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Apparently, the Vikings are fascinating. In numerous timelines, they feature very prominently (for example Vikings in the New World). Even timelines with PoDs in the distant past keep the Vikings and feature some sort of Norse empire which continues into the present (e.g. Battle of Belusium).
But apart from our fascination with these heathen seaborne marauders, conquerors, explorers and traders: Is a Viking Age inevitable? In this timeline, there are no Vikings. In the following, you will some elaborations as to why this is so, and what happened in Scandinavia in the 8th-11th centuries instead.
Norse society was bound to undergo some sort of change in the last third of the first millennium CE. Unless a timeline removes the two important factors of population pressure and shipbuilding innovations in Scandinavia, the end of the splendid isolation of indigenous tribes living in susbsistent small-scale social units would have to come in some way or other. But the emergence of a Viking (and Varangian) society in OTL was also owed to other factors. The military, socioeconomic and political structures of Late Antiquity, the downfall of the Roman Empire, the Germanic migrations and the beginning Middle Ages with the emergence of a powerful Merowingian Empire all shaped Scandinavia indirectly, too. Military petty kings became dominant in the 5th-7th centuries; some petty kingdoms began to swallow and absorb others, attempting to imitate their Southern role models. Traditional socioeconomic structures were destabilised, and adequate new ones had not yet emerged.
In this timeline, Roman - or more precisely: Gallo-Roman - influence is both stronger, more direct and different in quality. The role models were not superficially Romanised Germanic empires based on warrior aristocracies who had taken over Roman latifundia. In this timeline, the dynamic and powerful role models of the Celtic and the Roman Republic are (more or less) democratic states with an ample bureaucratic administration, decent public infrastructure, well-equipped and large armed defensive forces, new technologies, strong urban guilds, rural cooperatives, countless competing religious cults, and high levels of classical education.
Developments begin to accelerate and take a different direction from OTL in the 5th century CE. The Imperium Romanum Galliarum conquers the Kimbrian Peninsula and becomes a close neighbour of the Scandinavians.
Although Anglia, as the IRG calls the Kimbrian Peninsula, is not exactly the empire's wealthiest province, and Gallo-Roman ships sailing the North Sea and the Kattegat do not carry the bulk of Gallo-Roman trade, both are attractive aims for Scandinavian marauders and pirates. The Gallo-Romans try to hunt them down, and in doing so, they find out more about Scandinavia`s landscape and population and their dwellings.
Gallo-Roman (later terminology: Celtic) attempts to conquer the Danish archipelago, where the Gallo-Romans have localised the majority of those who plague them, fail spectacularly due to their navy`s ineptitude in the difficult waters of the archipelago and the virtual impossibility of controlling the entire region against an enemy who adopts evasive guerrilla tactics. In the 5th and 6th century, two Danish polities emerge from the successful defense against the Celts: the Western islands are (sometimes more, sometimes less) united in an assembly named "Danething" and led by a king who resides in Gudme. In the East, Sjaelland has its Sjaellandsthing and a king in Lejre.
The only Scandinavian region with which the Gallo-Romans establish good trading relations is OTL Norway, or more specifically its Southern and South-Western coast, especially the region which is called Agder today. In the 5th-8th centuries, it was called Agðir, and its inhabitants Egðir. Their contacts with the Gallo-Romans lead to a double cross-fertilisation:
- Gallo-Romans and Norse learn from each other`s ship-building techniques. Half-free craftsmen in a village in Agðir learn to endow longboats with sails. The Classis Celtica orders hundreds of these small and fast, improved langobats to diversify its stock, which had up to that point consisted only of the large, bulky types of ships that the Romans used, too. Almost over night (i.e. over the course of a few years), half-free Egðir become rich.
- Gallo-Roman and Norse domestic animal breeds are exchanged, and improved varieties for the cold climate are bred, allowing a more productive agro-pastoralism in the Northern regions of both spheres.
