The Frankish chroniclers called the Vikings that attacked Nantes in 843 Vikverjar (probably, travelers by sea), or Westfaldingi ‘Norwegians from Westfold’. Westfaldingi is a name traditionally connected with people who came from the Britannic Sea, or, more accurately, from Ireland.

In modern parlance, the word Viking inspires apprehension, and brings to mind thoughts of bloodshed, looting and pillaging. Somewhere in time the broader meanings of the term Viking have become clouded by history and the myths surrounding it.

The disparity between the sense of the word Viking as it was used in the sagas and as it is used by historians leaves the reader feeling as though something important is being missed.

Exploration of the etymology of Viking reveals another, related word, Varangian.

Linguist Fritz Askeberg states that “the masculine noun Vikingr was used only in Denmark and the West Norse area (in eastern Scandinavia the word was væringi.)”.

Væringi bears a resemblance to Varangian, which will be discussed later in this section.

In discussing the term “Viking” and its meaning, further evidence of the “Viking” as a merchant and a warrior come to light. “Viking” has come to connote only barbaric activities and piracy. However, if a look is taken at other terms used by the peoples surrounding them at that time, we can clearly grasp a view of the “Vikings” as wanderers and travelers; very close to their own term, “to go Viking.”

These terms: Varangian, barbarian, faren, wiccan, and Wales are also integral to understanding the medieval world’s views of the “Viking”.

“Viking” is not the only term by which the authors of the medieval period used to describe their aggressors, but it can be a term utilized to describe a way of life that does not just fit the “Viking”, but anyone/group who traveled.

Laxdæla Saga uses the term “Viking” to describe groups of non named marauders described as “Vikings”, who are being pursued and eliminated by what modern historians call “Vikings”.

However the pursuers are in fact the saviors in this case, and not “Vikings” as tradition suggests.

The king [Irish king Myrkjartan], was seldom at peace, for at that time there was constant warfare in the British Isles, and throughout the winter he repelled attacks by vikings and raiders.

Olaf and his men were on the king’s ship, and whoever came up against them found them rather a formidable company to deal with.

This is Olaf Hoskuldsson, grandson of King Myrkjatan, who worked conjointly to help his grandfather stave off attacks of pirates.

What is interesting about this story in particular, is that it shows that there was mixing of nobility, in some cases by force, but in others, dynastically.

This also construes a certain amount of political, and through that mercantile cooperation.

The names used to describe the “Vikings” do not mean “blood thirsty” or “savage”; they are merely descriptions that may include geographical identity.

There are several names given by contemporary text writers that describe the Scandinavians in geographic or descriptive manner. For the Franks it was Normanni. The Anglo-Saxons had two terms, Dani and Wiccan or ‘the camp folk’. The Germans used the term Ascomanni or ‘ashmen’ after the type of wood that was used to build a ship. The Irish used the term Gall ‘stranger’ or Lochlannach, or ‘men of the lochs’, referring to the Norwegian fjords. Sometimes added to the word Lochlannach was the term Dubh ‘black’ for Danes or Finn ‘white’ for Norwegians. According to Brøndsted and Allen, this may have had to do with the color of the shields that each group favored.

Essentially the records are telling the reader that the author knew who these people were or had prior experiences with similar people implying a type of intimacy to the Viking’s as people. These descriptions are often looked at, but not scrutinized in favor of the more well known term: Viking.

Before detailed discussion of the etymological aspects of the term Viking takes place, it will be necessary to limit the conversation.

There is a danger in defining too many terms too closely, as at a certain point, the conversation may become meaningless. “...such a practice would require a rather restricted definition of the term ‘language.’ It would neglect those aspects that are not purely linguistic, but are social and political.”

Etymologists and historians have considered the term Viking to be related to the Anglo-Saxon term wic or vicus meaning ‘to camp’.

Taking this connection further, there are a number of words that begin with the letters wi, wa, vi, va, ba, be, fa, and fe, which close the gap between Varangian and Viking, demonstrating a clear connection.

Thus both are general terms used to define people who are going from one place to another.

The Annals of Ulster for 820 divulge a concept that there is a differentiation between Viking and pirate, suggesting that Viking is someone who is traveling.

The sea spewed forth floods of foreigners over Erin, so that no haven, no landing-place, no stronghold, no fort, no castle might be found, but it was submerged by waves of vikings and pirates.

