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Viking Military Success Essay

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Submitted By hodgebeats
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The Middle ages were spearheaded by a massive outreach of Christianity and by the 12th century, almost all of Europe was Christian. The only exception was to the far north, in Scandinavia, where a military powerhouse threatened western Europe with their military strength and pagan beliefs. These Scandinavian raiders were a martial people that used their military prowess and superior nautical skills to conquer much of northern Europe and become a militant powerhouse; a successful and feared civilization that was also a politically superior society. These seafarers would later became known as Vikings. Young viking soldiers were born and bred to fight, and this is reflected in almost every aspect of life, from their development to the gods they worshiped. Scandinavian boys were most often born into a trading or farming family, and as a result, they were physically fit from working the land as a farmer, or from rowing a boat as a trader. Because bravery and heroism were chiefly valued by this society, their children were also trained to fight at a young age, and they became soldiers that were tough and versatile, enabling them to outlast their opponents on the battlefield and perform a multitude of tasks. Vikings were also thought to be fearless - it was said that even fatally wounded soldiers would continue to fight until they were dead - and this may be because they believed that if you were honorable and courageous in battle, you would go to Valhalla. Before Christianity was introduced to Scandinavia by the Franks and the English, the majority of Viking people were pagans and the worshiped Nordic gods like Odin (Odinism) and Thor. It is significant that most of the gods in Norse mythology were warriors that valued strength and courage. Valhalla is the Nordic equivalent of Heaven, except when a warrior goes to Valhalla they can fight all day, and drink and feast all night. Viking warriors who did not exhibit these valued traits would go to a place called ‘Hel’, which was bleak and ominous, and the worst Vikings (in the eyes of the gods) would have their soul devoured for eternity. Scandinavian boys were indoctrinated with Norse beliefs at a young age, and they believed very strongly that Valhalla existed. This motivation to be fearless and courageous in combat, in order to gain entrance into Valhalla, is what gave the Vikings their ruthless reputation. The Vikings had a political structure and economy that were critical to the sustainability of their civilization and allowed Viking soldiers to succeed, in addition to their fighting ability. The Viking political structure was centralized, which was not uncommon, however the Vikings were unique in that they were not restricted by social class or wealth. The Vikings didn’t have a single king - soldiers loyal to a particular jarl (earl) or warlord would give their commander any wealth they obtained, but since the Vikings valued skilled fighters, the best warriors were free to rise to the top of the ranks or become their own warlord (1). This was also key to the training of younger, more inexperienced, soldiers as it was a guarantee that they were trained by better soldiers. Through military might, the Vikings established numerous trade routes, stretching down to the Middle East, and they conquered parts of France and almost all of England, whose wealth boosted the Vikings own economy. In addition, the Vikings were arguably the best European traders in the Middle Ages; their extensive trade routes opened doors to huge wealth in the Mediterranean, but it was they’re unmatched trading skill that capitalized on those opportunities. In this way, jarls and warlords made their own wealth, and with the wealth spread out, economic power was not wielded by a single person. It also meant that any wealth plundered by a Viking warlord and his men would be used to recruit more men, and buy more or better weapons and armour, because it wasn’t taxed by a king. One of the most important aspects an army needs to have to achieve a decisive victory is speed and mobility and, other than the Mongolian hoards in the 13th century, the Vikings had the fastest and most mobile force in the Middle Ages. The Vikings source of mobility and speed was due almost entirely to their ships and nautical skills. Viking ships were constructed from large old-growth trees, mainly oak, which made them faster and stronger than any other general purpose ship at that time. Using traditional clinker construction, some Viking ships could hold up to 100 men. These strong and sleek ships could travel up to six knots using oar power, and ten knots when using a sail, and since Viking ships were light and relatively narrow, they were able to go in really shallow waters - even rivers only one meter deep. This allowed them to transport greater numbers of men faster than they could on land, but these ships could also be portaged over land, making them even more versatile. Viking traders could travel inland much faster and with more supplies, and it also gave the Vikings the element of surprise when attacking a new force, which many armies had never seen done before. Any town accessible by water could be attacked by the Vikings on two sides. For these reasons, the Vikings valued their ships more than their own life and would fight to the last man to save them. All ships were decorated with animals or mythical creatures on both sides to intimidate their opponents and many stories told about the Vikings included descriptions of these creatures as being very frightening and ominous. The Viking ships were so well made that they used them to sail across the Atlantic Ocean and they were the first Europeans to set foot in North America. Their military achievements and victories were truly outstanding and can be compared to some of the best militant societies. Although it seems as though some of the glory of the Vikings has been diminished over time, their name will be forever associated with brute strength and tenacity. There's no doubt that the Vikings achievements were due to their savvy political structure, maritime skills and their military culture, all of which were used by the Vikings to effectively conquer their enemies, and build a powerful civilization.

Foote, Peter Godfrey, and David Mackenzie Wilson. The Viking achievement: A survey of the society and culture of early medieval Scandinavia. New York: Praeger, 1970. Brink, Stefan, and Neil Price, eds. The Viking World. Routledge, 2008.

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