Who were the Vikings?



The Viking Age was a period in Medieval history (793-1066 CE) marked by trade, raids, colonization, and conquest of the Scandinavian Norsemen known as the Vikings, a people who had their origins in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden centuries before these territories became separate nations. The Vikings lived a rural existence where the majority engaged in agricultural practices such as fishing and hunting, partly helped by their shipping technology.

The Viking Age began with violence when in the year 793 CE raiders descended on Lindisfarne, an abbey and place of learning for Christians on an island just off the northeast coast of England. The raiders besieged the abbey, stealing its treasures, and killing and drowning monks. Some were taken away as slaves. The attack on Lindisfarne is the first recorded raid by the Vikings. However, it wouldn’t be their last as within just a few years they raided the monastery of Iona (in 794 and again in 802), the northern coast of Ireland (795), and France (799).

The Vikings had the reputation for being brutal, uncivilized, and bloodthirsty, although there was certainly much more to them than just this. They developed a complex and often sophisticated culture and were talented in the areas of art, technology, and seamanship. Their naval technology and the seamanship of Leif Eriksson (970 – c. 1020) resulted in travel across the Atlantic to the coastline of North America. The Vikings are the first known Europeans to land in North America (landing in Canada), centuries before the voyages of Christopher Columbus. 

The Vikings had poets and writers who produced sagas, poems, the Eddas, and a powerful and extensive body of literature, some of which evidence their fascinating myths and religious beliefs. They were polytheists in that they believed in many gods such as Odin (the chief god, and god of poetry, magic, and war), Thor (god of thunder, and son of Odin), Freyr (god of fertility), and many others. They believed in nine worlds or realms and in the gods, giants, dwarves, and humans that lived within them. Viking religious belief was eventually supplanted by Christianity during the Christianization of Scandinavia after the Christian religion established itself in the mid-12th century.

The Vikings expanded and established kingdoms over an increasingly large expanse of land. They settled in the modern-day territories of England, Scotland, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Iceland, and Sweden. It is not clear why the Vikings wished to expand, although historians propose several hypotheses for why they did. It could have been the result of population growth, the growth in Viking urbanization and trade, perceived weaknesses in territories within Britain and Western Europe ripe for attack, and/or the desire for new resources. Whatever explains it Europe experienced a surge in Viking expansion.

The Viking Age came to an end with the spread of Christianity after the Battle of Stiklestad (1030 CE ) and the establishment of Christianity as the dominant religion. A succession of defeats in England, Ireland, and Scotland brought the era to a close.



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