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Beginnings of the Viking peoples: The Scandinavian peoples and tribes from the Vendel Period to the Viking Age

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By Periklis Deligiannis

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Dragonhead on the prow of a Viking longship.

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The historical districts of Scandinavia. The following probable tribal districts are noted among others:  Uppland (political center of the Svears) including Vendel site, Ostergotland, Vastergotland, Smaland (small territories of other Gott/Gotar tribes), Gotland Isle (land of the Vagoth or Gutar), Oland isle (land of the Vagoth?), Hordaland (land of the Aerothi?), Ringerike (land of the Ragnaricii), Rogaland (land of the Rugii), Vestfold and Viken (main lands of the Raumarike/Raumaricii), Bohuslan (land of the Wulfings?), Halland (land of the Hallin), Blekinge (land of the Bergio?), Skane and Sjaelland (core territories of the Danes), Angel (cradle of the Angles), Jylland (land of the Jutes), Rugen island (probably colonised by the Rugii),  Nordfrisien (North Frisia).

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The Vendel Culture period of the history of eastern and southern Scandinavia (including Jutland and the Danish isles) is the era before the classic Viking Age. The Viking Age lasted from AD 793 to the early 11th century, while the Vendel Era lasted from the mid-6th century AD to the end of the 8th century and is characterized by princely burials of warlords and warriors with impressive weapons. The later historical period and the homonym cultural conglomerate (Vendel Culture) took their name from the site Vendel at the historical district Uppland in eastern Sweden, north of Old Uppsala, the ancient centre of the Svear kings. The most characteristic cemeteries were found there. It seems that Uppland – where later the important cities of the Viking age Uppsala and Sigtuna were developed – was very important politically during the Vendel period. The area was rather the political center of the tribe of the Svears (Latin: Suiri and Suirones and according to Jordanes: Suehans, Nordic: Svear, Anglo-Saxon: Sweonas, modern Swedes) who expanded to it earlier coming from Svealand, their core territory in the south. Uppland means the upper land, the land in the north.

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Two significant representations of ancient Greek vase-paintings and frescoes on military topics

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The sea-battle scene from the Aristonothos Vase on the left (of the reader) and on the right the “Battle in the River” fresco, along with the modern representations by Angel G. Pinto (image credit: Angel G. Pinto)

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By Periklis Deligiannis

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In this article, I would like to note two significant representations of ancient Greek paintings by one of my favourite artists on military topics, namely Angel G. Pinto. The image of the two representations came from his website (angelgpinto.blogspot.gr).

I was interested (rather lured) in the ad hoc themes that he chose for these two artistic representations, that is to say the “Battle in the River” – a Mycenaean fresco of the 13th century BC from the palace of Pylos – and the sea-battle scene from the “Aristonothos vase” of the Archaic Era (about 700-650 BC).

I will start from the chronologically earlier fresco, the “Battle in the River”. This artwork was found in the palace of Pylos, the administrative center of a Mycenaean state in the south-west Peloponnesus. It was one of the most potent states of the Mycenaean ‘Commonwealth’ and probably the best organized. Pylos was a power counterbalance to the state of Mycenae, although it seems to have been usually its ally.

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1,200 YEARS-OLD VIKING SWORD

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Republication from the Local

sword(Courtesy: Hordaland County, Norway)

The sword, found at Haukeli in central southern Norway will be sent for conservation at the The University Museum of Bergen.
Jostein Aksdal, an archaeologist with Hordaland County said the sword was in such good condition that if it was given a new grip and a polish, it could be used today.
“The sword was found in very good condition. It is very special to get into a sword that is merely lacking its grip,” he said.

The last Viking and his magical sword?

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Republication from Heritage Daily and University of Oslo

A deadly weapon and symbol of power – jewellery for a man, with magical properties. The sword gave power to the warrior, but the warrior’s strength could also be transferred to the sword. That is how they were bound together: man and weapon, warrior and sword.

This sword was found in Langeid in Bygland in Setesdal in 2011. It is a truly unique sword from the late Viking Age, embellished with gold, inscriptions and other ornamentation. The discovery of the sword has not been published until now, when it is being displayed for the first time in the exhibition TAKE IT PERSONALLY at the Historical Museum in Oslo.

