Yet before Scotland votes again for independence – which it is increasingly looking as though it will – it should be worth remembering the links between Scotland and Norway.
In fact, these historical bonds can be traced back to the so-called "Viking Age" (c. 793 - 1066 CE) when Scotland was part of the Scandinavian sphere of influence, and it was the Vikings, and not the dreaded English, that were Scotland's enemy number one...
Romani ite domun
Unlike its southern neighbor (as many a Scottish pub-goer will tell you around the time of last call), Scotland was never conquered by the Roman Empire.
The history of the Roman impact on the British Isles has been studied by more eloquent, intelligent, and funnier (Monty Python's Life of Brian) brains that we have access to at The Viking Herald.
Nonetheless, following the Roman conquest of most of Britain by the 2nd century CE, a northern border was needed to keep the "barbarians" out from the southern Roman provinces.
A series of walls, fortifications, and forts (commonly called the Hadrian and the Antonine walls) constructed between 122 – 142 CE saw the division between Roman "Britannia" and the northern area (encompassing much of today's Scotland), which the Romans dubbed "Caledonia."
According to contemporary Roman authors, several federations of tribes lived there, the most important the Metae and the Caledonii, beyond the reach of Rome's authority and power.
By the early 5th century CE, the dream that was Rome had vanished. As population pressure, climate change, and a weakening political structure forced huge migrations of peoples into Roman territory throughout Western Europe, a series of Roman Emperors withdrew the Roman legions from Britannia.
However, just as Rome's political authority weakened in the region, its religious one soon grew.
Christian missionaries and political division
Within a century of Rome's withdrawal from Britannia, modern-day Scotland was divided between the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria in the south, the Pictish Kingdoms that dominated much of the center, and a Gaelic kingdom, Dál Riata, that encompassed much of the north and west and imported Gaelic culture.
However, a new southern source of culture, religion, and language would soon enter the region. In 563 CE, St. Columba was said to have founded a mission on the island of Iona, which would, within a century, lead to the flowering of "Celtic Christianity" and saw Scotland largely converted by the end of the 7th century CE.
Along with the dissemination of Christian belief, this was an era that saw kingdoms rise and fall. Dal Riata, which had dominated a large swathe of Scotland, had fallen from its golden period by the mid-7th century CE, whilst the Kingdom of Strathclyde saw a meteoric rise, based from its seemingly impenetrable capital on Dumbarton Rock.
However, with a patchwork of different kingdoms, peoples, cultures, and languages crisscrossing Scotland, there was no political unity or structure.
Soon, a seafaring people from across the North Sea would exploit this division.
The 9th century CE proved to be pivotal in the Norse domination of much of Scotland. Photo: janzacekphoto / Shutterstock
Academic debate on the beginnings of Viking settlement in Scotland
One of the more interesting academic debates taking place in Scottish history circles nowadays is the history of the beginnings of a Scandinavian presence on the "Northern Isles" (the Orkney and Hebrides Islands).
Straddled between northern Scotland and the west coast of Norway, these islands were assumed to have been "colonized" by peoples from Viking societies from about the late 7th century CE onwards. The reason behind the ease at which Viking warriors, traders, and settlers colonized these islands is part of a heated academic debate.
Some point out that the islands were part of a Norse earldom, essentially being brought into the Norse political sphere of influence early on. For other academics, it was a population "genocide" brought about by the widespread slaughter of local peoples and their replacement by Norse settlers.
Others again point to the impact of Christian missionaries in increasing local political tensions, which the Vikings exploited. Finally, Irish historical records make mention of a Laithlind which may be the name of a Norse-dominated Scottish kingdom. None of these theories are yet proven, and the academic debate rages on.
Regardless of which academic theory is "correct," these Northern Islands saw the first interaction with peoples from Viking societies before the Scottish mainland.
From the late 8th century CE, outlying British islands soon saw significant Viking raiding. In fact, during the first decade of the 9th century, Iona, the monastic island that had played such a large role in much of Scotland's conversion to Christianity, was sacked twice by Viking raiders.
Raids only continued, and by the middle of the 9th century CE, this bastion of "Celtic Christianity" was abandoned.
The Vikings cometh
The 9th century CE proved to be pivotal in the Norse domination of much of Scotland. During this century, the outlying islands were directly brought under Norse control.
The Northern Islands (Shetland and Orkney Islands), as well as some further south (the Outer Hebrides), were largely Pictish in society and culture by the time of the Viking arrivals.
However, the Inner Hebrides were Gaelic and still an important part of the politically weakening kingdom of Dál Riata.
A key source for this period (though one that is problematic for historians) is the Orkneyinga Saga. Although it was written in the late 12th century CE, it gives us a fascinating (if not totally historically accurate) snapshot of the islands' relationship with the Viking peoples across the North Sea.
Towards the end of the 9th century CE, following Harald Fairhair's uniting of Norway under his crown, many of his opponents were said to have fled to Viking strongholds on these islands.
It was shortly after this time that the earldom of Orkney was said to be established by Viking warriors who had crossed from the island strongholds to start to invade and wage war on the Scottish mainland.
The end of the 9th century C.E. saw peoples from Viking societies dominate much of Scotland's outlying islands, using them as a strategic base to connect Scotland with the Scandinavian homeland. The Viking invasions of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, which saw cities as far north as York fall under the raven banner, soon saw the peoples of Scotland caught in a pincer movement.
The Vikings were coming; what would be their response? You can read our second article on the Viking history of Scotland here.
The Scotsman published an article on the top Viking tourist sites to visit in Scotland, available to read here.
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