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Viking history and culture: Shetland celebrates Up Helly Aa Viking fire festival

While I was preoccupied with the past history of the Vikings, the Shetland Isles in northern Scotland were busy celebrating their own connection and Viking heritage!

Shetland’s annual Up Helly Aa fire festival has been celebrated, culminating in the burning of a replica Viking ship.

The spectacular event celebrating Shetland’s Viking heritage was held in Lerwick on Tuesday.

A band of latter-day Viking warriors known as the Jarl Squad marched through the town, recreating its history.

Hundreds processed with flaming torches which were thrown into a longship that had been dragged through Lerwick.

Volunteers had built the boat and produced more than 1,000 torches, with preparations for the event beginning in October.

 

Up helly Aa Viking festival on shetland Isles Up hely Aa festivalup helly Aa festival

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-30999590

Up Helly Aa (/ˈʌphɛliə/ UP-he-lee-ə) refers to any of a variety of fire festivals held in Shetland, in Scotland, annually in the middle of winter to mark the end of the yule season. The festival involves a procession of up to a thousand guizers in Lerwick and considerably lower numbers in the more rural festivals, formed into squads who march through the town or village in a variety of themed costumes.

The current Lerwick celebration grew out of the older yule tradition of tar barrelling which took place at Christmas and New Year as well as Up Helly Aa. Squads of young men would drag barrels of burning tar through town on sledges, making mischief. After the abolition of tar barrelling around 1874–1880, permission was eventually obtained for torch processions. The first yule torch procession took place in 1876. The first torch celebration on Up Helly Aa day took place in 1881. The following year the torchlit procession was significantly enhanced and institutionalised through a request by a Lerwick civic body to hold another Up Helly Aa torch procession for the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh.  The first galley was introduced and burned in 1889.

There is a main guizer who is dubbed the “Jarl“. There is a committee which a person must be part of for 15 years before one can be a jarl, and only one person is elected to this committee each year.

The procession culminates in the torches being thrown into a replica Viking longship or galley. The event happens all over Shetland and is currently celebrated at ten locations – Scalloway, Lerwick, Nesting and Girlsta, Uyeasound, Northmavine, Bressay, Cullivoe, Norwick, the South Mainland and Delting.

After the procession, the squads visit local halls (including schools, sports facilities and hotels), where private parties are held. At each hall, each squad performs its act, which may be a send-up of a popular TV show or film, a skit on local events, or singing or dancing.

According to John Jamieson‘s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1818),  up is used in the sense of something being at an end, and derives from the Old Norse word uppi which is still used in Faroese and Icelandic, while helly refers to a holy day or festival. The Scottish National Dictionary defines helly, probably derived from the Old Norse helgr (helgi in the dative and accusative case, meaning a holiday or festival), as “[a] series of festive days, esp. the period in which Christmas festivities are held from 25th Dec. to 5th Jan.”,  while aa may represent a’, meaning “all

Up Helly Aa Official website:  

http://www.uphellyaa.org/

Heritage: Up Helly Aa is a chance for multiple generations on the Shetland Isles to celebrate their Norse heritage!

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2929223/Vikings-descend-Shetlands-Hundreds-fire-wielding-visitors-march-town-annual-Helly-Aa-festival-marking-Islands-ancient-past.html#ixzz3Q6yznygF

up helly Aa fest2 up helly Aa fest3 up helly Aa fest4

 

Shetland (/ˈʃɛtlənd/; Scottish Gaelic: Sealtainn), also called the Shetland Islands, is a subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies north-east of the island of Great Britain and forms part of the United Kingdom.

Shetland-Islands-006 shetland

The islands lie some 80 km (50 mi) to the northeast of Orkney and 280 km (170 mi) southeast of the Faroe Islands and form part of the division between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east. The total area is 1,468 km  (567 sq mi)[1] and the population totalled 23,167 in 2011.  Comprising the Shetland constituency of the Scottish Parliament, Shetland is also one of the 32 council areas of Scotland; the islands’ administrative centre and only burgh is Lerwick.

Humans have lived there since the Mesolithic period, and the earliest written references to the islands date back to Roman times. The early historic period was dominated by Scandinavian influences, especially Norway, and the islands did not become part of Scotland until the 15th century. When Shetland became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, trade with northern Europe decreased.

The local way of life reflects the joint Norse and Scottish heritage including the Up Helly Aa fire festival, and a strong musical tradition, especially the traditional fiddle style. The islands have produced a variety of writers of prose and poetry, many of whom use the local Shetlandic dialect.

The islands’ motto, which appears on the Council’s coat of arms, is Með lögum skal land byggja. This Icelandic phrase is taken from Njáls saga and means “By law shall the land be built up.

In AD 43 and 77 the Roman authors Pomponius Mela and Pliny the Elder referred to the seven islands they call Haemodae and Acmodae respectively, both of which are assumed to be Shetland. Another possible early written reference to the islands is Tacitus‘ report in AD 98, after describing the discovery and conquest of Orkney, that the Roman fleet had seen “Thule, too”. In early Irish literature, Shetland is referred to as Inse Catt—”the Isles of Cats”, which may have been the pre-Norse inhabitants’ name for the islands. The Cat tribe also occupied parts of the northern Scottish mainland and their name can be found in Caithness, and in the Gaelic name for Sutherland (Cataibh, meaning “among the Cats”).

The oldest version of the modern name Shetland is Hetlandensis, the Latinised adjectival form of the Old Norse name recorded in a letter from Harald count of Shetland in 1190,  becoming Hetland in 1431 after various intermediate transformations. It is possible that the Pictish “cat” sound forms part of this Norse name. It then became Hjaltland in the 16th century.

As Norn was gradually replaced by Scots, Hjaltland became Ȝetland. The initial letter is the Middle Scots letter, “yogh“, the pronunciation of which is almost identical to the original Norn sound, “/hj/“. When the use of the letter yogh was discontinued, it was often replaced by the similar-looking letter z, hence Zetland, the misspelt form used to describe the pre-1975 county council.

Most of the individual islands have Norse names, although the derivations of some are obscure and may represent pre-Norse, possibly Pictish or even pre-Celtic names or elements.

