April 15, 2001
6:24 AM   Subscribe

IF THE VIKINGS HAD FOUNDED New York (and they damn well nearly did), they probably would have called it New Jorvik after their own city of Jorvik (now called York) on the coast of Britain. Despite their reputation as marauders, Viking York was a densely populated and bustling port city which boasted a skyline of high rise buildings. It was the New York of it's day and here's a sense of what it was like.
posted by lagado (12 comments total)
I hate to nit nit nit pick, but actually, York isn't so coastal, if you look at it on a map, it's actually pretty landlocked.

The Jorvick Viking Centre is I suppose, like the Grand Canyon or Niagra Falls - every kid has a memory of going with their Mum and Dad. Good to see it's doing so well.
posted by feelinglistless at 6:52 AM on April 15, 2001

I can't believe the smallish town in which I live is now part of a thread on MeFi. I actually live here in York, and we're 40-50 miles or so from the coast.
The Jorvik heritage centre has just been re-opened, and relaunched with new exhibits, and that would explain this new round of media attention on our City.
( check out our Minster too! )
posted by williamtry at 7:01 AM on April 15, 2001

The "port city" line has already been given a good shoeing, so I might as well just add that York particularly deserves to be celebrated on this day, as it remains (whatever Cadbury and Mars might say) the centre of the UK's chocolate industry. But that was the Quakers, not the Vikings.
posted by holgate at 8:40 AM on April 15, 2001

From what I can recall the Vikings got a bum rap when referred to by later peoples as uncivilized brutes etc. Much the same can be said about the barbarian Goths who bullied the Romans.
Old story (see too native Am,ericans): those who write the books and have won decide who is good and who is not. ps: would you want your sister to marry a Viking?
posted by Postroad at 9:04 AM on April 15, 2001

I would. But I'm half Swedish.

In Guns Germs and Steel it's speculated that the Viking expansion was stopped cold in its tracks by the Little Ice Age, which brought about sufficient climate change that the Viking civilization could not adapt quickly enough. They stopped going to Greeland, and that colony disappeared in what must have been an excruciatingly lonely death. But this indicates even further that they had advanced rapid civilization/colony building techniques. The Danegeld may be remembered with a hint of resentment, but at the time, they were bringing trade and technology to Britain.
posted by dhartung at 10:52 AM on April 15, 2001

would you want your sister to marry a Viking?

Would I get to borrow one of their boats?
posted by aaron at 12:38 PM on April 15, 2001

The Danegeld may be remembered with a hint of resentment, but at the time, they were bringing trade and technology to Britain.

And ethnic diversity.

It's always amusing to point out the oxymoron when some Tufton Bufton Tory comes up with an idiotic comment on preserving England's "native Anglo-Saxon" heritage from immigrants. Quite.

(One of the great things about being home in the North-east of England again is the sense of that contact across the North Sea: a different kind of Europhilia. Middlesbrough has a Swedish consulate and church; ferries run from Newcastle and Hull to the Scandinavian peninsula.)
posted by holgate at 1:28 PM on April 15, 2001

They stopped going to Greenland, and that colony disappeared in what must have been an excruciatingly lonely death.

This chapter in the history of European colonization is discussed in a section of poet and novelist Evan S. Connell's first book of essays on history, The White Lantern (which is one of my favorite books; the eponymous essay, on Shackleton, is particularly good). He writes:
About fifty years later [that is, around 1540] a German merchant ship was blown by strong winds into a Greenland fjord. Buildings were visible, so the crew went ashore. They saw a dead European lying on the frozen ground. He was dressed in sealskin and frieze -- which is a coase woolen cloth with a shaggy nap. Beside his body lay a dagger, very thin from constant whetting. Evidently this was the corpse of the last Viking in the New World. There being no one left alive to bury him, he lay on the earth rather than in it.
I find the last two sentences so utterly bleak...
posted by snarkout at 1:52 PM on April 15, 2001

As a Norwegian, I have to ask that you never discuss Viking history in front of people like these. I don't want to have a reparations suit slapped in my face, after all, and you probably know why.

PS: For more on the Vikings, go here.
posted by frednorman at 1:59 PM on April 15, 2001

Excuse my ignorance regarding York's 'coast' or rather total lack of it...doh!

Was I wrong in describing York as a busy port in the Viking world? I'm assuming that a port can be based on having decent river access to the sea.
posted by lagado at 12:58 AM on April 16, 2001

lagado: I just think that calling York a "port" sounds a bit silly to natives of the region (like me), in the context of modern ports on the Tees and Humber estuaries. York/Jorvik was an important settlement because it's at the confluence of two rivers: a crossroads, or a "port-of-call", if you like.

Anyway, here's a good map of Britain's inland waterways. And there's an even better map of the Scandinavian settlements in the area.
posted by holgate at 9:42 AM on April 16, 2001

Thanks, for that, holgate. Much appreciated.

I guess that the main point (for thick people like me) was that the Vikings weren't just seafarers and they settled large populations in the area.

I find it interesting from an ideological perspective that the Norse don't get more credit in the makeup of the population of so-called Anglo-Saxon (and in passing Celtic) Britain. They are still viewed chiefly as invaders (as if their cousins the Saxons and Angels weren't).
posted by lagado at 5:05 PM on April 16, 2001

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