Ancestral Roots of the Vikings

First, why do we care about the Vikings? 

By the 13th century the Norman descendents of the Vikings in Europe had literally gone from being an annoyance to the most powerful force in Christendom.  William the Conqueror, a direct descendent of Rollo had conquered England.  Southern Italy, Sicily and the Holy Land were all under Norman control, and the Templar Knights had built a commercial empire the likes of which no one had ever seen, visible in the hundreds of castles and churches they erected across Christendom.  

Few really appreciate the Vikings and their influence - the English words for four of the days of the week are in fact named for Viking gods or royal figures.  Wednesday is named for Woden, the first great god-king of the Norse in Scandinavia.  Thursday is named for his son, Thor, and Friday after his wife and Queen, Frigg or Freyja.  Tuesday, which I left for last, is named for the Viking god of war and justice, Tyr or Tiw, Tuesday being literally "Tiw's day".  

Reading 'Tyr', as the god's name is usually spelled, sent up a red flag in my head when I had become interested in the possible northern Levant (modern Lebanon and Syria) roots of the Vikings, for one of the great coastal cities of Canaan (which the Greeks called Phoenicia) was Tyre.

Is it a coincidence?  Are there any other clues that Phoenicia lied in the Vikings' past?

Both are known as having been expert ship builders.  Now, I can't really say for sure how many Viking or Phoenician ships actually sported red and white striped sails, or if any of them really did, but both are nearly always represented that way, and the construction of the ships of the two peoples was strikingly similar.  


Flag of Lebanon

Beruit Coat of Arms

There is a clue which suggests that red and white stripes may well have been employed by the Phoenicians, for the same theme is preserved on the flag of Lebanon as well as the coat of arms of Beruit, a city founded by the Phoenicians (as Berytus). 

There are numerous similarities between the pagan beliefs of the Norse of Scandinavia, what we know of them at least, and the Ba'al worshipping sects of ancient Phoenicia (and other parts of Mesopotamia), including the practice of animal or human sacrifice.  More conspicuous is the Norse legend of Yggdrasil the 'world tree'.  This myth has its mirror in the 'tree of life' found in the mythologies of Sumer and Assyria (which also found its way into those of Egypt, India and even China).  A serpent is often associated with the tree, in one of the earliest Sumerian myths Lilitu (the model for Lilith) in the form of a serpent is coiled around the trunk of Innana's tree of life.  In the Norse version, the dragon Níðhöggr gnaws at the roots of the world tree, or as described in the Grímnismál (of the Poetic Edda) more serpents "than any fool can imagine"  lie beneath it.

It would be a mistake however to think of the pagans who populated the northern Levant and northwestern Mesopotamia in biblical times as "proto-Vikings", for this was a rich cultural fount to which many cultures can potentially trace their roots to some extent.  Cases can be made that the Huns, the Franks, even the Etruscans of central Italy share in this heritage.  The Phoenicians had trading hubs in Carthage and as far west as Spain, and there is good evidence that this advanced sea-faring people made forays as far as the British Isles.

It might be easier to work backwards from Scandinavia to see how the roots of the Vikings might extend back to the Levant and Mesopotamia.

The Vikings weren't the Vikings when they arrived in Scandinavia from Central Asia, they were the Aesir and companion tribes the Vanir and the Erul.  Viking was an Old Norse word meaning sea-expedition, and a vikingr was someone who partook in these expeditions.  The word became affixed to the Norse invaders, probably by the Franks, and the name stuck. 

Before migrating north to Scandinavia the Aesir had lived for countless centuries on and around the shores of the Sea of Azov on the north side of the Black Sea.  Central Asian origins of the Vikings of Scandinavia are confirmed by a mountain of evidence. Many archeological finds in Scandinavia belie Scythian/Central Asian influences, and these begin to appear fairly abruptly in the archeological record around the 5th century AD.  Bracelets, bronze plaques, highly decorated armor and horse trappings, all consistent with Scythian influence date from this period, as does evidence of the introduction of horses in Scandinavia.  Some graves have in fact been found in which horses have been buried along with their owners, notably in Bornholm, Sweden.  This was a tradition practiced by Central Asian nomadic tribes like the Huns.  Also, genetic research has uncovered DNA (Y-chromosome) markers  which show up in both Scandinavian and Central Asian populations. 

Prior to their time in Central Asia the Aesir were Trojans.  They had arrived on the northeast shores of the Black Sea as refugees of the Trojan war after the fall of Troy to the Greeks.  These were a people highly skilled in weapon making and (allegedly) for that reason were called the "Aes", literally "iron people", by the local Scythians (Aesir being the plural).  By the same logic the Sea of Azov around which the Aesir settled meant literally "sea of iron", as explained by Tim Osterholm below. :

Evidence that the Aesir (Iron people) were Trojan refugees can be confirmed from local and later Roman historical sources, including the fact that the inner part of the Black Sea was renamed from the Mare Maeotis to the "Iron Sea" or "Sea of Aesov", in the local tongue.