Norsemen from Vestfold and Hordaland focus on intensifying agricultural and cattle production. Among the Egðir, secret societies form, where the ship-building knowledge is protected and proliferated only among their members. The secret societies of the Egðir soon begin to sail across the seas, raiding towns and villages - but sparing their Gallo-Roman partners, whose power they know too well -, and later also establishing their own trading outposts. The secret societies of the Egðir transform into a combination of trading syndicates and seaborne military hirds, who do not follow a sea king, instead they are led collectively by the aforementioned secret societies of which the hirdmen form a part which was subordinate to the "secret-bearers", but provided good career options for young boys from families of the half-free or from yeomen with small farms and many children.
The Egðir`s network of trading ports expanded quickly in the 6th century. It included colonies at the Baltic Sea Coast of OTL East Germany, Poland and Latvia and the North Sea Coast of OTL Norway well into the Arctic Sea. In the Baltic Sea, they came into bloody conflict with existing Norse trading groups based on Gotland island. This century, often called the Egðir Age, also brought increased coordination and defensive strategies across Eastern Denmark (Sjælland) and OTL Southern Sweden.
In the 7th century, the Celtic Republic (successor to the Imperium Romanum Galliarum after the republican victory in the 550s) took its commercial interests increasingly into its own hands. The Celtic Navy had finally mastered the technology of fire syphons for ships (Greek fire), and the Celtic Republic`s Frisian citizens had revolutionised ship-building once again by inventing the cog, which was equally fit for transporting great quantities of goods economically across the high seas and for landing in shallow waters, which abounded not only in Frisia, but also along the Southern and South-Eastern Baltic coastlines. Frisian traders formed an association akin to the Egðir`s secret societies, but protected by Celtic law (and might): the Hansa. The Frisian Hansa`s cogs were fitted with Greek fire and were thus not only able to carry greater quantities than the longboats of the Egðir, but also more capable to fend off pirates, who abounded especially in the Kattegat. Thus, the 7th and the beginning 8th century are often called the Hanseatic Age. It saw the formation and consolidation of the Gautar Confederacy, the unification of Skånen and the establishment of relatively powerful kingdoms on Sjælland and along the Mälaren (Sviþjod).
To further ensure the safety of its trading missions, the Celtic Republic founded the emporia of Arcona (OTL Kap Arkona), Callamare (OTL Kalmar) and Sarema (Saaremaa). These Celtic emporia were exempt from customs payments and developed very quickly. They often harboured monasteries of the Celtic Church and always included Celtic naval bases. Two kinds of law applied here: the Celtic citizens sorted out their own affairs in an emporial Comitium, which elected magistrates who ran the vigils (policemen, firefighters and self-defensive militia), the public baths, the public hospitals, the Celtic courts of law etc. The Norse were free to look after their own business and apply their own laws. Only Celtic citizens were taxed according to Celtic law, but they were also the only ones entitled to the protection of the empire and to access the public utilities.
This model became influential, too: Egðir towns like Sørstad, petty kingdoms like Viken and Karmøy and other polities like Trøndelag and Hålogaland invited Celtic monks, too, both to attract educated people with important skills, to foster positive relations with the Celtic Republic and to enjoy additional protection against regional rivals.
Other Norse polities tried to copy some of the structures observed in the Celtic Republic: Here and there, new honorary offices emerged, with the duty to look after this or that aspect of public infrastructure. Literate Norse began to teach their children and those of their neighbours to read and write themselves.
Celtic (i.e. essentially Roman) influence was even greater on those Norsemen who followed the Celtic Empire`s invitation to settle Iceland. A few decades after its discovery, the island was divided into civitates, and although it was merely a margo, not a province, the Celtic constitution applied here. Norse settlers called the Comitium Civitatis they attended a "Thing", but evidently there was no servitude and slavery on the island, everyone was a citizen and thus entitled to attend the Comitium, and the Comitium did not sort out quarrels between clans and elect a warlord for its protection; instead, it elected a host of magistrates and decided upon their budgets and the taxes everyone had to pay, and these magistrates would then judge everyone according to Celtic law, regardless of whether one`s father still lived or whether one owned land or which language one spoke.