 

Due to the practice, dating to at least the early Neolithic, of building in stone on virtually treeless islands, Shetland is extremely rich in physical remains of the prehistoric eras and there are over 5,000 archaeological sites all told.  A midden site at West Voe on the south coast of Mainland, dated to 4320–4030 BC, has provided the first evidence of Mesolithic human activity on Shetland.  The same site provides dates for early Neolithic activity and finds at Scord of Brouster in Walls have been dated to 3400 BC.  “Shetland knives” are stone tools that date from this period made from felsite from Northmavine.

Pottery shards found at the important site of Jarlshof also indicate that there was Neolithic activity there although the main settlement dates from the Bronze Age. This includes a smithy, a cluster of wheelhouses and a later broch. The site has provided evidence of habitation during various phases right up until Viking times.  Heel-shaped cairns, are a style of chambered cairn unique to Shetland, with a particularly large example on Vementry.

Numerous brochs were erected during the Iron Age. In addition to Mousa there are significant ruins at Clickimin, Culswick, Old Scatness and West Burrafirth, although their origin and purpose is a matter of some controversy.  The later Iron Age inhabitants of the Northern Isles were probably Pictish, although the historical record is sparse. Hunter (2000) states in relation to King Bridei I of the Picts in the sixth century AD: “As for Shetland, Orkney, Skye and the Western Isles, their inhabitants, most of whom appear to have been Pictish in culture and speech at this time, are likely to have regarded Bridei as a fairly distant presence.”  In 2011, the collective site, “The Crucible of Iron Age Shetland“, including Broch of Mousa, Old Scatness and Jarlshof, joined the UKs “Tentative List” of World Heritage Sites.

 

The expanding population of Scandinavia led to a shortage of available resources and arable land there and led to a period of Viking expansion, the Norse gradually shifting their attention from plundering to invasion.  Shetland was colonised during the late 8th and 9th centuries,  the fate of the existing indigenous population being uncertain. Modern Shetlanders have almost identical proportions of Scandinavian matrilineal and patrilineal genetic ancestry, suggesting that the islands were settled by both men and women in equal measure.

Vikings then made the islands the headquarters of pirate expeditions carried out against Norway and the coasts of mainland Scotland. In response, Norwegian king Harald Hårfagre (“Harald Fair Hair”) annexed the Northern Isles (comprising Orkney and Shetland) in 875.  Rognvald Eysteinsson received Orkney and Shetland from Harald as an earldom as reparation for the death of his son in battle in Scotland, and then passed the earldom on to his brother Sigurd the Mighty.

The islands were Christianised in the late 10th century. King Olav Tryggvasson summoned the jarl Sigurd the Stout during a visit to Orkney and said, “I order you and all your subjects to be baptised. If you refuse, I’ll have you killed on the spot and I swear I will ravage every island with fire and steel.” Unsurprisingly, Sigurd agreed and the islands became Christian at a stroke.  Unusually, from c. 1100 onwards the Norse jarls owed allegiance both to Norway and to the Scottish crown through their holdings as Earls of Caithness.

In 1194, when Harald Maddadsson was Earl of Orkney and Shetland, a rebellion broke out against King Sverre Sigurdsson of Norway. The Øyskjeggs (“Island Beardies”) sailed for Norway but were beaten in the Battle of Florvåg near Bergen. After his victory King Sverre placed Shetland under direct Norwegian rule, a state of affairs that continued for nearly two centuries.

What is important to remember in any discussion of Viking history and about these islands it that while we tend to group all of the Vikings into one singular category, there were actually two separate groups of Viking invaders and raiders.  This map shows a basic representation of those groups and where they sought out territories. The Norse Vikings followed paths to Northern Scotland and Ireland, including the Shetland and Orkney Isles, and from Ireland they raided the western coasts of Britain. The Dane Vikings followed a more southern path in historical accounts, landing them in southern Britain, northern Germany, and eventually parts of France.  I have made mention of this aspect before in discussions of the Vikings saga and their landing at Lindisfarne. It was more likely that it was Norse Vikings landing there in 793 than Ragnar and his Danish Vikings! But, understandably, the Lindisfarne event did provide a good story point for Michael Hirst to use in developing the Vikings story line.

Lindisfarne793

In a more accurate look and comparison of the two groups, The Norse Vikings were more successful in their conquest of the northern areas. They maintained control of the Orkneys and the Shetland Isles until the 1400s. The Dane Vikings were successful in the southern portions for a much shorter length of time. Their demise came with the death of the Danish king Cnut in 1035.

Cnut the Great  (Old Norse: Knútr inn ríki;  c. 985 or 995 – 12 November 1035), more commonly known as Canute, was a king of Denmark, England, Norway, and parts of Sweden, together often referred to as the Anglo-Scandinavian or North Sea Empire. After his death, the deaths of his heirs within a decade, and the Norman conquest of England in 1066, his legacy was largely lost to history. Historian Norman Cantor has made the statement that he was “the most effective king in Anglo-Saxon history”, despite not being Anglo-Saxon. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cnut_the_Great

Cnut the great

Cnut the great

 

One interesting theory and legend about the Shetland isles does connect to Ragnar Lodbrok and  Rollo of history, but not necessarily Ragnar or Rollo of the Vikings saga!

Rognvald Eysteinsson (fl. 865) sometimes referred to with the bynames of “the Wise” or “the Powerful” was the Earl of  Møre in Norway and a key figure in the founding of the Earldom of Orkney. Three quite different sources for the creation of the Norse earldom on Orkney and Shetland exist. The best known are those in the Norse Sagas but older evidence is found in the Historia Norvegiae and the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland. This last source refers to a “Ragnall son of Albdan” who was active in Orkney in 865. The Historia includes a brief reference to Rognvald, which events are also referred to in the saga material.

The saga sources have much to say about Rognvald, his relationship to the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair, his brother and sons, and the founding of the Orkney and Møre earldoms. However, these are not contemporary, having been written down some three centuries after the events described, and must be treated with considerable care.

The oldest account that may refer to Rognvald and the earldom of Orkney is that found in the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland.

The annals make Rognvald the son of “Halfdan, King of Lochlann.” This is generally understood to mean Halfdan the Black, which would make the Rognvald of the annals the brother of Harald Fairhair. However, the later Norse sagas claim that Rognvald’s grandfather was named Halfdan.

