My dissertation topic is going to be focused on Viking settlement in Northern Scotland in areas such as The Shetlands, Orkney and The Hebrides. My dissertation will examine whether the settlement was harmonious and there was assimilation or whether it was annihilation. I will use a wide variety of sources including primary and secondary however, there is a lack of plentiful primary material on the subject. I will also draw on archaeological evidence. Viking settlement in Scotland lasted over centuries, arguably from the 9th to the 15th therefore I will focus my dissertation from 850-1000 roughly.
Bressay Stone – 9th century.
This stone is significant primary evidence dating back to the 9th century and was uncovered in the Shetlands. It is an example of Pictish art and the symbols on the stone include two monks, various beasts including a boar as well as a cross. It also features a Ogham inscription which combines Norse and Gaelic names and words together which can be used as evidence to argue that Viking settlement in Scotland, particularly the North, had not been as violent as it is often assumed.
2. Somerville, Angus., and McDonald, Andrew. The Viking Age: A Reader. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2014. This source was used extensively throughout the HISU9V5 module from last Autumn and it combines a large selection of primary sources that have been translated and well-formatted. I will use this source predominately as a way of accessing primary evidence from the Viking Age.
Source 20.4 – Unn the deep-minded takes control of her life.
This source is interesting as it shows the inhabitants of Scotland in contrasting lights. Firstly, it depicts them as hospitable and welcoming to Viking incomers – Ketil Flatnose and his family. However, his grandson, Thorstein the Red immediately went raiding and broke the peace. This can act as evidence that it was the Viking settlers who were the first agitators and provoked unrest. Thorstein was victorious in his forays all over Scotland and a treaty was made in which he gained half of Scotland and became king. Furthermore, he did not marry a native Scot but chose a Norse bride which furthers the theory of some Vikings being unwilling to assimilate. The Scots betrayed the truce, and he was murdered in Caithness. This gives insight to discontent amongst the Scots and their unhappiness at being ruled by a foreign and power-hungry king. This source is interesting as it hints at what could have been a harmonious blend of people and cultures turned into a hostile feud because Thorstein had a tyrannic regime. This source will be pivotal in my dissertation as it shows Scottish-Viking relations initially and why they sour. Although both sides broke the peace, the Viking settlers are depicted as being the agitators.
John White’s popular depiction of a Pict warrior -16th century. (image taken from ‘The British Museum – images’ website).
Whether this could count as primary evidence or not I am not sure, and it is also just an interpretation as to what Picts looked like however there is substantial evidence left from the Picts in stone carvings of themselves as to how they appeared. The consensus is that they were large limbed, red haired and semi-naked/naked people who sported symbols and art on their bodies and wore war paint. The Romans referred to them as ‘Picti’ meaning painted or tattooed people. This painting was produced between 1585-1593 and shows a practically nude warrior whose body is stained/marked with symbols such as birds, a serpent and other animals. Equipped with a scimitar (a curved blade) and clutching a dead man’s head which gives insight and supports the theory that the Picts were ruthless and savage in war and combat.
Secondary Sources –
Smith, Brian. 2001. “The Picts and the Martyrs, Or Did the Vikings Kill the Native Population of Orkney And Shetland” 36.
This journal article will be very helpful in my dissertation and Smith has a clear stance that the native population of Orkney and Shetland were ‘killed’ by Viking invaders. Smith diminishes any prospect of social integration or blend between the two groups. He also rules out the theory of native enslavement and claims it was nothing but a genocide that happened in Northern Scotland and to the Picitsh communities in Shetland and Orkney. Smith’s theory of genocide has received many counter arguments which I will also investigate, but this journal article is effective in arguing for annihilation.
Jennings, Andrew. 1998. “Iona and the Vikings Survival and Continuity” 33.
This journal article focuses on the significance and importance of Iona which is a holy island which in the 9th century had been a target for Vikings raids, yet it withheld them and survived. It had survived conflict between Dal Riata and Pictland before the Viking invasions and was a prominent and identifiable source of wealth in the Hebrides as well as a political symbol. This article is effective in arguing potential assimilation as it oversees a ‘peaceful’ era from 825-986 when it remains free from pillage. This could suggest is had a powerful influence over Norse inhabitants, particularly as some Norse Hebrideans had adopted Christianity by 870’s. Furthermore, in 1098, Iona was spared by Magnus Barelegs who burned and slaughtered for miles but left Iona untouched. This article will be useful in my dissertation and can draw on religion as being a reason for assimilation and in accessing the significance of Iona politically and why the Vikings went from seeing Iona as treasure to be pillaged to something that needed to be protected.