mercurius. All of these saints had been soldiers when alive, and continued their patronage of the Byzantine army in death – especially St George, who became the most popular.
Crusaders to the Holy Land in 1099 adopted this tradition of military saints, and brought the veneration of St George back to Western Europe.

4) St George is also connected to agriculture

His name means ‘earth-worker’ – that is, farmer – and his feast day of 23 April is in the spring, when crops are starting to grow. Many people throughout European history have prayed to St George for a good harvest.


5) The dragon was not always a part of St George’s story

The earliest legend that features St George rescuing a princess from a dragon dates to the 11th century. It may have started simply as a way to explain icons of military saints slaying dragons, symbolising the triumph of good over evil.
For the permanent association of St George and the dragon we have to thank the Golden Legend, a popular collection of saints’ lives written in the 13th century.

6) He is the patron saint of many places

These include countries like Ethiopia, Georgia and Portugal, and cities such as Freiburg, Moscow and Beirut. George was seen as an especially powerful intercessor, and the dragon story has a universal appeal.

7) St George was known as ‘Our Lady’s Knight’ in medieval England

As a patron of crusading, St George easily became the quintessential knight. And every knight needs to serve a lady – who better than the Blessed Virgin Mary herself?

8) Edward I is ultimately the reason why St George ‘became’ English

As a crusader, Edward I (r 1272–1307) acquired an affinity for St George, and back in England outfitted his troops with the St George’s cross when fighting the Welsh. He raised St George’s flag over Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland in 1300, among other things.
Later, Edward III, hoping to revive the glories of his grandfather’s reign, founded the Order of the Garter under the patronage of St George.

9) St George appeared to the English army at the battle of Agincourt in 1415

King Henry V (r 1413–22) was especially devoted to St George, as is reflected in Shakespeare’s play. The idea later arose that St George had actually appeared to the English during the battle of Agincourt in 1415, which was a stunning victory for them against the French.

10) The Reformation was not kind to St George

Even King Edward VI himself mocked the legend as improbable. But the poet Edmund Spenser, among others, kept George’s legend alive as a romantic and nationalistic story. And it is one that shows no signs of losing its appeal.

Jonathan Good’s The Cult of St George in Medieval England (Boydell & Brewer) was recently updated, and is now available in paperback. To find out more, click here.

New Release - Veetu Industries and Rae Gee: A Second Past Midnight - OUT TODAY!

Veetu Industries and Rae Gee: A Second Past Midnight - OUT TODAY!:   In 1981, at the height of the Cold War, a single nuclear warhead sent America's technological capability back to the 18th centur...

In 1981, at the height of the Cold War, a single nuclear warhead sent America's technological capability back to the 18th century. Four years later, the shattered country is still struggling to put itself back together. Infrastructure has crumbled, the government is gone, and convicted criminals are hunted for food.

James lives in a small, Midwestern town. By day, he tends his family's farm, trading the food they grow for other supplies. By night, he dreams of being a musician. But with his world destroyed, music remains a frivolous dream.

That is, until he meets Flame. Convicted of drug dealing, Flame has become a part of the bi-annual Shoot to Kill hunting season. He has a dark past and people want him dead. Yet he has a strong determination to live and shares James' musical dream. James and Flame join forces, traveling first to New York and then to London, in spite of the numerous obstacles in their path and the shadow of death hanging over them. Will they be strong enough to escape it and find their dreams together?  

Available from:

History Trivia - Order of the Garter founded

April 23

215 BC A temple was built on the Capitoline Hill and dedicated to Venus Erycina to commemorate the Roman defeat at Lake Trasimene.

1014 Battle of Clontarf Brian Boru (High King of Ireland in 1002) defeated Viking invaders, but was killed during the battle.

1348 The founding of the Order of the Garter by King Edward III was announced on St George's Day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

History Trivia - First stone of the Bastille laid

April 22

238 Year of the Six Emperors: The Roman Senate outlawed emperor Maximinus Thrax for his bloodthirsty proscriptions in Rome and nominated two of its members, Pupienus and Balbinus, to the throne.

1056 Supernova Crab nebula last seen by the naked eye.

1370 First stone of the Bastille laid. The fortress that was later to become a prison was built on the orders of King Charles V of France. It was intended as a fortification to help protect the wall around Paris against English attack during the Hundred Years' War.