By Jennifer Paxton, Ph.D., The Catholic University of America
The Vikings had a different presence in Scotland than they did in Ireland. The Norse settled in more extensive parts of the country, including the western and northern parts of the mainland, as well as the western and northern islands around the country. In Ireland, the English invasion swept away the Norse culture and presence. But in Scotland, in the absence of such conquest, they maintained a more ethnically and linguistically diverse presence.
Diversity was nothing new in Scotland. In the early Middle Ages, in addition to Celtic, many other languages were spoken at the same time.
Few records have survived to show the early years of Norse settlement in Scotland. But it appears that around the late eighth century, the Vikings began to settle in the Northern Isles of Scotland, the Shetlands, and Orkneys. Pictish was supposedly the common language of these islands, with Scandinavian language soon replacing it.
Learn more about land and people of medieval Scandinavia.
Thorfinn Sigurdsson, a True Hybrid
The Scandinavian prevalence reached its height in the middle of the 11th century when the formidable Thorfinn Sigurdsson, Earl of Orkney, advanced into the Scottish mainland in the far north. This part of Scotland has the most number of Norse names for places, including Sunderland, Wick, and Dingwall.
He is a true testament to the culturally mingled population of that time. His father, Sigurd, was a Scandinavian earl who was killed at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. His mother was the daughter of a Scottish ruler. His identity is not entirely known, but he might have been King Malcolm II. It shows that he spoke both Norse and Gaelic.
There have been many stories about Thorfinn, some even suggesting he is the real character behind Macbeth. A historical novel written by Dorothy Dunnett named King Hereafter proposes this idea. Although it is not convincing enough, the possibility of this proposition indicates the intermixed nature of the Celtic-speaking and Norse-specking communities.
Learn more about Scotland from Macbeth to Braveheart.
The History of the Isle of Man
Other parts of Scotland where Vikings settled include the western isles and the Isle of Man. There, they established the ‘Kingdom of Isles’, with various ethnicities and languages present. Norse rulers are the ancestors of many clans of the western Isles, including Clan MacLeod.
The Isle of Man is an intriguing case that is the perfect embodiment of the cultural heterogeneity of the Irish Sea. Located right in the middle of the Irish Sea, it is known by historians to be a melting pot that brought together all the ‘Irish Sea World’.
The origin of the name is unknown. It could refer to a Celtic word for mountain, or it could be a reference to the Celtic god of the sea, Mannanán mac Lir.
As far as we know, the earliest group that inhabited the Isle of Man were probably Brythonic speakers. Their language was the p-Celtic language of Britain.
Sometime in the sixth century, the Isle of Man was inhabited by people from the north of Ireland. There was a short period of time when it was occupied by the Northumbria Kingdom, who spoke English. But after that, the Irish and Scandinavian settlers were the chief inhabitants.
This is a transcript from the video series The Celtic World. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
The Viking Rulers of the Isle of Man
The Viking kings of Dublin and then the Viking earls of Orkney ruled the island in the 10th and 11th centuries, with the Gaelic culture and language being prevalent. Later, the language developed into the Goidelic, or q-Celtic, which today is known as Manx.
In 1079, the Crovan dynasty occupied the island, which marked a turning point for the Isle of Man. The kings of Norway nominally dominated the Crovan kings, but their full dominance wasn’t achieved until the 13th century. In the 1260s, Scotland and Norway engaged in a war over the Isle of Man, and Scotland achieved victory.
But about a century later, during the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346, the Scottish king David II was captured by the English. Later, he gave the Isle of Man to the English as his ransom.
The Isle of Man Today
The Isle of Man has been under the English rule ever since, except for a few brief periods of setback. Now, Man has a unique constitutional position. It is not subject to the British parliament. It is autonomous with its own money and postage stamps. Stamp collectors are a good source of money for Man. Unfortunately, most of the Manx language is extinct. But efforts are being made to revive it.
Common Questions about the Viking Presence and Influence in Scotland
The Vikings settled in more extensive parts of Scotland, including the western and northern parts of the mainland, as well as the western and northern islands around the country.
The origin of the name is a bit mysterious, but it could refer to a Celtic word for mountain, or it could also be a reference to the Celtic god of the sea, Mannanán mac Lir.
The Isle of Man is under British rule but in a unique way. It has a unique constitutional position. But it is not subject to the British parliament. It is autonomous with its own money and postage stamps.