Viking History: One of the Greatest Times in History

Vikings were a Norwegian, Icelandic, Danish and Swedish people who lived around the coasts of Scandinavia and raided the coasts of Scandinavia, the British Isles, and other parts of Europe from the late 8th century to the 11th century. This period of European history (generally dated to AD 793 - AD 1066) is often referred to as the Viking Age. The term Viking may denote only the explorers, traders and warriors who originated in Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden, but it may also be used to denote the entire populations of these countries and their settlements elsewere. Famed for their navigation ability and long ships, Vikings had in a few hundred years colonized the coasts and rivers of Europe, the islands of Shetland, Orkney, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and even a short expedition to Newfoundland, circa AD 1000 while still reaching as far south as North Africa for raiding and trading. The Vikings declined with the introduction of Christianity to Scandinavia by the 11th century, thus ending the Viking Age into the Middle Ages.

The word “Viking” was introduced to the English language with romantic connotations in the 18th century. Today, somewhat controversially, the word is also used as a generic adjective, referring to the Viking Age Scandinavians. The medieval Scandinavian population, in general, is more properly referred to as Norse.

The Viking Age
See main article Viking Age.

The period of North Germanic expansion, usually taken to last from the earliest recorded raids in the 790s until the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, is commonly called the 'Viking Age.' The Vikings may be seen as late joiners in the Migrations period, and thus the period links Late Antiquity with the high Middle Ages. Geographically, a "Viking Age" may be assigned not only to the Scandinavian lands (modern Denmark, and southern Norway and Sweden), but also to territories under North Germanic dominance, mainly the Danelaw, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Ireland. Contemporary with the European Viking Age, the Byzantine Empire experienced the greatest period of stability (circa 800–1071) it would enjoy after the initial wave of Arab conquests in the mid-seventh century.

Viking navigators also opened the road to new lands to the north and to the west, resulting in the colonization of Shetland, Orkney, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and even a short expedition to Newfoundland, circa AD 1000.

During three centuries, Vikings appeared along the coasts and rivers of Europe, as traders, but also as raiders, and even as settlers. From 839, there were Varangian mercenaries in Byzantine service (most famously Harald Hardrada, who campaigned in North Africa and Jerusalem in the 1030s). Important trading ports during the period include Birka, Hedeby, Kaupang, Jorvik, Staraja Ladoga, Novgorod and Kiev. Generally speaking, the Norwegians expanded to the north and west, the Danes to England, settling in the Danelaw, and the Swedes to the east. But the three nations were not yet clearly separated, and still united by the common Old Norse language. The names of Scandinavian kings are known only for the later part of the Viking Age, and only after the end of the Viking Age did the separate kingdoms acquire a distinct identity as nations, which went hand in hand with their christianization. Thus it may be noted that the end of the Viking Age (9th–11th ct.) for the Scandinavians also marks the start of their relatively brief Middle Ages.

In 793 A.D., the Vikings raid on Lindisfarne made their presence known to the powerful empires of Europe at the time. Lindisfarne was a monastery in England, where the people of Lindisfarne kept their treasury.

Viking Age Politics in Denmark
After the murder of King Godfred in 810, a power struggle exiled most of the royal family. Those who became kings though had to worry of those returning Vikings who often challanged them for power after returning home with booty from raids or reinforcments. Horik, son of Godfred took over in 827 until a civil war which resulted in his death. Details of positions of power are unclear after this until around 900 when Viking raiders returning from Sweden took power. Following this was the Jelling Dynasty, which was ruled by Harold Blåtand (Harold Bluetooth) who claimed to have conquered all of Denmark on the Jelling Stones and claimed Denmark as Christian.

The Viking invasions: a commercial war?
Le Secret des Vikings is a pseudohistorical work by the French author Joel Supéry. According to Supéry, the Scandinavian attacks against the Frankish Empire were carried out not by raiding adventurers looking for gold and silver but by armies applying a military strategy.

In AD 795, long before the start of the Danish invasion proper in 840, Scandinavians were present in Asturias, on the northern shore of Spain, where they fought with the local king against the Moors. In 799, the Franks attacked them in Noirmoutier ; in 812, a Viking fleet was seen off Perpignan on the Mediterranean Sea. In AD 816, Northmen were in Pamplona fighting together with a Navarrese army against the Moors. In 823 and 825, their presence was recorded on the Ria Mundaka in Biscaya. According to Supéry, the intention of these Vikings was to create a commercial route to the Mediterranean Sea, then the centre of the world's trade.

