The Vikings

From around A.D. 800 to the 11th century, a vast number of Scandinavians left their homelands to seek their fortunes elsewhere. These seafaring warriors are known collectively as Vikings.

Courage, camaraderie, and a lack of chivalry made the Norse fearsome fighters. From the day in 793 when Viking warriors descended on an isolated monastery in the north of England, the Norsemen became an object of fascination and terror for medieval Europeans.

Image source: http://realdepartment.com/tag/vikings-army/

 

Who Were the Vikings?

Contrary to some popular conceptions of the Vikings, they were not a “race” linked by ties of common ancestry or patriotism, and could not be defined by any particular sense of “Viking-ness.” Most of the Vikings whose activities are best known come from the areas now known as Denmark, Norway and Sweden, though there are mentions in historical records of Finnish, Estonian and Saami Vikings as well. Their common ground–and what made them different from the European peoples they confronted–was that they came from a foreign land, they were not “civilized” in the local understanding of the word and–most importantly–they were not Christian.


A drakkar, viking ship. Their ships’ streamlined hulls and shallow keels meant the sleek vessels rode high in the water and skimmed the surface. A square sail that could be raised and lowered quickly meant sailors could easily shift from wind to muscle power.

Image source: http://sciencenordic.com/viking-women-who-disappeared

The exact reasons for Vikings venturing out from their homeland are uncertain; some have suggested it was due to overpopulation of their homeland, but the earliest Vikings were looking for riches, not land.

Info source: https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/vikings-history

Viking Age

The period from the earliest recorded raids in the 790s until the Norman conquest of England in 1066 is commonly known as the Viking Age of Scandinavian history. Vikings used the Norwegian Sea and Baltic Sea for sea routes to the south. The Normans were descended from Vikings who were given feudal overlordship of areas in northern France—the Duchy of Normandy—in the 10th century. In that respect, descendants of the Vikings continued to have an influence in northern Europe. Likewise, King Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, had Danish ancestors. Two Vikings even ascended to the throne of England, with Sweyn Forkbeard claiming the English throne in 1013–1014 and his son Cnut the Great becoming king of England 1016–1035.

Ragnar Lothbrok, a historical figure,King of the Viking tribes.

Image source: http://collider.com/vikings-history-channel/

What made Vikings different from the other european population was the religion, by that time all of the Scandinavian kingdoms were Christian, and what remained of Viking “culture” was being absorbed into the culture of Christian Europe.

Info source: https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/vikings-history

Info source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikings

New trades and technologies

Between the 8th and 11th century, Europe saw significant technological advances. To understand these changes, we have to see them in the context of increasing contact between Scandinavia, the British Isles, and continental Europe, in which the Vikings were key players. Technological innovations such as the potter’s wheel and the vertical loom transformed not only the types of products being manufactured in Viking settlements, but also the scale on which they were produced.

Skilled metalworkers and carpenters

The Vikings were not only fierce warriors, but also accomplished farmers and craftspeople. The less skilled metalworkers produced farming tools while the most skilled would specialise in making the finest weapons, such as swords.

Equipment and weapons of a Viking

 

 

 

 

Image source: https://it.pinterest.com/styygens/viking-armor/?lp=true

 

As well as making weapons for battle, metalworkers also made armour. Helmets were worn by Viking warrior chieftains or wealthy jarls (nobles). Poorer fighters wore leather caps, or hats lined with fur. Wealthy Viking warriors also wore chain-mail tunics, while poorer warriors wore leather vests or padded jackets.

Vikings were also skilled carpenters and shipbuilders. The Oseberg ship is nearly 22 metres long and has 30 oar holes (15 on each side). Note its low, curved hull made of evenly bent planks and its elaborately carved prow (front) and stern (back). Its design shows evidence of the great skill of Viking shipbuilders. Ships like these enabled the Vikings to travel great distances over the seas and discover foreign lands. Their encounters with other cultures also helped them to become skilled traders, exchanging many of their own well-made goods (such as leathers, jewellery, furs and woollens) for foreign foods and luxurious items.

The Oseberg Ship in the Viking Ship Museum (Oslo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image source:https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a6/Viking_Ship_Museum_-_Oseberg_ship_-_3.jpg

Info source: https://www.oup.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0021/58053/Oxford-Big-Ideas-Geography-History-8-ch6-The-Vikings.pdf

Viking Art and Craftmanship

Viking craftspeople also made fine jewellery and other luxury items. Jewellery was another way in which Vikings demonstrated their social standing and wealth. Gold and silver jewellery was worn by those with the most wealth and power in the village. Those of less importance wore bronze or pewter jewellery. Sometimes the silver coins and candlesticks seized on raids were melted down to make jewellery.

An example of a Viking Silver hoard

 

 

Image source: https://regia.org/research/life/othermetalwork.htm

  • Brooches: among the most recognizable Viking artifacts are their brooches. Long studied by archaeologists, they signified gender, status, and ethnicity. Work is ongoing to reveal the advanced technology used in their manufacture.
  • Glass bead jewelry: strings of ornate glass beads are another common sight in Viking museum displays. Beads were made in Scandinavian towns by carefully manipulating colored glass as it melted. Waste deposits prove that the raw glass used in this process came in the form of colored tesserae: small, square blocks from the Mediterranean, where they were used to produce mosaics.
  • Comb-making: animal bones were among the most important materials in pre-modern technology: a durable, flexible, readily available raw material used for everything from knife handles to ice skates. Many such objects could be made quickly, with little training – but not the Vikings’ hair combs. These large, ornate, over-engineered objects took days to manufacture and required a trained hand. Specialized tools such as saws, rasps, and polishers were needed, and deer antler particularly was the material of choice.

Info source: http://www.science20.com/the_conversation/vikings_were_craftsmen_too-153378

 

Over the next three centuries, they would leave their mark as pirates, raiders, traders and settlers on much of Britain and the European continent, as well as parts of modern-day Russia, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland.

The name Viking came from the Scandinavians themselves, from the Old Norse word “vik” (bay or creek) which formed the root of “vikingr” (pirate).

The Vikings were also known as Ascomanni (“ashmen”) by the Germans for the ash wood of their boats, ,”Dubgail and Finngail” ( “dark and fair foreigners”) by the Irish, { Lochlannach (“lake person”) by the Gaels and Dene by the Anglo- Saxons.

All these names show how much the vikings traveled around the world, Facilitated by advanced sailing and navigational skills, Viking activities at times also extended into the Mediterranean littoral, North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Following extended phases of (primarily sea- or river-borne) exploration, expansion and settlement, Viking (Norse) communities and polities were established in diverse areas of north-western Europe, European Russia, the North Atlantic islands and as far as the north-eastern coast of North America. This period of expansion witnessed the wider dissemination of Norse culture, while simultaneously introducing strong foreign cultural influences into Scandinavia itself, with profound developmental implications in both directions.

Viking routes

Image source: http://www.destinationviking.com/routes/viking-routes

Info Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/vikings/

Info source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikings

 

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