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Immigration in the Viking era and Old Arabic texts describe dirty Vikings

The old quayside Bryggen in Bergen was a hub for the Hanseatic League in Norway. Drawing by Johan Joachim Reichborn in 1768. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Knut Kjeldstadli of the University of Oslo has led a group a researchers who have studied Norway’s immigration history from the Viking Age up to the present. He says the tracks left by immigrants and visitors traverse the entire period.
“Irish slaves came in the Viking Age. And around the year 1000 another import came that was to have a huge impact on Norwegian culture: Christianity,” says the history professor.
The kings brought along specialists in Christianising people. These were priests and monks from Germany and England. Even the Anglo-Saxon bishop and advisor – who canonised Olaf Haraldsson, was a Brit.

Thralls and careerists

Kjeldstadli points out that multiple groups immigrated to Norway in the Middle Ages.
At the bottom of the social ladder were the Irish slaves, or thralls. They might not have had too much of an impact on the culture. Around 1250 the first refugees came from Russia. They had been pressed westward by Mongolian tribes.
But a number of career immigrants ? specialists in various professions ? probably had the biggest influence. Some followed in the wake of the new religion.
“The men of the church in this context were not just the priests and monks, but also stonemasons and other craftsmen,” says Kjeldstadli.
There was an influx of European noblemen who could be political refugees, as well as specialists like minters, physicians and building inspectors.
And of course there were the merchants. In addition to the powerful and influential Hanseatic League there were Scots and Dutchmen who contributed to keeping trade routes to the Continent and the British Isles busy. They brought knowledge of modern business and bookkeeping to Norway.
Some of these tradesmen settled down and became Norwegians. Roughly put, the Norwegian urban bourgeoisie consisted of naturalised foreigners, according to Kjeldstadli.
“Today we find many traces of these immigrant names in the telephone catalogues. Surnames such as Aubert, Bødtker, Friele, Hambro, Michelet, Mowinckel, Schreiner, Stang and Stoltenberg come from immigrant ancestors.”
Immigrant Scots were the origins of families like Grieg, Christie and Dass. The names Munch and Ibsen also stem from immigrant backgrounds.

Not always without friction

The continuous mixing of people didn’t always go without a hitch. For instance, the import of Christianity was a bloody affair.
At times, immigrants have created big problems. 
“In 1455 a group of Germans killed the King’s commander in Bergen, as well as the bishop and 50-60 monks and nuns. We also know there were violent conflicts between German miners and peasants in Telemark in the 1500s.” 
In other cases it was the immigrants who were on the receiving end and were made into scapegoats.  >>more<<

Old Arabic texts describe dirty Vikings

They are the filthiest of all Allah’s creatures: they do not purify themselves after excreting or urinating or wash themselves when in a state of ritual impurity after coitus and do not even wash their hands after food.
The Arab writer Ahmad ibn Fadlan noted the above after meeting Viking travellers around a thousand years ago.
The Icelandic historian Thorir Jonsson Hraundal has studied comments about what we call Vikings in original texts by Arab historians and geographers. The texts described Arab encounters with Scandinavians in areas around the Caspian Sea and the Volga River. 
Their depictions differ radically from images of fearsome Viking conquerors handed down from the British Isles and France in the same era.

Resilient Scandinavians

“A major difference between the Scandinavians who travelled eastwards and those who sailed west was that in the East they were far more subordinated in societies they came to,” says Jonsson Hraundal.
He recently presented his doctoral dissertation at the University of Bergen about the so-called Rus ? Scandinavian merchants and warriors who travelled to Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.
“The Scandinavians appear to have been versatile people who were really good at adapting to diverse regions and participating in various power structures,” he says.

From the Nordic region to Baghdad

From the mid-800s until the ca. 1000 AD Scandinavians underwent something of a travel boom. The Vikings journeyed out into the world to explore, trade and battle. Norwegians are best acquainted with the raids in Western Europe and the voyages to Iceland, Greenland and North America.  
There are exceptions and Bill mentions that Arab silver coins and other artefacts from Kazakhstan and neighbouring areas have been found at Heimdalsjordet, a former marketplace not far from the Gokstad Viking Ship Mound in Sandefjord, southwest of Oslo.
“They come from the Silk Road and show that the Vikings definitely had contact with Islamic areas,” he says.

Deserving more emphasis

Another barrier is that the Arabic texts lack names for the Scandinavians they described, unlike many of the Western sources. The Arabs have evidently viewed them as a homogenous group, and haven’t considered the name of any incidental northern “infidel” relevant to the travel journals they wrote.

Good looking, filthy and crazy

The aforementioned writer Ahmad ibn Fadlan was not fully repulsed by the Scandinavians he met:
In the manuscripts from Ahmad ibn Fadlan and others, Jonsson Hraundal has extracted some new knowledge about how Vikings behaved in the East. (Photo: Gilwellian/Wikimedia Creative Commons)
I have never seen more perfect physiques than theirs – they are like palm trees, are fair and reddish, and do not wear the tunic or the caftan.
Ahmad ibn Fadlan describes funeral rites which generally conform to the Norse rituals of Scandinavia, but were very exotic for an Islamic intellectual:  >>more<<

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