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Vikings: Cold Blooded Killers, or Free-Market Entrepreneurs?

For centuries, the Vikings were romanticized as being cold blooded killers, raping and pillaging their way up and down the European coast line, killing and destroying everything in their path. In some cases this may be true, but for the most part, the Norse as they were actually called, would go raiding as a means of gaining wealth and trade goods to supplement their lack of fertile farmland in the rocky north. (Simek)

Barbarity was seen all over Europe on greater scale than the Vikings ever did. For instance, in 782, Charlemagne, thought of as the Unifier of Europe, had 4,500 Saxons beheaded in a single day, due to his claim that they were oath breakers. (Shea) No Viking raid could ever match that amount of barbarity, especially in a single day.

In fact, the Vikings may even be due a second look when it comes to stimulating the trade economy that eventually saved Europe. (Winroth) After the Roman Empire collapsed around the 5th century, a large majority of trade and trade routes between Europe and Eurasia fell with it. The expansion of the Islamic Caliphate in the 7th century made this barrier even wider. (NMD) Even though a large majority of trade had picked up by the 9th and 10th centuries, it was mostly isolated to the kingdom of Charlemagne, and the main currency was gold and silver from primarily the Middle-East. Another main problem with trade, was in areas that gold and silver were seldom used, barter was the most popular form of trade, a form that greatly limits an economy. (Wintroth)

The Vikings unintentionally helped solve this imbalance of wealth and trade by doing two things. The first was by raiding monasteries, taking the gold and silver, and using it in the European trade routes to buy weapons and goods, as well as melting it down to mint coins for Scandinavian Chieftains in England and Ireland. The second was by using their extensive trade routes, stretching from Greenland to well passed the Caliphate, the Vikings brought more Central-Asian silver to Northern-Europe, by trading furs, raided goods, and a large amount of slaves. All of this greatly helped to balance the lopsided economy found in Europe at the time. (Winroth)

Sea faaring danes

It is the raiding of the monasteries that we can most likely get our explanation as to why the Vikings had such a horrible reputation. The constant raids, sometimes year after year, on the people that basically had a monopoly on writing at the time, the monks, would explain why the Vikings were depicted as such barbarians. To add to this, the Vikings were Pagans, raiding Christians, so the monks writing records or even for aid would want to add to the description of the barbarity to portrait the Vikings as demons, hell bent on killing all Christians. Some of the only writings found from the Norse themselves, is found scattered throughout western Europe on Rune Stones. Many Swedish Rune Stones tell of expeditions from all over Europe, traveling not just to western but also eastern Europe.


The Vikings did indeed raid, quite often. They would also try to find alternatives to fighting, negotiating for payment, instead of killing and taking it. In 991, before the Battle of Maldon in England, a messenger was sent out to the Saxon soldiers telling them they should pay tribute. After refusing to pay, the Saxon army was defeated. Tribute of 10,000 pounds of Roman silver was paid later that year by King Aethelred the Unready, to stop the raiding of the area. (Gordon)

Besides the promise of riches and pleasing the gods from raids, research has shown that some of the raids on Christian settlements and monasteries could be the result of retaliation. (Simek) It is no secret that some kingdoms would go to war to spread Christianity, seeing other religious groups like Pagans and Muslims as enemies. So naturally, there would be a blow back on them by the every ready entrepreneurs that the Vikings were, especially during times of weakened military presence in some areas of England. With close proximity to the sea and rivers, many English towns fell prey to the Viking raids. Without organized navies, many kingdoms on the western coast of Europe faced constant raids by Viking raiding parties that traveled freely doing as they pleased. (Hadley)

One thing that proves the Vikings were not just a band of barbaric savages, ravaging the coast line is their culture. Being some of the best sailors in the world, they traveled as far west as the Northern East Coast of North America, and there are records showing they made it as far east as Baghdad. (NG) They built some of the best ships of their time, and were highly skilled wood workers and carvers. Most of all they had a set social structure that seemed to span throughout the Norse world.


