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  Wikipedia: Viking

Wikipedia: Viking
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

This article is about the Viking people. There is also an article about NASA's Viking program.

The Vikings or Varangians were traders (and most certainly pirates) from Scandinavia who in the years between 800 and 1050 colonised, raided and traded the lengths of the coasts, rivers and islands of Europe and the northeastern shores of North America. They called themselves Norsemen (Northmen) and they still refer to themselves as the people of the North (nordbor).

The Vikings were Germanic people, like the Goths, Vandals, and the Saxons; the countries that now make up Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Holland and Germany. Their ruthlessness and courage in battle is well-documented; however, it should be noted that they also made settlements and traded with their neighbors.

The Viking Age is the name of the latter part of the Iron Age in Scandinavia.

In Russia and the Byzantine Empire, the Vikings were known as Varangians (Vćringjar, meaning "sworn men"), and the Scandinavian bodyguards of the Byzantine emperors were known as the Varangian Guard.

Other names include Danes, Northmen, Norsemen Germanians and Normans.


The Viking propensity for trade is easily seen in market ports such as Hedeby; close to the border with the Franks it was effectively a crossroads between the cultures, until its eventual destruction by the Norwegians in an internecine dispute in c. 1050.

The word viking comes from old Norse vikingr, meaning 'pirate', or originally 'bay', 'creek', 'inlet'. The word is used by for example Snorri Sturluson in this meaning.

According to the Swedish writer Jan Guillou, the word in a positive meaning was coined by Erik Gustaf Geijer in his poem The Viking written at the beginning of the 1800-century. Now, the word was taken to signify brave sea warriors which had very little in common with the actual vikings. This change of meaning was probably political: a myth about a glorious and brave past history was needed to give the swedes the courage to retake Finland, which was lost during the war between Sweden and Russia at 1809. Finland had belonged to the kingdom of Sweden for about 600 years. The Geatish Society, of which Geijer was a member, popularized this myth to a great extent.

Another author which had a great influence on the perception of the Vikings was Esaias Tegnér, another member of the Geatish Society, who wrote a modern version of Frithiofs Saga, which became widely popular in the nordic countries, Great Britain and Germany.

Historical records

The first report of a Viking raid dates from 793, when the monastery at Lindisfarne on the east coast of England was pillaged by foreign seafarers. 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 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.


The achievements of the Norsemens were quite exceptional. For instance they made distance tables for sea voyages that were so exact that they only differ 2-4% from modern satellite measurements, even on long distances such as across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Norsemens had a, for that time, a supperior technology of ship construction.

Trading Cities

Here are some information about archeology from ancient cities during the Viking Age such as Birca (Sweden), Hedeby (Denmark), Kaupang (Norway) and Staraja Ladoga (Russia).


An important settlement was at island Birca (Birka or Bierkř, today named Björk-ön, "Birch-island"), and it worked as an important trading port in the Baltic sea region for goods exchange, since it covered goods from Eastern Europe and China. It is located in the lake Mälaren, not far from Stockholm.

Important source is archeology remains and texts. The written text ?Ansgars levnad, "Ansgars living"? by Rimbert (about 865) which is how Ansgars missionary work around 830 was performed at Birch-island. An other written source by Adam of Bremen is about an archbishop Unni, who died at Birca 936.

The archeology remainings is located at the north part of Birch-island and spans an area of about 7 ha (or 14 acre). It has been focus for investigation since the 1600-century, but the most intensive was between 1871-95. A larger dig was performed between 1990-95 in a particular region, the "Black Land", of this archeology area. The remainings is both grave-yards and buildings. The construction technics is stil unknown, but mostly wood was used and in the south part of this area is also a castle-buildning called the "Borg" (or the "Castle").

The functionality of the Birch-island was later moved to Sigtuna.




The Viking World

They founded cities such as Jorvik (York), Kiev and Dublin.

The Danes sailed south, to Friesland, France and the southern parts of England. In the years 1013-1016, Canute the Great succeeded to the English throne.

The Swedes sailed to east into Russia, where Rurik founded the first Russian state, and on the rivers south to the Black Sea, Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire.

The Norwegians travelled to the north-west and west, to the Faroes, Shetland, Orkney, Ireland and the northern parts of England. Except in Britain and Ireland, Norwegians mostly found largely uninhabited land and established settlements.

In about the year 1000 A.D, North America was discovered by Bjarni Herjólfsson and settlement attempted by Leif Ericsson and Thorfinnur Karlsefni from Greenland who called it Vinland. A small settlement was placed on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland, near L'Anse aux Meadows, but previous inhabitants and a cold climate brought it to an end within a few years (see Freydis). The archaeological remains are now a UN World Heritage Site. It has now been scientifically established that at the height of the Viking expansion, the northern hemisphere entered into a period of unusual and long lasting cold which continued for several hundred years. This mini-iceage decimated the Greenland colonies, stopped the Viking westward expansion and hampered the Viking homelands.

Some also think the Vikings made it as far south as the Canary Islands and Mexico, although this is doubtful.

Besides allowing the Vikings to travel far distances, their longships gave them tactical advantages in battles. They could perform very efficient hit-and-run attacks, in which they attacked fast and unexpectedly and left quickly before a counter-offensive could be launched. Longships could also sail in shallow water, allowing the Vikings to get far inland along rivers. A reason for the raids is believed by some to be overpopulation caused by technological advances such as the use of iron, although another cause could well be pressure caused by the Frankish expansion to the south of Scandinavia. For people living along the coast it seems natural to seek new land by sea. Another reason is that in that period several European countries (particularly England, Wales and Ireland) were in internal disarray and easy prey; the Franks, however, had well-defended coasts and heavily fortified ports and harbours. Pure thirst for adventure may also have been a factor. The reliance on Longships was also detrimental to the Vikings later on. As other cultures developed larger, faster and more powerful ships, the Viking failed to maintain the technological ship building race.


Norse mythology and Old Norse literature tell us about their religion with 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 Snorri Sturlusson and Sćmundur Frói "the Wise" Sigfússon for much of this.


After decades of plundering, resistance in other parts of Europe became more effective and Christianity was introduced into Scandinavia, which led to milder tendencies. In addition the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark and Sweden evolved and it is to be believed that their kings wanted more peaceful circumstances.

Myths about Vikings

There is no evidence whatsoever that the Vikings on any occasions wore helmets with horns. This is a latter-day myth created by national romantic ideas in Sweden at the end of the 19th century, notably the Geatish Society, and further imprinted by cartoons like Hagar the Horrible or Asterix and numerous fictitious movies.

The people living in Scandinavia during the Bronze Age did, however, wear horned helmets during ceremonies, as testified by rock carvings.

See also:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
Modified by Geona