These events are placed after an account of the devastation of Fortriu, dated to around 866, and the mention of an eclipse confirms a date of 865. The entry goes on to describe Ragnall’s older sons raiding in Spain and North Africa but there is no specific mention of the earldom and it is by no means certain that this Ragnall is to be identified with Rognvald Eysteinsson. Runic inscriptions found inside Maeshowe dating to the 12th century mention that the mound was “built before Loðbrók”, perhaps meaning Ragnar Lodbrok and it has been suggested that the Irish fragment may refer to this legendary 9th century saga character.

Norse sagas

“Snorri Sturluson”, 13th century compiler of the Heimskringla by Christian Krohg (1890s)

The saga accounts are the best known, and the latest, of the three surviving traditions concerning Rognvald and the foundation of the Earldom of Orkney. Written, long after the events they describe, their contents must be treated with caution as a literal or accurate version of history.

In the Orkneyinga saga Rognvald was made the Earl of Møre by King Harald Fairhair. The Heimskringla recounts that Rognvald caused Harald Fairhair to be given his byname by cutting and dressing his hair, which had been uncut for ten years on account of his vow never to cut it until he was ruler of all Norway.  Rognvald then accompanied the king on a great military expedition. First the islands of Shetland and Orkney were cleared of vikings who had been raiding Norway and then continued on to Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. During this campaign Rognvald’s son Ivarr was killed and in compensation Harald granted Rognvald Orkney and Shetland. Rognvald himself returned to Norway, giving the northern isles to his brother Sigurd Eysteinsson.  Sigurd had been the forecastleman on Harald’s ship and after sailing back east the king “gave Sigurd the title of earl”.  The Heimskringla states specifically that Sigurd was the first Earl of Orkney.

Family

The Orkneyinga saga says that Rognvald was the son of Eystein Ivarsson, himself the son of Ívarr Upplendingajarl.  and was married to a daughter of Hrólfr Nose called Ragnhild,  although in the Heimskringla she is called Hild.  Their son Hrólfr “was so big that no horse could carry him”, hence his byname of “Ganger-Hrólf”,  and he is identified by the saga writers with Rollo of Normandy ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy  who signed the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte with King Charles the Simple in 911. In addition to Ivar and Hrólfr, both sagas also refer to Rognvald’s son Thorir the Silent, and three more sons “by concubines” called Hallad, Einarr and Hrollaug, all three being “grown men when their brothers born in marriage were still children”.

Rognvald having given his earldom to Sigurd, according to the Orkneyinga Saga, the latter died in a curious fashion after a battle with Máel Brigte of Moray. Sigurd’s son Gurthorm ruled for a single winter after this and died childless.

Rognvald’s son Hallad then inherited the title. However, unable to constrain Danish raids on Orkney, he gave up the earldom and returned to Norway, which “everyone thought was a huge joke.”[19] The predations of the Danish pirates led to Rognvald flying into a rage and summoning his sons Thorir and Hrolluag. He predicted that Thorir’s path would keep him in Norway and that Hrolluag was destined seek his fortune in Iceland. Turf-Einar, the youngest, then came forward and offered to go to the islands. Rognvald said: “Considering the kind of mother you have, slave-born on each side of her family, you are not likely to make much of a ruler. But I agree, the sooner you leave and the later you return the happier I’ll be.”

His father’s misgivings notwithstanding, Torf-Einarr succeeded in defeating the Danes and founded a dynasty which retained control of the islands for centuries after his death.

Death and legacy

Earl Rognvald was killed by King Harald’s son Halfdan Hålegg and Gudrod Gleam who engineered a sudden attack, surrounded the house in which he was staying, and burned it to the ground with the earl and sixty of his men inside it. Harald “flew into a rage” when he heard about this and sent out a “great force” against Gudrod who was then banished. Halfdan escaped into the western seas and Rognvald’s death was later avenged by Torf-Einarr who killed him on North Ronaldsay and then made his peace with Harald. Harald made Rognvald’s son Thorir Earl of Møre and gave his daughter Alof to him in marriage.   The sagas thus identify Rognvald as the apical figure of the Norse Earls of Orkney who controlled the islands until the early 13th century, and a forerunner of important Icelandic families. Furthermore, through his son Hrolfr Rognvald he is an ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy who, following the Norman conquest of England in 1066, became the kings of England.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rognvald_Eysteinsson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eleanor’s Journal 74: The depths of Eric’s past… from Norseland, to Vampyres and Romans

Before you start on this episode, you may want to get your drinks and your munchies… it is a quite lengthy post! Also, there are limited illustrations in this episode. The far ancient past was a bit too difficult to attempt with any good quality so I chose to leave it as is with just the text to carry it. You may also want to refresh yourself with the details of some previous posts to aid in some understanding of Eric’s deepest past!

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/from-the-creator-ancient-history-connects-the-norse-with-romans-and-king-arthur/

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/from-the-creator-some-history-of-clans-in-scotland/

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/eleanors-journal72-erics-memories-a-time-before-vampyres-and-a-life-of-contradictions/

 

Now on to the story!

Screenshot-4 Judith Self

Eric shook the thoughts of Judith out of his head for the moment. In his mind, she was his future and he would have no need to sit in the dark and relive his moments with her. He was determined that he would find her safe, and that things would work out with her. What he needed to do for now was clear his head of the other memories that made up his past. If he were to have a future worth living with Judith, he must sort through the mess of his long and turbulent life, put it all into perspective, truly learn from the mistakes and not be guided by the emotions that always had a way of attaching to memories. Eric reminded himself that those events of his past were neither good nor bad, they were all merely lessons that everyone must learn. Some such as mortal humans learned them over a series of lives and deaths, while others such him now, learned them all in one long life time.

Screenshot-15

Eric had spent an evening with Brennie and Svein, honoring their most ancient traditions and beliefs. Even though he had never been such a profound or firm believer in those things, he still held on to the traditions and the rituals for the peace it gave him. The Summer Solstice was one of those most sacred and spiritual times for many beliefs. It was one of those time when many believed that magic and miracles were at their strongest. When the veils between time and worlds were at their thinnest, and when those on other sides- whether it be Gods or simply those in other dimensions could hear and feel each other more intensely. It was often said that if one offered prayers, blessings or beseechings at these times, they would be heard and answered from beyond. He wasn’t sure of that but was well willing to take the chance if someone could hear their requests and help them on their mission to find Judith.

