Heading west

The historical era baptized "The Viking Age" by some 19th century historians must be the only era with an exact beginning and ending. It all started with the raiding of the Lindisfarne monastery on the 7th of June 793 AD, and ended with the defeat of the Norwegian forces led by king Harald Hardråde (Hardrule) at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on the 25th of September 1066. By such a classification of historical eras one sure looses the aspect of continuation in historical development. National romantics of the 19th century, with their need for glorification of the past, must take the major responsibility for having created the ambivalent picture people in general conjure up in their minds when they hear the word Viking - on one side an unscrupulous and honour seeking warrior and pirate, on the other side a heroic conqueror and cultural mediator. The contemporary Anglo-Saxon and Irish accounts of the Viking raids against their homelands are certainly also partly responsible for the odious sounding and associations firmly knitted to the word Viking. These accounts are characterized by a strong Christian morality. National hero or pirate, it is nevertheless the fighting skills of Viking life which have been of prime interest and focus in everything written and filmed about this historical èpoque.

In this article I wish to tone down the aspect of raiding and fighting, and in stead shed some light on the Viking contribution within trade, art, and the mediation of skills in shipbuilding, sailing, farming, hunting and fishing. In particular I will try to stress the exchange of skills and experiences in the contact between Norway and Scotland during the Viking Age in the fields of fishing and stonemasonry, thus linking it to the main theme of this homepage - stone & fish.

The Viking migration to the western isles, starting in the twilight of the 8th century, was not the first time however people from Scandinavia migrated from their homelands into southern Europe. Already 1000 years prior to these events (ca. 200 BC) tribes from Jutland in Denmark - Teutons and Cimbrians - tested their fighting skills against the mighty Roman Empire. Later on other tribes followed in their paths, tribes living in today's Öster- and Västergötland, Skåne, Vendsyssel and Bornholm. These were the Goths, Langobards, Burgundians and Vandals. Finally the Angles from southern Jutland joined forces with the Saxons further south in the invasion of Britain in the 5th Century. The Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain was accomplished with vessels that were probably not fitted with sails (see the Sutton Hoo ship). During the following four centuries historians maintain heavy internal strides for land and power must have taken place within the Scandinavian countries. The need to escape was imminent and the building of seafaring ships escalated along the coast - the Viking ship saw the light of day! The same period was a time of economic prosperity in Scandinavia, a fact supported by the many rich burial sites excavated from this era (see the Vendel era in Sweden). Apart from the Franconian threat from the south towards Denmark in the beginning of the 9th century, no external enemy constituted any threat to Scandinavian society.

The Keel - the range of mountains splitting Norway in two - put an effective halt to the migrational dreams of the coastal population in expanding their territory further east. Westwards however the "land" was open, and new fertile soil lay there for the taking less than two or three days of sailing away. The coastal dwellers had acquired considerable knowledge about the countries in the south, east and west. For several centuries they had been trading extensively with the Baltic countries in the east, with Friesland, Saxony and Denmark in the south, and with Britain and Pictland (Alba) in the west. Apart from London, Ipswich and Norwich were important trading stations along the British coast. A proof of how widespread this commercial contact with foreign countries really was, is the discovery of dozens of cowry shells (Cypraea moneta) in pre-Viking graves in the north of Norway (600 AD)! At the time cowry shells, or money shells, from the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean were popular specimens used in the exchange for goods, as well as measures of value. Probably the main stream of these cowries has found their way to the north of Norway through Russia. Although real cities were sparse at the time, there existed several seasonal trading ports, which eventually developed into towns and cities of a more permanent character. The very first trading port of any importance in Norway was Skiringssal (Kaupang by Larvik in the county of Vestfold). The account of the tradesman Ottar (Othere) from the north of Norway, visiting the court of King Alfred in England sometime around 890 AD, is so essential in grasping the scope of the Viking trading activity that it deserves to be quoted as it appears in the World history of Osiris - written down by King Arthur himself:

"Oh there told his lord, King Alfred, that he lived farthest to the north of all the Norwegians. He said that he lived by the western sea in the north part of the land. However, he said that the land extends very much further north; but it is all waste, except that Lapps camp in a few places here and there, hunting in winter and fishing in the sea in summer.

