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Viking towns in Scandinavia
Vikings ready to invade

The Vikings were people who came from Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) from about 700 AD to about 1125. This period is called the Viking Age.[a] Vikings traveled great distances in their longships, as traders, settlers and warriors. Many of the Vikings were tall and had red or blonde hair and beards.[b] Villages on or near any coast in early medieval Europe lived in great fear of Viking attacks. Some of the countries most affected by Viking raids were Britain, Germany, France, Spain and Italy.[1]

Background[change | change source]

The people of the far north, later called Vikings, were first noticed by the Romans around the year 100 BC. This is when the Cimbri and the Teutons moved into southern Gaul.[2] The Romans believed these war-like tribes came from Jutland. But the Romans suspected they were only a part of a greater threat located further north.[2] The Roman historians Jordanes described the destructive Ostrogoths and Visigoths as having come from Gotland.[2] The northern menace survived the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

The Frankish Empire that succeeded them in Gaul became more and more aware of the northern threat.[2] As the later Carolingian Empire expanded into northern Germany they came into contact with the Danish people. This is when the Vikings first entered into written history.[2] The first recorded raid in the west was at Lindisfarne in 793.[3] Why the Vikings suddenly began raiding is not completely clear. But a popular theory is the populations had grown to the point there was not enough food to feed everyone.[4] The earliest raiders did not seem to want to move out of Scandinavia. They turned to looting, then returning home. This seems to indicate there was space enough for everyone.[4] Because they found raiding so easy, it became more and more popular among the Vikings.[4]

Three different groups of Vikings can be identified. They took three different, sometimes overlapping, routes.[4]

Vikings in Europe[change | change source]

Europeans were scared of the Vikings because of their strong weapons, swift attacks, and cruel fighting tactics. They were known for their bad treatment of women, children and monks in the places where they fought. When the Vikings came to England, the English kings paid them to leave the country, but the Vikings took their money and sometimes fought them anyway. These payments were called Danegeld. From the 9th century to 1066, when the French Duke of Normandy, who became King William I of England conquered it, Danish and Norwegian Vikings ruled large parts of England.

Because of their longships, which could float in 4 feet (1.3m) of water, the Vikings were able to make their way up rivers and land deep inside a country. For example they sailed up the River Shannon in Ireland and built a harbour 60 miles (100 km) from the coast.

There was a difference in who led Viking raids. In the 9th century Viking Age raids were led by men who may have been exiles in their own countries.[5] The later Viking raids in the late 10th century and early 11th century and were led by Kings.[5] Some of the early leaders tried to become kings with the riches they plundered from Europe and Russia. Some were successful but most were not.[5]

In Russia and the Mediterranean[change | change source]

The Vikings were called Rus by the peoples east of the Baltic Sea.[6] The Vikings who settled in Kiev and formed the first Russian state.[6] The Vikings (Rus) who served the Byzantine Emperors were called Varangians. They became the personal bodyguards to the Emperor and were called the Varangian Guard.[7]

Exploration[change | change source]

The Vikings traveled through Russia, the Mediterranean Sea, southern Europe, northern Africa and south-western Asia. Some Vikings sailed across the Atlantic Ocean via Iceland and Greenland and may have explored places in North America. The ruins of a Viking settlement have been found at L'Anse-aux-Meadows, Newfoundland.[8] Archaeologists used radiocarbon dating to find out how old the settlement was. Their tests gave them a range of dates from about AD 700 to about AD 1000.[9]

Language[change | change source]

Some words from the Scandinavian and Viking language (Norse) entered the English language. For example, the words skirt and shirt came from the word skyrta, meaning a tunic. As English changed, the semantics altered to give us the separate words 'skirt' and 'shirt' we know today. Skin came from the Norse word skinn (which meant to strip the meat off something). Some place-names in the areas the Vikings conquered are still in use.[10] For example in Yorkshire places ending with -thwaite meant a clearing,[11] and dale which meant a valley. The word thorpe meant new village, such as Scunthorpe.[12]

Related pages[change | change source]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. The dating of the 'Viking Age' depends on the location and how the term is used. Generally it is from about 700/800 to about 1030/1100 (later for some purposes).[13] In Ireland, the Viking age was from about 825–885 and 910–999.[13] In France from about 834–890 and in Southern England from the 840s–910.[13] In studying Vikings and their religion, the dates of the Viking Age are from about 800–1300.[14]
  2. Scandinavians typically were of mixed hair color; natural red hair color being roughly between 5-10% of the people who lived there. But men used the same harsh lye soaps as women did that had a bleaching effect making their hair and beards reddish blonde to blonde.[15]

References[change | change source]

  1. Colin Hynson, How People Lived in Viking Times (New York: Rosen Group Publishing, Inc., 2009), p. 6
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 René Chartrand; et al., The Vikings: Voyagers of Discovery and Plunder (Oxford: Osprey, 2006), pp. 10–11
  3. Bonnie G Smith; Richard Von Glahn; Kris E Lane; et al, Crossroads and Cultures, Volume B: 500-1750 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012), p. 298
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Jill N. Claster, The Medieval Experience, 300-1400 (New York: New York University Press, 1982), pp. 138–140
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 P.H. Sawyer, Kings and Vikings: Scandinavia and Europe AD 700–1100 (London; New York: Methuen, 1982), p. 145
  6. 6.0 6.1 Martina Sprague, Sweden: An Illustrated History (New York: Hippocrene Books, 2005), p. 37
  7. William L. Urban, Medieval Mercenaries: The Business of War (London: Greenhill Books, 2006), pp. 23–24
  8. F. Donald Logan, The Vikings in History (Oxford; New York: Routledge, 2006), pp. 82–84
  9. F. Donald Logan, The Vikings in History (Oxford; New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 86
  10. "Place-names in The Danelaw". 2004 [last update]. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  11. "Thwaite Meaning and Definition". year=2011 [last update]. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  12. "BBC - History - Legacy of the Vikings". 2011 [last update]. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Eric Christiansen, Norsemen in the Viking Age (Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2002), pp. 7–8
  14. Thomas Andrew DuBois, Nordic Religions in the Viking Age (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), p. 5
  15. Mary Wilhelmine Williams, Social Scandinavia in the Viking Age (New York: Macmillan, 1920), p. 80–83

Other websites[change | change source]