The Norman Diaspora

A discussion of the Normans must begin with a negative: The Normans were not French. In fact, the Normans were Vikings in their origin. The name itself is a variant of Northmen or Norsemen, reflecting their roots in the far northern regions of Scandanavia. Their incursions to the south began with raids along the coast and up the coastal valleys of Gaul in present-day France.

[Location map to be added here]By the early 800s the Normans had begun permanent settlements in the region near the mouth of the Seine, which soon became known as Normandy. In 911 Rollo, the ruler of Normandy, allied himself with Charles the Simple, king of the Franks, becoming a French duke. Thereafter, the Normans quickly assimilated the customs and Christian religion of the French.

Norman wanderlust was not ended, however. Norman adventurers became active mercenaries throughout the Mediterranean as the rulers of southern Europe cast about for allies in their battles against the rising tide of Islam. Norman mercenaries were present in the conflicts in Spain. Later, in the early 1000s, they appeared in strength as allies of the Papal forces when the Papacy resolved to expel the remaining Byzantine forces from the Italian peninsula. Ultimately, the Normans there established their own powerful kingdom spanning southern Italy and Sicily.

Back in Normandy, the Norman leader William the Conqueror launched an overwhelming attack across the English Channel into England in 1066, toppling the English monarchy. Soon the Normans found themselves with kingdoms in France, England, Italy and Sicily.


2000 C. I. Gable