He said that on one occasion he wished to find out how far that land extended due north, or whether anyone lived north of the waste. Then he travelled close to the land, due north; he left the waste land on the starboard and the open sea on the port all the way for three days. Then he was as far north as the whale-hunters ever travel.

Then he travelled still due north as far as he could sail for the next three days. Then the land turned due east - or the sea in on the land - he did not know which; he knew only that there he waited for a wind from the west and a little from the north, and then sailed east, close to the land, for as far as he could sail in four days. Then he had to wait there for a wind directly from the north, for at that point the land turned due south - or the sea in on the land - he did not know which. Then from there he sailed due south, close to the land, for as far as he could sail in five days. There a great river extended up into the land. Then they turned up into that river because they dare not sail beyond the river for fear of hostility, because on the other side of the river the land was all inhabited.

Previously he had not met with any inhabited land since he left his own home. But to the starboard there was waste land all the way, except for fishers and fowlers and hunters - and they were all Lapps; and there was always open sea on his port. The Permians had cultivated their land very well; but they dare not put in there. But the land of the Terfinns was all waste, except where hunters or fishers or fowlers lived. The Permians told him many stories both of their own land and of the lands which were round about them; but he did not know what the truth of it was, since he did not see it for himself. The Lapps and the Permians, it seemed to him, spoke almost the same language.

He travelled there chiefly - in addition to observing the land - for the walruses, because they have very fine bone in their teeth (they brought some of those teeth to the king), and their hides are very good for ship's ropes. This whale is much smaller than other whales: it is no longer than seven ells long. But the best whale-hunting is in his own land: those are forty-eight ells long, and the largest fifty ells long. He said that, as one of six, he slew sixty of those in two days. He was a very wealthy man in that property in which their wealth consists, that is, in wild animals. When he visited the king he still had six hundred tame animals unbought. They call those 'reindeer'; of those, six were decoy reindeer; they are very valuable among the Lapps because with them they capture the wild reindeer. He was among the first men in the land. Nevertheless he had no more than twenty cattle, and twenty sheep and twenty swine, and the little that he ploughed, he ploughed with horses.

But their income is chiefly in the tribute that the Lapps pay them. That tribute consists in animal skins and in bird feathers and whale-bone and in the ship's ropes which are made from the hide of whales and seals. Each one pays according to his rank. The noblest must pay fifteen marten skins, and five reindeer, and one bear skin, and ten ambers of feathers, and a bear- or otter-skin coat, and two ship's ropes, both to be sixty ells long, one to be made of whale's hide, the other of seal's.

He said that the land of the Norwegians was very long and very narrow. All that they can either graze or plough lies by the sea; and even that is very rocky in some places; and to the east, and alongside the cultivated land, lie wild mountains. In those mountains live Lapps. And the cultivated land is broadest to the south, and increasingly narrower the further north. To the south it may be sixty miles broad, or a little broader; and in the middle thirty or broader; and to the north, he said, where it was narrowest, it might be three miles broad to the mountains; and then the mountains in some places are as broad as one might cross in two weeks, and in some places as broad as one might cross in six days. Then alongside that land to the south, on the other side of the mountains, is the land of the Swedes, extending northwards; and alongside that land to the north, the land of the Finns. Sometimes the Finns make war on the Norwegians across the mountains; sometimes the Norwegians on them. And there are very large freshwater lakes throughout the mountains; and the Finns carry their boats overland to the lakes, and make war on the Norwegians from there; they have very small and very light boats. Ohthere said that the district in which he lived was called Hålogaland. He said that no one lived to the north of him. In the south of the land there is a trading-town which they call Skiringssal. He said that a man could sail there in a month, if he camped at night and had a favourable wind every day; and all the time he must sail close to the land. On the starboard is first Ireland, and then the islands which are between Ireland and this country. Then this country continues until he comes to Skiringssal, and Norway all the way on the port side. To the south of Skiringssal a very great sea extends up into the land; it is broader than any man can see across. And Jutland is opposite on one side, and then Zealand. The sea extends many hundred miles up into the land.

And from Skiringssal, he said that he sailed in five days to the trading-town which they call Hedeby; this stands between the Wends and the Saxons and the Angles, and belongs to the Danes. When he sailed there from Skiringssal, then Denmark was to the port and open sea to the starboard for three days; and then for two days before he came to Hedeby there lay to his starboard, Jutland, and Zealand (Sjælland) and many islands. The Angles dwelt in those lands before they came here to this country. And for those two days there lay to his port those islands which belong to Denmark."