The sword must have belonged to a wealthy man in the late Viking Age. But who was he and what magic inscriptions are set into the decoration – in gold? Was the owner of the sword in the Danish King Canute’s army when it attacked England in 1014-15?

In the summer of 2011, archaeologists from the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo discovered a Viking burial ground in Langeid in Setesdal in southern Norway. In one of the graves they made a startling discovery.

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THE BATTLE OF PLATAEA, 479 BC (Part II)

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Battle P

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By Periklis Deligiannis
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Read Part I:  THE BATTLE OF PLATAEA, 479 BC (Part I)

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NEW MANEUVERS AND TACTICAL PLANS

The Greek combatants were exhausted because of the continuous ‘hammering’ of the Iranian cavalry, and this situation resulted on a disruption in their units. They finally relocated again to new (third) positions but without organization and order. This confusion led to the dispersal of the forces of the Alliance and the occupation of positions that were not those which were decided in the last military council (see part I). The units of the center of the battle order (Megarians, Corinthians, Fliasians and others) were the ones who suffered most from the attacks of the Persian cavalry. Their men wandered and eventually took positions on the Heraion, near the walls of Plataea. The Athenians began to move to the north, opposite to the direction which the Lacedaemonians followed. Herodotus says that the former were annoyed by the latter because “the Spartans were talking differently from the thinks that they were thinking.”
I believe that this behavior of the latter had nothing to do with any lack of confidence or estimation of them for the Athenians: it had to do with the standard Lacedaemonian policy of secrecy and concealment of as much as possible information about the tactics that they followed, even if the ones that were annoyed by this secrecy were their Greek comrades. It was a standard policy of the Spartan army in order not to demonstrate its superior strategy and tactics to the other city-states. It was a protective measure for the Lacedaemonian hegemony in Greece.
The Athenians, feeling sick and tired of the general lack of strategic coordination, took the brave and dangerous decision to move towards Asopos River, in the lowlands of Parasopia. It seems that they wanted to fight the enemy only by themselves (an enemy that they knew well from their victory at Marathon) and thereby gain a new triumph that would give them the opportunity to question the Spartan hegemony.
The Lacedaemonians were rather wiser following the opposite course to the South, eventually establishing themselves at the foot of Cithaeron. Thus they were protected from the Iranian cavalry. Herodotus quotes that Amompharetos, the commander of the Spartan battalion of Pitane (Pitanatos lochos) initially refused to give ground to the enemy but when the rest of the Lacedaemonian army departed, he had to follow with his company to the new protected location. The “Amompharetos’ incident”, despite the fact that the Spartan senior commanders tended to undertake independent initiatives different from the decisions of the Commander in Chief, does not seem to have happened in reality. It has been hypothesized that it was rather a story made to explain the late retreat of the Pitanatos company (rather a battalion according to the modern standards).
The Pitanatos battalion was probably a rearguard which covered the Spartan relocation to the new positions. Furthermore, Amompharetos’ battalion seems to hold an even more important and risky mission: to lure Mardonios in an attack against the Spartans. The Persian commander, watching a battalion being cut off from the rest of the Spartan army, would believe that the latter was generally in a state of confusion and disorder. Additionally if he decided to attack the Pitanatos battalion, he would have the opportunity to easily destroy a part of the formidable Lacedaemonian army. It is characteristic that the Spartans used similar tactics at the Battle of Thermopylae, when they pretended retreat in front of the Asiatic warriors so that the latter would be lured in a disorderly attack. When this did happen, Leonidas’ men stopped abruptly their retreat, regrouped on the spot and attacked the unorganized Asiatics winning the day.

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THE BATTLE OF PLATAEA, 479 BC (Part I)

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Thorax1A bell-shaped hoplite thorax of the archaic period with an extended bell-type projection in the waist, for the repulse of the enemy arrows, javelins, stones etc.