Also from Osterholm:

...The Aes (also As, Asa, Asas, Asen, Aesar, Aesir, Aesire, Æsir or Asir) soon built their famous fortified city Aesgard or Asgard, described as "Troy in the north."  Various other sources collaborate this, stating the Trojans landed on the eastern shores with their superior weaponry, and claimed land.  The area became known as Asaland (Land of the Aesir) or Asaheim (Home of the Aesir).

...Tradition knows these Aesir warriors as ancient migrants from Troy, formidable fighters who inspired norse mythology and as the ancestors of the Vikings.  They were feared for their warships, as well as their ferocity in battle, and thus quickly dominated the northern trades using the Don river as their main route to the north.

...Historians note that Odin, who was a very popular Thracian ruler, led a migration ... with thousands of followers from the Black Sea region to Scandinavia.  It is also told that another Thracian tribe came along with them, a people called the Vanir (also Vaner or Vans) ... These tribes first settled in present-day Denmark, and then created a power-center in what is now southern Sweden.  About 800 years later during the Viking era, Odin, the Aesir and Vanir had become gods...

A second theory of the origin of the term 'Aesir' should be noted.  Walter Baucum (and there are others I assume) has asserted that Aesir derives from Asher, one of the 12 tribes of Israel.  I find that almost plausible actually, for Asher tribal territory was in the far north of Israel on the coast, just below Phoenicia and beside the lands inhabited by Naphtali and Dan, two other tribes which figure prominantly in this whole narrative.  (I could actually buy that both theories could be to different extents accurate - but don't think too hard about it, it's not so important and either hypothesis fits easily into the overall big picture I hope to convey.)

A few words on who these 'Trojans' were.  Alternately they were Trajans, Thracians, or Dacians.  (The Greeks had an expression, "drunk as a Thracian", alluding to their wild and belligerent nature.)  Homer called them the Dardanoi, some referred to them as Phrygians or Anatolians.  Clearly, the Trojan confederation was huge and was made up of a multitude of tribes, and while a Thracian was a Trojan, a Trojan was not necessarily a Thracian.  Which among the many Trojan tribes became the Aesir is anyone's guess.  

Before moving on, let me point out that various genealogy charts (whose validity are only as good as the research behind them by the way and should be taken with a grain of salt) list close ancestors of Woden as being Trojans.  On the right is a portion of an entry at a genealogy site I like and refer to often, 'Jamie Allen's Family Tree
& Ancient Genealogical Allegations
'.  (Finn and Frithuwulf the Trojans would not have lived in Anatolia or Thrace during the Trojan era of course, but in Scythia or Scandinavia ... Troy fell more than a millenium before they would have lived.)

The last step backward from the Trojans of Thrace and western Anatolia to the pagan Ba'al worshippers of the northern Levant is more difficult to confirm.  Geographically the land of the Trojans was not far from Phoenicia ... you just walk up the Levant coast to Anatolia (modern Turkey) and take a left.  Furthermore, the Phoenicians sailed all over the area, including into the Black Sea through the Bosphorus Straights (George Rawlinson; History of Phoenicia, Chapt. 3).  (Note; A connection between The Trojans and the "Sea Peoples", pirates who harassed cultural centers of the Mediterranean as far as Egypt and of whom little is known has been alleged.  Unfortunately this is of little help, for these Sea Peoples have never been convincingly identified.)

However, if you dive into mythology and various speculative genealogy trees, the founders of Troy came from Egypt via Greece, linking up before that to the family of Abraham.  The genealogy surmised at the JDA website I mentioned above goes something like this ...

Dardanus (king of Acadia)
Erichthonius (king of Acadia)
Tros of Acadia
Ilus, founder of Troy
Laomedan (king of Troy)
Tithonius of Troy
 (--skip generations--)
Thor, king of Thrace
 (--skip generations--)
Bedwig of Sceaf
 (--skip generations--)
Beaw (king in Denmark)
 (--skip generations--)
Flocwald of Asgard
Finn the Trojan
Frithuwulf the Trojan
Woden (Odin)


Some of the above may or may not be mythological figures, I offer it simply to note the likelihood that the leaders of the proto-Vikings didn't migrate straight from Mesopotamia to Thrace/Anatolia, but took a side-route through Egypt.  This is assuming that Dardanus was a son (or a descendant) of Zerah son of Judah.   There is independant confirmation of this notion though, in the bible - where one of the sons of Zerah is in fact Darda.  Then you have Danaus and Cadmus emmigrating to Greece from Egypt in myth and in the chronicles of Heroditus, and we can be pretty certain that a Dardanus really did found Dardania in western Anatolia on Mt. Ida, for the nearby Turkish Strait is known as the Dardanelles to this day.   I should point out that if this genealogy of the Trojan and Viking kings is at all accurate, it would make them of the same stock as the Davidic priest-kings of Israel (and the Cimmerian-Salian Frank kings as well, as we shall see.)

