Viking raids on the Spanish Peninsula


Viking raids on the Spanish Peninsula

By Rolf Scheen

Militaria: Revista de cultura militar, No.8 (1996)


The Muslims described «heathens» as Majus. The name Majus – Magians was originally used of the Zoroastrians. It was then extended to other unbelievers, together with the associations of the term — e. g. incest and fire-worship. Again, the Muslims of the west described Spaniards who remained Christian as adjam, that is «Persians»— a term used in the east for non-Arab muslims, usually of Persian origin.

Among the Muslims of the west the same name was applied to the heathen Scandinavians who were believed to be fireworshippers. The great fire festivais of northern Europe (which were not confined to Seandinavia), or even the seasonal burning of the heather, may have suggested this Magian connotation. In later Arab sources the name al-Ordomaníyun is used; it is borrowed from Latin forms Normanni, Nordmanni, Lordomanni, Lormanes, Leodomanni.

As Shetelig observes, the forms of «Norman» are of Norwegian origin. «The classical example is to be found in Alfred’s writings from about 880-890, when the Norwegian Ottar is his source on this matter. Ottar speaks of the whole country, from Vestfold to Finnmark, as being «Nordmanna land» or «Nordweg». It is of interest that while the Saxons were fighting the Danes, both Alfred and AEthelstan had Norwegians in the royal circle.

In Byzantine and Russian sources the names Ros, Rus’ were applied to Scandinavians, mostly of Swedish origin, who had penetrated down the rivers of Eastern Europe and who founded the city of Novgorod. Sometimes the chronicles preserve specific regional names; as Westfaldingi, Norwegians from Vestfold, round the Oslo fjord.

But in general the chronicles are seldom specific and often inaccurate. In referring to the Viking attacks, the Annals of Ulster call the invaders Genti («gentiles»); «the Four Masters» who compiled the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, use the term Gailí («foreigners»). And it was this Majus/gentiles/gailís who in 844 showed up in the Spanish peninsula.

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