Vikings In Scotland

The Vikings in Scotland: A guide to Scottish Vikings

How much do you know about the impact of the Vikings in Scotland? Most people rightfully associate the Vikings with Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Iceland, and Norway.

However, these adventurous individuals often visited and settled in other regions too.

As Scotland is just across the North sea from the Scandinavian region, it marked one of the first entry points for the Vikings into the United Kingdom. There are even some Scottish people who can trace their ancestry back to the early Vikings.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the activity of the “Scottish Vikings” who found a home for themselves on the shores of Scotland.

We’ll also be exploring what happened to the Vikings in Scotland, and how they influenced the Scottish culture for centuries to come.

An introduction to Viking influence in Scotland

Scottish heritage is a relatively complex thing. Many of the “Scots” located in Scotland today have a history connecting them to the Gaelic or Irish, while others have connections to Scandinavian, and German roots.

The diverse genetic history of the Scottish people is a result of the country’s colorful history, and the interactions they had with different cultures.

The Vikings in Scotland had perhaps one of the most significant influences on the development of the country. According to archeological discovery, the Vikings invaded Scotland at some point during the 8th century.

The initial visit wasn’t a peaceful one. The Vikings arrived on the coasts with the intent of attacking and overthrowing the region, as well as looting precious objects.

Most experts believe the Viking raiders who landed in Scotland came mainly from Norway, but other Scandinavian countries frequently sent raiders to Scotland’s shores too.

Eventually, after some amount of pillaging, a scattered group of Vikings formed a settlement in Orkney, and Jarl Sigmund the Mighty was pronounced the first “Earl of Orkney”.

While few records have survived providing a clear insight into the early years of the Norse settlement in Scotland, we do know the language of the Vikings quickly overtook “Pictish”, one of the common tongues of the time.

Vikings In Scotland

Are Vikings Scottish? The connection

While Vikings may have chosen to settle in Scotland, they didn’t give up their Nordic roots. The Norse lords who began taking over the Scottish coastlines still spoke their own language, and maintained their connection to Scandinavian countries.

In fact, at one point, leaders in Scotland were united under the rule of Norway, a pact which was formalized during 1098, when King Eager signed the islands over to Magnus III in Norway.

One of the most famous “Scottish” Vikings in history rose to power in the 11th century. Thorfinn Sigurdsson, the current Earl of Orkney was responsible for advancing the Viking culture into the Scottish mainland in the north.

This part of Scotland now has a number of Norse names for various places, like Sunderland, Dingwall, and Wick.

At the time, Thorfinn stood as a significant insight into the mingling cultures of the Scottish population at the time. Thorfinn’s father, Sigurd, was a Scandinavian Earl, killed during the Battle of Clontarf, while his mother was the daughter of a Scottish ruler.

History shows he spoke both Gaelic and Norse — launching discussions into Scottish Vikings for decades.

Some people even believe Thorfinn was the real inspiration behind the famous character “Macbeth”. Although at present, we don’t know enough about the historical ruler to form any connections.

Were the Scottish Vikings? Where Vikings thrived in Scotland

While not all of the Scottish inhabitants during the age of the Vikings considered themselves to be Vikings, there were a number of members of this culture scattered throughout the region.

Scotland was home to a number of Norse settlements, including the “Kingdom of the Isles”. This location covered various parts of the western Isles, and the Isle of Man.

The Kingdom of the Isles was home to various ethnicities and languages, and split into two distinct parts.

The South Isles (Suðr-eyjar) included the Isle of Man and the Hebrides, while the Northern Isles (Norðr-eyjar) included Shetland and Orkney, where Norse influence is thought to have been most significant among various cultures.

Norse leaders also became the ancestors of many clans within the western isles, including the famous “Clan MacLeod”. What’s more, they helped to inspire the names for many of the regions throughout Scotland, such as “Egilsay”, which translates to Eigil’s Island”.

The Isle of Man is perhaps the most interesting location to explore when looking at Vikings in Scotland.

The space, located in the middle of the Irish Sea, is considered by historians to be the melting point which brought together all of the different cultures which formed the Ireland we know today.

Interestingly, the origin of the name “Isle of Man” is still unknown.

What happened to the Vikings in Scotland?

So, what happened to the Vikings in Scotland?

The Viking settlement in Orkney quickly gave way to a much wider expansion of the Viking culture across the Scottish landscape. The Viking kings of Dublin and the earls of Orkney ruled most of the island throughout the 10th and 11th century.

However, the Gaelic culture and language remained strong among the locals, eventually developing into “Godelic”, which is now known as “Manx”.

During 1079, the Crovan dynasty gained significant prominence in Ireland, marking a turning point for the Isle of Man. The Kings of Norway, and the Vikings descendants of the time nominally dominated the kings of the Crovan dynasty.

However, in the 1260s, Norway and Scotland went to war over the Isle of Man, and Scotland came out as the victors.

Scottish culture had regained control of most of the region by the late 1200s, and Viking culture began to fade, though some elements did remain present for centuries after.

During the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346, the Scottish King David II was captured by an English group, and the Isle of Man was awarded to England as part of his ransom.

Vikings In Scotland

What are Scottish Vikings called?

The Scottish Vikings who emerged from ancestors of the Vikings who first appeared in Scotland were typically referred to as the “Norse-Gaels”. The Norse-Gaels evolved over time as a result of marriage between the Nordic invaders, and the Gaelic locals.

Today, Viking heritage in Scotland isn’t celebrated as often as it is in the Scandinavian region. However, there are still some ancestors of the Vikings in Scotland who continue to recognize their colorful background.

For instance, some of the Scottish people in the Shetland islands celebrate their heritage through an annual “Fire Festival”.

The Fire Festival commemorates the Vikings who once lived in the region, and is held every January in the town of Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. Here, people dress in Viking clothing and carry torches and axes throughout the town.

A Viking longship is often carried throughout the streets, before eventually being set ablaze and cast into the water.

Otherwise known as “Up Helly Aa”, the Fire Festival has emerged as Europe’s largest Viking fire festival, and is attended by thousands of people every year.

Vikings in Scotland: An incredible history

The Vikings in Scotland had a huge impact on the evolution of the Scottish culture. Thanks to their early settlement on the coastlines of Scotland, the Scottish Vikings contributed significantly to the varied DNA and genetic backgrounds of the Scottish people today.

Many of the Scottish families throughout the country right now can tie their history back to the early settlements which appeared in Scotland during the 8th to 13th century.

The Viking influence in Scotland can also still be seen among the various unique names given to different regions in the country. Plus, there are still celebrations drawing attention to these older settlers.

The presence of the Vikings in Scotland gives an interesting insight into how the Vikings and their adventurous nature impacted the development of various groups and countries across the globe.

While the Vikings may be a primarily Scandinavian group, they also helped to deliver Scandinavian concepts to multiple regions over the years.

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