Brief Views on the Great Rising of 1381: the "Peasant Revolution" in England

The Great Rising of 1381 is an event that sometimes comes to my mind when I think of the '99' movement of our day. In so many ways they are similar and even though my post will be fairly simplistic, I suspect that a careful reader will easily see the parallels with today's protest movements. (I was listening to a lecture that discusses happiness and how it is measured today... and it is generally agreed upon that countries that have the smallest amount of economic disparity are the happiest... certainly the US has a very wide disparity right now which is a big part of this protest movement. So sit back and enjoy a few minutes of reading about the people who became part of the Peasant Revolt in England. You won't regret it. :)

So our story will start with the newest tax- the third 'poll' tax. The vast majority of people already felt oppressed, poor and overtaxed already. So from stage right... enters a tax collector into the town of Fobbing. Thomas Baker was a brave man who lived in Fobbing and John Bampton was the poor soul who was given the royal authority to attempt and collect the poll tax from the villages. Everyone was afraid to get in the way of any of the official men who were supposed to collect the poll tax . These collectors were men who were given many liberties – including the ability to reach up the skirts of the local women to determine if they were virgins (and therefore didn't have to pay the tax) or if they were not virginal... whereas the woman would need to pay the tax. When John Bampton came to the village of Fobbing, he brought a token bodyguard and set up to look for 'potential' tax evaders. It was at this point that Thomas Baker came forward with a small group of men from the nearby villages. He told John Bampton that everyone who lived there had paid the tax appropriately and so he (John Bampton) needed to leave. John, in his misjudgment or arrogance, then ordered the arrest of 100 people from the crowd including Tom Baker. The crowd, emboldened by Mr Baker's bravery and angry about the government and the tax in general began to riot... forcing John Bampton and his token bodyguard to flee for their lives and health. This would later be seen as the beginning of the Peasant Revolt.

It must be noted that the Black Death also played a role in the beginning of this revolt. The Black Death arrived several decades before this time... and took the lives of about half of the people living in Europe and England at the time. In areas, whole villages were emptied of populations - This massive and quick quantity of death caused a labor shortage which changed the way that landowners had to deal with their serfs. When the country of England had been overcrowded, peasants really couldn't complain much and had no way to address their grievances in any way that could affect positive change. Being a serf and surviving the plague gave you more options about your work... and even who you could work for. Land was now more available and so a peasant could attempt to work for someone else for more money or more benefits. Wages rose significantly as people could travel and there were fewer people to do jobs. Because of this, the English monarchs would pass laws trying to keep the wages lower and to attempt to keep the peasants oppressed and malleable.

Three men that must be mentioned are the advisers of the young King Richard II - John Gaunt, Simon Sudbury, and Robert Hales. The Hundred Years' war was still in session and so these men needed to find ways to continue to get funds to pays for the costs of fighting. These men helped pass new taxes such as the huge poll tax that was so unpopular and led to this rebellion (a tax that taxed every individual the same whether you were a peasant or you were wealthy.) They had also passed laws trying to restrict the rise of wages to help keep prices low for the rich and 'noble'. John Gaunt, father of the future Henry IV and uncle to Richard II, was very hated due to his great ability to come up with new laws that were very oppressive and made live difficult for the serfs and peasants and perceived (real or not) ability to siphon off funds for his own purse. Simon Sudbury was the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as Chancellor of England while Robert Hales was another high ranking member of the Catholic Church who also had a strong political position- that of Treasurer of England. These three men are known as the few who developed and passed not only these oppressive laws, but these two high ranking men of the Church are the ones who apparently came up with the heavy handed laws of enforcing the tax... including the sexual assaulting of all the peasant women by checking their 'virginity' status. (By the way, it was not unusual for high ranking churchmen to also be high ranking politicians... so the presence of these men in this scenario isn't really that unusual. Only these individual's extreme tactics were truly extreme and unusual for the time.)

There isn't much known about the individual we now know as Wat Tyler who became a great leader in this rebellion. What is known is that he was a tradesman and he was elected a leader in this revolt. There are some thoughts that be might have been a solider in his past, but it is certainly clear that he must have been a smart and cunning man to be able to control and wield his peasant 'army' with such skill and success- in fact he did so well, that the group he was leading only fell apart at his death . Sometimes the Peasant's revolt is called by the name 'Wat Tyler's Rebellion'. John Ball was considered by many to be a radical preacher who was determined to change the Catholic church from within and to change the church's response to the poor and the sick. He wanted the church to go back to it's fundamental principles and for his 'radical' sermons, he had been imprisoned a few times. One quote that John Ball is well known for is “While Adam delved (dug) and Eve span, who then was the gentleman?” - the suggestion that all people used to work... that there was not a group who benefited from the labors of others and did not work in the earth's beginning... and this was a fairly radical at this time. Words such as these caused John Ball's next imprisonment under the orders of Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury. During the revolt, a group of rebels broke into the church of the Archbishop of Canterbury and ordered the archbishop removed and John Ball to be put in his (Simon Sudbury) place. John Ball had been rescued from prison by the rebels along with a few other individuals. On the Catholic Feast of Corpus Christi, John Ball the rebel’s preacher, gave the speech with the former quote and a large groups spurred on by Ball's motivating mass on social equality would then rise up and try to set 'the world right'. When the King wouldn’t come to them, these large groups decided to go to London to see him. Both of these men were considered quite radical at the time. Both attempted to cause change- whether politically or through the Catholic church that helped who they saw as the downtrodden and the poor and sick. This was not really a common thought with the elite at this time- in fact, many of the elite tended to think that the poor and the sick as lazy, savages, stupid, etc.... These men were asking the people to see a world very different from the status quo... which would threaten the minority power structure at the top.

