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Excursus: The pre-history of Europe - seen from our Nordic angle (the s.c.nordic FAQ)
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Excursus: The pre-history of Europe - seen from our Nordic angle

 


Subject: 2.5 

Introduction to the History of Norden
...etcetera, etcetera...

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, as the ice-cap already for long had continued its slow and irregular retraction up to the North, Europe was inhabited by mammoths, bears, bisons, reindeers and woolly rhinos.
...and some hunting families of humans.


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fighting bisons
Cave painting from France

The first recognizable event was when a culture in southwestern Europe seems to have concentrated very much on the reindeers. In the cave paintings in France and Spain from over 15'000 years ago we can see the people knew how to use bows and arrows.

After year 9'000 B.C. the climate of Europe changed, and the reindeers came to remain only in the farthest North, along the ice-cap which still covered what today is Finland, Norway and the most of Sweden in-between. Also Scotland had for long time a glacier remnant of the ice-cap.

The Creator hadn't yet constructed the Danish straits or the English Channel, and hence there was land connection from Scotland and the Scandinavian ice-border in Västergötland all the way to the Ural mountains and beyond.

Most of Europe passed on to the Middle Stone Age (marked for instance by the invention of saws); in the fertile crescent along River Tigris, and along the Palestinian coast, crops began to be planted and sown.

As we all know, the Agrarian Revolution in the fertile crescent came in due time to lead forward to

...and later:

And this latter technique came to be spread from the Black Sea along River Danube, through Central Europe almost to the coast of present-day Holland, Germany & Poland. The people utilizing the wood burning technique could populate the land much more densely than their hunting and gathering neighbors, thus it is commonly believed that the migration of the slash-and-burn knowledge represents a real migration and propagation of a wood-burning people.

These migrants are commonly acknowledged as Indo-Europeans. At the border of their expanding culture some of the neolithic novelties got adopted: hence, pottery and polished stone tools were used by the pre-neolithic cultures along the North Sea and along the southernmost Baltic shores, as among the Ertebølle folk of Denmark. That's how our forefathers learned to polish stone tools and to fire pottery approximately 4,500 B.C.

At this time the coast- and lake-region of Finland was inhabited by nomadic people using Russian flint-stone, pottery and polished stone tools.

Two thousand years later the Indo-European culture had made further progress, approximately to the River Vistula in North-East and in Scandinavia to the River Dalälven and up along most of the Norwegian coast.

Meanwhile, high cultures with towns and irrigation had emerged in Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus valley.

Then, around year 2,000 B.C. the know-how of copper-working (which for thousands of years only slowly had expanded from Turkey and the fertile crescent) now in a high speed became known in all of the world inhabited by Indo-Europeans. And Indo-European cultures seem to have expanded from River Vistula all the way up to Gulf of Finland and River Volga. Grain and cattle became a complement to hunting for people living along the waters.

(This was, by the way, the time of the Palace Culture of Crete.)

For the following years, 2,000 B.C. - 200 B.C., the map of cultures in Northern Europe looks almost static:

(Despite important ideas continue to spread in the same well known South-East to North-West direction.)

Bronze working was learned by the Slavs, the Balts, the Germanics, the Estonian Finns and the Sámis around year 1,500 B.C.

Then around year 1,000 B.C. the new technique of iron-working had begun to expand out of its original area in Turkey. A process mirrored in the tales from ancient Greece and in the Old Testament of the Bible. And the Aryans conquered the Indus valley.

It came, however, to last until year 500 B.C. till this knowledge reached beyond the Celts' northern border.

The times were turbulent east of the Mediterranean. In the 9th century B.C. the Assyrians flourished with trade and genocide. Around year 600 B.C. Egypt falls for Assyria, then Assyria falls for Persia constituting a realm from Indus to Italy, where they were stooped by Etruscs and Cartagians. Monotheism is advocated by Zaratustra in Persia, and by the Prophet Jesaia (the second), during the 6th century B.C.

During the 4th century Alexander the Great conquers Persia, and then, after his death, his realm is split in several large parts, whereafter Rome starts to expand.

Then the Germanic culture began a slow expansion in southern direction: At year 100 B.C. the woods of Central Europe were home to both several Germanic tribes as well as to Celtic tribes, but in the North the Germanics dominated from Trondheim and Åland to the plains between River Rhine and River Neiße.

The Roman Empire expanded through France; the Celtic area diminished and disappeared, and Germanic peoples became a major hassle for the Roman Army. The solution was in the long run that Germanic men came to take over the administration of the Empire and its armies at the same time as the Germanics were Romanized in culture, beliefs and language.

