Vikings were feared throughout Northern Europe for more than 300 years. The mere mention of these fierce Norse warriors was enough to turn the most battle-hardened soldier weak at the knees. There was one place, though, where even the Vikings trembled and avoided when possible: Scotland.
800-year-old documents, written on yellowed calf vellum, have been translated by Gisli Sigurdsson, a historian at Reykjavik University. They chronicle the experiences of Icelandic merchants who happened upon Scotland and its Celtic inhabitants. They report back to Vikings to advise them of the prospects of looting and pillaging in this land.
“Icelanders who want to practise robbery are advised to go there, but it may cost them their life,” warns the journal.
It tells of an encounter with an emissary of King Malcom III and their first experience with Scottish diplomacy, which, like the people, was direct, with no attempt to soften the facts. Grjotgard, a kinsman of the king, told them: “You have two choices. You can go ashore, and we will take all your property, or we’ll attack you and kill every man we lay our hands on.”
Sigurdsson said, “The only places the Norse could have expected a safe reception was Orkney and Shetland, where the people were basically the same as them and where they would be greeted as kin.” Evidently some of the Vikings agreed, because modern DNA studies show interbreeding between the Vikings and the Highlanders of Scotland.