Into where in this scenario, you might wonder, does Phoenicia fit?

There's some evidence that the birthplace of the biblical Abraham, normally accepted as having been Ur near Sumer, was in fact Ugarit, an ancient city which lied on the coast of modern Syria just north of what was then Phoenicia. 

Abraham and the Kingdom of Ugarit

The Location of Ur

All manner of theories have been developed about the location of Ur of the Chaldees, the city where Abraham was born. With the discovery of inscribed "references to Sumerian Ur" and especially with excavations there by C. Leonard Woolley, as Cyrus H. Gordon points out in his Before the Bible, it became fashionable to identify Abraham's birthplace with the city where,

The Royal Tombs yielded such splendid finds that the success of the expedition gave the illusion of finality to a specious identification. Older books―including many a forgotten tome of the nineteenth century―correctly locate Ur of the Chaldees in the general Haran area.... All of the connections of the Patriarchal Narrative are northern, with no trace of direct contact with Sumer and Akkad.

This "Ur" has never been located convincingly...

The most obvious candidate for the northern Ur is Ugarit, as we shall see shortly, the location of a line of kings with major parallels to the ancestral line of Abraham.

Finally, there is some circumstantial evidence linking the Trojans of Thrace and Anatolia to Mesopotamia via religion, namely a connection between the cults of Cybele (Kybele) and Sabazios practiced by the Trojans and Kaballah, the origins of which lie in Chaldea near Sumer.  While Kaballah is not generally associated with the Phoenicians, two centers of Kaballah learning were Alexandria and Carthage, both major trading hubs of the Phoenicians, and the "Great Mother" was a predominant theme all over the area during biblical times, Phoenicia being no exception where she took on the mantle of Astarte. 

Of course no one can be sure how the 'Tree of Life', Great Mother worship and dragon imagery passed from the ancient Sumerians to the proto-Aesir of the Trojan kingdom, but given the conspicuous similarity in the construction of Phoenician and Viking ships, the fact that both the future Vikings and the pagans who inhabited the coast of the northern Levant were marked for their seafaring expertise and other clues, I'd be very surprised if the ancestral roots of the Vikings didn't pass through that area.

It's not so important though exactly how dragon-culture slithered it's way from Sumer to western Anatolia and Thrace, we can be  pretty certain that it did.  I am intriqued by how these words effortlessly morph into one another - Trojan/Trajan/Thracian/Dacian/Dagon/Dragon.

That, to me, is incredible.  It's like you could just write 'Dragon' in place of 'Thrace' on every map of the ancient Mediterranean world. 

There's actually a bit more to this story, which has to do with three mountains (Mt. Hermon in Phoenicia, Mt. Hazzi/Zephon (currently Mt. Aqraa) farther up the coast at the northern edge of modern Syria near Ugarit, and Mt. Ida at the western end of Anatolia near Troy).  Other clues indicate that Canaanites transplanted to Egypt or settled on the Island of Crete migrated to Greece and Anatolia.  Pagan religion, complete with child or animal sacrifice ritual and Great Mother worship which had flourished in Canaan now reached its pinacle in the popularity of the (closely related) cults of Kybele and Sabazios in Anatolia and Thrace, spreading eventually from there to other parts of Greece (and later Rome).

After the fall of Troy the once great Trojan kingdom appears to have broken up, many of its more adventurous tribes setting out to find fortune elsewhere, the proto-Vikings among them.

After all this Troy business I can't help but conclude by pointing out that the leader of the Templar Knights Hughes de Payen (literally Hugh "the pagan") and possibly a couple of other founding Templars hailed from the Champagne region of France where their mentor Bernard of Clairveaux built his monestary.  The capital of Champagne was and still is ... Troyes.

Sources and further reading:

Central Asian roots of the Vikings

Magic and Paganism in Prehistoric Scandinavia

History of the Swedes

Sumer, the Constellations and Draco the Dragon

Why is any of this relevant??? - part 1,
'Kick-off' 2001

Why is any of this relevant? - part 2,
The heritage of the ruling elite - 5000 Years Old???

Ancestral Roots of the Vikings

The Huns

The Huns: Addendum

The Tribe of Dan

The Franks


Melissena: Addendum