The Egðir and other more adventurous seafaring brotherhoods now focused more and more on the coastline of OTL Norway and trade with the Bjarmians along the Arctic Sea passage. Here, too, they catalysed quick developments in indigenous Finnic societies. By 650, after a few decades of Norse-Bjarmian interaction, the Bjarmians integrated themselves into the emerging Great Permian alliance. A few decades later, the Bjarmians began undertaking their own Westward missions, drawing on the opportunity provided by their linguistic similarity and mutual intelligibility with the Sami, who lived all along the icy passage between Bjarmaland and the Norse towns. Again, the mighty Celtic Republic was often invoked as an arbiter and peace-keeper between Bjarmians and Norse, as well as among warring petty kingdoms and confederacies of the Norse.
To sum up: Towards the end of the 8th century, when the first Varangians and Vikings began to ransack Northern Europe in OTL, Norse society in this timeline has already established a complex web of interdependencies with the developed empires of the Mediterranean and begun to emulate its civilization. It is much less militarised than in OTL, and military conquest or piracy are faced with few opportunities.
Were the Egðir Vikings?
They were a superior naval power in the Kattegat and the Baltic Sea for a whole century. They raided and plundered, but also traded and established large over-regional commercial networks. They founded new polities or altered the nature of existing ones, e.g. in Venedia or Courland. They brought their specific skills, their forms of social organisation and their language with them into lands formerly not inhabited by Norse. Insofar, they show some similarities with OTL Vikings.
On the other hand, the Egðir never became a continental power. The Imperium Romanum Galliarum, later named Celtic Republic, effectively contained them in Scandinavia and the Baltic space. Quickly rivals emerged, who pursued slightly different strategies (the Gutar, the Danes, the Svear).
But most of all, the Egðir were not a by-product of general militarisation, but of a locally limited increase in wealthy caused by preferential trade and a unique innovation. These two factors were the foundation of their power, and they aimed to preserve them.
A Brief Look at What Happened Elsewhere
The 8th-10th centuries were a worldwide era of city republics, long-distance global trade via the Silk Road and the sea routes and international co-operation to keep these routes safe, the discovery of gunpowder, firearms and cannons, but also the magnetic compass and hydraulic innovations. New types of canals improved the infrastructure, while agriculture underwent another "green revolution" with fertilisers and new crops and breeds from new continents. Growing population levels caused recurring epidemics and increased social and political dynamics in societies which had previously been static and dominated by agriculture. Important resources like wood and easily accessible petroleum became scarce, causing both an improved management of them and an increased dependency of the developed economies of the Civilised Belt (Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Eran, India) and China on countries on their periphery which provided them with vital resources. In the Western half of this civilised world, democracy has taken deep roots. The boom of newspapers and other printed material as well as postal infrastructure facilitated a greater cohesion even of large territorial states. Education spreads farther and deeper among the population: in the Roman and Celtic Empires, four, six or eight years of schooling become compulsory, and more and more academies and universities are built from Lusitania to Borneo.
Instead of a Viking Age: The Norse Age of City Republics
The spread of seafaring brotherhoods is shorter in this timeline, with the "Egðir Age" lasting roughly one century. Since a plundering of the stable empires was out of the equation, the Egðir Age was an age of inner-Scandinavian cannibalisation of marine polities. Colonisation of North-Eastern Europe happens, in absolute time, earlier than in OTL, but it happens after the end of the Egðir Age, in an age of relative stability.
In OTL, the three factors of Christianisation, the formation of greater unified kingdoms, and the emergence of sizable port towns, whose long-distance sea merchants took provisions for their safety, together marked the end of the Viking Age. In OTL, they were undertaken by the same agents, and the third factor occurred relatively late: Conquering kings introduced the Christian faith and consolidated their realms through the establishment of a clerical administration with its episcopal sees. The inner peace in these kingdoms, which facilitated trade, and the centralised structure of the mono-episcopal church led to the growth of new towns. It was the kingdoms which guaranteed security and granted privileges to the towns and their trading associations.
