Normans (i.e. Northmen, or Norse-men), a name generally limited in its application to those sea-rovers who established themselves in that part of France called after them Normandy, is sometimes applied also to the early inhabitants of Norway, and is often extended to embrace in its meaning, as it did in the Middle Ages, those numerous Saxon tribes who inhabited the peninsula of Jutland, and in the 9th and 10th centuries invaded Russia, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, and even landed in England, and possibly, too, were the first Europeans who set foot on the American shore. The Germans and French called the piratical hordes who ravaged their shores Normans or Northmen; the Saxons, usually Danes or Eastmen. They were also distinguished by the latter as Mark or March-men (from Den-mark), as Ask men (i.e. men of the ashen-ships), and as the Heathen. The primary cause of the plundering expeditions southward and westward across the seas, undertaken by the Norse vikings (vikingar meaning either "warriors," or more probably dwellers on the vics, i.e. bays or fiords), as they called themselves, under leaders who took the name of "sea-kings," was doubtless the over-population and consequent scarcity of food in their native homes; besides, the relish for a life of warlike adventure, conjoined with the hope of rich booty, strongly attracted them; while-at least as long as the old Scandinavian religion lasted (i.e. till about the end of the 10th century) — death in battle was not a thing to be dreaded, for the slain hero passed into a region of eternal triumph in the Walhalla of Odin. Finally, discontent with the ever-increasing power of the greater chiefs, or kings, induced many of the nobles with their followers to seek new homes.
The invasions of these heathen warriors into France were most numerous from the death of Charlemagne to the beginning of the 10th century. The invaders remained mostly heathen. Occasionally some chieftain with his followers consented to be baptized, and to acknowledge the king of France for his sovereign, on which condition they received a portion of land. The most important of these invasions was that of 912, under the guidance of the Norwegian chief Hrolf, better known as Rollo, first duke of Normandy, and direct ancestor in the sixth generation of William the Conqueror. King Charles III, it is said, offered Rollo a considerable territory on the north of France, and his daughter Gisla for wife, on the condition of his advancing no farther into the country, and defending the kingdom against further invasions from his countrymen. Rollo accepted, the treaty was concluded at St. Clair, on the Epte (A.D. 912), and the Normans took possession of the northern portion of France, from the Andelle to the sea, which was from them called Normandy. Rollo was soon after baptized by archbishop Franco of Rouen, together with his followers. A certain archbishop Arvaeus, of Rheims, is said to have been very active in the conversion of these Normans. Still the mass of the people remained heathen; the occasional conversions were mostly the result of temporal considerations, and the converts not unfrequently returned to idolatry. It is even related of Rollo that after his baptism he continued to worship his former deities along with the true God. Under the reign of his son the Normans had already become fully identified with the French, having even adopted the language of the country. This contributed naturally to attach them more to the religion of the French; and it is said that their count, William, went so far in his enthusiasm for Christianity as to contemplate retirement into a convent. Fresh arrivals of heathen Normans would occasionally, however, stop for a moment all progress. At the same time with Rollo's invasion, another army of the Normans had landed upon the western coasts of France, and established itself strongly near the mouth of the Loire. A part of them settled, in 921, in Brittany and around Nantes. SEE FRANCE.
The invasions of the Northmen into England were still more numerous and important; they sought at an early moment to secure a permanent footing in that country. The first invasion we find recorded took place in 787; after 795 they became quite common. Numerous battles which took place between the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans in 832 and 833 show that the latter had already advanced far inland, and were trying to establish themselves permanently. Here, as in France, we find their leaders gradually embracing the Christian faith in exchange for land secured to them. One of their principal invasions was that led by the renowned Ragnar Lodbrog. After a long struggle they succeeded, in 870, in securing the whole western portion of England, and from thence they gradually spread into other parts of the country. Finally, the Anglo-Saxon king, Alfred, succeeded in making a treaty by which the Normans received about half the country, on the condition of their king, Gudruna, submitting to baptism, and recognizing king Alfred as his suzerain. The English chronicles consider Alfred as having converted the Danes; yet Northumberland remained still heathen, and in other parts the Norman population was only in part Christian. From a treaty concluded by Edward, Alfred's successor, with the subsequent Danish king, Gudrun, it appears however that Christianity was already the state religion of the Danish population in England in the early part of the 10th century. The penalties imposed on such as fell back into idolatry, laws for the security of Church property, etc., prove that it was legally recognized. We also find Normans holding high offices in the Church. Fresh invasions of the Normans and inroads into the territory of the AngloSaxons continued during the 10th century. Their frontiers were gradually extended, and finally, in 1016, the Dahne Canute was recognized king of England. Once on the throne, he sought to heal the dissensions existing between the two parties by his mild and moderate administration. He issued a number of decrees concerning ecclesiastical subjects. The Christian religion was alone recognized, but needed the support of the government in order successfully to resist the influence of the heathen Norman emigrants: thus, in 1012, archbishop Elfetah of Canterbury, having been made prisoner, had been cruelly put to death by the Danes, who were incensed at the zeal he had displayed for their conversion. The Norman dynasty founded by Canute was of short duration; the brother of the last Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, ascended the throne of England thirty years after Canute, but he never fully succeeded in conciliating the Normans; and under his successor, Harold II, the French Normans invaded the kingdom, under the guidance of William the Conqueror, in 1066. Thus England fell again under Norman rule; yet the conquerors adopted the customs, laws, and language of the conquered, and the Norman element exercised no marked influence on religious or ecclesiastical matters. SEE ENGLAND.