The main western European trading route between the south and the north was the Rhine-Rhône axis. The Franks initiated a form of commercial blockade in an effort to weaken the Danish kingdom. The Danes therefore decided to create their own route to the south along the Frankish coast. On this route they met the Moors, who were the masters of the Strait of Gibraltar. As this course was deemed too risky, they decided to reach the oriental markets by crossing the Pyrenees, passing through Mundaka (Guernika), Pamplona and then Tortosa, which was the main slave market in Europe.

In 840, the Danes began their attacks on the Frankish Empire – not on the Seine but on the Adour. Gascony fell under their complete control as early as 844. The leader of the invasion, Björn Ironside, became the ruler of the area and gave his name to Bayonne (originally "Björnhamn"). Hastein had occupied Noirmoutier in 843. In 845 Asgeir began to settle in Saintonge in Aquitania. Effectively, by 845 all the lands around the Bay of Biscay were under Danish control.

The Danish war in the north of France began with two objectives: to weaken the power of King Charles the Bald and to prevent the Franks from attacking in the south. In 858, having crushed the Frankish kingdom, Björn concluded a treaty with Charles the Bald whereby the Danes were formally granted all the country south of the river Garonne, an area which was thereafter no longer mentioned in the Frankish annals.

In the following year, Björn forced the king of Navarre to make a treaty allowing the Danes to cross Navarre to reach the river Ebro and Tortosa. He then sailed with Hastein to the Mediterranean Sea. While Hastein set about disorganizing trade in the Rhine valley and Italy, Björn attacked Constantinople, after joining up with the Swedish Varyags who had come across Rus. He obtained a commercial treaty from the Byzantine Emperor intended to attract trade away from the Rhône to the Ebro. In 863, Dorestad in Frisia, the Franks' main commercial centre on the Rhine, was definitively destroyed. The first Viking war was over: the Danes had set up a new trade network in place of an older and opposing one.

Then a new war began: the Danish chiefs tried to emulate the success of Björn in Gascony and to create their own overseas kingdoms. Northumbria, Mercia, Frisia, Aquitaine, Bretagne and Normandy were all affected by these attempts to found Scandinavian settlements.

Gascony stayed under the Vikings’ control for 140 years. Their army was finally defeated in 982 by forces from Gascony, Périgord and Navarre. The Gascons of Nordic origin were allowed to stay in the country which had become rich under their rule, but they were condemned not to mix with other communities, becoming (according to one legend) the despised and ostracized Agotes or Cagots. Yet their continuing presence in the Biscay area may help to explain why the Basques have so many traditions (such as whale hunting) with possible Nordic origins, and perhaps why they are said to have reached America one hundred years before Christopher Colombus.

After decades of trade and settlement, Christianity was introduced into Scandinavia by the 11th century, and the process of Christianization was completed during the Middle Ages. The coming of Christianity, and with the inclusion into a wider European civilization, as well as technical advances in warfare, made the Viking raids less desirable and less profitable, and eventually the political structures based on them were replaced by structures based more on continental feudalism.

Historical records

A composite image made from several sides of the Ledberg Runestone having illustrations of what probably are Varangians in the Byzantine Empire and a Byzantine shipThe earliest date given for a Viking raid is 787 AD when, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a group of men from Norway sailed to Portland, in Dorset. There, they were mistaken for merchants by a royal official, and they murdered him when he tried to get them to accompany him to the king's manor to pay a trading tax on their goods. The next recorded attack, dated June 8, 793 AD, was on the monastery at Lindisfarne – the "Holy Island" – on the east coast of England. For the next 200 years, European history is filled with tales of Vikings and their plundering.

Vikings exerted influence throughout the coastal areas of Ireland and Scotland, and conquered and colonized large parts of England (see Danelaw). They travelled up the rivers of France and Spain, and gained control of areas in Russia and along the Baltic coast. Stories tell of raids in the Mediterranean and as far east as the Caspian Sea.

Adam of Bremen records in his book Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum, (volume four): - :Aurum ibi plurimum, quod raptu congeritur piratico. Ipsi enim piratae, 'quos illi Wichingos as appellant, nostri Ascomannos regi Danico tributum solvunt. - :"There is much gold here (in Zealand), accumulated by piracy. These pirates, which are called wichingi by their own people, and Ascomanni by our own people, pay tribute to the Danish king."

