Slike strani
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER X.

Narrative to the End of Macbeth's Reign. .

THE NORTHERN SEA-ROVERS OR VIKINGS-THEIR MIGRATIONS DAT

ING FAR BACK-THE CAUSE OF THEIR BEING DRIVEN TO WANDER

-FLED BEFORE ALL DESPOTIC INFLUENCES—THE ROMANSCHARLEMAGNE-HAROLD HARFAGER CHARACTER AND INFLUENCE OF THE VIKINGS-ACHIEVEMENTS IN NAVIGATION-REGNAR LODBROC - ESTABLISH THEMSELVES IN NORTH ENGLAND, THE SCOTTISH ISLES, AND SCOTLAND BEYOND THE MORAY FIRTH - THE NATURE OF THEIR MARINE EMPIRE—THE MAARMORS AND OTHER SUBSIDIARY RULERS--RELATIONS OF THE SCOTS AND SAXON KINGS--INCIDENTS BROUGHT UP IN THE QUESTION OF HOMAGE--LEGENDS OF THE EARLY KINGS—MALCOLM, DUNCAN, AND MACBEDA-POETIC AND REAL HISTORY OF MACBEDA OR MACBETH-INFLUENCE OF HIS REIGN.

ABOUT this time a movement affecting all Europe had reached the climax of its influence on Scotland. This was the migration of the northern searovers who so tormented the coast population of England, Scotland, and Ireland. They might have been mentioned even earlier in chronological order, but it was about the time of the union of the Picts and the Scots that their influence became large and effective. They have been assailed by many names, somewhat of the vituperative order—as northern pirates, sea-robbers, and the like. To such terms there would be no objection, but for the element of confusion with the fashions and speech of modern times which is apt to attend them. A Norse rover, and a pirate of last century hung in chains at Rotherhithe, are as different beings as an Oriental monarch who levies contributions on all strangers coming within his power is different from a London footpad. The one is acting up to the principle of the government of his state-not a good principle, it

may be—and takes his place as a statesman with a policy; the other is at variance with the institutions of the state, and amenable to its vengeance. And though it might be dangerous to admit that there can be political conditions which justify a people in recourse to depredation, those of the nations north of the Elbe certainly had as good a claim as any other that can be set up, on such a justification. Another name by which they are known—the Vikings—is supposed to endow them with royal honours. It is a descriptive title, however, of far humbler origin, intended to design them as frequenters of Vics or narrow inlets of the sea, such as the lochs of Argyleshire or the Southampton Water. They had, besides, common national names. The earlier swarms

were called Saxons, the latter Danes, although they came from

1 Mr Robertson, in his Scotland under her Early Kings, i. 22, explains this very clearly—“ The name has no connection with king, being derived from vic, a bay—vicing, baysman. By northern law every freeman was bound to be enrolled in a hafn, and to contribute towards building and manning a ship for the royal service, the office of styresman being always hereditary in the family of an Odal bonder. Thus the royal ship, authorised to kill, burn, and destroy in lawful warfare, sailed from the hafn, while the rover on his own account, stigmatised in 'degenerate days' as a pirate, put off from the vic or open bay. He was as little likely to sail from a royal hafn as a Highland chieftan bent upon a creagh to issue from the royal castle of Inverness—hence perhaps the name."

Y

VOL. I.

countries far beyond Jutland and the Cimbric Chersonese-indeed, from all the seaboard north of the Elbe. “The Danes” is the name by which they have left their broadest mark both in history and tradition, and is thus sometimes the most convenient for general use.

Their movements were swayed by those of the great Roman empire, first in its expansion and afterwards in its collapse.

It is very difficult at this day to realise the iron exactness with which the Roman government enforced conformity with all imperial customs, and the remorseless completeness with which it crushed and extinguished every relic of nationality. This tutelage suited some races, for they were taken care of, and had the privileges of the great Roman people; but such rule drove frantic those who had in them the self-willed spirit of independence, and they moved off before the advancing frontier to any region, however inhospitable, where they might have their own way.

When the conquest of Cæsar brought the empire which he founded fairly across the Rhine, the free Germans had to move northward, with the unpleasant feeling that the conquering Empire was in the fair way of expanding to the Elbe--indeed, of reigning everywhere, without a spot being left for freedom. They saw the greater part of Britain annexed and Romanised, and the legions were pushing through the countries of central Germany, represented by Westphalia at the eastern and Bavaria at the western end. The subtle tyrants were employing the courage and strength of the Germans themselves for the destruction of their fellowcountrymen in those well-drilled bands of allies incorporated into the Roman armies. Here, as, to be sure, in all the elements of the Roman apparatus for conquest and dominion, there were sources of danger and reaction, for they were training men who, if they failed to become affectionate citizens, might be the more formidable as enemies; and we have seen already how the organisation of the Roman camp had to be altered on account of the risk of disaffection among the allies.?

Whether from such teaching, or from other sources, the northern nations were acquiring the capacity of disciplining armies, and also that of politically combining for an organised defence of the common cause. In the time of Germanicus—a generation before that of Agricola—we get an interesting glimpse of the German nations, threatened both with the military power of the Empire and its seductive influence. Among those who afterwards fought most bitterly for northern independence were some who had been enjoying Roman honours and official emoluments, and who, of course, were charged with treachery and ingratitude. The great Arminius himself was a Roman knight, and seems to have been received as a man of position and fashion by the fastidious society of the city itself. In fact, throughout Germany northward to the Elbe, the local

1 See p. 79. Tacitus tells a characteristic story, spoken to also by Dio, how, while Agricola's army was in Scotland, a cohort of Usipians, inhabitants of the right bank of the lower Rhine, killed their centurion and the Roman soldiers mixed with them to help in bringing them into, and keeping them in, discipline ; and how they next seized three of the Roman transport-galleys and put to sea. They encountered terrible hardships —those who survived having lived on their comrades selected by lot to be eaten. After being long tossed about, they were driven ashore somewhere in Frisia. They were taken as slaves, and, passing on by the course of trade-mutatione ementium, as Tacitus says--found their way into the more civilised regions near the Rhine, where their adventures made a great sensation.

But as

magnates were, one after the other, endowed with some Roman title or other compliment. This policy seems only to have deepened the suspicion of the people. At length there came a decisive battle, in which the Germans gave the Romans a signal defeat somewhere on the slopes of the range of hills which form the Thuringian and Harz forests. The German leader, Arminius, has been identified by the Germans with their traditional Herman, and deified as the great national liberator—the hero who not only stopped the progress of imperial despotism, but saved the old German language from adulteration with the Latin.

The preservation of the pure Teutonic tongue is a very distinct and remarkable phenomenon. for the liberties, they were best kept for those who fled from Germany, and have, indeed, their fullest development among ourselves, who have not scorned to employ the Latin to help our language for purposes both of use and ornament. Internal tyrannies, in fact, arose from time to time; and as each was felt in its turn, the less easily disciplined of the people sought homes beyond the influence of the new power. This process of redistribution among populations got a strong impulse when the Empire re-arose within Germany itself through the career of Charlemagne. His bitter and bloody wars with “the Saxons," as they were called, drove them northward in crowds. The result was among the most distinct of all historical phenomena. Fugitives among barren rocks and swamps, the sea was yet before them, if they had enterprise and hardihood enough to seek a living there. These qualities they possessed in eminent degree. To the sea, then, they took, and with such effect as to let all the world hear of them. There

« PrejšnjaNaprej »