In Gloppen in the counties of Sogn og Fjordane in western Norway archaeologists have unearthed some exotic items at the burial site of a great chieftain (Eidehøvdingen) dating from around 400 AD - amongst them were gold coins from the Byzantine Empire and drinking cups made of glass! In their last book "The Quest for Odin" Heyerdahl/Lillieström have assembled extensive evidence for the importance of this main trading route from Russia through Bjarmeland (today's Arkhangelsk area in northern Russia) into Varanger in the north of Norway. The authors further refer to the legendary introduction to Orknøyingenes Saga, where it is maintained that their ancestral father - the mighty chieftain Fornljot - originated from the innermost part of the Gulf of Finland, the centre of a mighty realm comprising Finland and Kvenland. The fact that the north of Norway historically played a central role, and withheld a dominant position for many years, in the trading traffic and cultural exchange between the "far East" and the North Sea area, has long since been acknowledged by historians, and has also lately been confirmed by archaeological excavations, like those in the Lofoten area.

Borg was one out of altogether 10 - 15 Iron Age chieftaincies in the north of Norway. Borg is however the only place where archaeologists have discovered remnants of the main mansion. Excavations during the years 1983 - 1986 have unearthed surprisingly rich finds. The main mansion had been 83 metres long - the largest house ever discovered from the Viking era! The chieftaincy had probably been established sometime around 500 AD, but had been abandoned around 950 AD. One of the chieftains at Borg might have been Olaf Tvennumbruni, who eventually resettled in Iceland. His migration was probably triggered by some internal disagreements among his fellow chieftains. His mansion is now restored to its former splendour, and has become an integral part of the "Lofotr Viking Museum at Borg" - a large exhibition site offering the visitor an exciting confrontation with the Viking world.

The dominating trading port by the North Sea in the early Viking times was undoubtedly Dorestad in Friesland. It was situated where the river Lek and a tributary from the Rhine met, but was destroyed by Danish Vikings during a raid in 834 AD. Dorestad was the most flourishing trading port in northern Europe, and was among other things renowned for its many mints. The last remnants of the town disappeared forever after a huge flooding disaster in 864 AD. The former rivers found new outlets, and Dorestad was forgotten. In Denmark Ribe, Lindholm Høje, and foremost Hedeby were all important trading stations, in Sweden there were Sigtuna and Birka by lake Mälaren. All these places had to be strongly protected, but at the same time easily available for seafaring tradesmen. Piracy was a constant threat along all the known trading routes in The North Sea, Skagerrak, Kattegat and Øresundene. A notorious pirate's nest was situated between the islands of Sjælland and Fyn, another famous hang-out was at Rügen. Today Ribe is reckoned as being the eldest town in Scandinavia still in use, while both Birka and Hedeby lost the struggle against the steadily decreasing sea level. Birka was abandoned ca. 970 AD. While Hedeby held it's ground until the beginning of the 10th Century. At the turn of the 10th Century there were as many as 15 towns in Denmark and 8 in Norway. In Sweden the unification of the country was a relatively slow process compared to Norway and Denmark, thus only 4 settlements had yet developed into towns. How then would a tradesman from the Islamic world describe his meeting with Hedeby around the year 950 AD:

"Hedeby is a large town at the other end of the world sea. The town is not rich in goods. The staple food is fish, since it is so plentiful. It often happens that a newborn infant is tossed into the sea to save raising it. Also. Women may divorce their husbands Nothing can compare with the dreadful singing of these people, worse even than the barking of dogs." (al-Tartushi, an Arab merchant from Spain).

This must nevertheless have been a time of richness and plenty for the Scandinavian merchants. After the Danes had occupied the major part of Middle England (ca. 970 AD), enormous hoards of silver and other valuables found their way to Denmark in the form of tributes (Danegeld). On the island of Gotland alone archaeologists have dug up 40 000 Arabic, 38 000 Franconian and 21 000 Anglo-Saxon silver coins!