The first and lowest class of people were the Thralls. The Thralls were essentially the slaves, slavery was very important to Viking society, and were used for most manual labor, as well as servants. Despised and looked down upon, the Thralls were mostly people captured during raids, or were bred to produce more Thralls. The second class of people were the Karls. The Karls were free peasants that owned land, farms, cattle, and usually had a trade of some sort. The third class were the aristocracy of Viking culture known as the Jarls. The Jarls were wealthy, with many thralls, and owned large amounts of land where they lived in huge longhouses. Since the thralls took care of the chores, Jarls were in charge of politics, any administrative duties, hunting, and were the ones who mounted expeditions and raids. In some cases, when a Jarl died, some of his thralls would be sacrificially killed and buried next to him. Although there was a social structure in Norse society, like today there were some gray areas, where responsibilities would cross over between the Karls and the Jarls. (Kildah)

The Norse were in reality, no better or worse, when it comes to barbarity, as the rest of the world during their peak. They have been stuck with a negative stigma for centuries, simply because they attacked the people that wrote history as they saw fit.


Rune Photos-

Wood Carvings-



Dane Painting-

Work Cited

  1. Simek, Rudolf. “The Emergence of the Viking Age: Circumstances and Conditions.” 2005.

  2. Shea, Christopher. “Did the Viking Get a Bum Rap?” National Geographic. 2014.

  3. Winroth, Anders. The Age of the Viking.” Princeton University Press. 2014.

  4. National Museum of Denmark. “Vikings Expeditions and Raids.”

  5. Gordon, E. “The Battle of Maldon.” London. 1968.

  6. Hadley, Dawn. “The Vikings in England: Settlement, Society, and Culture.” Manchester University Press.

  7. Kildah, Mari. “Double Grave with Headless Slaves.” University of Oslo. 2013.

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Watering an Empire

When most people hear about the Romans, they think of grand achievements like the Coliseum or the Pantheon, which are very large and ornate. But they are rather small when compared to the vast stretching aqueducts. The aqueducts not only brought enormous amounts of water into Rome, but were also used to flush the waste water and sewage out of Rome, simply by using gravity.


Most of the water in Rome ran under the city. Tunneling through two hundred and sixty miles of rock, and around thirty miles of crossways and bridges. Relying on gravity for a continuous flow, the water was drained into large cisterns in the city, where it was then distributed throughout the city using lead pipes. (

Instead of using geography to accomplish all of the gravity needed to bring large amounts of water to the cisterns, the Romans built the large bridges and arches when hills were not present. By doing this, the aqueduct would not interfere with roads or buildings, the aqueduct was simply built over them. But a majority of the aqueducts were not visible. Most of them were underground, tunneled through the hard bedrock at a slight grade in order to manipulate gravity, in order to have a never ending flow of water to the every thirsty cities. When there were no other ways of keeping the water flowing, the Romans would use a siphon technique. Siphons are complicated because they used the weight and pressure of the flowing water to push the water up hill. Any weak point or breech in the pressurized pipes and tunnels would cause the entire system to fail, so this technique was used sparingly. (Hansen)


Although large amounts of water were carried to Rome everyday, only the rich population had direct access to it by diverting (stealing) it, although it rarely flowed any higher than the lower level. Most of the population accessed the water by a constant flowing public fountain. (Gill)



Work Cited

  1. Hansen, R. Water and Waste Water Systems in Imperial Rome.
  2. “Roman Aqueducts.” Rome Italy Travel Guide. 2015.
  3. Gill, N.S. Aqueducts, Water Supply and Sewers in Ancient Rome. 22 April, 2013.

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The Impenetrable Wall of Men

The Phalanx

There was nothing new about a fighting line by the time the Greeks came to power, but it is what they did with that line that changed everything. Homer described the phalanx in his poems as something of an organized battle line (I). Instead of man on man fighting, the phalanx would fight as one in a large pushing match, sometimes four to fifty rows deep (II), in an attempt to break the battle line of the opposing army. In most cases, the first line to break would lose the battle.

The Hoplite


The Phalanx of Greece, consisted of heavily armed men called Hoplites, who would stand shoulder to shoulder, overlapping shields to create a shield wall (II). The name Hoplite comes from the name large round shield called a Hoplon (II). The hoplon, was a wooden shield covered with bronze measuring three to three and a half feet wide, usually big enough to cover from a mans face to his knees, that he would hold in his left hand and use to protect his left side and the right side of the man to his left. The hoplites were expected to supply their own equipment, at the least his armor and weaponry, and were generally recruited from the Greek upper class, due to the high cost of the equipment (I). The most important piece of hoplite equipment, besides his massive shield, was his thrusting spear called a Doru (II). Usually six to ten feet long, later reaching up to eighteen feet long, the thrusting spear was wielded by a hoplite in his right hand, and used over his shield to strike at his enemy as the phalanx tried to push back and break the enemy line. The length of the spear, mixed with the very close quarters of the hoplites, enabled men from the first two rows to effectively thrust their spears into the enemy line (II). Once the enemies line was broken the hoplite would transition to his secondary weapon, a short double edged sword called Xiphos, usually no more than 60cm long (III), to fight and finish off the enemy in close-quarters combat. After the enemies line is broken, the hoplite is not exactly alone. The Greek Light Infantry, usually recruited from the lower class, steps in for support. Being lightly armored and fast, the light infantry is able to chase retreating armies and strike fast blows in battle (IV).