Viking raids in Iberia
By the mid 9th century, though apparently not before (Fletcher 1984, ch. 1, note 51), there were Viking attacks on the coastal Kingdom of Asturias in the far northwest of the peninsula, though historical sources are too meagre to assess how frequent or how early raiding was. By the reign of Alfonso III Vikings were stifling the already weak threads of sea communications that tied Galicia (a province of the Kingdom) to the rest of Europe. Richard Fletcher attests raids on the Galician coast in 844 and 858: "Alfonso III was sufficiently worried by the threat of Viking attack to establish fortified strong points near his coastline, as other rulers were doing elsewhere." In 968 bishop Sisnando of Compostela was killed, the monastery of Curtis was sacked, and measures were ordered for the defence of the inland town of Lugo. After Tuy was sacked early in the 11th century, its bishopric remained vacant for the next half-century. Ransom was a motive for abductions: Fletcher instances Amarelo Mestáliz, who was forced to raise money on the security of his land in order to ransom his daughters who had been captured by the Vikings in 1015. Bishop Cresconio of Compostela (ca. 1036–66) repulsed a Viking foray and built the fortress at Torres del Oeste (Council of Catoira) to protect Compostela from the Atlantic approaches.

In the Islamic south, the first navy of the Emirate was called into being after the humiliating Viking ascent of the Guadalquivir, 844, and was tested in repulsing Vikings in 859. Soon the dockyards at Seville were extended, it was employed to patrol the Iberian coastline under the caliphs Abd al-Rahman III (912–61) and Al-Hakam II (961–76). By the next century piracy from Saracens superseded the Viking scourge.

Rune stones
Many rune stones in Scandinavia record the names of participants in Viking expeditions. Other rune stones mention men who died on Viking expeditions, among them the around 25 Ingvar stones in the Mälardalen district of Sweden erected to commemorate members of a disastrous expedition into present-day Russia in the early 11th century. The rune stones are important sources in the study of the entire Norse society and early medieval Scandinavia, not only of the 'Viking' segment of the population (Sawyer, P H: 1997).

Icelandic sagas
Norse mythology, Norse sagas and Old Norse literature tell us about their religion through tales of heroic and mythological heroes. However, the transmission of this information was primarily oral, and we are reliant upon the writings of (later) Christian scholars, such as the Icelanders Snorri Sturluson and Sæmundr fróði, for much of this. An overwhelming amount of these sagas were written in Iceland.

Vikings in those sagas are described as if they often struck at accessible and poorly defended targets, usually with impunity. The sagas state that the Vikings built settlements and were skilled craftsmen and traders.

The etymology of "Viking" is somewhat vague. One path might be from the Old Norse word, vík, meaning "bay," "creek," or "inlet," and the suffix -ing, meaning "coming from" or "belonging to." Thus, viking would be a 'person of the bay', or "bayling" for lack of a better word. In Old Norse, this would be spelled víkingr. Later on, the term, viking, became synonymous with "naval expedition" or "naval raid", and a víkingr was a member of such expeditions. A second etymology suggested that the term is derived from Old English, wíc, ie. "trading city" (cognate to Latin vicus, "village").

The word viking appears on several rune stones found in Scandinavia. In the Icelandic sagas, víking refers to an overseas expedition (Old Norse farar i vikingr "to go on an expedition"), and víkingr, to a seaman or warrior taking part in such an expedition.

In Old English, the word wicing appears first in the Anglo-Saxon poem, "Widsith", which probably dates from the 9th century. In Old English, and in the writings of Adam von Bremen, the term to a pirate, and is not a name for a people or a culture in general.

The word disappeared in Middle English, and was reintroduced as viking during 18th century Romanticism (the "Viking revival"), with heroic overtones of "barbarian warrior" or noble savage. During the 20th century, the meaning of the term was expanded to refer not only to the raiders, but also to the entire period; it is now, somewhat confusingly, used as a noun both in the original meaning of raiders, warriors or navigators, and to refer to the Scandinavian population in general. As an adjective, the word is used in expressions like "Viking age," "Viking culture," "Viking colony," etc., generally referring to medieval Scandinavia.

There were two distinct classes of Viking ships: the Viking longships and warship. The Viking longships ranged from 70 to 140 feet, while the more practical Viking warship ranged from 70 to 80 feet. There were also smaller boats, which could be from 10 feet to 50 feet. Such boats could have been fishing or ferry boats.

These boats were identical to those used by the Scandinavian defense fleets, known as the ledung. The term "Viking ships" has entered common usage, however, possibly because of its Romantic associations (discussed below).

The faster warships were used for coastal patrol and policing, as well transport for Viking troops. [1]

In Roskilde are the well-preserved remains of five longships and Warships, excavated from nearby Roskilde Fjord in the late 1960s. The ships were scuttled there in the 11th century to block a navigation channel, thus protecting the city which was then the Danish capital, from seaborne assault. These five ships represent two distinct classes of Viking Ships, the Longship and Warship.