How then was the power structure in Europe at the time of the Viking migrations? The mightiest regent in Europe was undoubtedly Charlemagne - king of the Franks. It was his grandfather Karl Martell who had succeeded in putting an effective halt to the Arab migration into France in the battle of Poitiers in 733 AD, thereby laying the foundation for Frankish supreme power in Europe. His grandson Charlemagne continues to expand his empire by first conquering the Langobards in Northern Italy. He then reclaims considerable areas in Spain back from the Arabs, before he eventually turns his attention northwards towards Saxony. With extreme brutality he forces the Saxons to accept the Christian faith before occupying their lands (763 AD). In the east the kingdom of Bavaria is subdued and incorporated into the Frankish Empire. In the year 800 AD Charlemagne was crowned in Rome by the Pope Leo III - the Roman Empire had risen again! The legend on Charlemagne's seal reads: Renovatio Romani Imperii (Restorer of the Roman Empire). This event proved fateful for the future destiny of Europe. In peoples minds there had always existed only one Empire - the East-Roman Empire in Constantinople. In the year 800 it was ruled over by Empress Irene, who had deposed and blinded her incompetent son Konstantinos VI.

Charlemagne's residence was in Aachen, where the Anglo-Saxon monk Alcuin was one of his prime advisers. It is the same Alcuin who corresponded with the abbot of Lindisfarne after the Viking raiding in 793 AD, and who desperately tried to persuade the Emperor to exchange hostages with the Vikings. After having subdued and christened the Saxons with force, Charlemagne turned against Denmark. He wanted to teach the Danish king Godfred a lesson for having supported the Saxons. This happened in the year 808 AD - and suddenly Scandinavia was involved in European politics.

To defend his country against the aggressive expansion politics of Charlemagne, king Godfred let build a solid defensive wall - Danevirke - straight across the southern part of Jutland, from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea. The flourishing trading centre of Hedeby lay just inside of Danevirke. Hedeby was strategically situated and important for the exchange of goods between the Baltic countries (with links to the Middle East and Asia) and the North Sea countries, and also served as a liaison between Scandinavia and Central Europe. By means of a man made canal it was possible to sail from the North Sea and right through Denmark into the Baltic Sea. It was Charlemagne’s son – Charles - who was given the mission to "teach the Danes a lesson", but he seemed more interested in the Baltic States further east. Therefore a peace treaty was signed in the year 811 AD between Charlemagne and Godfred’s nephew and successor Hemming. The river Eider should be the border between France and Denmark.

At this time Norwegian Vikings were raiding the shores of England, Scotland and Ireland - the Norwegian kingdom of the Western Isles is formed. By this time however Norwegian settlements had existed for 50 years on the islands of Orkney and Shetland. The Norse population cultivated their fields, bred their livestock and caught their fish in peace. A small group of these settlers must eventually have gotten this bright idea that "going a-viking"* was a lucrative way to increase their outcome. The Viking raids took place in their spare time between the sowing season and harvest. The Viking raids were probably initially an easy way of acquiring a supplementary income, but very soon - when rumours got around - became a dominant livelihood for certain adventurous and restless individuals.

* In the Icelandic Sagas the verbal form of the word is most common - to go a-viking (literally: to go a-baying). The origin of the term is uncertain, but probably is a derivative of the Old Norse word vikr (= bay, estuary), referring to the fact that the Viking ships usually searched for and anchored up in bays during their raids. Scarcely any of their victims used this term themselves. The invaders were commonly described in terms like Northmen or Normanni, Gaill or Gentiles (strangers), Lochlann (men from the lakes=fiords) or Finngall (=white strangers). The noun “Viking” probably is a 19th Century “invention”.

We return then to the motivational forces leading up to the migrations to the Western Isles in the 8th Century. The Norwegian author Karsten Alnæs describes the alluring and adventure seeking aspects fairly well in his book "The History of Norway" (Gyldendal, 1996):