In this timeline, the growth and consolidation of port towns sets in simultaneously with the other two trends already during the Hanseatic Age. The influence of the Celtic Church is weaker than that of the Roman Catholic Church in OTL. Consequently, a greater number of city republics, smaller unified kingdoms and loose confederacies emerged and, unimpeded by frequent conflicts among themselves, embarked on the journey of modern state-building
Thus, Abrittus CE 750-1000 is by no means a copy of OTL CE 1000-1250, when the three kingdoms of Norway, Sweden and Denmark emerged.
The one common feature of the Norse Age of City Republics (see the similar global trend), where the amount of divergence between various Scandinavian paths of modernisation is much greater than in OTL, is the economy - not the political or military domain - as the driving factor of social change.
Along the coast of what in OTL is Norway, a string of small states consolidates: Haligoland, Trøndelag, Hordaland, Agðir, Viken and Hadeland. Its dominant social group are sea merchants and related crafts. They dominate a trading network along the coast of Sapmi to Bjarmaland, where the rough climate conditions have kept the Frisian Hansa from establishing outposts themselves. Frequent quarrels with each other are sometimes mediated by the Celtic Empire, which exercises a great deal of control in this area. More and more syndicate leaders and yarls endow monasteries for the Celtic Church, among whose monks the Norwegian coast enjoys great popularity. The proto-Norwegian coast states become increasingly Christianised and even slightly Latinised through this influence. Social inequality is high: fishermen and farmers, the majority of the population, are much poorer than merchants and highly skilled craftsmen. Resulting tensions are mirrored in the Things, where political offices are often given to the representatives of guilds and syndicates, while the large rural majority sees itself marginalised: although they enjoy the same voting rights, they cannot afford to take over unpaid offices and thus lack the more sophisticated political experience. All of this foreshadows the Olavist revolution that would transform Norse society and build the modern state of Norway in the 11th century. Another trading nation are the Gutar, who reside on Gotland. Challenged by the Egðir early on, they consolidated their position through swinging alliances with Sviþjod, Wiskiauten and the Celts. Gutar establish and dominate the Eastbound trade with Finnic nations like the Vessi, the Voti and the Karelians as well as the Baltic Galinds and, from there, with the Potamian Koinon of the Borysthenes (where they encounter another successful seafaring nation, which also calls themselves "...Goths"). Gotland shows a much greater social cohesion because its small population is almost entirely occupied with trade, and wealth is distributed more evenly. The Gutar absorb manifold cultural influences, but none becomes dominant during this period - the precondition for the island`s secularisation and the early dominance of atheism from the 12th century on, when atheism was already popular in the Mediterranean, but the surrounding Scandinavians engaged in fierce confessional battles between Olavist Christians and adherents of the old polytheistic religion.
