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The World of the Vikings

To the Byzantines, the lands of the distant north were self-evidently hellish. So terrible were the winters that even wolves, when they crossed the frozen seas, were reported to go blind with the cold. Unsurprisingly, then, there was nothing much for its inhabitants to do all winter except rut and procreate. In the sixth century, a bureaucrat writing in Constantinople identified Scandinavia as “a factory of peoples, a womb of nations”. Three hundred years on, in 860, his warning appeared borne out, when the citizens of the great city were appalled to find a fleet of 200 Viking ships churning up the waters of the Bosphorus. Even though Constantinople itself managed to withstand the assault, the depredations inflicted on its environs were clear evidence of the wrath of God. Churches were looted, monasteries burned, captives diced into tiny pieces and dropped into the sea. Over the next 200 years, more waves of Norse pirates would follow, beating in vain against the impregnable walls of the Byzantine capital, but plundering and murdering all around them with a terrifying relish. “Fierce and merciless are these people,” wailed the patriarch, “and their voice is like the roaring of the Ocean.”


Read the full article on the Guardian website