From this text it is not made overtly obvious that viking is equal to pirate. It could be a term for foreignor, as the Scandinavians were to be found involved in politics as well as economics.

There exists a parent language word whose prefix, Vi, which includes Vic, means ‘to move’, ‘to go’, ‘to exchange’ and thus, ‘to travel’. It can certainly be seen in Latin Via: pervious: allowing a passage or a way through, as well as vicissitude: ‘change’, ‘turn’ and vicar: ‘a deputy who takes his turn at the duties of the office’.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word Viking means ‘one who came out from or frequented inlets to the sea’.

Vic in Old Norse means fjord, creek or bay. Its literal translation means ‘a place where the land meets the water’.

Wic in Old English, and Wick in Old Frisian, mean ‘camp’ or ‘a temporary living space’, or ‘a living space that is temporarily replacing some form of long term living quarters’.

The two forms of this word vic and wic both connote some kind of exchange or change, or rather, some form of travel.

This can also be seen in Latinate words: for instance, Vicar translates to ‘one who is in place of a rector’, a victor is ‘one who has replaced someone else’.

This ties in neatly with vic which can also be translated as, ‘where the land is replaced by the sea’. Since vi and wi connote exchange and travel, it is possible to take this a step further by stating that Viking means ‘some one who is a traveler’.

This idea will carry over into several Scandinavian languages. In Icelandic Vikingr - Vikinger is linked to Anglo-Saxon wiking and Anglo-Frisian Wicking, Witsing, or Wising.

These then are also related to the Old Norse terms Valskr, Valr and the term in Indo-Arian *Walxaz meaning ‘foreign’, or *faram as ‘to go on a journey’.

Stemming from the Indo-Arian *Walxaz is the Anglo Saxon term wealh meaning ‘foreign’ hence Wales meaning ‘the land of the foreigners’, a term which the Anglo Saxons used for the Celts who lived in the area.

Using the Indo-Arian stem *þer ‘to go’ which can be seen in the Latin word peregrinus meaning ‘wanderer’ or ‘stranger’ and the Old Norse word for ferry; Ferju. Ferju, translated literally, means to ‘go across water’, and is integral in connecting Varangian and Viking.

The Indo-Arian root *þer ‘to go’, is also the root for the Old English Faran, Old Frisian and Old Norse Fara, Old High German Faran, Dutch Varen, German Fahren, Turkish varmak or barmak (the participial form of varan) ‘to walk or travel’.

Viking and Varangian are clearly tied together.

It seems to be true that as the Russian scholar J. D. Bruckus theorized, Varangian means ‘one who walks’, or from this author’s perspective, ‘one who travels’. Less likely however, is his assumption that it comes directly from the Turkish term varmak or barmak but it undoubtedly comes from some related language form.

It is more likely that the Russian term for Varangian (B`p_c) is more closely related to the Greek Baraggoi (plural) (Baraggoi) or Baraggos (Baraggos) (singular) and that the Greek term itself comes from the Ancient Greek Barbaroi (Barbaroi) meaning literally, ‘some one who does not speak Greek’, which, in turn, came to mean Barbarikos (Barbarikoj) ‘one who is foreign’ or ‘a foreigner’, hence ‘a traveler’ or ‘some one who travels’. Whence the Old Russian version, Variagi, (B`ps`cs) came into use, and is still seen in Russian as baryg (B`psc) meaning ‘itinerant peddler.’

In Byzantium, the term Varangian did not only apply to Scandinavians, but anyone of nationality other than ‘Greek’. Thus there were Scythians, and Boyars, and undoubtedly many other nationalities who served in the Varangian guard.

The Byzantine texts talk about the Varangian guard in terms of distinctive nationalities. There is reason to believe then, that Varangian was a term used for a foreigner in the service of the Byzantine Government. This name would have traveled back with traders and other Scandinavian’s who had finished their service, and were returning to their home land.

This concept is substantiated by the Russian form of barbarian barbar (B`pb`p) which is very similar to the Greek form of barbarian (barbarion).

Thus Viking and Varangian are essentially the same term, meaning ‘someone who travels or is passing through,’ a term which may be applied to anyone who passed through, whether merchant, mercenary, or marauder.

In Snorri Sturlason’s History of Hakon the Good he describes a Viking chieftain as “the far-faring chieftain,” perhaps the best hybrid definition of the two words.



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