Norway history, The introduction of Christianity

The introduction of Christianity, Norway history

The power of the Vikings

Norway in high middle ages history. A novel ideology surfaced, with the clergy embodying the force in opposition to the prevalent heathen practices entrenched within the traditional social hierarchy. Previously, the communal and legal entity, referred to as the "thing-community," had concurrently served as the religious community. However, this unity was disrupted as parishes were now organized under a new system, diverging from the arrangement of public assemblies.

Running parallel to a closely associated clergy and monarchy, a significant role emerged for the king's officials, known as "lendir menn" or "landed men," in the machinery of the state. The primary responsibilities of lendir menn included summoning farmers for military service, providing them with the opportunity to intervene in local governance despite customary laws forbidding such interference.

In contrast to estate stewards, who were often of lower status or slaves and dependent on their lord, lendir menn occupied a more independent position, owning substantial properties. These landed men were typically recruited from the old nobility, willing to serve the king, reflecting a compromise between the sovereign and a fraction of the old aristocracy.

Archeologic secret key is in Smithsonian Institution

Archeologic secret key is in Smithsonian Institution

While some scholars argue for a seamless adaptation of the old aristocracy to the new state order, a more intricate picture emerges from historical records. The Viking power, rooted in warfare, plunder, trade, and slave exploitation, differed significantly from the aristocracy of the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Norway.

laws, sagas, poetical texts

Between the old and new aristocracy

The latter comprised individuals in service to the king, indebted for their elevated status, and deriving income from "veizlas" (feasts) and their tenants, with slavery already fading away. Although there may have been a theoretical continuity between the old and new aristocracy, they represented distinct social groups. A considerable portion of the old nobility met their demise in conflicts against the ascending royal power, as sagas narrate dramatic struggles between the king and certain magnates striving to preserve their autonomy.

Between the old and new aristocracy

Walking over Europe states

The lendir menn encompassed a notable contingent of individuals of elevated lineage, enjoying relative independence both in material wealth and social standing. This phenomenon characterized a distinct phase in the history of the Norwegian monarchy, concurrently contributing to its instability. The enduring strength of the old nobility, deeply entrenched in the conventional social structure, persisted due to the gradual and arduous transformation of old pre-class relations into a more intricate and differentiated social system.

Unlike the radical shifts in proprietary and productive relations witnessed in the Frankish kingdom, such transformative changes proved challenging in Norway. Social inertia staunchly resisted change, and a considerable portion of the bonder, or farmers, maintained their independence, refraining from becoming dependent peasants. While the nature of their freedom underwent alterations, Norwegian bonder significantly differed from the dependent villeins and serfs prevalent in other European regions during that era.

The Pagan Age closed

King Olaf the Saint

This essential feature of the Norwegian social structure finds connection with the specific character of its political order during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The Norwegian monarchy enjoyed certain advantages over weakened royal powers in Western European countries, where a broad social basis was lacking. Unlike other rulers, Norwegian kings retained direct connections with the masses, avoiding the intervention of a powerful class of grands seigneurs capable of subjecting the majority of peasants to their rule and seizing political power.

In contrast to many Western rulers, Norwegian kings did not solely rely on the military support of noble vassals, maintaining control over the army themselves. The old nobility sustained traditional ties with the bonder, partly due to its non-feudalized nature, avoiding exploitation. Consequently, the nobility could enlist the support of the bonder in their resistance against the king, whom they perceived as accumulating excessive power. As witnessed earlier, the majority of the bonder engaged in a decisive battle against their king, resulting in the demise of King Olaf the Saint. This opposition stemmed from the king's role as a primary innovator, dismantling heathen practices, challenging blood feud customs, reforming the veizla, and allocating it to his retainers changes that traditional peasant society resisted vehemently

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Norwegian Civil War

Not long after Olaf's death, however, the national monarchy was restored, and his son Magnus returned from Kiev and was crowned. He, nevertheless, had to promise to take the country's customs and the liberties of the bonder and nobles into consideration. All these conditions were provisions, however, of the status of the monarchy, depending on the king's personality and on vagueness with regard to the succession to the throne.

Throughout the twelfth century the institutional instability of the monarchy manifested itself in feuds between various pretenders and their respective factions. The uncertainty of the succession was not, of course, the cause of the conflicts but was a symptom of the weakness of the monarchy, a certain proportion of the old nobility having interests at stake in this weakness. In the second half of the twelfth century this internal strife spread beyond the ruling clique and ended up being an internal struggle in which wide strata of the population were involved.

This struggle is known as the Norwegian Civil War, or the War of the Birchlegs and was directly connected with the genesis of the early state. However, it is necessary first of all to dwell on the change in the bonder's status, since this change left its mark on the course and the outcome of the Civil War.

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