Screenshot-2 (4)

Later after it was over, he had went to his own place of private prayer and offered his thoughts and his blessings to the one whom he missed so much. He had built this small memorial to her on the place where she had died so many centuries ago, and added one here at Dunvegan as well. While he had built with the outward appearance of honoring the Dunvegan legend of the Fairies, in his heart, he knew that it was in tribute to that one he had called a true friend. He often spent time alone with her in these places. Many times he could feel her presence with him, reaching out to him from that other place where she dwelled now. For a long time after her death, he had felt nothing but raw and grating pain, he had heard moans of terror and grief, keenings of hurt and wandering through darkness. At some point it had settled to a fog of uncertainty and not caring… But, lately it had become more intense again in it’s searching. It felt as if she were re-awakening on some level and trying to find her bearings. This night, he felt her reaching out desperately, and he heard in some faint tunnel of whirling sounds and waves, her voice calling. He thought he heard his own name, as well as others. He could not trust that it wasn’t just his wishful thinking and his own desperation that played tricks on his mind though because he thought he felt Judith and someone else in that mist as well?

Guinivere1   guinivere's arrival

Usually after some time spent here, he was more at peace with the world. Tonight, though he left with his heart and his soul in even more turmoil than it was when he began the evening. He wandered back up to the Castle and locked himself in the upstairs private library and museum that held so many of their most valued artifacts from the ancient past. Surrounded by these material remains of history, he poured himself a highly prized, very rare Whiskey and settled in front of the fire to recall his life in detail. He kept the bottle close at hand, knew well that it would take some long time and much of this strong fortifier to get through it.

The deepest depths of Eric’s memories

He took his thoughts back to the very beginnings… he intended to work his way straight through and come out on this end with a firmer grasp on his emotions. His intent was to work through it, honor it, grieve it, forgive himself and others for the wrongdoings, and then say Good Bye to much of it. His own private wake for his life was how he looked at this, and a celebration of a new journey upon which he would then embark.

           His earliest memories were few. He remembered little of the time spent in that other North land of his earliest ancestors, other than the leaving of it on that earliest voyage across the sea. His Father, a large and loud hulk of a man with wild blonde hair and the palest, faded blue eyes-possibly from staring out at the skies and the sun from his ships much of the time. His Mother, almost as tall as his Father, yet slimmer and a bit more refined in her looks but no less imposing. She was quieter, more thoughtful than his Father equally as strong and determined. She had a regal and royal bearing to her which never left. It had been his Mother’s line from whence their status came and she quite often took pains to remind her husband of it. While his Father was the brute force and strength that people looked at and feared immediately, his Mother was the one who held the calm, and if need be cold reserve that would hold one’s fear and respect even longer after a punishment meated out by her husband.

           She was a queen in her own right and never should any forget that, she vowed to her husband as they embarked on this journey to a new settlement in a far away place. His Father, Eirkr, whom he was named after, being the eldest son, was a great warrior and Chieftan in that North land but was choosing instead to follow his brother, Svein to this new place of peace and plenty. His Mother, Asdis, an honored and well revered Queen of one of those North places had made choice to align her tribe with that of Eirkr’s in a treaty of peace. She had gifted herself to Eirkr as wife and thereby stopped much of the warring, at least between their two lands. The rest of the wars continued however and there were constant battles for land and power among the various tribes of those lands. As their populations increased, the land became less able to sustain them all equally. The wars for limited resources became more violent and deadly.

            Eric remembered little of that, save what others told him in stories, and in their move this new land, those stories became of less importance or value. Eirkr’s brother Svein was a younger brother who must seek out his own destiny and he had chosen to seek it on the seas, traveling to far distant realms and returning with stories of vast oceans full of fish, of lands plentiful for those who would dare to claim it, and of places filled with magic and mysteries. He told of other peoples there who held secrets of the world and of life. On those visits, he would sit with them in the fire lit lodge and fill them with stories, some meant to scare and others meant to provide a smile and a dream or two of those far off places.  Eric’s Mother, Asdis, was a healer and mystical woman herself and she would badger Svein for more details of these places until he would wave his arms in defeat, “Ach, I’ve no more to tell ya, unless ya want to be makin it up, or ya want to get on a boat and join me there!”

             Asdis and Eirkr were adventurers and sea goers. They were also practical ones who knew that they could not hold off invasions of their lands indefinitely. They had discussed it long and hard for months, swaying back and forth on their options. Finally, they had come to a decision. They would leave their lands of that North place in search of a new destiny with Svein. The choice had been left to their people whether to go or stay put. Asdis had turned her power and her crown over to her younger brother. She would step down as leader of that group and then swore her fielty and allegiance  to her husband and his people. Previous to this, they had managed to rule together but separately their two groups. In accordance with their traditions, she had retained her role as ruler and Queen of her people while her marriage was looked at in a separate fashion. Now, she gave the role of Queen and stepped into the role of wife to a King. In their culture this was a very different thing… there was no such role at that time as Queen consort. One was either a Queen in her own right and ruler of her people, or one was a mate of a King, with much less standing, influence or power. Twas a difficult choice she made, and oft ground her teeth over in later times. She did however, adapt to the role in as much as she was able… and while no longer a Queen in that sense, she did wield power as the Mother of future rulers… which Eric was destined to be.

            Eirkr and Svein agreed to be co-rulers of their group in the new land. Months of preparations had finally found them all setting forth on that voyage across the North Sea to the place which Svein called Hjaltland.  Eventually, they had migrated farther south to the place they referred to as the Isle of Skuy and made their settlement there.

map of Scotland with Shetland islands and Isle of Skye

             Those earliest years had been a struggle for survival as they learned to carve out a new life in this much different place. It was indeed a place of strangeness and mystery but one thing it was not in that beginning time, was a place of such violent battles for land. There were already peoples living there, but like the Norse settlers, they were struggling to survive. It was not a land for the weak willed in any way. Here the battles were not so much with each other over limited territories, but with the sheer forces of an untamed wilderness and the rages of the natural environment. They learned together, the Norse settlers and those earliest of inhabitant of the area, the Picts. There were others there too, ones who had been there fighting just as long, or longer… the small groups of Fairie peoples deep within the forests and those other wanderers, Vampyres. Those two groups mostly kept to themselves in their own small communities but it was more due to a matter of comfort in residing with those of one’s own kind than anything else back then. There was no resentment or fear of others, unless they should bring it upon themselves by some action or behavior on their own part.

