The Vikings were Scandinavian warriors, merchants, and pirates who explored and settled parts of Europe, Asia and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the mid-11th century. The name ‘viking’ comes from the Old Norse word ‘víkingr’, which means ‘pirate’ or ‘pirate raid’.
Vikings were viewed as uncivilized foreigners from the north by the people they encountered. Instead of worshipping Christian gods, Vikings worshipped the Norse Gods of their homeland, which were described in the Eddas and other historic text.
Vikings used their great ‘longships’ to travel as far east as Constantinople and Russia, and as far west as Greenland and Newfoundland. This ‘Viking Age’ of exploration and settlement forms a major part of the medieval history of Scandinavia, Great Britain, Ireland and the rest of Medieval Europe.
The longships (also called “drakkar”, a form of “dragon” in Norse), were designed for speed and agility during warfare and exploration. They were equipped with oars as well as a sail, making it able to navigate independently of the wind.
By the mid 9th century, Ireland, Scotland and England had become major targets for Viking settlement as well as raids. Vikings gained control of the Northern Isles of Scotland and much of mainland Scotland. They founded Ireland’s first trading towns, such as Dublin and Limerick.
This continued until the late 10th century, when English armies were finally able to resist Viking armies and began reconquering much of the Scandinavian dominated areas. The Vikings eventually adopted Christian beliefs, and assimilated into English society.
Romanticized in the ‘Viking Revival’ of the 19th century, Vikings were generalized as big, blonde brutes wearing horned helmets, raping and pillaging as they went. However, the Vikings weren’t just villains. They helped settle much of Europe, the days of the week are still named after their Gods, and their Norse mythology continues to entertain us and serve our religious purposes.
© A Year And A Day (2012)