The Vikings too came in for the curry.

The Vikings is the modern name given to seafaring Norse pirates from southern Scandinavia (present-day Denmark, Norway and Sweden) who from the late 8th to the late 11th centuries raided, pirated, traded, and settled throughout parts of Europe.

They also voyaged as far as the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, and North America. In some of the countries they raided and settled in, this period is popularly known as the Viking Age, and the term “Viking” also commonly includes the inhabitants of the Norse homelands as a collective whole.

The Vikings had a profound impact on the Early medieval history of Scandinavia, the British Isles, France, Estonia, and Kievan Rus’.

Expert sailors and navigators aboard their characteristic longships, Vikings established Norse settlements and governments in the British Isles, Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Normandy, the Baltic coast, and along the Dnieper and Volga trade routes in what is now European Russia, Belarus and Ukraine (where they were also known as Varangians).

Vikings helmet replica

The Normans, who captured England from Anglo-Saxons, Norse-Gaels, Rus’ people, Faroese and Icelanders emerged from these Norse colonies. The Vikings also voyaged to Constantinople, Iran, and Arabia. They were the first Europeans to reach North America, briefly settling in Newfoundland (Vinland). While spreading Norse culture to foreign lands, they simultaneously brought home slaves, concubines and foreign cultural influences to Scandinavia, profoundly influencing the genetic and historical development of both. During the Viking Age the Norse homelands were gradually consolidated from smaller kingdoms into three larger kingdoms: Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Most Vikings were also farmers, fishermen, craftsmen and traders. Popular conceptions of the Vikings often strongly differ from the complex, advanced civilisation of the Norsemen that emerges from archaeology and historical sources. A romanticised picture of Vikings as noble savages began to emerge in the 18th century; this developed and became widely propagated during the 19th-century Viking revival.

Vikings in the Curry Land of the Tamils

Little known fact was that the Vikings, the Danish, came for the curry too.

Fort Dansborg

The Coromandel Coast was an active international trading coast from the 3rd century BCE. Many Europeans visited these areas since and many ancient Tamil works of literature described them as ‘Yavanas’ or ‘Yavana Traders’.

However, let’s see the trading activities just after the medieval period. Portuguese came in by 1498, followed by Dutch, French, and then finally British. They all known for their colonization in this area.

By late 1530 the Coromandel Coast was home to three Portuguese settlements at Nagapattinam, São Tomé de Meliapore, and Pulicat. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Coromandel Coast was the scene of rivalries among European powers for control of the spice and cotton trade. The British established themselves at Fort St George (Madras) and Masulipatnam, the Dutch at Pulicat, Sadras, and Covelong, the French at Pondicherry, Karaikal, and Nizampatnam, the Danish in Dansborg at Tharangambadi.

The Vikings came for the curry in the Coronmendel Coast

However, we are going to talk about the Danish. For a long, the local Tamils confused Danish with Dutch. Dutch came from Netherland (Holland) whereas Danish came from Denmark.

By about 1620, the Danish Admiral Ove Gjedde signed an agreement with the local Tamil king to use an area of 2.5 miles square miles for rent. They built a fort known now as ‘Fort Dansborg’ at Tranquebar now Tharangambadi. This is the second-largest Danish Fort in the world after the ‘fort Kronborg’ which is a castle and stronghold in the town of Helsingør, Denmark. Fort Dansborg was the base for Danish settlement in the region during the early 17th century. Originally a fishing village, Tharangambadi (referred to as Tranquebar) was fortified by the Danish, who used the port as the main trading post for the colony, with the major export of the colony being cotton textiles and spices. During the middle of the 18th century, the commercial importance of the town declined and the centre of textile production moved to Serampore in the state of Bengal. But Tranquebar still remained the headquarters of the Colony.

The fort and the town were sold to the British in 1845 and, along with Tharangambadi, the fort lost its significance as the town was not a trading post anymore. The fort was built in Danish style, characterized by large halls, columned structures, high ceilings, and projecting drapery.The fort acted as the important gateway in the trade route from Europe to Coramandel. Protestant missionaries were sent from Denmark by King Frederick IV, who was also the head of the Lutheran Church of Denmark. Two of them, namely, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plütschau came to Tranquebar on 9 July 1706, established the Tranquebar Mission, learned Tamil in a few years, and were the first to translate and print ‘The New Testament’ of the Bible in Tamil in the printing press inside the fort.

The Danish mission was the first Protestant mission in the Indian subcontinent and from its inception, was staffed by German missionaries trained at Pietist schools and seminary founded by Francke at the end of the 17th century.

The fort is now used as a museum, housing a collection of major artifacts of the fort and the Danish empire. The fort is one of the most visited tourist landmarks in the region.

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