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Until recently, the idea of large-scale Viking settlement in Scotland's Inner Hebrides was considered unlikely. Despite a conspicuous absence of documentary evidence, the area's long-standing Gaelic heritage was seen as proof of linguistic and cultural continuity from its Dalriadan heyday. By developing the narrative to consider other types of evidence, however, it is clear that the Norse impact on these islands was far from insignificant. This paper will review the historical record in the light of material evidence and linguistic artifacts such as place-names. After questioning aspects of currently popular approaches to “predatory” migration, it will then examine how reappraisal of the practicalities of Viking Age immigration might help to inform a revised model for Norse settlement in the region.
This article identifies three distinct areas of contact between the Norse and the Gaelic worlds in the Viking and High Middle Ages. Considerations are made of the nature of the material and the purposes for which it was written, the ways in which it has been transmitted or preserved, and the period at which transmission occurred. A particular incident that occurred in 1202 and is recorded in various sagas is examined in order to illustrate the different kinds of evidence that can be used when assessing aspects of the contacts. The purpose is to identify the ways in which different sources can complement each other. This evaluation provides a baseline when considering other events, and helps determine whether there are patterns of source transmission between the two cultural and linguistic areas.
The birlinn or West Highland galley has been used frequently as an image on clan crests, and appears on more than eighty medieval gravestones in the west of Scotland, yet not a single example of the ship itself remains or has been discovered, and definite information on its dimensions and construction is scarce. Some information about the birlinn can be gleaned from Gaelic poetry from the period 1300–1760, from oral tradition, stories, and also from land charters, estate papers, and accounts. The bìrlinn as seen on gravestone carvings appears to be closely related to the Viking ship, and my intention in this paper is to compare the West Highland vessel with the Norse vessel, using information from the square sail tradition still extant in Norway, to interpret information from the Gaelic bards. As well as increasing our practical knowledge of the bìrlinn, I hope to increase understanding of its important place in Gaelic heritage and illuminate links between Norse and Gaelic culture during the Middle Ages.
The Northern and Western Isles of Scotland were closely connected during the Norse period. Both were part of the Kingdom of Norway and the Archbishopric of Nidaros, and indeed, for extensive periods, all these islands were ruled by Jarls of Orkney, such as Sigurr the Stout and orfinnr the Mighty. The situation changed with the hand-over of the Hebrides to Scotland in the Treaty of Perth of 1266. The Hebrides were annexed to the Scottish realm, while the Northern Isles remained Norwegian. A cultural and political wedge was driven between the island groups, and connections between the two areas become much harder to identify in the record. However, connections there were, usually, but not always, in the form of violent raids waged against the Northern Isles. The modern folklore of both Orkney and Shetland still contains references to raids by Lewismen. A Lewis Scord (hill pass), where Lewis raiders were slaughtered and buried, can still be identified by locals at Scousburgh in Shetland today. In this paper, I have taken folklore seriously as an historical source. Folklore can be problematical as it is notoriously difficult material. It also raises justified suspicions in the minds of the critically schooled historian. However, there is an ulterior purpose: because in this case elements of folklore can be traced back to actual, recorded events, I wished to show that folklore should not be dismissed out of hand, especially where oral tradition is strong and other sources in short supply. The paper provides a small demonstration of the value of folklore, but it also shows how changes in folklore and errors in the transmission of the story can be traced through time. This paper focuses on the ramifications of a hitherto unremarked marriage between two of the most powerful figures in 16th-century Orkney and Lewis: Lady Barbara Stewart, widow of James Sinclair of Brecks, and Ruaraidh Mac Leod, Chief of the Sìol Torcail and Baron of Lewis. The reality of Scottish historiography is that scholars of the Northern Isles and the Hebrides have not always been aware of the history of each other's islands. So perhaps it is not surprising that this marriage has effectively slipped under the historians’ radar. However, it could provide hitherto unrecognized evidence of intimate elite contact between Northern and Western Isles in the mid-16th century and a possible attempt to extend MacLeod Lordship to Orkney and Shetland.
