Herman expands the role of the Vikings in history, and it changes their reputation. They were not just marauders, he claims, but discoverers, founders and sometimes protectors – but always and almost everywhere they were traders, settlers and more. Herman traces their influence on Western civilization through cultural superstars like JRR Tolkien and Richard Wagner.
Herman’s legacy proves the theory of colonization. Its roots in the United States date back to a Norwegian ancestor and include Oscar Sorlie, a household name in that part of the world. The first with this name arrived in North America before the Civil War. At the turn of the 20th century, his great-great-grandson wrote: “The Sorlies were a well-to-do and wealthy nobility in North Dakota – with the largest farm, it was said, in the Red River Valley. The farm and other businesses owned by Sorlie were in Traill County, North Dakota.
The bridge over the Red River in downtown Grand Forks is named after Sorlie, but it pays homage to businessman and former North Dakota Governor Arthur Gustave Sorlie – a Norwegian of course, but not related to Herman or Traill Sorlies County. The Sorlie who became governor was born in Albert Lea, Minnesota.
Herman does not consider the Vikings to be looters. Nor as conquerors. The latter followed the former. The Vikings played a crucial role in the founding of what has become Russia. Their trade routes reached Constantinople, a walled city they failed to invade. They could have reached Baghdad, although Herman concedes the evidence is inconclusive.
It is undeniable that the Vikings plundered England, but the Age of Plunder soon gave way to an Age of Conquest. Long before the time of William the Conqueror, the Scandinavians had settled in England. Half the country belonged to what was called “the Danelaw” and when he reconquered the country, the Anglo-Saxon Alfred the Great chose to leave the colonies more or less alone. Within a century, his descendants had intermarried with the Viking nobility, bringing Canute to the throne and preparing England for another Scandinavian conquest, this one led by William of Normandy, a descendant of Rollo the Viking, who established Scandinavian colonies in France. The Great Northern Railroad has placed a statue of Rollo in front of its depot in downtown Fargo.
It was not the end of the Norman conquests either. Other descendants of Rollo the Viking settled in Sicily and southern Italy and played roles in the Crusader states of the Middle East – a story that still torments us.
Herman strives to point out that the Vikings included many different people, primarily Norwegians, Swedes, and – in the case of the invaders from England – the Danes. It follows modern historical conventions and includes the Finns, although they do not share the same linguistic heritage.
But there really is no pure Viking lineage, he claims, as the Scandinavians have spread widely and interbreeded freely. No Norwegian should be surprised to find unknown DNA in a lab test. The idea of a “pure Viking race,” promulgated by white supremacists, is a dangerous myth, he argues.
Herman is a fellow of the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, and the author of several earlier books, including “How the Scots Invented the Modern World” and “Gandhi and Churchill,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize of story. .
He is particularly interested in the Viking colony in the North Atlantic and North America. It happened in stages, with the colonization of the Orkney Islands off the west coast of Scotland, then the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and finally Vinland, an indisputable historical fact, albeit there are still disagreements over the exact location of this first Viking settlement.
Vinland did not last. Likewise, a Swedish colony at the mouth of the Delaware River was soon submerged by English settlers. Yet it marks a Scandinavian presence in North America before the establishment of the United States. “The first significant wave of immigrants to America from Norway” arrived in 1825, reports Herman.
The Scandinavian influence on American religious life and civil society is not in doubt. Lutheran colleges dot the Midwest. Two prominent examples bear heroic Viking names: Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter, Minnesota, named after the Swedish king and conqueror, and St. Olaf, named after King Olaf, who converted and became the patron saint of the Norwegians. . Scandinavians have held just about every elected office in North Dakota and Minnesota.
Herman builds his story with biographies of Scandinavian notables. Examples here: Economist Thorsten Veblen – of whom a town in South Dakota is named – and Knute Rockne, legendary Fighting Irish trainer from that Roman Catholic institution, the University of Notre Dame, yet another incongruity in Viking history .
Another example of the entrenching of the Viking heritage came to light on Sunday morning, October 3, while I was working on the New York Times crossword. The clue for 118 Across, in the bottom row of the puzzle, was “Icelandic work that influenced Tolkien”.
The answer is “Edda”, proving the cultural case for Herman.
Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.