The Vikings

From about AD 800 to 1100 the Vikings had large settlements in the Stavanger area. The derivation of the word "Viking" is disputed; it may be from Old Norse vik (a bay or creek) or Old English wik (a fortified trade settlement). The Viking Age, however is a period that long has been popularly associated with unbridled piracy, when freebooters came swarming out of the northlands in their predatory longships to burn and pillage their way across civilized Europe. Today this is recognized as a gross simplification. The achievements of the Viking Age in term of Scandinavian art and craftmanship, marine technology, exploration, and the development of commerce, empasizes the Vikings as traders and not raiders. Jewels from the early Viking age proving Viking also to be farmes and craftsmen.

Not every Norwegian, however, was a professional warrior or Viking, and not every Viking was a pirate. Leiv Eirikson, a Viking, sailed to America about 500 years before Colombus. Coming from an agrarian culture, he named the new found land, Vinland, the land of meadows. This did not, however lead to a wave of Norse immigration to the North American Continent, as the attempts to settle on the eastern seabord were soon abandoned in the face of hostility from the native peoples. Stories of the abortive American venture are recorded in the medieval Icelandic sagas.

The impact of the Vikings was less enduring than might have been expected, as they had a great capacity for being assimilated into local populations. 150 years after settling in Normandy their Franco-Viking descedants were strong enough to conquer England (1066) and Sicily (1060-1090). The settlers brought to the British Isles energetic art forms, new farming techniques, mercantile acumen, and a vigorous language. The Vikings introduced new forms of administration and justice - such as the jury system. Even the word law is from an Old Norse word. Traces from the Vikings are still apparent in the dialects of Scotland and northern England.

Fritz Roed`s monumental sculpture, The Sword in Rock , (The three swords impaled on the shores of Hafrsfjord in Stavanger) is a symbol of the consolidation of the nation at Harfsfjord around 872 AD. It was here that Harald Haarfagre - Fairhair - won his final battle against many rulers of the land. The sculpture has become a prominent landmark. A number of historians have argued convincingly that the Stavanger area was an economic and military centre as far back as the 8th century. According to professor Halvdan Koth (1873-1965) the battle of Hafrsjord took place in 900 AD.

(Photo provided with thanks to Mr. Lars Chr. Sande, editor of the book "Rogaland a many Faceted County".

Michael Holmboe Meyers history-guide of Stavanger.