Many other groups joined in the rebellion besides the 'peasant' classes. Some were actually considered 'rich landowners' or wealthy merchants. These individuals which included John Sumner from Manningtree and his neighbor Robert Pierce, joined due to their anger over the injustice of the poll tax. This revolt had popular support across all classes and when the rebels were joined by rich and influential individuals such as John Mocking, the peasant army would put these men in the front of the large force. That way, these men of influence could help persuade others of influence to help in the cause. These men were able, for instance, to convince the men in charge of the gates of London to led the invading 'army' in so no fighting was necessary. These people joined because they too agreed with the peasants about the injustice of the tax and other oppressive laws. So in this way, the revolt is not just a form of class warfare, but a form of several classes working towards a more fair and just government.

When this uprising was beginning, King Richard II was fourteen years old. The belief that the king was God's appointed 'ruler' on earth for England which gave the monarchy a level of flexibility and trust that no other organization on earth had... even the Catholic church had been tarnished with the Black Death. But the King was divinely appointed and so he was trusted implicitly. However, if the King was too young, a king would be helped in his job by some powerful and high ranking nobleman. This was beneficial for King Richard because when things went bad as they did with the combination of the continuing consequences of the Black Death, new oppressive laws and taxes, etc... these advisers would be blamed. The vast majority of the peasants truly believed that John of Gaunt was the evil force behind the throne and that he (John) was the man that had convinced the King to pass all of these oppressive laws... that the king was young and innocent and that John had simply been using King Richard to gain more power and money. This trust and faith that was had in the King was so absolute and unquestioning that after the King signed a charter giving the peasants most of their demands, many people took King Richard at his word and simply went home... they didn't wait to make sure he kept his word. Unfortunately, Richard II was not trustworthy towards to the peasants and rebels. He would use this absolute faith in him to his advantage, to take out the leaders of this revolt and to use terror to bring the populace back under his control.

While some groups have thought and argued that the peasants revolt was simple an 'disorganized rabble' and as such could not really organize, there is evidence to show that this theory can not be and is not correct. (In fact it is a little telling that the nobles tending to think of the peasants as savages... this ignorance may help explain why the nobles felt that they didn't have to treat the peasants as human... and as such their prejudiced would not have allowed them to believe the peasants could be intelligent enough to organize.) This revolt did start with an explosion of disorganized riots in a few places such as Essex and Kent due to the frustration and out of control emotions in the lower classes. However, after a few weeks, these riots would be turned into something that would be seen more as a military display than a disorganized group. Messages would be written in code and delivered by horses and boats quickly through the countryside. The rebels were organized and used targeted violence in an attempt to achieve their aims. An experiment completed by Tony Robinson and others show that the only way to really have this revolt happen the way that past observers and chroniclers have written it was to have good organization- small groups that would travel quickly and help rouse up the local populaces to help with the fight... large groups of people who may not have been sure what to do, but were willing to follow good leaders so that they could have the change and freedom that they wanted. The acts of violence that were committed were almost always very controlled and were very symbolic towards the enemies of the 'king'- looting was banned and not allowed by the leaders and it is a sign of how well thought of and controlled that these groups were that these ideas were fairly easily enforced. That said, other groups of people who were not quite so scrupulous 'took advantage' of the large military presence of the peasants to even up scores with their enemies, steal and cause damage, as well as racist attacks and massacres on the Flemish immigrants in the area... so everything wasn't exactly perfect.

The demands of the peasants were very radical for the time... whereas we wouldn't even raise our eyebrows over their demands today. In Balking at Essex, the ringleaders of this 'revolution' held a summit in June 1381 where they wrote a manifesto... a very well written manifesto by the way. This document stated the peasants' intention to destroy 'divers legions' or enemies of the king and to have no laws in England except those the people felt to be ordained or acceptable. The idea that people could actually rule themselves or make some of the rules themselves was a really big deal- especially if you look at the other ideas that were also widely believed at the time... that the Pope was God's spokesman on earth, that kings were divinely appointed to rule and create laws, that 'classes' in society were a tradition and a divine institution. More specifically, the demands that were asked for was for the poll tax was to be abolished, all rebels were to be pardoned by the king, that all traitors as defined by the people would be put to death, that land rates would be reduced, and that the peasants would be given more rights and privileges. These demands were given to King Richard himself by the rebel leader, Wat Tyler. Some of the rights that were wanted were that peasants should have the freedom to trade as they wanted to and not just give their goods to the 'Lord of the Manor'. By wanting to lower the land rent all over the country for everyone, the peasants were really asking for economic freedom for all.

To be a leader of the Peasant’s revolt was to suffer terribly if you were poor... and ironically, to have no or little punishment if you were considered a higher class and wealthier person. Thomas Baker would be hunted down, captured and then killed in July 1381 by the horrible act hanging, drawn and quartered. Wat Tyler met in front of a small group alone and unarmed when he decided to ask the king for more concessions – Wat Tyler didn't think that the king had truly given enough rights to the peasants. Mr Tyler, sitting on his horse, then was 'rude' to the King and was violently attacked by the Lord Mayor of London named William Walworth. Wat Tyler was wounded in the scuffle with the mayor and when he fell off his horse he was later dragged to an abbey for an attempt at saving his life. However, the king's men dragged Wat back out, killed him and then put Wat Tyler's head on a pike to show it off. John Ball was hung, drawn and quartered in a marketplace as an example in July 1381. Some of the wealthier leaders, such as John Mocking, Thomas Raven, and the men from Manningtree were pardoned and lived out the rest of their lives in relative obscurity and potential boredom. Thomas Waltham, the army deserter, claimed innocence and staked his life on a trial by combat... which he lost. Richard Scott ended up in prison the next year for cheating some men in a dice game. Over the next five months, there were many unofficial executions without trial as the government itself tried to cover up the revolts and have it quickly forgotten. Some of King Richard's high ranking men died in this revolt as well. Robert Hales and Simon Sudbury were executed, their heads cut off... and their heads were placed on spikes for the celebration of the peasant's accomplishments – Sudbury's head was rescued by some of his supporters and hidden in his church in a cupboard where we can still see it today. (yuck!)