Modern revivals
See also 19th century Viking revival. Early modern publications, dealing with what we now call Viking culture, appeared in the 16th century, e.g. Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (Olaus Magnus, 1555), and the first edition of the 13th century Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus in 1514. The pace of publication increased during the 17th century with Latin translations of the Edda (notably Peder Resen's Edda Islandorum of 1665).

According to the Swedish writer, Jan Guillou, the word Viking was popularized, with positive connotations, by Erik Gustaf Geijer in the poem, The Viking, written at the beginning of the 19th century. The word was taken to refer to romanticized, idealized naval warriors, who had very little to do with the historical Viking culture. This renewed interest of Romanticism in the Old North had political implications. A myth about a glorious and brave past was needed to give the Swedes the courage to retake Finland, which had been lost in 1809 during the war between Sweden and Russia. The Geatish Society, of which Geijer was a member, popularized this myth to a great extent. Another Swedish author who had great influence on the perception of the Vikings was Esaias Tegnér, member of the Geatish Society, who wrote a modern version of Friðþjófs saga ins frœkna, which became widely popular in the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom and Germany.

A focus for early British enthusiasts was George Hicke, who published a Linguarum vett. septentrionalium thesaurus in 1703–1705. During the 18th century, British interest and enthusiasm for Iceland and Nordic culture grew dramatically, expressed in English translations as well as original poems, extolling Viking virtues and increased interest in anything Runic that could be found in the Danelaw, rising to a peak during Victorian times.

The German composer Richard Wagner's works are strongly influenced by Norse mythology.

The Romanticist heroic Viking ideal and the Wagnerian mythology also appealed to the Germanic supremacist thinkers of Nazi Germany as reflected, for example, in the runic emblem of the SS, the neo-Nazi youth organization Wiking-Jugend, and its Odal rune symbol (see also fascist symbolism). The Norwegian fascist party Nasjonal Samling used viking symbolism and imagery widely in its propaganda.

Staged fight during a Viking festival[edit]
Living History
Since the 1960s, there has been rising enthusiasm for historical reenactment. While the earliest groups had little claim for historical accuracy, the seriousness and accuracy of re-enactors has increased dramatically during the 1990s, including many re-enactment groups concentrating on an accurate representation of the Viking Age.

Popular myths

Danish Viking Toy[edit]
Horned helmets
Apart from two or three representations of (ritual) helmets with protrusions that may be either snakes or horns, no depiction of Viking Age warriors' helmets, and no actually preserved helmet, has horns. In fact, the formal close-quarters style of Viking combat (either in shield walls or aboard "ship islands") would have made horned helmets cumbersome and hazardous to the warrior's own side. The general misconception that vikings wore horned helmets was partly promulgated by the 19th-century enthusiasts of the Götiska Förbundet, founded in 1811 in Stockholm, with the aim of promoting the suitability of Norse mythology as subjects of high art and other ethnological and moral aims. The latter-day mythos created by national romantic ideas blended the Viking Age with glimpses of the Nordic Bronze Age some 2000 years earlier, for which actual horned helmets, probably for ceremonial purposes, are attested both in petroglyphs and by actual finds (See Bohuslän [1]). The cliché is perpetuated by cartoons like Hägar the Horrible and Vicky the Viking.

Skull cups
The use of human skulls as drinking vessels is also ahistorical. The rise of this myth can be traced back to a mistranslation of an Icelandic kenning. In the Latin translation of the Krákumál by Magnús Ólafsson (in Ole Worm's Runer seu Danica literatura antiquissima of 1636), warriors drinking ór bjúgviðum hausa [from the curved branches of skulls, i.e. from horns] were rendered as drinking ex craniis eorum quos ceciderunt [from the skulls of those whom they had slain]. (Scandinavian skalli/skalle: skal means simply "shell" and skál/skål "bowl".) The skull-cup allegation may have some history also in relation with other Germanic tribes (see skull cups).

The image of wild-haired, dirty savages, sometimes associated with the Vikings in popular culture, has hardly any base in reality. The Vikings used a variety of tools for personal grooming such as combs, tweezers, razors or specialized "ear spoons". In particular, combs are among the most frequent artifacts from Viking Age graves, and one can conclude that a comb was the personal equipment of every man and woman. The Vikings also used soap, long before it was reintroduced to Europe after the fall of the Byzantine Empire.