Old Celtic tribes of southern scotland and north east England

             No, back in that earliest time, they had all eeked out an existance together in that land. Eric’s family Clan had settled this piece of land near the sea and had been there ever since. He had grown to his young manhood there, working along side his Father, his uncle, his younger brothers and cousins to build a life for themselves. They had done well in that respect, traveling the seas, trading with the Picts, the Fairies and the few Vampyres there to forge a well knit community. Their peoples had mated to each other, new ties and new bloodlines. Eric remembered fondly his uncle Svein’s uniting with the young Vampyre, Gisella. It had been an arranged mating, as so many often were back in those ages, but they had been happy with it. Svein had come to love her most dearly and eventually turned to the Vampyre bloodline himself. He had done it willingly out of his love for that woman. Svein’s mating and turning had more sealed their bonds with that small Vampyre Clan and eventually they had easily blended into one larger clan rather than two separate ones. Other matings had blended them with the Fairies of that land, of the Picts as well. Their life had been hard but well satisfying and over all peaceful other than small skirmishes between clan members. Those small battles and disagreements were to be expected among any groups living in close proximity to each other. The disagreements were usually solved quickly and with limited violence, despite what history might attribute to those times. Eric laughed to himself… what did historians truly know of that time before such detailed and supposedly accurate documented accounts from questionable sources?

             No, life had been good then… until the arrival of the others upon their borders and their soil. The Romans had discovered the lands and the valuable resources of the British isles and set about claiming that land and those resources for their ever expanding empire. What the Romans had not counted on was such resistance from ones that they deemed primitive Barbarians. In those lower regions of the isle, they were more successful in their conquering of the local peoples already there. Despite their best efforts however, they never succeeded in conquering the upper regions of the land. What they did manage for some time though, was to form a tight circle around that area, controlling much of the land and the sea around it. They also brought something else with them on their arrival to those lands, which although unintended and not purposeful, did much to decimate the numbers remaining in the upper lands. Their secret, unknown- even to themselves- weapon was disease. As in the case for many conquerors, diseases and illness, which those conquerors may have built up some resistance to, often did a more thorough job of controlling an opposing force or army than the men themselves could accomplish.

probable Roman defenses

probable Roman defenses

             The inhabitants of that northern region were generally much isolated to themselves and not exposed to the deadly plagues of other populations. As the Romans ventured farther and farther north into their settlements and territories, they brought with them those plagues that swept through their new victims with alarming speed. Many of the Northern clans were wiped out in entirity by an illness or ailment which the Romans may have easily fought off with their increased immunities due to having been exposed to such an illness previously. Along with the threats of illness, there were also climate and weather changes that none could control. In addition, if that were not all bad enough, the increasing population brought by the Romans upon the land caused the lands themselves to be over used and ravaged. So, as the Romans advanced, the land became unusable, people became hungry and desperate.

               It was during those darkest times that history does seldom speak of… for much of the history was documented by the Romans who would not want for themselves to looked on as the blame for any of it, nor did they want to admit that they were often defeated by such small ragged bands of Barbarians who would fight to their death and their extinction before they gave in so willing to the Roman forces. So, the Romans made excuses for their retreating to back behind the walls they created for their defense against such savages that they could not manage to control. In truth, the Roman empire was at that time, beginning to fail as a whole and would soon be defeated by many such numbers of so called savages.

             During some of those bleakest of times before the next dark ages approached, Eric’s family and Clan had faced much of the demise as others. They had joined together with the Picts to fight the legions of Roman Warriors and lost many of their members to those wars. Ones not lost to the horrors of battle were lost to other horrors of plague and starvation.

             Towards the end, there had been little Clan left to lead or to rule. Eric along with most of the other men, and many of the women too had went into battle for their lands, their freedom and their very lives. Most of them lost the battle. He had watched his Father and his younger brothers die in one such battle, still on occasion, would wake to their battle cries and then screams of agony. Eric himself had been gravely wounded in the battle and prayed for death to come to him. Unfortunately, it had not been death to come, but a Roman Warrior wandering the field in search of survivors to take away as prisoners, captives and eventual slaves to the Empire. It was then that Eric had opened his eyes and saw a blurry vague vision of that Warrior kneeling over him. He had prayed even harder for death to come quickly. His Norse and Celtic Gods had not been listening at the time, or so he thought anyway… but perhaps some other God was. That Roman Warrior had been a man by the name of Artorius. Lucius Artorius Castus had been his name back then. He wore on his shield the emblem of a red dragon and he carried such a sword as Eric had never seen before. 

               In his delirium, Eric thought hopefully that the man meant to slay him right then and there. There was no such luck to be with him. The man had though, gently and carefully reached down to touch his face, then his neck and chest, to check for signs of any fading life. Eric had felt the man’s touch, just barely… but it brought to his foggy mind, the touch of his uncle and other Vampyres, who felt so much colder than humans at first touch. Eric had fought to open his eyes once more and look into the man’s eyes. He saw it there, the faintest glimmer of that other blood flowing through him. Eric then fought to leave his life as quickly as possible. He did not want this man claiming his life in any way. If he were going to die, it would be on his own terms, a warrior’s death. He silently battled within his mind to die as that warrior, and not owe his life to any other, especially on such terms as a Vampyre would demand. He knew enough of their ways that they would not touch or revive one already dead and he willed his heart to stop.

              The man sensed his inner battle, his fears and his silent pleadings for death. He had knelt closer and held a steady hand upon Eric’s chest while whispering to him in some voice that reached in to touch his mind. “Do not fear, my warrior. You shall have an honorable death, or not… that is not up to any of us. If your death comes here upon the field then I will give you honor in burial. You have fought with courage and if you should die now, you will go on to your peace and your joy as a warrior to that place you call Valhalla. If death does not take you, I shall determine to save you and give you honor in life.”