In conclusion, what did the Great Rising accomplish? In the short term, it didn't appear that much had really changed at all. But the peasant's revolt really scared the nobility who were truly the minority in the country and that fear had a long lasting legacy. Feudalism had pretty much fallen apart and the nobles/Lords treated the peasants with more respect and did give many of them more rights, including the right to be 'free men'.... the charter that King Richard had signed removed and abolished serfdom as it had been practiced before that time. Parliament never attempted to continue to collect the poll tax again... and it was never brought up as a possibility in the future. Parliament also stopped attempting to control wages or the amounts that landowners could pay peasants. The global effect was that all over the world, leaders were put on notice that ordinary people could and would get together and think about politics on a broader level … even politics that didn't necessarily affect them or their lives. It gave notice that governments who ignored the opinions of their own people did so at the government's peril. This method of rebellion would crop up in future revolts and rebellions in other countries (reminds me immediately of the French Revolution actually.)

What are your thoughts? :)


Brief Views on the First Crusade... and the Major 'Players'

Almost anyone these days with even a small background in history or religion has heard of the Crusades... and it goes without saying that many people hold strong views on the subject. But very few people really know more than a few basic facts: that the Catholic church started Crusades to remove heretics and 'Christianize' the Muslims, etc... What is clear is that without the idea and experiences that we now call the First Crusade, there would not have been any more of this particular brand of religious battle. The First Crusade is really a blend of religious fanaticism, political shrewdness and expediency, greed, desperation and human frailty.... and not simply a religious war. This post will cover some of the basics of the First Crusade and the people in power who created this difficult and deadly conflict. From the idea that Jesus himself led the Christian armies into battle and the reality that the majority of the deaths were actually caused by Christians against fellow Christians... this war is not a simple two dimensional vision.

The beginnings of this war actually started about twenty years before in the Eastern Roman empire. Over this period of time, groups of Turks moved into a part of the territory ruled by Byzantine Emperor Alexis. He eventually decided that he wanted to kick out the Islamic Turks, but Emperor Alexis didn't feel he had enough resources or soldiers to be successful in his attempt. It was also economically prudent for him to remove the Turks as the lands that had been taken over were rich in resources and potential military members. So Alexis decided that he would write the Pope/Bishop in Rome to try and get some help. His desire was based on an inappropriate assumption that the Pope or Bishop of Rome was a high ranking Byzantine official and so the emperor expected that what would happen was that this official would work to help raise some funds and hire some soldiers for him. Unfortunately for the world itself, this assumption was truly incorrect.

The true nature of the Roman Catholic Pope and his church was not really as simple as the idea of the Pope being a 'Byzantine official'. In reality, the Pope was truly an ambitious politician who was hopeful of building himself and his lands into a superpower. The last few 'Bishops' of Rome had worked to create huge and radical reforms for the position of 'Pope' giving themselves more political power. It was hoped by these churchmen to make one 'greater church' that would control and supervise all churches and other churchmen and all Christian souls on earth- a very ambitious goal indeed. Popes had begun to demand that Bishops should be free from pressure from secular leaders, but under the firm authority of the Pope... that men in armor were ultimately ruled by God... and therefore the Pope as God's representative on earth... and other very extreme demands. All of these demands were for the ultimate goal of making the Pope the true head of a state – the state of Christendom- and truly changed the nature of the papacy itself. This would also allow the Pope to have authority over all other secular leaders on earth who were Christian... which was quite a large swath of people. :)

The Pope at this time was Pope Urban II. When he got the letter that had been written by Emperor Alexis, Urban II used this letter as an excuse to create and raise his own army to conquer the 'heathen' East. What he meant by liberation wasn't 'liberation' in the sense that we think of that word. What the Pope meant was that the lands and people in the Holy Lands should be brought under the political, physical and spiritual control of the papacy.... which certainly isn't the same as 'liberation', is it. ;-) Pope Urban gave a speech on November 27, 1095 complaining about the Turks and their 'perceived' ill treatment of fellow Christians in the Holy Land- he might have stretched the truth quite a bit. But in the end, his speech could be summed up in one sentence- “God wills it!”

To be a Christian knight (then and now) was to live in a difficult quandary of the mind. A knight is a hired warrior- a man who is hired to kill other people and to do so at the whim of his sovereign, the man who pays his salary, etc... Sometimes they were admonished to kill every member of the enemy's family as well. As a job it was physically dangerous and emotionally and psychologically exhausting. However, being a believing Christian adds a whole other level of difficulty to this job. Jesus Christ, the savior and the first leader of the Catholic church, was very specific about killing... it was wrong, period. You were to turn your cheek to your enemies, love your enemies, be meek to enter the kingdom of God, not practice unrighteous dominion... to name a few of the savior's sayings. How a person was able to deal with this dichotomy was and still is a personal endeavor. Pope Urban solved that dilemma by stating that Jesus Christ only meant that you followed those creeds with other Christians... and that war against non Christians was not only OK, but it was holy, and necessary. The Pope's speech pretty much equated war with penance such as prayer and devotion … the sacraments that would save your soul. In essence, it was good to 'kill for God'. In fact, it was almost a 'get out of hell free' card. If you went out on this fight, then you were absolved of all your sins in this life and the next. No worries about purgatory for you. :)

The Crusade would never have been able to happen without the cooperation and volunteering of ordinary people and the 'warrior' aristocracy. One reason that people were so willing to do this was that the church had a power over people that they did not truly understand. People believed in an actual heaven and hell... and that these places were very close and simply a breath away. They believed that the Pope was God's mouthpiece on earth and so that when the Pope spoke, he was speaking God's commands... that the judgment day was coming, that hell was at hand.... and hey, lots of treasure to be gained from the infidels as well. Many hoped to gain positive eternal life in heaven, many wished for earthly treasures and wealth, as well as earthly status and fulfill earthly needs. The majority of the volunteers were peasants who didn't really have any stability or way to fulfill their basic daily needs so the idea of a Crusade gave them hope. The inspiration to do what 'God wills' was not a small motivation at all and the gift of a direct ticket to heaven must have been a very strong inducement. The pope didn't just raise the army that he had hoped for- he sparked a mass migration! (I need to state that there isn't a problem with the belief in heaven and hell and its literal existence... I believe in it myself actually.)

