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[ nohr-mahns ]

(Normans were Vikings from Scandinavia, but not all Vikings are Normans.)

Normans, designation for the Northmen, or Norsemen, who conquered Normandy in the 10th cent. and adopted Christianity and the customs and language of France.

Abandoning piracy and raiding, they adopted regular commerce and gave much impetus to European trade. They soon lost all connection with their original Scandinavian homeland, but they retained their craving for adventure, expansion, and enrichment.

In 1066 the Norman Conquest of England made the duke of Normandy king of England as William I (William the Conqueror). The Norman nobility displaced the Anglo-Saxon nobility of England. The Normans readily adapted to the feudalism of N France and are believed either to have introduced feudalism to England or to have strengthened a pre-existing feudal system there.

Early in the 11th cent. bands of Norman adventurers appeared in south Italy, where at first they aided the local nobles in their rebellion against Byzantine rule. A steady stream of land-hungry Norman nobles, under the pretext of expelling the Greeks, proceeded to take over the land. Most remarkable among these adventurers were the numerous sons of Tancred de Hauteville. One of these, William Iron Arm, became lord of Apulia in 1043; he was succeeded by his brother Drogo and by another brother, Humphrey, who defeated (1053) Pope Leo IX when the pope attempted to enforce papal rights in S Italy. In 1059, Humphrey's brother and successor Robert Guiscard was invested by Pope Nicholas II with duchies of Apulia and Calabria and the island of Sicily, which was yet to be conquered. He completed the Norman conquest of S Italy; another brother, Roger I, conquered Sicily, and in 1130 Roger's son, Roger II, set up the kingdom of Sicily, which included the island and the Norman possessions in S Italy.

The Normans soon adopted Italian speech and customs. Their ambitious plans against the Byzantine Empire were a factor in bringing about the Crusades, in which they at first played an important part. The medieval Normans were notable for the great authority given their dukes; for their enthusiasm for conquest; and for their economic and social penetration of conquered areas. Wherever the Normans went, Norman architecture left its traces.


See E. Curtis, Roger of Sicily and the Normans in Lower Italy (1912); C. H. Haskins, The Normans in European History (1915, repr. 1966) and Norman Institutions (1918, repr. 1960); J. J. C. Norwich, The Normans in the South, 1016-1130 (1967) and The Kingdom in the Sun, 1130-1194 (1970); E. Searle, Predatory Kinship and the Creation of Norman Power (1988).

SOURCE: majority of content above Copyright© 2003, The Expanded Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Columbia University Press. Used without permission of Columbia University Press.


William the Conqueror, his fellow Normans, and their descendants formed a distinct population in England. Ousting most of the previous Saxon rulers (as the Saxons had generations before, displaced the leaders of the native Britons), they occupied most of the top places in the feudal structure. As a result, the country was divided for a time along cultural lines. The resentments common in this period are reflected in the popular legends of Robin Hood. Over time, the two populations largely intermarried and merged, combining languages (Norman speech having been already largely displaced among the upper echelons by the French of the Paris region) and traditions.

The Norsemen did not differ essentially from the other Vikings, who were known as Danes in England and as Varangians in Russia.



Norsemen, name given to the Scandinavian Vikings who raided and settled on the coasts of the European continent in the 9th and 10th cent. They are also referred to as Northmen or Normans. Recent research indicates that Norse raids of Western Europe may have been known in the early Middle Ages. Among the causes of the great influx (9th cent.) of Norsemen to the coasts of NW Germany, the Low Countries, France, and Spain were lust for wealth and power, search for adventure, and the attempt of King Harold I of Norway to subjugate the independent nobles of his land, thereby forcing them to look to foreign conquests. The impact of the Norse invasions was particularly lasting in N France. The invaders, whose major raids began c.843, sailed up the French rivers, particularly the Seine, and repeatedly attacked, looted, and burned such cities as Rouen and Paris. Their actions threatened to plunge France back into the barbarism from which it was just emerging. The Norsemen gradually established settlements, generally at the river mouths; thus they constantly threatened to renew their river raids, and they ruined French commerce and navigation. In 911, Rollo, one of their leaders, was invested by King Charles III (Charles the Simple) with the duchy of Normandy, originally the territory around Rouen. Rollo's successors considerably expanded their territory and were only nominal vassals of the French kings. The Norsemen accepted Christianity, adopted French law and speech, and continued in history under the name of Normans. The name of Normandy itself and several Norman place names are survivals of the Norse period. The Norsemen did not differ essentially from the other Vikings, who were known as Danes in England and as Varangians in Russia.
See T. D. Kendrick, A History of the Vikings (1930, repr. 1968); E. C. Oxenstierna, The Norsemen (tr. 1965) and The World of the Norsemen (tr. 1968).

The Expanded Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia Copyright© 2003. Columbia University Press. Used with permission of Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. Except as otherwise permitted by written agreement, the following are prohibited: copying substantial portions of the entirety of the work in machine readable form, making multiple printout thereof, and other uses of the work inconsistent with U.S. and applicable copyright and related laws.


Other topics:

* Viking settlers in France

* William the Conqueror

* history of France from the 10th through 15th centuries

* Norman French Language

* Normandy
role in European history : areas ruled by Normans
--- --- England
--- --- --- Dover
--- --- --- Hastings (battle of)
--- ---
--- --- Alexius I
--- --- Comnenus
--- --- Thessaloníki
--- --- Ireland
--- --- Italy
--- --- Sicily
--- --- Wales
--- --- --- Anglesey
--- --- --- Breconshire
--- --- --- Flintshire
--- --- --- Glamorganshire
--- --- --- Pembrokeshire

* invasions or occupations by Normans
* quotations
* relations with France and England
* royalty and leaders


The Norman Conquest of England
-- Invasion of England, 1066 ("eyewitness to history")
Recommended Reading:
Campaigns of the Norman Conquest (Essential Histories)
other books about the normans

updated: 28-May-2005 ;