In Ireland the Norman invasions commenced about the end of the 8th century, and after many efforts they succeeded in 852 in founding there a kingdom, of which the center was at Dublin, but which did not stand long. They also founded less important settlements, which they had much trouble in defending against the native inhabitants. We possess but little information concerning the particulars of their conversion, but most of the Norman inhabitants of Ireland appear to have been Christians in the middle of the 11th century.
Iceland was discovered by the Northmen in 860, and settled in 874. In 876 or 877 Greenland was discovered, and a colony was planted there by Eric the Red in 983985.
It is from the latter country that, according to Icelandic sagas, the Northmen went out and discovered America in 986, touching at Newfoundland; and that in 1001 thirty-five men went out again to further pursue the discovery, under the leadership of Leif, son of Eric the Red, and besides visiting Newfoundland, they touched at what is now supposed to be Nova Scotia and the coast of New England. At the last-named land they wintered, and returned to Greenland, their vessels freighted with timber. In the following year Leif's brother Thorwald visited, it is supposed, Mount Hope Bay, R. I. In 1004 these Northmen explored the coast eastward, but had a skirmish with the Indians, and lost their leader. In 1005 they returned to Greenland; but in 1007 Karlscfni, a rich Icelander, set sail for the New England coast — by them called Vinlafld (Vine-Land) with three ships, one hundred and sixty men, and some cattle, and passed three winters on the New England coast; but the hostility of the natives finally obliged him to quit the country. The old Icelandic' MSS. make visits to Vinland or to Mark-land (Nova Scotia) in 1121, 1285, and 1347. The truthfulness of the sagas is insisted upon by Northern scholars, because Adam of Bremen, almost contemporary with the voyage of Thorfinn, states, on the authority of the Danish king Estrithson, that Vinland was so called because of the vines which grew wild there. The latest documentary evidence, however, is the Venetian narrative of Nicolo Zenoj who visited Greenland about 1390, and records that he met with fishermen there who had been on the American coast. (See Ailderson, America not discovered by Columbus.)
In Russia the Northmen were called Varangians, or sea-rovers. Rurik, a Northman, occupied Novgorod in 862, and founded. the dynasty which gave sovereigns to Russia until 1598. About 865 the Varangians appeared with a fleet before Constantinople, and it was not until an alliance was made between Vladimir the Great, who adopted Christianity, and the Greek emperor (988) that the incursions ceased. Soon afterwards a Varangian body-guard was adopted at Constantinople, and from that time till the fall of the Eastern empire the Byzantine sovereigns trusted their lives to no other household troops. The Codex Flateyensis of Iceland gives the number of the Varngian Guard in the 11th century at 300. Among the antiquities in the Museum of Christiania are Byzantine coins of 842-867, found in plowing the fields of Aggerhuus, in Norway.
The invasions of the Normans in Southern Italy during the 11th. century are of no special interest, from an ecclesiastical standpoint, as these invaders were already Christians. We must only notice that by their recognition of the papal supremacy over Naples and Sicily, as also by the aid they gave to the Roman see against the Roman-German empire, they signally contributed to establish and increase the temporal power of the popes. See Maurer, Bekehrung d. Norwegischen Stammes z. Christenthum (Munich, 1855, 1856, 2 vols.); Palgrave, The History of Normandy and of England (Lond. 18511857, 2 vols.); Depping, Histoire des Expeditions Maritimes des Normands et de leur Etablissement en France au 10"e Siecle (2d ed. 1843, 2 vols.); Wheaton, History of the Northmenfronmz the Earliest Times to the Conquest of England (Lond. 1831); Worsae, Minder om de Danske og Normandene i England, Skotland, og Irland (Copenh. 1851); Lappenberg, Gesch. von England (Hamb. 18341837); Hardwick, Ch. Hist. M. A. p. 103, 105, 106, 129131; Milman, Hist. Lat. Christianity, vol. iii and iv (see Index in vol. viii); Hill, Engl. Monasticism, p. 222-224, 247,267; Maclear, Hist. Christian Missions in the M. A. p. 229-301, 276, 277.