A very different approach develops among the Svear. Sviþjod develops as a centralised state, with all the power concentrated in Uppsala. The backbone of its development is its mining and steelworking industry, which is undertaken in a very hierarchical manner, employing slaves for the hardest labour. Sviþjod has the largest amount of people with no civil rights in all of Scandinavia. The assertion of Svear and royal dominance requires a legitimacy, which is sought in the old Odinist religion. Its importance is so great that the Kings of the Svear and their governments generously sponsor theological schools at Helgö and Mora. In the brewing conflicts between the Norse AEsir cult, the Suebian Lausai cult and various Christian churches, the Svear priests become highly influential as the leaders of the Norse polytheistic religion. After failed attempts to conquer Järmtland, Hedaland or Gautaland, Sviþjod expands along both the Western and Eastern coast of the Bottnic Sea. The establishment of Svear towns in Umeå, Luleå, Åbo and Hälsingfors corroborates Svear dominance of trade with and slave raids against the Suomalaizet, Kven and Hämalaizet (Tavastians), Increasingly, wood is imported from these towns` hinterlands, dams are built to use the waterpower of the land`s rivers, and ore is extracted from new mines in the Northern regions, too
Under the most intense Celtic pressure lived and developed the Danes. The Celtic Empire undertook two campaigns to conquer Denmark, both of which failed. Because of Danish piracy, which damaged Celtic trade interests, Danish ships were not allowed to enter Celtic harbours until 779, and Frisian cogs were endowed with fire syphons, which they freely used against suspicious Danish longboats. Due to their strained relations, the Celts did not invite Danish settlers to help with the colonisation of Glaciana, although population pressure in Denmark was high. With the advent of firearms, the Celtic Republic undertook further concerted efforts to smoke out Danish piracy. Towards the end of the 8th century, the Western island of Fyn and its kings, who resided in Gudme, began to pursue more amicable relations with the Celts. Gudme immediately profited from this cooperation and was strengthened to such an extent that it was able to offer its protection to Saxon and Obodritic towns on the Baltic Sea, first Traveborg, then Reric and a handful of smaller towns. The towns required this protection - not so much against pirates, who had become rarer in the Age of City States, but primarily against Saxon and Obodritic nobles, for many inhabitants of these towns were considered indentured servants by these nobles (ethelinga and voivods). In exchange, they granted taxation rights and unlimited staple rights to Danish merchants from Fyn.
Thus strengthened, Kings of Gudme conducted several wars against the Eastern Danish Kings of Lejre, at the heart of which were mostly trade disputes. In 861, Lejre decided the last of these wars in their advantage, owed to the use of a military innovation: powerful, mobile and precisely maneuverable cannons, obtained by the Celts, with which Lejre now also had forged an agreement. King Ragnvald of Lejre was able to unite all Danish isles as well as Skåne in the South of OTL Sweden under his leadership. The three Things of Fyn, Sjælland and Skåne remained and kept their different laws, though. In 911, the towns on the Southern coast of the Baltic Sea (OTL Mecklenburg) and their hinterland, which had become known as "Jom", successfully struggled for and achieved their own legal autonomy and self-administration in the Jomting. The United Kingdom of Denmark began to use its cannons also to oversee the Øresund and collected customs for the king from all ships who passed the sund. This enormous source of income triggered a fast process of modernisation in Denmark, which brought modern manufacturing, banking and other recent innovations to the Danish lands. Further territorial expansions were attempted at the cost of the Gautar, whose confederacy was able to repel them, though.
The Norwegian, Danish, Gotlandish and Svear polities thus all aimed for - and achieved - expansion. They were driven towards expansion by the dynamics of inner tensions in their societies, which were caused by the advent of early capitalist practices and the spreading of Celtic Christianity and culture, which both undermined the economic and the cultural base of the traditional foundational unit of Norse societies: a farm owned and run by a large family, who lived together with their servants in a longhouse from the fruit of their labour, resolved most of its inner conflicts among itself and most of its conflicts with other clans without referring to a superior statel institution, and whose heads of family could afford to take over civic responsibilities for the whole tribe. Capital investments by corporations, wage labour opportunities, the availability of interest-laden loans, and the idea that all men - father and son, nobleman, freeman and servant - should rather be equal in the face of God(s) and the law - began to break these structures apart. This trend did not occur everywhere in Scandinavia, though. It was facilitated in many places by preceding centuries of warfare and a concentration of land ownership into relatively large farms, with a majority of the rural population being dependent on the owners of these sizable farms. In Järmtland, Hadeland and Gautaland, though, there had not been such a militarisation during the Migration Period, ownership was spread more equally, farms were smaller, and most farms had either no servants, or merely one or two. Here, structures remained much more traditional - and the polities remained stable, small-sized and not bent on expansion. Järmtland and Hadeland remained entirely independent, the former successfully fending off an invasion by Sviþjod in the 10th century. The many small lands of the Gautar (a telling OTL name of the region is Småland) were compelled to form a confederacy, though, in order to repel military campaigns by Sviþjod and Denmark aimed at conquering them. The Gautar Confederacy quickly disintegrated into a Western and an Eastern union, though, after its successful defense.