As people headed toward the Holy Land and Jerusalem, people looks for inspired leaders to follow. One leader of small note was the divinely inspired goose that led a group of people for a short period of time towards the goal. :) Another important leader was an eccentric tramp known as Peter the Tramp or 'Peter the Hermit'. Peter gathered almost 15,000 people to follow him to the Holy Land... some historians suggest that he may have given speeches which might have also caused the first crusade to happen. These groups traveled over four months towards Constantinople with no planning and preparation for the trip at all. The pilgrims would become thieves in their quest for food and needed supplies such as shoes and clothing; in fact, many were willing to fight the local people in the places they were traveling by for the goods the pilgrims felt they needed. These needs of the pilgrims could backfire... sometimes causing large amounts of casualties and riots... certainly not 'civilized' behavior. By the time Peter the Hermit showed up to the city of Constantinople, he arrived with around 60,000 people. The Emperor Alexis found this mass of people a 'headache' and he advised Peter the Tramp to not march on to Jerusalem until the Pope's real army arrived, but Peter insisted on continuing. When his group arrived on the shore towards their goal, the crusaders couldn't get in the city fortress and so a large group tortured and murdered and plundered the goods of the people of Nicea. Unfortunately for the goals of the crusaders, all the victims were Christian. Others in the group went on to try and conquer other cities with various levels of effectiveness until most of the members of these groups were massacres or sold as slaves by the conquering Turks. Peter the Hermit did a good job at unifying and inspiring people, but he did not have good planning and contributed to the failure and death of most of his followers. His group is also called by the name of the 'Peasant's Crusade.'

It should come as no surprise that the Pope's words condemning pagans could be construed as to condemning Jews as well and contributing to the entrenched anti-semitism in Europe. After all, it is true that the Jews were not part of the group that was currently accused of 'torturing' Christians... but they (the Jews) were the group that killed Jesus Christ. How could the pagans be any worse than the group that martyred the Savior? And to add to this unfortunate rationale, it must be noted that the Turks and the Holy Land was three thousand miles away... while Jews tended to be in all the villages in Europe so you didn't have to go very far to find them. All you had to do was wear a cross... So people who were unscrupulous and looking for easier targets closer to home began to slaughter local Jews and taking the 'spoils' from these heathens. This attitude caused massacres of whole Jewish communities- and the first pogrom during the First Crusade is sometimes called the first 'holocaust'. And it was in this way that anti-semitism was made almost a permanent institution in Europe. And any time a Crusade was called for in the future, pogroms would happen in Jewish communities. We can see that this 'disease' hasn't yet been eradicated as the massacres of Jews in the 1940's during WWII in the state of Germany and beyond their borders can testify to.

The Peasant's Crusade was an abysmal failure... not really sure there is another way to describe it. It was a great crowd led by Peter the Hermit and a few others. As mentioned above, almost no planning had been put into this project and was really very much almost an emotional movement. Most of the members of this 'movement' were peasants- they had no goods, hadn't been well fed at any recent time in their lives and almost all had never fought in any kind of battle before. Many of the members were women and children- certainly children were probably not the best soldiers. Thousands of people- as many as 60,000- traveled the thousands of miles to first reach Constantinople. Without supplies, they were forced to steal or beg the required provisions from towns and villages along the way... and this did not always happen peacefully or without difficulty. Upon finally getting to Constantinople, Emperor Alexis was fairly dismayed- at least not pleased- to see this army and after warning them about the Turks, he quickly helped the 'pilgrims' across the waterway and on their way toward Jerusalem. (It is known that he did warn Peter the Hermit that the 'group' should wait until the Pope's main fighting forces arrived to engage the enemy.) After crossing the waterway, some groups divided off ethnically from the larger total group and attacked nearby towns causing great death and devastation to the inhabitants of the towns (who appear to have been all Christians) or causing their own death and devastation by the Turks who offered them death.... or the opportunity to convert to Islam and live as a slave. (That was a bit of an irony.) Peter the Hermit no longer had much control as the groups divided and so they were easily divided and conquered. By the end of all of this, including a successful trick and ambush by the Turks, the peasant's crusade was over with very little loss of life on the part of the Muslims and near total annihilation of the Christian Crusade participants.... only a couple of thousand people lived to be able to share their story of the Peasant's Crusade.... one of whom was Peter the Hermit. I imagine Alexis breathed a sigh of relief in some ways.

It was the Pope's original intention to have Adehmar, bishop of Le Puy lead his 'army' in the crusades. The Pope's official forces were led by a few different individuals who were meant to combine their troops and work together. Hugh of France was the first to arrive at Constantinople with his army. Raymond, Count of Toulouse led almost 15,000 troops. Duke Godfrey of Lorraine came to Constantinople with around 20,000 foo soldiers and with most of his property sold and mortgaged to the church to pay for his 'ticket' to ride. Bohemond of Taranto led an Italian and Norman army with his nephew Tancred. Emperor Alexis was fairly pleased to see these armies, but also was intelligent enough to recognize that they came at a risk to his rule and also might not give him the land they conquered... if they managed to actually conquer it! So emperor Alexis would quickly move the arriving army across the waterway so that the armies wouldn't all be sitting in his city at one time- certainly a prudent move after some of the behavior from the earlier peasant groups. :) Alexis also had each of these leaders swear an oath to him that any land that the crusaders were able to conquer was his (Alexis) as well as an oath of allegiance. It must be said that the emperor still didn't trust them because after the crusaders had fought off all the defenders of the city of Nicaea, and were going to attack the next morning, Emperor Alexis came into the city through the nearby waterway and convinced the city's inhabitants to surrender to him. For these concessions, he would protect the city from the Crusaders- the city took the deal and the Crusaders themselves were angry and not pleased at this turn of events... (suggesting Alexis was right not to trust them.)