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By Periklis Deligiannis
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[Actually, this paper is a  subchapter of my published book: The Spartan army, Athens 2007].
In the Greco-Persian Wars (490-479 BC) between the Achaemenid Persian Empire and the defensive Alliance of the city-states of South Greece, the victory of the latter at the sea Battle of Salamis (480 BC) on Xerxes’ fleet, secured the control of the sea for them. The Asiatic fleet (mainly East Phoenician) was neutralized and fell back to the eastern Aegean. However, the Persian army remained almost untouched. King Xerxes, fearing the possibility being trapped in Greece and eventually captured or killed after a possible defeat on land, withdrew “discreetly” in Asia officially considering that the objectives of his campaign had been achieved. Before he withdraws, he left his cousin Mardonios (Mardonius in the Western historiography) as head of the army in order to continue the military operations. Mardonios was a stubborn and brave man (his name means the “gallant” in ancient Iranian, originating from the word “mard” for the man or the warrior). On the other hand, in the winter of 479 BC a change occurred in the Spartan military leadership, which proved to be very important for the Greek defense against the invasion. Shortly after Salamis, the Spartan royal commissioner (regent) Kleombrotos died. His office was occupied by his son, Pausanias.

Mardonios initially tried to gain over the Athenians. But the victors of the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) would not be subdued to the losing side in that battle, and twice rejected the tempting terms that he offered them, assuring at the same time the Spartan envoys who were at Salamis Island (the military base of the Athenian army and fleet) that they would never betray their Greek compatriots. Till that moment, the Spartans were avoiding the confrontation with Mardonios’ army. But at that time, they were pressed even more intensely by their Athenian, Megarian, Plataean and Aeginetan allies whose countries were either occupied by the Persians or directly threatened by them. The Spartans had to satisfy the demand of their allies and finally sent their army led by the regent Pausanias, to face the invaders who had already occupied Attica (the territory of Athens) for the second time during the Second Persian campaign (480-479 BC). The women and children of the Athenians had long ago found refuge in Peloponnese and the small islands of the Saronic Gulf. The Athenian resistance was concentrated in the Island of Salamis, where they had defeated the enemy fleet almost a year ago.

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THE HOPLITE SWORDS

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Reconstruction  of  two xiphos long types, that is of the early Archaic era. Later, in the Classical era, their length was reduced due to the development of hoplite warfare  (credit: Hoplite Association).

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By  Periklis    Deligiannis

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The  Greek  hoplite  sword (xiphos, ξίφος) was  double-edged.  The  blade  was  wider  in  the  middle  of  its  length  so  that  the  weight  was  concentrated  to  this  point,  making  the  stroke  to  the  enemy  even  overwhelming.  The  Greek  sword  was  used  equally  for  perforation  of  the  enemy.
The  sword  was  an  auxiliary  weapon  for  the  Greek  hoplites,  who  usually  used  it  when  they  broke  their  spear  during  the  fight,  or  when  they  could  not  use  the  later  due  to  the  limited  space.  However  they  were  not  lacking  in  sword  fight,  compared  with  spear  fight.  Several  modern  scholars  often  suggest  that  the  Roman  legionaries  were  better  swordsmen  compared  to  the  warriors  of  other  peoples  who  were  not  fond  of  the  use  of  the  sword,  among  whom  were  the  ancient  Greeks.  However,  it  should  be  noted  that  the  Romans  used  the  heavy  gladius sword  (gladius  italiensis,  and  later  the  much  more  effective  gladius  hispaniensis but both of them of Spanish origins) which  did  not  need  great  skill  to  use.  The  Romans  used  its  weight  and  shape,  which  allowed  the  full  exploitation  of  its  weight  to  achieve  a  crushing  stroke  to  their  opponent,  nullifying his  shield  if  it  was  not  metal  (after  all,  the  shields  of  the  enemies  of  Rome  were  usually  wooden).  In  contrast,  the  Greek  swords  were  relatively  light,  with  the  exceptions  of  the  kopis (known  as  “falcata” or  “falx” in  the  western  Mediterranean), the machaira and  a  few  other  types.  This  data  demonstrates  that  the  Greek  hoplites  used  a  special  technique  of  sword  fight,  to  injure  or  kill  their  enemy  opponent.  Moreover,  this  opponent  was  usually  another  Greek  hoplite  and  there  was  no  sword  that  could  crush  his  heavy  bronze  hoplite  shield  with  powerful  but  clumsy  sword  blows.  Additionally,  the  Greek  hoplite  was  very  well  armored  (protected)  with  a  strong  helmet  and  a  cuirass  of  various  types.  The  only  way  that  a  hoplite  could  strike  the  flesh  of  an  enemy  hoplite  with  his  sword,  was  the  development  of  his  skill  in  fencing.  In  conclusion,  the  Romans  simply  preferred  the  sword  more  than  the  Greeks,  without  being  better  swordsmen  than  them.

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