A new research paper, Diaspora and identity in the Viking Age, published in the Early Medieval Europe journal by Lesley Abrams looks into the terminology and evidence for a ‘diaspora’ amongst the Vikings in the early medieval period. There are a number of issues involved:
Is diaspora an appropriate term – is it friendlier than colonialism for instance, and is the use of it by historians intended to present the spread of the Vikings in a particular way.
Are all Scandinavian people Vikings? And if so, is Viking a good term, or should Norse be used?
What nature did the spread of the Vikings take? Was their a consistent approach and did the different communities maintain links with each other?
Lesley Abrams matches the characteristics of the spread of the Vikings against Robin Cohen’s Global Diasporas summarized as follows:
- dispersal from an original homeland to two or more foreign regions;
- expansion in search of work, in pursuit of trade, or to further colonial ambitions;
- a collective memory and myth about the homeland, real or imagined;
- an idealization of the homeland and a collective commitment to its thriving;
- a movement to return to or at least maintain a connection with the homeland;
- a strong ethnic group consciousness, maintained over time;
- a troubled relationship with the host society;
- a sense of empathy and co-responsibility with co-ethnic members in other countries;
- the possibility of an enriched creative life in the host country.
And she concludes that in the end the was a diaspora of sorts:
Broadly speaking, however, we might already be able to speculate that for a period the dispersed Scandinavian communities of the Viking Age acted like a diaspora, retaining, synthesizing, and expressing a sense of collective identity and constructing a common cultural discourse, while new circumstances generated innovations and developments which flowed back and forth between them. ‘Diaspora’, then, is arguably not just a buzzword, nor simply a fashionable synonym, but an exploratory concept that offers a new perspective on the Viking Age. Its adoption should give the overseas settlements a greater cultural profile and a more significant role as agents of change, both in their new environments and back home.
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