If nothing else is looked at about the Crusades but sheer numbers, it is clear to see that the power that the Catholic Church had over the inhabitants of most of Europe was HUGE! Look at the massive numbers of people who simply left and headed to the Holy Land in the Peasant's Crusade alone (60,000)... to the numbers that came with the 'official' army from the pope (60,000+). The First Crusade also opened up more information about the East to Europe and helped reopen some trade and knowledge that had been lost over time from the collapse of the Roman empire. Even with all the death and savagery of the crusaders with little gain, this 'war' was considered a success in Europe... setting the stage for more calls in the future for Crusades by future Popes.


Brief Views of the Vikings and their Culture

Until the 1880's, historians knew very little of Vikings and their society and culture except for the stereotypical – large horned helmets, murderous and ignorant barbarians, etc... It was during this time in Norway that some archeologists found an amazing discovery in the ground at several burial sites - large ships filled with goods and military items, etc... clearly a tomb and luckily for us, very well preserved. This gave historians the evidence to suggest that this people had an elaborate burial system, clearly that they believed in a very active afterlife, and the goods themselves would show a more complex culture that was previously believed. And when excavations had begun, it was not necessarily believed that these ships that were discovered were able to be seaworthy. Research and experiments show us that these ships were extremely seaworthy and easily used... giving us more insight into their past culture and lives. This post will hopefully give the reader some brief images and understanding of the complexity of the Viking civilization and some of the leaders of these differing groups. (Some aspects of their culture reminded me a bit of the early Egyptian society actually.... not to change the subject. )

Life was very different for the groups of Vikings who living in the times before 'raiding' became part of their culture. They were considered a sedentary society based on agriculture. The societies were organized around small villages or clans/groups- it is guess that these were based on families, but this is really just a guess. Peace was the norm although disagreements and war between different groups was not unknown. The economy was based on raising animals and growing food and this was truly the basic economic unit of this society. The shot growing season was a time of tremendous pressure to grow and produce the food for the longer, cold period of time.

So... what made the Vikings become raiders...? In this culture, a king was a man who owned a large farm who would have his 'workers', farmers, slaves, etc... Raids became 'necessary' as the amount of food and farm land needed for these growing populations became too scarce to support the larger numbers. This 'military tactic' was first used on the surrounding groups as the stronger preyed and slaughtered the weaker groups... taking the resources and substance to support themselves. (They would basically attack, kill, take everything.... and then leave.) However, this really wasn't sustainable as eventually weak Viking groups would no longer exist. Wealth and resources would again be scarce and so some members would start to look out to the seas and the lands beyond for their potential of resources and wealth. One truly scary aspect of the Viking raiders is that all the different groups were independent of each other. While historians tend to talk of 'Vikings' as a noun (a solid group), this word really describes in some ways a verb.... groups that have some outward similarities, but have no loyalty towards other groups, no political ties, and no understanding or wish to work with each other. So any groups who needed to fight the Vikings would be unable to negotiate, bribe, etc.... to stop the violence.... any treaty would only be with that particular raiding group. The only agreement they would have was they might agree to fight together to conquer other groups... and that was about it. Their traits of greed and terrorism were also hard to combat by their victims.

The Viking long boat gave the Vikings a real edge against other groups of people and became a very significant part of their culture and success. These boats, once developed, allowed for a vessel that was able to be produced in as little as 4-6 weeks that could travel safely in the North Atlantic ocean. Smaller versions of this ship could be made that were light enough to travel in waterways that large vessels couldn't travel safely in... such as rivers. It was this ship that allowed these groups to become a serious fear to the rest of the 'reachable' world. These boats were really a great technological feat for this time creating a ship that has low draft and high maneuverability. These boats are narrow and needed very little water to travel in. Rivers then became significant waterways because this allows these groups to use these smaller ships to get inland quickly and with little warning to the on-land populations. This allowed the Vikings to attack areas that were populated by people who were not used to attack from its waterways leaving these populations especially vulnerable.

While most groups throughout history were attracted to gold, these Viking groups found silver very attractive. And as such, monasteries would have easily been seen as the best places to attack. After all, the monasteries would be the most wealthy groups in almost all of the lands of England and Europe. And, most importantly, monasteries would not be heavily armed and were well trained in 'passivity'. If you have choices of groups to attack, these would have been the most attractive- you were more likely to get huge amount of wealth and resources with much less risk or injury or death to you and your allies.... why would you attack anywhere else that was less wealthy and will more risk of damage/death?

The first known monastery to have been attacked was the monastery of Lindisfarne on the northern most coast of England in the year of 793 AD. This attack was considered a milestone for the Vikings (the first major Viking sea raid) and was recorded in a historical document called 'the Anglo Saxon Chronicles' in words of pain, fear, and anger. This attack was so successful that as word traveled throughout the Norse world, other groups of Vikings started building ships to come and conquer and steal the wealth in Europe that was easily 'taken'. This really started the onslaught of Europe by these groups.