The Vikings in England even had a particular reputation of excessive cleanliness, due to their custom of bathing once a week, on Saturdays (as opposed to the local Anglo-Saxons). To this day Saturday is referred to as laugardagur/lørdag "bathing day" in the Scandinavian languages. As for the Rus', who had later acquired a subjected Varangian component, Ibn Rustah explicitly notes their cleanliness, while Ibn Fadlan is disgusted by all of the men sharing the same vessel to wash their faces and blow their noses in the morning. Ibn Fadlan's disgust is probably motivated by ideas of personal hygiene particular to the Muslim world, while the very example intended to convey the disgusting customs of the Rus' at the same time records that they did in fact wash every morning.

Famous Vikings
Askold and Dir (legendary Varangian conquerors of Kiev)
Björn Ironside (pillaged in Italy and son of Ragnar Lodbrok)
Egill Skallagrímsson (popular icelandic warrior and skald, see also Egils saga)
Erik the Red (discoverer of Greenland)
Gardar Svavarsson (discoverer of Iceland)
Guthrum (colonised England)
Harald Finehair (founder and first king of Norway; some dispute, as part of the etymological dispute discussed above, whether he really merits the label "Viking" at all)
Harald Hardrada (king of Norway and member of the Varangian Guard)
Hastein (also known as Jarl Hasting)
Ingvar the Far-Travelled (the leader of the last great Swedish viking expedition, which pillaged the shores of the Caspian Sea).
Ivar the Boneless (disabled son of Ragnar Lodbrok who, despite having to be carried on a shield, nevertheless conquered York)
Ingólfur Arnarson (settled in Iceland)
Leif Ericson (discoverer of Vinland)
Oleg of Kiev (conquered Kiev, founded Kievan Rus' and attacked Constantinople)
Ragnar Lodbrok (captured Paris)
Rollo of Normandy (founder of Normandy)
Rurik (founder of the Rus' rule in Eastern Europe)
Skagul Toste (the first Viking to exact the Danegeld)
Styrbjörn Sterki (conqueror of Jomsborg)
Thorfinn Karlsefni (colonizer of Vinland)
- Source: “Famous Vikings of Northern Europe by Harmondsworth: Penguin. New edition 1990 by Penguin Books. ISBN 0140206701.

Vikings, and Viking inspired societies have appeared in a number of works of fiction, including:

The Last Light of the Sun (2004) by the Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay
Eaters of the Dead (1976) by the American author Michael Crichton
The Last Kingdom (2004) by the British author Bernard Cornwell
The Pale Horseman (2005) by the British author Bernard Cornwell
Books about Vikings include:

Going to War in Viking Times by Christopher Gravett
The Vikings by Neil Grant
The Viking World by Christine Hatt
The Vikings (195
The Longships (1963)
Island at the Top of the World (1974)
The Norseman (197
Hrafninn flýgur, (Revenge of the Barbarians/ When the Raven Flies) (1984)
Ofelas, (Pathfinder) (1987)
Í skugga hrafnsins, (In the Shadow of the Raven) (198
Erik the Viking (1989)
Hvíti víkingurinn, (The White Viking) (1991)
The Viking Sagas (1995)
The 13th Warrior (1999)
Ring of the Nibelungs (2004)
Beowulf & Grendel (2005)
Beowulf (In production)
The Northmen (In production)
Pathfinder (In production)
hey jersay
i agree viking history is interesting
ive got a couple of books on the subject
and while was in oslo-- 3 years ago i visited the viking ship museum there
it was awesome

i didnt mean to offend you about equating christians- and vikings--- i was merely alluding to the violent tendencies of both cultures
Where was that posted man. I am not affended by that.
well- it was on another thread

of course- i meant in the past..

today--- the descendants of the vikings --the danes and swedes and norwegians --and icelandics are model world citizens--

i suppose its an example of how-- a one time aggressive militarist culture-- can mature into a peacefull yet industrious and socially just culture
Here is the history of the most important Vikings!
You have good points Cortezz, but Viking or Asatru people atleast still maintain their militaristic or warlike past in claiming that they have beaten back some of the best nations in battles.

The Frencg, Russians, Mongols, the British, and were also used by some powerful empires as 'mercenaries' in their wars.

However, the Scandanavian countries have been more peaceful and more social in there policies recently which is a good sign in this kind of world.

And Toro, the Minnesota Vikings have never won a Super Bowl. Until they do, they are not as important as the real Vikings.
So the Vikings were an imperial power just like the other imperial powers within that era.

So from Scandanavia down too Jersulam, deep into Russia, down to Constantinopole. America, Farole Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Normandy and deep into Europe, Ireland and all of Britain. A great empire indeed.
Quote: Originally Posted by Jersay

And Toro, the Minnesota Vikings have never won a Super Bowl. Until they do, they are not as important as the real Vikings.

We're going all the way this year!

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