When they reached the outermost skerries along the coast, the thought of sailing even further must surely have emerged. Some time during the 7th or 8th Century a few brave men must have to set out on the North Sea, in an endeavour to reach the Faeroe Islands or Shetland, by rowing or sailing. In the Faeroe Islands researchers have dated specimens of grain pollen from Mykines and Tjørnuvik in Straumøy to the 7th Century. These specimens most probably stem from the scattered early settlements of Irish monks, before they were driven from the islands by the Norwegians around 800 BC. However, in the Orkney Islands combs made out of reindeer horn have been found, dating from the 7th Century. The raw material must have come from Scandinavia. Carbon-14 datings from recently excavated fireplaces in Iceland show that the islands probably were inhabited at least a hundred years earlier than previously presumed. In the Icelandic Sagas Norse settlements are not mentioned earlier than 870 AD, so if the carbon-14 datings are correct, one has to reconsider the history of early settlements in Iceland. In addition, some Norwegian burial artefacts of Irish and Anglo-Saxon origin could stem from the 8th Century. How it all ends up, during the 9th Century a large-scale migration has taken place from the Western coasts of Norway to the Western Isles, paralleled by the massif taking of new land in the Eastern regions of Norway. Longships have crossed the North Sea, carrying women, children, men, cattle, tools and food. The emigrants have driven away Irish eremites and monks, some times also the indigenous people (Picts), and shared the lands and shores amongst themselves. They have not only searched for fertile soil and sheltered valleys to grow their crops, but also skerries abounded with seabirds and seals, rivers where salmon and trout spawned in the autumn and fishing grounds where the saithe and cod swarmed. Excavations in the northernmost part of Scotland (Freswick in Caithness) show signs of early organized cod fishing aimed for export. During the 7th Century they have cleared grounds and built settlements in Man, the Hebrides, Shetland, Ireland, Scotland and Ireland, England - and eventually in Iceland.

How then did they manage to find their way to these far out islands? Orally transmitted seamanship through generations was essential to succeed on the voyage across the sea. Pioneers’ experiences with hurricanes and other capricious moods of the sea, knowledge of dangerous skerries and shallows, of landmarks and weather conditions, fastened itself like glue in the minds of the restless youngsters. Positions and movements of the sun provided important information about direction. They not only knew that the sun rose in the east and settled in the west, but also that the position of the sun at midday indicated south, and at midnight north, in the northern waters. The Polar star - Leiöarstjarna - was useful in clear nights to hold a steady course northwards. In foggy and cloudy weather the Vikings relied on their sunstone (Solarsteinn) to detect the position of the sun. The sunstone was probably a piece of finely crystallized feldspar (found in Iceland), which polarized the sunlight even if the sun was covered by clouds or beneath the horizon. The Sagas relate that the Vikings wore their sunstone in a string around their necks, but archaeologists have as yet never been able to uncover such an artefact. The sunstone was the precursor of the twilight compass - invented in the 17th Century - and still in use by pilots in navigation (the Kollsman Sky Compass ). Another precursor of the compass utilized by the Vikings was the magnet stone (a naturally occurring magnetic mineral), used together with an iron needle. The iron needle was rubbed against the magnet stone several times until it became magnetic. Then it was stuck inside a straw and made to float in a bowl of water. The needle would then point in a north-south direction. Another important navigational instrument was the sol-skuggjàfjöl - a kind of wooden sundial attached to a stick. Along the rim of the dial there were marks indicating direction. This was the precursor of the sextant. All these navigational tools were of great value to the Vikings in estimating the altitude with a certain degree of confidence. Estimating longitude however was a far greater challenge. In this matter accumulated seamanship through generations was indispensable. The Vikings knew that by sailing directly west from a given point of departure in Norway they could reach the far out islands (for instance by keeping a steady course westwards from Bergen they would eventually reach Hvarf in Greenland). Distance was measured in days. The birds’ flight and the whales’ wanderings were also important signals in the sighting of land. In spite of all this, the ships often sailed out of course – they became hafvilla (sealost). It was however due to this hafvilla that new land was discovered (Eirik the Red and his son Leif Eiriksson's discovery of Greenland and Vinland in America are the prime examples).

The pioneer emigrants used the knarr for transportation. It was wider and steadier in the sea than the Viking warship, and it could carry more cargo. The knarr had a deck, and was a pure sailing vessel. In 1962 six shipwrecks from the 11th Century were discovered in the Roskilde fiord in Denmark. These ships were of different design and shape, and had purposely been sunk to block the entrance to the fiord. One of the ships - Skuldelev I - was a typical seafaring knar, designed for long-distance voyages. It is made from spruce growing in the western part of Norway. Skuldelev I had been 15 metres long, and it was calculated to have had a load-carrying capacity of 24 tons! During the two centuries that had passed since the building of the Oseberg ship , a steady improvement of the construction had taken place, making the ships more pliable and easier to manoeuvre.

