Monday, 19 November 2007

History means not having to say you're sorry ...

Apologising for injustices from previous generations is getting out of hand. Particularly so when values and concepts of our own times (like the nation state) are superimposed on an age that knew nothing of them.

The latest nonsense comes from the Danish Minister of Culture, who marked the arrival in Dublin of a reconstructed Viking longship to apologise for the behaviour of his ancestors towards the residents of the city over a thousand years ago. Well intentioned possibly, but he shows himself ignorant of his own people's history.

• The Viking raiders who came to Ireland were largely from the region we now know as Norway not Denmark. There were a small number of Danes in Ireland, actually largely Anglo-Danes, who came along shortly afterwards mainly to fight their Norwegian cousins.

• The Vikings didn't raid Dublin - they founded it. Along with many other Irish towns and cities like Wexford, Waterford and Limmerick. In fact there is little evidence that there were town settlements in Ireland before the Viking Age.

• The Vikings obviously did raid monasteries and settlements on the Irish coast. But actually if we take the Viking period as approx 780 to 1070 then there are at least twice as many recorded raids on these settlements by other Irish as there were by Vikings.

• Similarly the Vikings were not driven out by some sort of Irish national liberation struggle. Vikings were just as likely to appear as mercenaries fighting in one of the constant inter-Irish wars. The near-legendary battle of Clontarf in 1014 was not about Brian Boru reclaiming Ireland for the Irish - Vikings made up the elite troops on both sides.

The Vikings have had a bad press. Largely because they were pagan outsiders at a time when the rest of Western Europe was Christian. And most of the written records were produced by Churchmen, so they hardly present an unbiased view.

The Vikings were certainly no angels - but then life in general tended to be short and brutal wherever you were in those days. Rape and pillage was pretty much everyday behavior whether you were Irish, Frankish or Saxon. But the Vikings were also craftsmen, artists, merchants and explorers par excellence with an 'empire' of commerce not conquest that stretched from Baghdad to the coast of modern Canada.

Maybe History should be apologising to the Vikings ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Where will it all end? Should we all say a quick sorry to the Neanderthals for wiping them out? There's so much more injustice going on today that needs apologizing for - including people trafficking, slavery, children working in sweatshops, babies dying unnecessarily, starvation, disease . . . it's very easy for governments to apologize for the past, but so much more necessary to change things in the present!