Throughout the early modern period, significant commercial links existed between the Shetland Islands and the cities of Bremen and Hamburg. These links, which predominantly evolved around the export of whitefish and herring from Shetland, have received some scholarly attention in the past. However, older research tends to reduce the commercial exchange to a simple bilateral affair and to marginalize the involvement of Scottish merchants. This article aims to address some of these misconceptions by highlighting the complexity of Shetland-German trade relations. In particular, the article analyzes the significance of territories bordering the cities of Bremen and Hamburg, the participation of Scottish traders, and the use of Scandinavian flags of convenience. In doing so, it offers a fresh perspective on Shetland's commercial exchange, based on old and new sources maintained in German and Scottish archives.
This article explores intercultural links between the coastal communities of the North Atlantic region by discussing the cultural and social history of Norwegian objects displayed in regional heritage collections in Orkney and Shetland. The relationship between Norway and the Northern Isles of Scotland during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially trading links, is considered using the bentwood box as a way of accessing both tangible and intangible knowledge. Different types of traditional wooden boxes from Shetland, Orkney, Norway, and Iceland are compared using a microhistorical approach, which enables us to consider Norway and Scotland both as individual “ethno-territories” and as part of continuously changing networks of social and cultural contact across the North Atlantic.
The Shetland Islands, an archipelago off the North coast of Scotland, have been a locus of the herring fishery for hundreds of years. The established historiography has tended to emphasize three themes: the prolonged Dutch fishery, the sporadic British ventures, and the “Great Herring Fishery” of the 1870s onwards. There has been very little discussion of the Shetland-based industry before the 1870s, and even less on any Shetland industry before 1800. Indeed, a Shetlandbased herring industry before 1800 has been simply dismissed. However, new research shows evidence of a continuous Shetland-based industry since at least the beginning of the seventeenth century. This paper refutes the existing historiography to show there is ample evidence of a consistent, though smaller-scale, Shetlandic industry from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century.
This article examines two aspects of St. Knud, King of Denmark (1080–1086), in life and death. During his lifetime, it examines the evidence for the role possibly played by intra-dynastic strife in his downfall. After his death, it examines the early origins of his cult and his brother and successor Erik Ejegod's (1095–1103) connections to England, and argues that Erik visited Durham and Evesham personally, probably early in his reign, and took up the cause of promoting his brother's cult from early on. The possibilities of Erik's involvement before becoming king are examined.
In 1152/3, Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway, became the center of a vast archiepiscopal authority reaching across the North Sea. The cathedral then became the site of much architectural activity, beginning with the addition of Romanesque transepts during the 1150s–1160s to the pre-existing church. This paper considers the patronal efforts of Nidaros' first and second archbishops, Jón Bírgisson (1152/3–1160) and Øystein Erlendsson (1161–1188), in relation to this construction period. It examines the cathedral's influence on Norwegian architecture based on the relationship between the Nidaros stone workshop and contemporary Norwegian churches, including the geographically close Stiklestad and Old Sakshaug. Subsequently, it identifies related structures across the North Sea in England, such as Southwell Minster, York Minster, and Lincoln Cathedral, thus expanding on the concept of a “North Sea School of Architecture”, as briefly discussed by Eric Fernie on St. Magnus Church in Egilsay and Malcolm Thurlby on Kirkwall Cathedral. This study begins to establish a group of buildings that can comprise this North Sea school, emphasizing an argument for the paramount role the sea played as a conduit of stylistic transmission.1
Walter Bower's fifteenth-century historical chronicle of Scotland, the Scotichronicon, was the authoritative national narrative for the Scots of the period. A blend of propaganda and history, the work is shaped by Bower's separatist agenda and desire to create a cohesive Scottish identity free, as far as possible, from English attacks. St. Birgitta of Sweden is one of the sources Bower uses in his strategy of writing a history that impacts deeply on his present time. Despite being highly Anglophobic, Bower inserts Birgitta's messages from Christ repeatedly in his text, even though she was particularly strenuously claimed by the English as a de facto national saint. This paper explores the use of Birgitta of Sweden and her visions in Bower's text, examining his harnessing of the saint's authority as divine messenger and putting this divine insight to his own, nationalistic purposes.
