Normans, in modern times, persons from the French province of Normandy. Originally “Norman,” was the softened pronunciation of “Norsemen,” the name for the Viking raiders (Norwegians and Danes) who conquered the lower Seine region. The West Frankish king, Charles the Simple, was unable to dislodge these Vikings. In 911 he made their leader, Rollo, a duke. In return, the Normans agreed to defend the kingdom and to be baptized as Christians. They soon adopted the language and customs of northern France.

Normandy became the strongest and best administered of the French duchies. Duke William conquered England in 1066, became king, and established there a strong feudal monarchy, blending Norman institutions with native Anglo-Saxon elements. His Norman followers became the nobility of England. The Norman conquest greatly affected English language, law, and customs. Norman nobles also brought part of Ireland under English rule in the 12th century and settled there.

During the early 11th century, Norman bands established themselves in southern Italy. Their most successful leader, Robert Guiscard, defeated Byzantine and Lombard soldiers and became duke of Apulia in 1059. Before his death in 1085 he ruled all of southern Italy. His brother Roger conquered the Saracens in Sicily. Roger's son, Roger II, created the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1130. The Norman dynasty lasted only until 1194, when Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, a Hohenstaufen, succeeded to the throne.

In 1204 King Philip II of France conquered Normandy and made it part of the royal domain. The Normans of Normandy became integrated into French society; those who had settled abroad also eventually lost their separate identity.