The idea that these Viking had no common leader or king is extremely significant. When you have a group such as the Huns led by Attila, you have more potential ways to end combat. One leader can be bribed or can be worked with though diplomacy or mediation. If a group with one leader needs to try and work with several leaders of several groups, he is very much at a disadvantage. Each of these leaders has no loyalty to each other and has no reason to abide by any agreement made with the other leaders.... which pretty much removed any possibility of non violent means of ending the conflicts. And once fighting had commenced, stopping the violence is again very difficult as there was not the benefit of one leader to call a halt to the fight. So fighting could and would continue long after the 'conquered' had attempted to surrender. This scenario reminds me of groups of children on a play group and how they can be pretty much uncontrollable until a feared teacher calls them into line.... the Vikings would not have had the feared 'teacher.' So the death and violence could literally continue until all enemy combatants including infants were dead. It is no exaggeration that the Vikings were terrorists and used terror, like other past and future leaders, to psychologically convert the people they wanted to conquer.... and the spreading of the stories of their acts of violence to begin the 'psychological' conquering of future European groups/cities.

One of the most well known Viking leaders was a warrior called Ragnar the Dane. Ragnar quickly became known as a notorious and vicious military leader during his career. He was ambitious and he completed the first major river conquest by the Vikings. In 885 AD, he took a fleet of 120 ships down the Seine river towards Paris. Once there, he conquered the French military forces by the river and marched them inland... then 'hanging' until dead all survivors which were estimated at around 111 individuals. As Ragnar matched to Paris, it's leader Charles the Bald attempted and was successful in bribing Ragnar and his army to leave his city alone by paying an extremely huge ransom of six tons of gold. (This was a sign that the 'Reign of Terror' caused by the Vikings was really working as Paris was actually really well defended, but Charles was unwilling to even take the risk of fighting the Ragnar and his Viking army.) This bribe did cause Ragnar to leave, but the stories of the amount of wealth that was available passed across the continent like wildfire and was the cause of even more Viking groups traveling to the European continent for their share of these vast and seemingly endless amounts of riches and wealth. And since each group had its own king, no other Viking leader felt the need leave the inland cities alone. Soon every river in Europe was being used by the Vikings to conquer every city within reach of these waterways... which was pretty much all the cities in Europe at that time.

The Christian religion played a huge role within the differing Viking groups. As it was with other populations around Europe during this time, Christianity became a tool used by the various Viking leaders to subdue and tame their people as well as the conquers. It is thought that Leif Ericson was the major missionary to the different viking groups of this religion – there is some thought that a Viking King in Noway asked him to specifically convert the outer-lying colonies to Christianity. He is fairly successfully although many tribesmen were reluctant to convert from their pagan traditions. Over time, Christianity was followed by the vast majority of Viking tribesmen and groups... and it was the only successful idea that unified these separate groups... as they still had no common kings/leaders or reasons to unite with each other.

Another important Viking leader was Harold Hadrada... who was a half brother of King Olaf- the king of Norway.. At fifteen years old, Harold was known to be fighting in some of the civil wars at the time. (Norway was in the midst of a civil war between the differing groups and the war had pretty much become a war between King Olaf and another leader, King Canute the Great.) After Harold was injured in the civil war when he is sixteen and King Olaf has been killed (about 1030), he is exiled from his homeland and he heads out and finds protection for himself in the city of Kiev in Kievan Rus (Russia) – ruled at that time by Yaroslav the Wise. He learns more lessons in the craft of war and becomes leader of a military force that is used by Prince Yaroslav to keep down insurrections among his people. His work and military prowess for this Prince of Kievan Rus was great and he was only able to leave his 'protection'.... by sneaking out of the country.

When Harold had become wealthy and powerful, he quietly left Keivan Rus and headed back to Norway... and within a year of co-rule with his nephew, he became the only ruler of Norway. Anyone who was suspected of treason or disagreement with Harold Hardrada was killed and he ruled his people through force... through the simple message of 'submit' or die'. He then took the knowledge that he learned in Kiev of trade and commerce and promoted it in his lands understanding that his people would be strongly united under him if the population were wealthy and prosperous. He developed a major trade center in the city of Oslo which sold goods from all over the currently known world. Unfortunately for the country of England, Harold's ambition did not fade over time and eventually an alliance was formed with the traitorous brother of the current king. The alliance with Tostig Godwinson gave Harold the excuse he was looking for to sail out and try to conquer England. The English army is extremely strong and formidable and Harold's vanity and confidence is so strong that he makes a huge tactical error and loses the fight.... and his life. Some historians see this particular battle and the death of Harold Hadrada in 1066 as the end of the 'Viking Age'.

In conclusion, what is the legacy that the Vikings left behind? One benefit of these numerous raids to the Vikings that is not commonly thought of is the tremendous amount of differing cultures and societies that they were exposed to in their quest for conquest and wealth. The legacy of the Vikings to our current world is quite vast. They leave the lasting legacy of the tales of their triumphs, ferocity, terror, and brutality. The lands that they settled in became very discreet lands with their own cultures- Norway became a solid country, Russia does as well... each with its own identity, cultures, etc.... England would fall to the Normans which would then become its own country. These individuals and groups would assimilate into the lands that they moved into and their culture would intertwine and merge with the culture around them. The practice of raiding caused the heavy fortification of Europe as well as significant feelings of 'nationalism'... something that hadn't really been seen before. The Vikings also give us the legacy of significant social and political changes, unifying with other populations by the presence of Christianity, the significant development and changes across Europe in ship building, and their legacy of improved economic growth and trade. While these groups brought lots of negatives to the areas that they interacted with, our world is truly richer because of them.


Brief Views and Discussions on the Dark Ages

This post is very much a bit of a hodgepodge about different aspects of the time that many historians call the 'Dark Ages.' I have tried to cover some of the important rulers which made the history of that age as well as some ideas about the culture, understanding, and perceptions of the populations living during this time.... this would not have been a very comfortable time to try and live through from the information I have gathered in my studies....