             The man, Artorius, had stayed there with him for some time, waited for his death to come. After a few hours, that death had not arrived and the agonies of continued life began to invade Eric’s mind and body. He shook with tremors of pain, and his faintest moans of a life leaving turned to screams of a live remaining. Artorius had leaned over him and shared his thoughts once more. “Enough, now… You have not won your battle with life and death as you desired. If I do not intervene now, you will most likely survive, but not in any manner of which would give you further peace or comfort. If I do not step in, you will surely lose a leg, and a part of your being which I do suspect you are even more fond of than the legs you walk on. You are seriously and greviuosly  injured in a most sensitive part… Our physicians could most likely put you back together, but you should not appreciate the results.” He did not wait for Eric’s answer of approval or agreement, but instead immediately took the necessary steps to turn Eric.

              Even with the turning of him, it still took many weeks for his body and his mind to come close to recovering from all of that which had taken place. He remembered little of it other than being carried back to one of the forts on Hadrian’s wall upon the back of the man’s enormous black war horse. He had been cared for by the man’s personal servants and physicians. Lingering for much of that time in a state of half sleep induced by many potions forced down him by those physicians , he had still wished for death to over take him. Artorius had visited often and calmy entered his troubled mind to still those thoughts. “It was not your destiny to die then, or now. You are a fine and honorable warrior and man. The Gods have some other destiny in store for you and you must accept it and go on with your life such as it is now.”

              Artorius had addressed his other thoughts as well. “You are not a slave, You will never be one to anyone, to the Roman Empire nor to me either. For one thing, you would be worthless any sort of slave…It would take more energy, effort and will power than I or anyone else for that matter has to make it worth while to even attempt such a feat! On a second note, I did not save your life for the reason of binding you to me or my kind.” He continued to delve into Eric’s most private thoughts. “I know that you are well familiar with the Vampyre blood and of their rules and traditions. I will settle some this fear for you now.”

              The man had left for a time and returned with a few others. They were dressed richly in Roman wear with fine robes trimmed in fur covering them. Two of them stepped forward, close to him and stood silent with their hands clasped together. They were older, a man and a woman, obviously of some very high status in Roman, or any other terms. They wered adorned with jeweled neckplates, arm bracelets and rings. They stood there regally and their bearing reminded Eric of his Mother when she took on her Queen stance. He also noticed dimly  that they were both of Vampyre blood.

              Artorius spoke softly to them, they nodded and motioned to a younger man, some sort of scribe, he must be… to step forward with them. He held a scroll and some sort of quill, and knelt to make himself comfortable as he prepared to write upon the scroll. Artorius returned his attentions to Eric and spoke in formal tone. “Eric of the Northland, I hereby to release you from any blood bound ties that may connect you now to my line. Your life and your blood are yours to do with on your own as you see fit in this the remainder of your now eternal life. You owe me nothing in return for the lifeblood I gave you, save respect and honor for that doing. I make it known to all that I gave you life in honor as I would have given you burial in honor. What I expect in return from you is only honor in all things you continue on with in your life. I will provide you with sustinance and guidance in this new life and expect nothing other than honor in return for that. You fought with honor and bravery in battle and met your demise with the same honor.” He went for some time longer outlining the details of his vow and his agreements for Eric’s future but Eric by then, lost some conciousness again and could not well follow the remainder of it. What he did realize was that this man was officially releasing him from any Vampyre blood ties along with any servitude ties to the Roman Empire.

              This man, Artorius was releasing him from any servitude to the Roman empire and giving him his freedom to return to his people and his home with one final condition, though. Should he caught in any future battle with the Romans, there was no gaurantee on what should happen to him. He would not receive help or assistance from Artorius and his Vampyre bloodline, where by if he had been bound to them by blood, they might have been able to make some sort of agreement. Should he return to his home and then decide to make some other choice, he was free to return to Artorius as a free man and pledge his alliances and alliegance to the man personally, if not the entire Roman Empire. He thought this rather odd that the man should make this offer to him but in his weakened state, he had not dwelled on it.

              His weeks of recovery had turned to some long months of training and guidance from Artorius, who took his vows quite seriously. He had vowed to train Eric in the Vampyre ways in order for him to survive on his own if that would be the need or the choice in his future. The training was long, involved and ensured that he would be a honorable warrior not just as in the human sense, but in the Vampyre way as well. During this time, Artorius had sent out his scouts into those highlands and outer isles in search of Eric’s family and clan, or what ever was left of them. The news was grim. Few of his clan remained, save Svein and a few others. Svein and a few of the other Vampyre bloods had most likely survived due to their Vampyre blood, but even that had not been a certainty. There were plagues that affected even the Vampyres and the Fairies.

              On one evening after the return of his scouts, Artorius felt compelled to sit down with Eric and share the gruesome details with him. There was nothing much to return there for it seemed but he was quite sure that the young man would feel honor bound to return to what ever was left up there. He needed to know ahead of time what he would face upon that return.

              Eric’s Father and brothers had died in the battle, he was well aware of that much. What he did not know of was what Svein had found on his return to their home in the north, nor of course, the current condition that Svein was in up there. Svein had lead the few survivors of the battle who managed to escape back to their home. He had found it ravaged and burnt to the ground with everything in a near vicinity to it destroyed and turned to a wasteland… They had lived near the sea on a well placed, or so they thought, piece of land that gave them easy access to that sea. The Roman legions that swept over those seas surrounding the northern places had come down so far as their safe place and decimated everything within their reach. There had been few left in that place they assumed safe do any real battle with the Romans. The ones who attempted it were quickly taken down. Others, such as young children and women had been taken as captives bound for a life of Roman slavery or death. Yet others, who they deemed unfit for servitude were not killed outright, they were simply left to die there on their own, or live as testimony to what the Romans were capable of. Eric held his head in his hand so as not to show such grief and tears in front of Artorius.

