Raging violence in the Roman sea, sudden raids, and brutal massacres shook the foundation of the Roman Empire. The vast empire was threatened by the group of the tribe who call themselves the Vikings. Emerging from Scandinavia, the Vikings were seafaring people of the late 8th century. With no central government of leadership, by the end of the 11th century, Vikings conquered areas from Scandinavia to as far as Europe and Africa. Some even settled in the British Isles and France. They established their names as traders, explorers, and great warriors. With huge horns on their hats, they plundered and sailed to unsuspecting coastal villages.
They discovered North America even before Columbus did and their raids were based on Empire wealth and women. The Vikings are considered one of the deadliest tribes to ever mark their name in the history of seafaring peoples.
But how did the Vikings manage to conquer lands as far as the Arctic?
The Vikings are remembered for their sudden attacks and uncommonly advanced boats. These boats could row down so silently that a nation could never predict or prepare for a Viking attack. But what made these boats so special? These formidable Viking longships were the log boats. The people of Scandinavia, for years, used these boats for transportation and trade. But with time, these boats were changed and they added long planks to the boat base using the lapstrake technique. They also included Roman maritime technologies and further advanced these ships to control the sea. These advanced boats in the middle of a weak economy and heavy terrains provided them with more stability than ever before.
The name Viking comes from an old Norse word “vikingr” which means pirate. They would raid towns and cities along the coast especially undefended monasteries with the intention of wealth and women. Vikings weren’t a single tribe or a similar race, instead, most of their culture and activities come from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Many historical records suggest that Vikings would not raid for land or power but for riches. In the 8th century, Europe was growing its wealth and power by fueling the growth of traders. When the Scandinavians came to know about their riches, they raided the whole subcontinent with their advanced maritime technology.
In A.D. 793, the raid in the Lindisfarne monastery of Northumberland marked the beginning of the Viking age. These new invaders had no respect for any religion and mostly attacked monasteries and places of worship which are often left unguarded. The Vikings were definitely not Christian but worshiped the gods from Greek mythology such as Odin and Thor. The first recorded raid in Europe came in 799, at the island monastery of St Philibert’s on Noirmoutier. By the end of the 9th century, the Vikings managed to settle in Ireland, Scotland, and England.
They remained undefeated till 891 when the Kingdom of Wessex in England successfully resisted their attack. With this new power rising in Wessex, many defeated kings began tying alliances and reconquered several of their lands. In the 10th century, the last Scandinavian king, Erik Bloodaxe, was expelled and killed and England became free from the Scandinavians. However, in Europe, the story was much different and the Vikings hold possession of the almost whole continent.
The Vikings also conquered North Atlantic, when they colonized Iceland. By the 10th century, few of them moved even further to Greenland. Many historians argue that the Vikings settled in Greenland were the first Europeans to discover and explore North America. With Harald Bluetooth as king of now Christianized Denmark started the second Viking age. Large raids were conducted in the lands of England and Europe for power and possession. But as the Vikings were now mostly Christianized, their values and beliefs also changed.
By the end of the 11th century, the Viking age ended. Most of them were Christianized and the remaining Viking culture was also absorbed with Christianized Europe.
The Most Famous Viking Of All Time
Erik the Red:
Erik was one of the bloodthirsty, brutal kings of Greenland who was previously banished from Iceland for savagely murdering several men. His father Thorvald Asvaldsson, too was exiled from Norway for manslaughter. Perhaps the thirst for blood ran in the family.
Leif Erikson was the first one to explore North America 500 years before Columbus. He had his reputation for being a fearless warrior which comes from his family, as he was the son of Erik the Red.
Freydís Eiríksdóttir, the daughter of Eric the Red is also on the list of great Viking warriors. She along with her brother, Leif, conquered several lands. Once while exploring North America with her brother, she singlehandedly chased natives with a sword, all the way being pregnant!
Talking about Vikings and not remembering Ragnar Lothbrok is impossible. He indeed was the most famous Viking ruler of all time. Thanks to the History Channel’s popular drama- Vikings, Ragnar Lothbrok has become a role model for several of his fanatics.
Ivar the Boneless:
Perhaps the only Viking famous aside from Ragnar is his son, Ivar the Boneless. He owns the nickname due to his medical condition that made his legs extremely fragile for fracture. But despite being unfit, he conducted some of the major raids of Viking history including the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms with his two brothers.
The Legacy Left Behind
The Vikings sustained their terror for more than 300 years. But unlike the rulers of the 11th century, where building mosques, monuments, and towers in the name of the king was a common phenomenon, the Vikings never left their legacy in the artifacts. Instead what today remains of them could be found in the fragments of bone, bark, and stones. They could be either found inside the graves or sites of ancient settlements. Many contain Norse messages written in Runic letters. As there was no standard language at that time, they wrote their own dialect based on single alphabets and letters. Thus decrypting these messages arent as easy as it seems.
But these remains do give a view inside the Viking culture and tradition. The Vikings were an exceptionally advanced yet uncivilized tribe of people who live according to their own customs and beliefs. As their west counterparts live in huge mansions and had a lavish lifestyle, the Vikings prefer living in stone homes without any luxury. They had their own costumes and weapons made entirely with stones and steel.
Although, the Vikings had no empire, their religious, geopolitical, and cultural impact on the world is clearly visible. The legacy they left behind can be well witnessed in their decendents who still maintain the Viking village and their traditional lifestyle.