As the Celts' dominance over Western Europe dissolved, the influences from the Mediterranean region again reached the Baltic Sea and Scandinavia. Trade with the Roman Empire increased, and might have contributed to the peculiar phase of the European history called the Migration Period when Germanic tribes and Asian tribes came to move around on the European continent.

But before that the Slavs had started to expand. First in the East, along the River Dnieper, at the expense of the Balts, and then to the River Don and to upper River Volga.

Around the turn of millennium, good iron was produced at the Oslo-fjord in southern Norway; at the same time, some important Germanic tribes inhabited the coasts of North Sea and the Baltic Sea, and the shores of the rivers:

Then, around year A.D. 200, the Goths and the Gepids moved down from the coast, through (?) the Burgundian area, toward River Danube. The Goths expanded over River Volga to River Don.

Concurrently the Norsemen increased in number also in the very Scandinavia, expanding along the water routes between Norway and Jutland.

Jutland was the richest territory as that was the key position from where all Scandinavian and Baltic trade to and from Rome and the Rhine valley could be controlled. The people on Gotland, the Guthes (Gutar), dominated the Baltic sea and its trade. [ We are not(!) taking any stand in the discussion whether Jutes, Guthes and Goths are etymologically equivalents. In any case: these people came to inhabit different areas and to constitute different peoples. ]

The Goths were split in a lesser part, the Visigoths, who later came to create a kingdom on the Iberian peninsula, and the Ostrogoths who for a long time came to dominate all of the land between River Don and River Oder.

Beside the Goths and the Norsemen there existed more than a dozen of distinguishable Germanic tribes:

During early 4th century the Goths were Christianized, and from A.D. 325 the Bible is translated to Gothic. The Goths were however Arian Christians, and not Catholics as the Franks would become.

Then the Huns came from the East, defeating almost any enemy. In the 370s the Ostrogoths and soon also the Visigoths started a great move. The Visigoths went through Greece, along the Adriatic Coast to Naples and Rome and further to Spain where they defeated the Vandals (who had arrived five years before). The Vandals moved on to what today is Libya.

As the Ostrogoths and the Huns had moved on, it turned out that the Slavs popped up as the successors after the abdicated Ostrogothian lords. While the Baltic languages and culture almost disappeared, the Slavic area now greatly increased. After the Huns are defeated, Slavic tribes are identified along the southern Baltic shore, in all of the area east of River Elbe and (beside Magyars) in the area east of the Alps.

Examples of these nowadays almost forgotten names are:

Finnic tribes:

Baltic tribes:

Slavic tribes:

During the 6th century the Gutar from Gotland island established colonies at the eastern shore of the Baltic sea, for instance at the estuary of River Dvina. Later, in the 9th century, Curland/Courland was conquered by Swedish Vikings.

In western Europe the Franks conquered all the land from River Rhine to the Pyrenées; the Angles and a lot of Jutes and Saxons conquered England; and the Langobards came to conquer the Ostrogothian realm in today's Yugoslavia and Italy.

In eastern Scandinavia, the Uppland region north of Lake Mälaren (Roslagen - the Rus people) increased its dominance. ...a dominance which has been held ever since. Gutar, Götar, Finns and Sámis constitute contemporary cultures.

In southern Scandinavia the Danes dominated. Saxo Grammaticus tells, if we ought to confide in his tales, that Saxonians and Slavs from time to time paid tributes to Danish kings. According to Saxo also Scania, Gotland, Värmland, Jämtland and Hälsingland in present-day Sweden were lands of the Danes, although usually not under a common king.

Then, during the 8th century Muslims conquered the Germanic realms on Africa's northern coast and on the Iberian peninsula. Left was the region of Franks, which after a split in the 9th century came to constitute the states of France and Germany.

At this time trade through Russia to the muslim Persia became important. The Russian waterways are dominated by Svear and Gutar (Svenonians and Guths) called Varyagi or Varangians by the Slavs, and according to written sources present at the Sea of Azov in 739 A.D. The castles in Russia evolve to separate kingdoms and get Christianized.

With Christianity (if not before) Germanic lords began to conquer many lands inhabited by Slavs, Balts and Estonians/Finns claiming supremacy - but as constituting a minute minority often soon assimilated.

...but with the arrival of Christian religion, the prehistoric era ends, and so does this tale.



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© Copyright 1994-2001 by Antti Lahelma and Johan Olofsson.
You are free to quote this page as long as you mention the URL.
The line of flags is modified after a picture at det Åländska skoldatanätet.
This page was last updated June the 27th in the year of 1998.

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