The term 'Dark Ages' was originally coined by the famous Italian scholar Petrarch who appears to have invented this term. When he compared this period of time to the early classical period of Rome, he saw this portion of the medieval period as the 'Dark Ages'... in comparison to the bright light of the earlier classical age. With the fall of the Roman empire, it would become apparent to other people and other generations over time that life had been different for past generations... and probably better. People would have seen the good roads, the monuments, the buildings, the bridges and the aqueducts which no longer worked. And they would look at these buildings and then also help break down those same grand buildings to build shacks, hovels, and other needed facilities... it must have seemed a bit unreal. However, this period of history would dramatically change the way that Europe would eventually come to be seen in our modern world. Certainly one of the bad things of this period was the challenges of daily life. People did not have or could not expect to have the basic level of security or order that had been available in the past. Political problems would quickly escalate into bloodshed- all forms of warfare between civil war, clan feuds, and political war were nearly constant as well as vendettas and so even the non combatants and the people who wished to live peacefully would have found it very difficult... or next to impossible.

One important man of this age was named Aleric the Goth. He was a Visigoth warrior who had begun his career by working with the leaders of the Roman empire to help protect the northern borders of the empire. Over time, Aleric realized that the only way he was going to advance in the 'military' ranks of the Roman empire was to put more pressure on the leaders of the empire to promote him. Roman governors and other leaders are known to have treated the Goths and other hired mercenaries extremely poorly... and in many ways forced these groups to begin to fight back against their Roman oppressors. Aleric the Goth used his knowledge of Roman warfare from supporting the Romans to his advantage and began a campaign with his men against Roman rule and Rome itself. For two years, his army surrounded the walls of the city of Rome in an attempt to starve Rome and its people out. He was eventually successful and the gates were opened to him and his Visigoths. Even though Aleric and his army were only in the city for a few days, he left the city of Rome basically dead from the two year seige and Rome's continued ability to continue to rule the empire was vastly harmed. (It must be noted that the ability of the Roman leaders to control the empire was already having a bit of difficulty by this time...)

The Huns were the first of the major conquering groups during the Dark Ages. Huns were a bit different from the other two groups in the sense that they were really able to assimilate those they conquered so that finding specific artifacts that can clearly be classified as 'Hun' is almost impossible. When you or your lands were conquered, it appears that most people joyfully (or at least successfully) joined the conquering group and began to follow the culture, etc... of the Huns. Archeology shows that many German groups appear to have assimilated quite successful with the Huns and that some of the cultural patterns which are very clearly attributed to the Hun populations.... which it is thought you would only do if you liked the group you were imitating. However, it must also be noted that when the Huns attacked and conquered much of the lands that we now consider 'German', millions of people did flee in terror from the advancing 'Golden Horde'... The Vandals began their military conquests during the last of the strength of the Huns and they were able to be so successful because Rome was so stretched militarily (in fact the Vandals started their careers as refugees running from the Huns... ironically enough.) The leaders of the Roman empire were already distracted and fighting with the Huns had diverted most of the Roman resources to the task of keeping the 'Golden Horde' under control. This allowed the Vandals to take territory that the Romans didn't have under heavy protection. So the Vandals were able to easily conquer and lay their own defenses for future attacks ...making any attempt to re-conquer the land by Roman leaders more costly and difficult. The last groups to enter the military fray were the Goths. The Goths and the Vandals can be seen as similar in some respects as the most important reason that these groups were attempting to conquer was for their own survival. Food was scarce and so the need to conquer other lands was really wrapped up in needing the food of the conquered for themselves... without the ability of the Vandals and the Goths to conquer some areas of the Roman empire, these groups would have potentially died out fairly quickly due to starvation or other environmental difficulties such as exposure. Attila appears to have ruled his people by bribery and also treating them almost as 'family' giving of his riches for loyalty and the comfort of his subjects (much less likely to revolt if you are comfortable. :) The Goths and the Vandals appear to in many ways work together and are united under more desperate circumstances.

When Clovis I, leader of the Franks, had managed to conquer a great deal of territory, he realized that one of the best and uniting forces that he could choose to help keep his subjects loyal and to give him more political allies was a common religion. The religion that he would eventually chose would be to convert to Christianity. Each land he conquered was filled with Romans (in which the majority of Romans were Catholics) and other smaller 'Christian' groups (usually considered heretical by the Catholics.) By converting to Catholicism, Clovis I was able to help cement his power and to hold the loyalty of new subjects and the conquered because they shared this common link of religion. He also found ways to unite people by accepting the people he conquered as equals in the groups. The conquered men would be drafted into his military to fight and their families and wives would become part of his 'clan'. However, before I make him sound like he should be named the 'uniter', his actions and ambition contributed a great deal to the turmoil of this age. He subscribed to the idea of “the Ordeal” and to become his prisoner was a painful and challenging experience... if you survived it. He continued to fight to conquer more land throughout most of his life causing much bloodshed, terror and death. He was one of the 'Barbarian' warriors who were consumed with conquest at all cost. And when Clovis died, he split his territory into four parts so that each of his sons could rule a share. These sons would fight with and kill each other to enlarge their shares.... continuing that chaos.

The Mediterranean Sea was called the Roman Lake around the time of Emperor Augusta and this name was kept for several decades and even centuries after the emperor's death. This name was deemed appropriate because Rome counted all land around the Mediterranean Sea as its territory and under its control. There wasn't any problem with piracy during this time due to the strength of the Roman government and military and trade was extremely easy and controllable. With the collapse and crumbling of the Roman Empire, full control of the 'lake' was lost. One of the Byzantine emperors, Justinian, had a dream... or was at least highly motivated... to bring back the goodness of the past empire and to gain back lost territories that had been conquered by others. Ultimately, both Justinian and his empress Theodora wanted full control back of the Mediterranean Sea. The Italian Campaign was very successful for Justinian and he was able to reconquer some of the lost territory. Justinian also built a huge and magnificent cathedral to Christ during this time. His battles gave him control of Egypt, Italy, North Africa, Turkey, Greece and Palestine.... which finally gave him control of the 'Roman Lake.' However, due to the arrival of bubonic plague, pandemic population loss ensued causing huge difficulties with the economy and he military. Justinian himself caught the plague and was one of the lucky survivor's...unfortunately, his mind itself was damaged by the disease. When the emperor Justinian died, his dream of controlling the Mediterranean Sea died with him. The new leaders of the Byzantine Empire decided that they could not financially sustain what had been the empire under Justinian and they forced their military forces to retreat from the regained territories. The break between the western part and the eastern part of the Roman empire was officially complete.