The Flaws

The Phalanx, as used in fighting an unorganized enemy is an amazing formation, but it does have several major flaws. The first is that since every man protects his left side and his neighbors right side, the man on the far right side is unprotected. This made the phalanx vulnerable and slightly weaker on its right flank (I). The second is that a tightly packed group of heavily armed fighters is not very maneuverable. The failure to maneuver and adjust during battle became more evident when fighting very fast and maneuverable fighters like the Roman Legion (I). The third major flaw is in a hoplite’s armor. Although the armor is great in the phalanx, after the enemies line is broken and the hoplite must now fight hand-to-hand, he is wearing an enormous amount of weight that can slow him down and exhaust him very quickly, making him more vulnerable if the Greek light infantry fail to back him up (IV).


Picture: Vase Painting of a Hoplite

  1. Lendering, Jona. 27, July, 2013.

  2. Greeks and Phalanxes. 2011.

  3. Cartwright, Mark. Hoplite. 9 February, 2013.
  4. History of Warfare- Greek Citizen Armies: from the 7th Century BC. Page 3.

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Finding Water When Rain Does Not Fall

The Middle East may have had a very different climate in 700 BCE, but it did have one thing in common with the climate today, rain was definitely seasonal. One thing we know, is that despite the seasonal rains, people managed to do more than just scrape out an existence, they thrived. So how did people living in areas such as modern day Iran manage to find water in an area that is known for being in some places hyper arid?

Qanat Irrigation

A qanat, as they were called by the Persians, is a series of vertical tunnels that were hand-dug by a single person, to a single horizontal shaft. The horizontal shaft would start at the outer reach of an alluvial fan running off of a mountain, and run to the base of the fan itself where the water table was at a higher elevation than the beginning of the shaft, usually tapping in to an aquifer. The vertical shafts, which were covered after use, would be used during the building process for ventilation and removal of material from the construction of the horizontal shaft, and would be later used as access points for maintenance. [Wulff] The beauty of qanat style irrigation is in its simplicity. The water that flows from the base of the alluvial fan is fed by gravity to the opening of the horizontal shaft at a constant flow, which eliminated the need to pump the water at any stage. Since the vertical shafts were dug instead of a large trench, the flow of the groundwater down the main shaft is covered and therefore not subject to evaporation by the sun. Qanats were also notoriously very reliable, since the ground water was not pumped out, it was allowed to flow at its own pace, therefore not drying up aquifers from over use.

Building a Qanat

Dating when qanats were first constructed is very difficult, however the written records show that the birthplace is more than likely in modern day Iran. The earliest reports of qanat irrigation is from the 7th century BCE, from the Assyrian King Sargon II, who reported finding a way to tap in to ground water during a Persian campaign. King Sargon’s son, King Sennacherib later used this idea to build the underground irrigation system around Nineveh. Qanats are also found in most of the countries conquered by the Persians from 550-331 BCE, from the Indus Valley to the Nile, and expanded upon more by the Romans, reaching as far as Luxembourg. [Moki Systems]

Although qanats were developed almost three thousand years ago, they are still very popular around the world today. In Iran alone, seventy five percent of the water used in the country, for irrigation and household use, is supplied by qanats. There are around 22,000 qanats, with more than 170,000 miles of underground channels. [Wulff]

Iranian Qanat


H. E. Wulff. “The Qanats of Iran.” Scientific American. April 1968, p. 94-105

Moki Systems. “Qanats.” Provo, UT

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The Shortest Fire Giant

The name I chose comes from a family nickname Helgy, but with a twist. Muspelheim is the Norse realm of fire, one of the nine worlds. The people of this realm are usually referred to as the Eldjötnar or Fire Giants. I thought it was funny because I am a bit on the short side.

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