This paper scrutinizes the lexical content and sociocultural functions of the recently discovered Hogganvik runestone from 4th- or 5th-century Norway. Archaeological excavations in 2010 did not confirm the general expectation that the stone belongs to a grave and hence supported the suspicion that this type of runic monument neither constitutes a gravestone nor a prototypical memorial stone commemorating the dead. I argue that Hogganvik functions as an emblem of status and identity and hence prefigures sociocultural structures of power not unlike those evidenced by the early 7th-century Blekinge inscriptions with their lycophoric names, e.g., hAriwolAfz (KJ 96 Stentoften). This lexical analysis focuses on the sequence inananaboz, the by-name erafaz (ON jerfr “wolverine”), and the personal names kelbabewaz and naudigastiz, all present in the Hogganvik inscription. Drawing on comparative evidence of names and appellatives, the article places the Hogganvik stone in an early Scandinavian setting with particular stress on West Scandinavian correspondences in lexis.
During the Viking-Late Norse period (ca. 800–1150 AD), a complex network of cultural connections were forged between Scandinavia and areas of Viking settlement in the North Atlantic. This article focuses on how diaspora communities settling in the Northern Isles of Scotland adapted familiar ways of constructing their settlement landscape to new environments. Viking people in this period lived mostly on the coast and islands. Their dispersed settlements were often developed on natural mounds or mounds created by earlier clusters of buildings. Throughout the Viking-Late Norse age, many such mounds were built up in a tell-like layering of buildings, yards, and middens, visually dominating the surrounding landscape and coastal waters. This article argues that the people building settlement mounds were thus monumentalizing claims to local power. Mounds also physically represented social networks and adapted symbolism already associated with mounds in Scandinavia.
For anyone who deals with cultural and geographical connections between Scotland and the Nordic world, the Icelandic sagas will unavoidably be there as a point of reference for any statement on the early history of such connections. In the present contribution, a selection of saga texts is made in order to investigate if or to what extent Orkney, as a locality between Scotland, Iceland, and Norway, plays a particular literary role in these narratives, beyond that of being a mere point of geographical reference. How is Orkney represented, it is asked, and what literary purposes, if any, do references to these islands serve in saga literature? The results of the investigation indicate that the literary function of references to Orkney in the narratives studied surpasses that of a geographical outline of an itinerary. These references may also be seen as turning points, signalling the advent of a change in these narratives, thus giving reason to answer in the affirmative the question posed in the title of the present article.
Kali Kolsson, later Rögnvaldr, Earl of Orkney, is a truly international figure who was born in Norway, travelled to England, came to power in Northern Scotland, and then made a memorable journey through Europe and the Mediterranean to the Holy Land. His poetry, composed in all of these places, survives only in Icelandic tradition and Icelandic manuscripts. This paper argues that the career and poetry of Rögnvaldr exemplifies the variation typical within a dispersed but interconnected culture, which might be termed the “Viking diaspora”. Rögnvaldr was by training a Norwegian poet, but by practice and influence an Icelandic and Orcadian—indeed a European—poet. Each of these places had its own version of the culture, some of which shared a common derivation from the Scandinavian homeland, but much of which was rather the product of the dispersion from that homeland. By examining his poetry, and his interest in runic writing, it is possible to exemplify the diasporic process in which inherited cultural traditions from the homeland are reinvigorated and even reinvented in the context of multilateral cultural encounters.