              Svein was there now, and had been so consumed by his rage and grief that he seemed to live in some violent world of his own creation. His beloved wife, Gisella had not followed them into battle because at the time she was great with child. Eric’s Mother, Asdis and a few other women had remained behind with her to assist her, along with the younger children, and some of the elders too weak for battle. The sickness had come to them and taken many, among them his Mother, who had been caring for those who were ill. Gisella had taken ill as well, but with her Vampyre blood, she had survived longer. In the end, she most likely wished that she had died earlier with others. As the Romans arrived, she was close to her time and could do little to defend others or herself. She was gravely ill as well as being so near to delivering her child and she was one whom the Romans had determined was little use to them, other than as a form depraved entertainment to some of the warriors. Uncaring of her illness, her advanced state of pregnancy, or for that matter her more sensitive to daylight Vampyre blood, they had used her viciously, repeatedly, and laughed at her dying screams in the brightest of daylight. The last man to use her dropped her casually in the dirt when the life finally left her body, and that of the unborn son within her.

              On returning to the wreckage of their home, Svein had found her skin burnt body, with what was left of her features still seeming to be wracked in some stone like eternal cry of such pain that it could still be felt by any who might come near. His ears were filled with those screams, along with the echoes and traces of so many others. The few others who survived had only managed to do so by fleeing to the wilds of the forested areas and they were too frightened to return to the place they had once called home. Svein had held on to his sanity long enough to bury his wife’s body and those of others who had been slain. He had carried on long enough to put the place to some sort of livable rights for a time and search for the remaining survivors in order to determine what had happened. He could not convince any of them to remain there, he did not expect them to… but he remained, refused to leave the place and then went much mad with his grief and his rage at all Romans.

              Eric’s younger sisters and some of his female cousins had been taken away with the Romans to parts unknown. The only thing that held Svein in any sane mind at times was the thought of his own daughter and his nieces out there somewhere in the hands of the Romans. On hearing of his sisters’ plight, Eric’s grief too, turned to rage and to a determination to find them all, to bring them home.

 

From the Creator: Ancient history connects the Norse with Romans and King Arthur!

If you are following… or attempting to follow the story, with all of it’s branches, twists and turns, you already realize that there is a great deal of research that goes into all of it! Before I ever add to it, I try to research my history and ensure that my paths are at least somewhat plausible!  Sometimes it’s easier than others. And, sometimes, I get the occasional gift from above in finding those links where I need them to be?  Such is the case with Eric’s long history- aside from the Vampyre turn anyway! That turn will be dealt with in upcoming episodes, along with the rest of his varied past!

 

We have already learned of his early voyage across the sea with his family, but it was a rather vague memory with few details other than the difficult crossing for him as a young boy. Right now, I am doing some additional research into the Norse migrations to portions of the Scottish Isles. When we think of those migrations, we of course think only of the Viking travels and conquests. In reality, there were Norse settlements in the upper Isles long before those Viking raids. Some of the outer isles, such as the Shetland Islands were inhabited by Norse/Scandinavian peoples as far back as 43AD when the Romans mentioned them.

In AD 43 and 77 the Roman authors Pomponius Mela and Pliny the Elder referred to the seven islands they call Haemodae and Acmodae respectively, both of which are assumed to be Shetland. Another possible early written reference to the islands is Tacitus‘ report in AD 98, after describing the discovery and conquest of Orkney, that the Roman fleet had seen “Thule, too”. In early Irish literature, Shetland is referred to as Inse Catt—”the Isles of Cats”, which may have been the pre-Norse inhabitants’ name for the islands. The Cat tribe also occupied parts of the northern Scottish mainland and their name can be found in Caithness, and in the Gaelic name for Sutherland (Cataibh, meaning “among the Cats”).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shetland

 

There is an interesting video of pre-historical buildings on the island, which you can view here:

 

These two maps of the Shetland Islands and Isle of Skye show that it would have been a probable or plausible migration in those earliest ancient times from the Shetlands down to the Isle of Skye where Eric and his family settled.

1000miles shetland islands map of Scotland with Shetland islands and Isle of Skye

 

During those very early years, the Romans were in control of much of the lower areas of Britain and the lowlands of Scotland. Some of their ancient documents mention the tribes of the highlands and outer isles and there is documentation and evidence that they were in familiar with inhabitants of some of those outer isles, such as Orkney. One document mentioned that the King of Orcus/most likely Orkney was among a group of 11 that were involved in peace treaties with the Romans.

 

The following maps are of the areas in Roman times. The Romans initially built the Antonine wall, but later gave up on that border and focused their defenses more on the borders of Hadrian’s wall. They were unable to successfully maintain control of the Northern reaches including the highland areas and eventually gave up trying!

Roman era map of Britain

16_distance_slab

Roman Distance marker stone from along Antonine’s wall.

Probable Roman defense Old Celtic tribes of southern scotland and north east England Antonine_wall_map

 

 

The reason that the Roman control of the area is important for our story purposes is due to some of the historical theories on the legend of King Arthur.  In our story, During Eric’s earlier years he and  Adrian DeWare were knights/ warriors in the service of Arthur. There has been a massive amount of research on the origins of the legend of Arthur from a real historical stand point.  Depending on which theories you choose to go by, Arthur was a conglomeration of more than one real warrior or ruler in those early Roman times.

I recently watched an interesting documentary on one of those theories. It was a short summary of the theory and the history and if nothing else gives one a basic starting point for further research! I found it on Netflix.

Mystery Files: King Arthur

http://www.netflix.com/WiMovie/70299221?trkid=439131

 

You can also find more information on one of the possible pre-cursors to Arthur here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riothamus

 

An alternative candidate for Arthur is described as follows:

Alternative candidates for the historical King Arthur[edit]

Some theories suggest that “Arthur” was a byname of attested historical individuals.

Lucius Artorius Castus

In 1924 Kemp Malone suggested that the character of King Arthur was ultimately based on one Lucius Artorius Castus, a career Roman soldier of the late 2nd century or early 3rd century. This suggestion was revived in 1994 by C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor and linked to a hypothesis (below) that the Arthurian legends were influenced by the nomadic Alans and Sarmatians settled in Western Europe in Late Antiquity.   Littleton had earlier written about this hypothesis in 1978 together with Ann C. Thomas.

