Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

10/11/2004

The Norse

The last great waves of European migrations began in the eighth century and picked up dramatically in the ninth and tenth centuries. This time it was a group of relatively sedentary Germanic tribes in the northernmost reaches of Europe, the Norsemen. These were really not one ethnic group, but an entire spectrum of peoples speaking many different languages. For all that, the principal Norsemen that raided and emigrated out of Northern Europe were Norwegians and Danish. Again, however, these are not single ethnic groups—the Danes, for instance, were an entire set of different peoples.

While the Norse themselves were a fairly diverse set of tribes and clans speaking a variety of languages, they nevertheless had much in common. The languages they spoke were all of the same family of languages. Their social, tribal, and political structures were more or less similar and they shared common religious beliefs.

It is a mistake, however, to consider the Norse as a single ethnic group or a single people. As with all tribal peoples, ethnicity was fairly fluid and existed on several levels. Ethnic identity was largely derived from individual clans, but a larger ethnic identity was also layered on top of this clan identity. This larger ethnic identity was both political and linguistic and the Norse Germanic tribes would distinguish themselves from each other sometimes based on larger political organziations and sometimes based on the language they spoke.

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