This article will attempt to quantify the Scandinavian influence on the Scottish corpus by looking at the historical and literary context for Scots-Scandinavian synergies in ballads and popular verse, noting the complexities of attributing any chronology and of classifying the direction and flow of such synergies. It will concentrate on specific stylistic and contextual features shared by the two traditions and then consider these in relation to two specific ballads, “Sir Patrick Spens” (Child 58) and “Sir Aldingar” (Child 59). The historical trading routes between Scotland and Scandinavia are well established. This article will argue that they traded cultural goods at the same time.
This article explores the representation and implications of Nordic and Scottish in the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf's novella Herr Arnes penningar (Lord Arne's Silver) and the German writer Gerhart Hauptmann's drama Winter ballade (Winter Ballad), the latter directly inspired by Lagerlöf's text. Focusing on the significance of the juxtaposition of Nordic and Scottish with regard to relations of power and gender, the study draws on work by the Danish critic Hans Hauge as well as Homi Bhabha and Benedict Anderson. Demonstrating the role of the Scots and Scottish culture in power in the central section of Lagerlöf's novella, where they combine into a temporary setting for a bold exploration of gender and agency, the article goes on to highlight the importance of the previously neglected juxtaposition of Nordic and Scottish in these texts by assessing the very different representations in Hauptmann's drama, in which relations of power and gender turn out to be considerably more traditional.
In T.H. White's The Once and Future King, the “Orkney faction” of Morgause and her sons consistently opposes King Arthur's centralizing power and stands for the old, mystical “Celtic” power of the British Isles against Arthur's progressive, rational “Englishness”. In White's medieval sources, the name represents a distant, possibly exotic power and, again, frequently antagonistic to Arthur's British affairs. This paper analyzes selected accounts of Orkney in Middle English narrative texts, primarily Arthurian romances, illustrating how conceptual “Orkneys” develop in the literature overall but also serve the literary needs of each individual narrative. The ultimate aim of the analysis will be to determine “where” Orkney is in the conceptual cultural geography created by these medieval writers of Great Britain: “here” or “elsewhere”.
This essay looks at George Mackay Brown's novel of 1992, Vinland, in the context of nineteenth- and twentieth-century “foundation myth” literature inspired by the Viking discovery of North America as originally recounted in medieval Icelandic sagas. This body of writing ranges from the New England “Fireside Poets” to Ottilie Liljencrantz's Vinland trilogy (1902–1906) to Nevil Shute's An Old Captivity (1940). The overarching aim will be to assess Mackay Brown's Orcadian perspective on Vínland in the context of what can broadly be regarded as a literature of colonialism; that is to say, a literature that explores the unequal relationships and value differences between the colonizers and the indigenous population.
In 1836, Samuel Laing (1780–1868) published his Journal of a Residence in Norway, an enquiry into Norway's moral and political economy. It is best known for idealizing Norwegian independent small-farm proprietors and their udal law of succession without primogeniture. During 16 months at Levanger and Verdal in Central Norway, his main concern was “the social condition and state of the Norwegian people”. However, like other contemporary European travellers, he included topographical-geographical observations on natural and cultural history. The present paper examines topics that have received less attention than his preoccupation with legal and constitutional issues. His Journal is examined in the light of contemporary and later ideas, using his observations on natural phenomena, Saami reindeer-herders, and historical monuments as illustrations.
How does historiography merge with national stories and shape tangible land use and land management issues? This article explores how two national stories—“The Free Norwegian Farmer” in Norway and “The Caledonian Forest” in Scotland—have become influential. More specifically, it investigates how they activate key symbols which are used as both ends and means in landscape-management policies. Using trees as a starting point, this article will show how afforestation plans on one hand and schemes to fight brushwood encroachment on the other each are direct or indirect outcomes of national stories that have merged with historical processes. National stories are defined as accounts used in the past and present to strengthen the political idea of nationhood. The term “key symbols” will be used as Sherry Ortner defined them: as elements within a culture “which ... are crucial to its distinctive organization”. This article is based on literature studies, interviews, and ethnographic fieldwork among people working in agriculture, forestry, and land management and policy in Scotland and Norway during 2001, 2004, and 2005.