All that is known about Artorius’ life comes from two Latin inscriptions discovered in the 19th century in Podstrana on the Dalmatian coast. After a long, distinguished career as a centurion and then primus pilus in the Roman army Artorius was promoted to praefectus legionis of the VI Victrix, a unit that had been headquartered at Eboracum (York) since c. 122 AD. The praefectus legionis (or praefectus castrorum) served as third-in-command of the legion and was responsible for the general upkeep of the legionary headquarters, a position normally held by older career soldiers who did not command soldiers in battle.

When Artorius’s term as praefectus legionis ended he was assigned the temporary title of dux legionum and was put in charge of transferring some units of unknown size with British associations to the Continent for an expedition against either the Armorici or the Armenians.  Later he became civilian governor (procurator centenarius)of the province of Liburnia, where he seems to have ended his days.

Malcor, in a hypothetical reconstruction of Artorius’ life based in part on Malone and Helmut Nickel,proposes that he fought against Sarmatians in eastern Europe early in his military career and this led in 181 AD to his being assigned in the command of a numerus of Sarmatians based at Ribchester (Bremetennacum) that campaigned around Hadrian’s Wall. 5,500 Sarmatians had been sent to Britain by the emperor Marcus Aurelius in 175 AD. Artorius led these Sarmatians against invading Caledonians, who overran Hadrian’s Wall during the period 183–185. Then, after the collapse of his legion, he returns to Eboracum, then is sent by the governor of Britannia to lead cavalry cohorts against an uprising in Armorica. Medieval sources often place Arthur’s headquarters in Wales at Caerleon upon Usk, the “Fortress of Legions” (borrowed from Latin Castra Legionum). Eboracum, in the Vale of York, was sometimes referred to as Urbe Legionum or the “City of the Legion”, and was the headquarters of the legio VI Victrix.

Malcor also suggests that Artorius’ standard was a large red dragon pennant (auxiliary forces did not use eagle standards), which is proposed as the origin of the Welsh epithet Pendragon “Dragon Chief/Head” (alternately, “Leader of Warriors”) in Arthurian literature. According to both Malone and Littleton/Malcor,Artorius’ alleged military exploits in Britain and Armorica could have been remembered for centuries afterward, thus generating the figure of Arthur among the Welsh, Cornish and Bretons. This is linked to the original theory of Littleton, Thomas and Malcor which suggests that folk narratives of the Alano-Sarmatians settled in Western Europe formed the core of the Arthurian tradition.

The Sarmatians had a near-religious fondness for their swords: tribal worship was directed at a sword sticking up from the ground, similar to the sword in the stone. They carried standards in the form of dragons. Ossetian Nart sagas contain a number of interesting parallels to the Arthurian legends. First, the life of the Nart warrior (batraz) is tied to his sword, which must be thrown into the sea at his death. When one wounded Batraz asks his last surviving comrade to do the task for him, his companion tries to fool him twice before finally hurling the weapon into the sea; rather like Arthur’s wondrous sword Excalibur which had to be returned to the Lady of the Lake at his death by his last surviving knight, Bedivere. The Nart heroes Soslan and Sosryko, collect the beards of vanquished enemies to trim their cloaks like Arthur’s enemy Rience: both have one last beard to obtain before the cloak is complete. Two other similar motifs are the Cup of the Narts (“Nartyamonga”), which appeared at feasts, delivered to each person what he liked best to eat, and which was kept by the bravest of the Narts (“Knights”) – somewhat similar to the Grail – and the magical woman, dressed in white, associated with water, who helps the hero acquire his sword, similar to the Arthurian Lady of the Lake.

There seems to be little reason for Artorius to have become a major legendary figure: no Roman historical source mentions him or his alleged exploits in Britain, nor is there any clear evidence that he ever commanded Sarmatians. Neither of Artorius’ inscriptions from Podstrana mention command of any full legions (as proposed by Malcor, et al.), or establish his command of the VI Victrix (nor any numeri), nor do the inscriptions provide any evidence of command of, or association with, Sarmatians, or indicate anything about his standard.

Unlike dux legionum, dux bellorum or dux belli were not titles or ranks in the Roman Army but generic Latin phrases. Joshua was called dux belli of the Israelites in the Latin Vulgate Bible, Hanno the Great was dux belli of Carthage in Justin’s Historiarum Philippicarum. Closer to the time and place, Saint Germanus of Auxerre was twice styled dux belli by Bede). Artorius is not recorded as having fought in any known battles to match against those in the Historia Brittonum. However Geoffrey adds that Arthur twice took troops across the sea to Armorica, once to support the Roman emperor and once to deal with his own rebels.

The theory of a connection between the Alan and Sarmatian peoples and the legend of King Arthur depends upon the fact that the Alano-Sarmatians were steppe nomads known in the 2nd century for their skill as heavy cavalry. In 175, Marcus Aurelius, after defeating the Sarmatian Iazyges tribe during the Marcomannic Wars, took 8,000 Sarmatians into Roman service, of whom 5,500 were sent to the northern borders of Britain. The 5th century Notitia Dignitatum mentions a “Formation of Sarmatians” (Cuneus Sarmatarum; cunei were small auxiliary units in the late Empire) being present at Bremetennacum (Ribchester), where we find inscriptions dating to the 3rd century AD of a “Wing of Sarmatians” (ala Sarmatarum) and a “Company of Sarmatian Horsemen” (numeri equitum Sarmatarum).

Many of the parallels or similarities between Arthurian and Sarmatian tales only occur in writings dating from and after Geoffrey of Monmouth and do not affect the core issue of historicity. Some of the strongest similarities of Arthurian and Sarmatian tales occur in Thomas Malory‘s Le Morte D’Arthur, when Arthur and his warriors had already evolved into “knights in shining armor”. Critics conclude that Sarmatian influence was limited to the post-Galfridian development of the tales instead of historical basis, if at all.

 

What all of these interesting ideas and theories do for us is give us a plausible link and connection to how Eric came to be in Scotland in the first place, how he might have traveled throughout the area in those earliest years and how he might have come into contact with others such as Romans during that time. It lays a groundwork and foundation that I was searching for with  Adrian DeWare in being far more ancient even than Eric and having come from some other distant place originally!  In the future we will see how they met and learn a little more of Adrian’s more ancient past!