Normans - who were they? Amalgamation of Danes, Frisians, Southern Frenchmen etc.?

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,829
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#3
In origin they were Scandinavian raiders [so Vikings, in good substance]. They gave the name to a French region [the definition "Norman" means simply man from North]. Only later, after they settled in Normandy [which took this name from them] the Normans became also a bit "French" [like they will become also a bit Southern Italian ...].
 
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Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,628
#4
I don't think you can get things better than that they were Scandinavian in origin, Norse. Vikings weren't a nation or ethnic group of some kind, more of a job description.

According to what seems to be the major source, the monk Dudo's chronicle their leader Rollon was from "Dacia". But Dacia isn't a known place.

Geography alone clearly favours they were probably mostly from Denmark and/or Norway. The "Dacia" claim has by some been located in Norway (though I can't quite see how it follows from the arguments). Otoh it's generally accepted that they were mostly Danes. There seems to be an interesting number of French claims of possibilities of discerning groupings that settled in Normandy. So if overall Danish, a part of it seems to have been Danes already settled in the Danelaw over in England, with another group with more Norwegians in it from the Orkneys and Scotland. Finally there is a French claim that the Cotentin in particular received a particular group of Norwegians.

But it is all horribly conjectural as far as I can see.

Just as with the Scandinavians that cropped up in the Slavic lands to the east, modern Russia et al., they immediately intermarried with the locals, and had dropped what Scandinavian they spoke within three generations. Rollon's grandsons spoke French but are unlikely to have understood Scandinavian.
 

Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,628
#5
The Norse didn't displace or annihilate the local Frankish population, they ruled over them. It was not entirely dissimilar to the situation in England following the Norman conquest, where the Normans were a minority that formed a warrior aristocracy. Moreover the Norse intermarried with the Franks right from the start, including Rollo who took the daughter of a Frankish count either as a wife or a mistress. In any case it is through her (Poppa of Bayeux) that you get that line that produces William the Conqueror.

By the time of the Norman Conquest of England a century and a half had passed since the Norse arrived in Normandy, and they had long before been assimilated by the native Franks.

If we're discussing Hastings era Normans, it would not be correct to characterize them as Norse or Scandinavian. The majority of Normans had always been Franks, by that point many of the Norse families had long since intermarried with Frankish families, and the Normans of William the Conqueror's era spoke a dialect of French as their primary language and referred to themselves as Franks.

The OP would be correct that their ancestry was a mix of Scandinavian (Danish probably being the majority of Norsemen that settled in Normandy) and Frankish. The Franks themselves however had mixed ancestry and were partially descended from Gauls. Like the Norse the Franks also had originally been a foreign warrior aristocracy that was outnumbered by the native population they ruled. So by 1066 the Normans are probably a mix of Gallic-Frankish-Scandinavian ancestry, to varying degrees.

The OP also mentions "southern Frenchman" though so I wonder if he meant the composition of William of Conqueror's army? If so, yes...a great many of the men in his "Norman" army weren't actually Norman, though the army was largely composed of people from regions in Northern France or Belgium. At Hastings only the center of William's army was Norman. Bretons and men from Poitou, Anjou, and Maine formed the left wing, and the right was formed by men from Picardy and Boulogne, as well as men from Flanders.
 
Dec 2018
35
Brasil
#6
Some people say normans are vikings for pure marketing. Normans descend from Vikings, but the culture was closer to frenchmen, and genetics. The king gave the normans lands, and they arrived there, adopted french culture, married local woman and started a "new" ethnic group. They saw themselves as french. But scandinavian influences on words for navigation are very obvious. And southern french could have migrated to Norman lands, and local people were not displaced by scandinavians. A minority were ethnically scandinavian. But in two-three generations they weren't more scandinavian than french.
 

Haesten

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
2,919
#7
The Normans in 1066 were still using Scandinavian names, not French names, and were telling Scandinavian stories in their literature. Their laws still had Scandinavian influence, probably why they were happy to rule England by Anglo-Saxon law.
In the Bridal of Norwich revolt, the Norman magnates were sentenced under Norman law (life imprisonment) and the Anglo-Saxon magnate under English law (execution).
Not sure what the French penalty for treason was in the 11th century.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,628
#9
The Normans in 1066 were still using Scandinavian names, not French names, and were telling Scandinavian stories in their literature. Their laws still had Scandinavian influence, probably why they were happy to rule England by Anglo-Saxon law.
In the Bridal of Norwich revolt, the Norman magnates were sentenced under Norman law (life imprisonment) and the Anglo-Saxon magnate under English law (execution).
Not sure what the French penalty for treason was in the 11th century.
Sure, but names are a fairly superficial aspect. Yes there tends to be a certain conservatism about naming the kids, you re-use grandad's name a lot etc.

But besides, there's not that much of a proponderance pf Scandinavian naming going on with the known companions of William the Conqueror, beginning with his own name which certainly isn't Scandinavian. The companions are known as mostly a bunch of Williams, Geoffreys and Roberts, all of which were Frankish, from Old High German. Hugh (Hug), Ralph (Radulf) and Turstin (Tosti) were modified Scandinavian, and a feller called Engenulf still clearly rocked the Norse thing. And then there was number of Christian saint's names (Latin or Greek) like Eustace or Vital. Odo and Gobert are also named, but those also were from Old High German by Frankish, even if I as a modern Scandinavian can still get that Gobert (German Godh-Berthold) can be broken down into quaint but still understandable Scandinavian "God-Bertil". :)

The linguistic distance between Anglo-Saxon, Frankish and Norse wasn't huge. (As a Swede I find some English language programs about the old Anglosaxons have to go out of their way to explain certain words and concepts to their English audience for whom they are alien, while immediately recognizable to modern Scandinavians.) The real distance was to the Romance French. And that was what the Normans spoke between themselves by the time of Hastings.

By the look of it they named about half the boys after Norse grandad and half after Frank grandad, and split the difference with boys given over to the Church and named after Christian saints. ;)
 

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