The dream of fresh and fertile land - landnåm - was the prime incentive behind those very first voyages to the Western Isles. The crew and passengers usually constituted small family groups. Apart from women and children, livestock was essential for survival - horses, cattle and sheep. Tools and utensils of all kinds, clothes and food supplies for the crossing and the initial period, were of course important and had to be stored on board. Archaeologists have unearthed remnants from these first settlers in Shetland, Orkney and the Hebrides, while finds on the Scottish mainland are rather sparse. This was primarily a farming society, with hunting and fishing being important subsidiary sources of income. This kind of society was typical for Scotland and the Isles. Elsewhere in the Viking kingdom, like in Ireland and Northern England, a more urban society had developed, with trading being the main source of income. Little is revealed about ordinary people's daily life in the Sagas (for instance in the Orkneyinga Saga), which are rather dominated with stories of conflicts and battles between local Earls and Scottish Kings. An interesting feature in the Sagas is the extent of alliances entered (and broken) between the Kings of Scotland and the Norwegian Earls. The close contact between Gaelic and Norse culture is not the least reflected in the children's names, with norsified Gaelic names and gaelified Norse names. The Orkneyinga Saga contains numerous references to Norse place names along the Scottish coast and in the inland. Many of those places have been identified, but far from all. The three maps below are illustrative of the Viking expansion from the early Viking settlements up to late medieval time.

These maps show clearly that the heyday of Viking power in Scotland was during the reign of the Orkney earl Thorfinn Sigurdsson the Mighty, who reigned from 1019 - 1065 AD. It was however his father Sigurd Hlodvirsson the Stout (980 – 1014 AD) who had laid the foundation for Thorfinn’s success through his marriage with the daughter of the Scottish king Malcolm II. Sigurd was the last of the heathen earls of Orkney – until he was forced by the Norwegian king Olav Trygvesson in 995 AD to let himself be baptized and accept the Christian faith. Sigurd achieved control over large areas in the North of Scotland. Ross, Murray and Sutherland was occupied and added to the Norse Empire of the Western Isles. His youngest son Thorfinn was first raised at his grandfathers court in Apaldjon (Aberdeen), but later received his education from a wise farmer in Katanes (Caithness) - Thorkel Anundasson. This same Thorkel was responsible for the murder of Thorfinn’s elder brother Einar, who had succeeded his father Sigurd as Earl of Orkney. Thorfinn was only 5 years old when his father Sigurd was killed in the battle of Clontarf in Ireland in 1014 AD. Sigurd was killed when he raised the magic Banner of the Ravens. According to an old legend the warrior who raised this banner would be killed, but his army would be victorious. This happened to be the case at Clontarf. After dealing with his brothers, Thorfinn ruled his empire in peace for many years. He even went on a pilgrimage to Rome in his old days, and on his return initiated the building of a Christchurch at his residence on Birsay. He further appointed the first bishop in Orkney - Thorolf - to reside from his new church. Thorfinn consolidated his father’s power in Scotland, and after a short battle with the Scottish king Karl Hundesson could even expand his empire with the county of Fife. Thorfinn had thus become the mighty ruler of 9 earldoms in Scotland, the Hebrides, and large parts of Ireland. When he died his body was put to rest in the churchyard by his own Christchurch at Birsay.

It has always puzzled me that we seldom hear about the Viking's contact with the North-Eastern part of Scotland - the coastline from M&aeling;rhøve (Moray Firth) to Mørkvefjord (Firth of Forth). One of the reasons for this could be that the Vikings never really managed to gain a proper foothold along this coastline, which on many places is featured by steep cliffs rising from the sea. Undoubtedly the Picts must have built firm defences and strongholds at many places along the coast. One of these strongholds was Burghead Fort.

Construction of this fortress began in the 3rd century, and recent excavations have uncovered quite a vast construction. This was probably one of the main Pictish strongholds of the north. The Sagas relate of the capture of this fortress - Torridun - by the Orkney Earl Sigurd the Mighty in the year 884 AD. Archaeologists have discovered remnants of a huge fire in the 9th century, thus substantiating the events related in the Sagas. The most suitable and accessible landing places for the Viking ships were by the river mouths. Along the northern coastline the rivers Lossie, Findhorn, Spey and Deveron runs into the North Sea, and along the eastern coastline the main rivers are Ythan, Don, Dee, North and South Esk. My mother's birth town Banff is situated at the mouth of the river Deveron.