One major thing that the monasteries did during this time was that these institutions helped protect ancient books. Ancient books were collected and saved in monasteries and were copied by monks who learned to read and write behind the hallowed walls. The monasteries themselves really were the only places that continued education and formal teaching... almost no reading or writing was possible or taught outside of the monastic orders. Monasteries also became the major forces in the areas that they were located as these organizations tended to be the wealthiest institutions in the community. Monasteries and their leaders tending to have political authority and would help with commerce. One monk named Bede wrote a book about the history of the world from the time of Julius Caesar to his own time- giving us an important link about the culture and life during that time. By the seventh century, there were few people outside of monasteries who were still literate. Benedict of Nursia was a monk who ended up starting a dozen monasteries that followed a list of strict rules that he developed called 'The Rule of St Benedict.” By making many monasteries more united in rules as well as religion, these groups would become a stabilizing force for themselves as well as the land and people surrounding them.

One of the most popular leaders during this time was a man named Charles Martel. He was the commanding officer of the French army in 732 AD, the Muslim Moors threaten the Christian land of France after traveling from North Africa to Spain. The Moors came to the land of France for conquest as well as missionary work for the prophet Mohammed and the Koran.... not to mention that the Moors felt that Europe would be easy to conquer because the leaders of the European countries had worn themselves and their resources out by fighting themselves. Charles Martel knew the Moors were coming and he felt quite desperate to defend the land of France and to defend Christianity itself. So he made a few very unpopular decisions. Knowing that his army was at a disadvantage to his rivals due to lack of money, he took land and money from the Catholic church. He then used these 'stolen' resources to train and arm a strong army and he set up his army in a place that was to his advantage in the predicted path that the Moor armies could be expected to travel. Both armies looked so well formed that when the armies of the Moors and of France met, they actually spent six days looking at the other army... and it wasn't until the seventh day that the Moors attacked. Charles Martel's army was said to stand 'like a wall' in front of the attacking army and keep the majority of the enemy army occupied. Charles then sent some of his troops to the Muslim camp to plunder it. This intrusion into their camp caused many of the Moors to head back to their camp to try and protect their stolen plunder... causing confusion in the Moor's army on the principal battlefield. This would lead to the death of the Moor commander and gave the victory to the French and to Charles 'The Hammer' Martel. He became known as the savior of Christianity in Europe due to his victory in this battle.

Emperor Charlemagne was very different from other rulers of his time. He ruled a vast amount of land- an amount that hadn't been held in such a large solid mass since the Roman Empire. Charlemagne tried to single-handed lead this large group of land and people under his control. He launched over fifty military campaigns- all of which was successful-and these lands were added to his control... and the survivors were forced to accept Christianity or die. If you were caught later worshiping different gods, you were executed. He didn't lose any military conquest that he started and he also reinvigorated learning and education by building schools- becoming the first king in centuries to attempt to become literate... he was known to have been passionate about learning. He ruled for thirty two years and in a great political achievement, he was then crowned Emperor by the Pope in St Peter's Basilica on December 25, 800 AD. Emperor Charlemagne would then rule for another 14 years until his death of natural causes in 814 at the age of 72. Some things that made him different from the other rulers of his age was his vast military successes, his understanding of the benefits of education and literacy, and his strong religious views that were carried out without fail toward all in his power or his path. There was no tolerance for any other views except for Catholicism and any outward attempt to show belief for something else was quashed immediately. All of these things would have a profound effect on the people he ruled.... making Catholicism secure in the hearts and minds of the surviving people, nationalism strong, and a people who truly felt that their leader cared for them... giving this leader and his prosperity an edge other contemporaries didn't have.

When Charlemagne conquered the Saxons in 782 AD, he condemned 2500 tribal leaders to death for worshiping 'false gods.' This massacre and beheading of these Saxon leaders was a clear statement to all other groups... and became known as the 'Bloody Verdict of Verdun'. The statement is that anyone who does anything that is not Christian- if you disobey the king, if you refuse to be baptized, if you are caught performing pagan rites, if you cremated someone at their death instead of performing a Christian burial... all of these things were automatically death sentences under Charlemagne. It must be stated that what was considered to be Christian or not (heretical) was really up to the interpretation of the individuals that had power such as political and Catholic leaders... which could change depending on the viewpoint or needs of the leader.

During the last years of Charlemagne's rule, the Vikings began their savage and rough piracy. While the Vikings did attack and destroy places in many countries including Iceland, the Middle East and North America, Britain was the Viking's favorite haunt due to that land's vulnerability to sea invasion... which was the Vikings greatest strength. The largest group of Vikings ever gathered attacked Northern England was led by Avar the Boneless. His armies continued to try and take over Britannia even after his death. In the south of the country, Alfred the Great was aware of the Vikings and their most probable eventual attacks on his lands. He studied and figured out what strengths of his enemies were and then used his resources to attempt to thwart the Vikings. He built fortifications and fortresses where the people would come and hide for protection from the Vikings when attacks would come. Once the people were in fortresses, they were safe from the Vikings and the attack wouldn't be profitable to the attackers. This allowed the Vikings to wear themselves out over years trying to fight Alfred... who then was able to eventually conquer these groups who would then leave his lands... or they would assimilate into the local populations. Now matter what the Viking military groups did, they were really unable to get much due to the great planning of Alfred the Great. England went through over two decades of violence as the Vikings continued to attempt to take over the people and the land. This devastated the land as well as the people with the constancy or war and death.... that was rarely interrupted by security or peace.