The Vikings name for Banff was Duvøyre. The name is mentioned only twice in the Orkneyinga Saga:

Svein then prepared to set off, and when he was ready, he sailed south to Breidefjord (Dornoch Firth?), but a northwest wind brought him instead to Duvøyre (Banff) - a trading port in Scotland. From there he sailed on to M&aeling;rhøve (Moray Firth) and further on to Ekkjalsbakke (Oykill, Kyle of Sutherland). He then proceeded to Atjoklar (Athole) to visit Earl Maddad. The Earl then presented Svein with a man who knew the localities well, to guide him over the mountains and through the forests. They travelled the land road through all the small villages, and ended up in Hjalmundal (Helmsdale) in the middle of Suderland (Sutherland).

Svein then got the idea to join together all the ropes they had. When night came Svein and Margad was lowered from the castle down to the sea. They both started to swim away from the cliff, and continued swimming passed the rocky coastline. Well ashore they set off in the direction of Mærhøve in Suderland, and from there on to Duvøyre. There they met some men about to load a ship arriving from Orkney. Their leader was a man named Hallvard, and another man was Torkjel, they counted ten all together. Svein and Margad joined them, and all twelve of them sailed south along the Scottish coast until they reached Måøy I Mørkvefjord (Isle of Moi in the Firth of Forth). There was a monastery on the island. The abbot's name was Baldwin. Svein and his company were stuck here for seven days. They told the abbot they were messengers from Earl Ragnvald to the Scottish king. The abbot and monks doubted this was true. In stead they feared they were robberers, and sent a message ashore for help. When Svein realised this, they all entered the ship again, after looting the monastery for all its valuables. They sailed further up the Mørkvefjord, and in Edinaborg (Edinburgh) they went to see king David. He welcomed Svein and his crew, and asked them to stay.

This Svein from the Orkneyinga Saga must be Svein Åsleifsson, often referred to as "The last Viking". Svein and his 80 companions had their headquarters on Gåreksøy (Gairsay) in Orkney. According to the Sagas he went raiding twice a year. His spring-raid started after seeding, and lasted until midsummer. The autumn-raid took place after harvesting, and lasted until midwinter. Svein and his gang raided in the Hebrides, in Wales and Ireland. They also raided British merchant ships in the Irish Sea, and plundered a monastery on the Scilly Islands. After 30 years of plundering he was finally killed on a raid to Dublin in 1171. The Scottish king David ruled from 1124 to 1153. His court was in Edinaborg (Edinburgh). He was followed by King Malcolm IV, who was also at the time Earl of Nordimbraland (Northumbria). It was during his reign that a great naval battle was fought, leading up to the final dividing of the Norse Empire of the Western Isles.

In 1156 during the night of Epiphany a naval battle was fought between Godred and Somerled and there was much slaughter on both sides. When daybreak came they divided the Kingdom of the Isles between them. (Chronicle of the Kings of Man and the Isles).

It has always puzzled historians and archaeologists that neither written sources nor archaeological traces of Viking raids on monasteries seem to have been found along the northern and eastern coastline of Scotland. Not until 1994 when the archaeologist Martin Carver from the University of York, was granted the permission to perform excavations near Tarbat Ness, a small fishing village 40 miles north of Inverness. He started digging up the floor of an old church from the 10th Century. Here he found a total of 67 skeletons, of which 57 were male! Several of the skulls showed clear signs of violence by sword or axe. Later Carver discovered remnants of a metal workshop, and at the bottom of a small valley he also found remnants of a farmstead from the Viking Age. Between the farmstead and the church he did his most spectacular discovery - a layer of black earth composed of burnt wood and iron rivets. In this layer pieces of beautiful ornamental art were unearthed. The ornamentations were typical of the monasteries before the Viking raids started, and seemed to have been freshly carved when they suddenly and brutally were smashed to pieces. The excavations in the area continue, but so far it seems this is the first real evidence of a Viking raid against a monastery in the North-Western part of Scotland.

Northwest of Inverness is the small town of Dingwall, where my father was stationed for a short time during the war. The name of this town is probably an Anglicization of the Old Norse name Pingvellir - the place where the Vikings assembled to make announcements, perform verdicts and enforce the law. The region around the Moray Firth therefore seems to have been a centre of power in Viking Scotland, since they chose to establish their court here.