Viking Age is the term denoting the years from about 700 to 1066 in European history. It forms a major part of Scandinavian history. Scandinavian (Norse) Vikings explored Europe by its oceans and rivers through trade and warfare. The Vikings also reached Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland, and Anatolia. Additionally, there is evidence to support the Vinland legend, that Vikings reached farther south to the North American continent. As of 2008, L'anse aux Meadows, an archaeological site on the northernmost tip of the island of Newfoundland, Canada remains the only widely accepted site of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact.
In England the Viking Age began dramatically on January 6 793 when Norsemen destroyed the abbey on Lindisfarne, a center of learning famous across the continent. Monks were killed in the abbey, thrown into the sea to drown or carried away as slaves along with the church treasures. Three Viking ships had beached in Portland Bay four years earlier, but the incursion may have been a trading expedition that went wrong rather than a piratical raid. Lindisfarne was different. The Viking devastation of Northumbria's Holy Island shocked and alerted the royal Courts of Europe. "Never before has such an atrocity been seen," declared the Northumbrian scholar Alcuin of York. More than any other single event, the attack on Lindisfarne cast a shadow on the perception of the Vikings for the next twelve centuries. Not until the 1890s did scholars outside Scandinavia begin seriously to reassess the achievements of the Vikings, recognizing their artistry, the technological skills and the seamanship.
Until Victoria's reign in Britain, Vikings were portrayed as violent and bloodthirsty. The chronicles of medieval England had always portrayed them as rapacious 'wolves among sheep'. During the nineteenth century, public perceptions changed. In 1920 a winged-helmeted Viking was introduced as a radiator cap figure on a new Rover car. That marked the cultural rehabilitation of the Vikings in Britain.
The first challenges to the many anti-Viking images in Britain emerged in the 17th century. Pioneering scholarly editions of the Viking Age began to reach a small readership in Britain. Archaeologists began to dig up Britain's Viking past. Linguistic enthusiasts started to work on identifying Viking-Age origins for rural idioms and proverbs. The new dictionaries of the Old Norse language enabled the Victorians to grapple with the primary Icelandic Sagas.
In Scandinavia Thomas Bartholin and Ole Worm, the 17th-century Danish scholars and Olaf Rudbeck in Sweden were the first to set the standard for using runic inscriptions and Icelandic Sagas as historical sources. During the Age of Enlightenment and Nordic Renaissance, historical scholarship in Scandinavia became more rational and pragmatic in the works of a Danish-Norwegian historian Ludvig Holberg and Swedish Olof von Dalin. During the latter half of the 18th century the Icelandic Sagas were still used as important historical sources, but the Viking Age was regarded as a barbaric and uncivilized period in the history of the Nordic countries. Until recently the history of the Viking Age was largely based on Icelandic Sagas, the history of the Danes written by Saxo Grammaticus, the Russian Primary Chronicle and the The War of the Irish with the Foreigners. Few scholars still accept these texts as reliable sources; historians nowadays rely more on archaeology and numismatics, disciplines that have made valuable contributions toward understanding the period.
It is believed that Denmark was settled mostly by Germanic people from present-day Sweden in the fifth and sixth centuries. Their language became the mother-tongue of present-day Scandinavian languages. By 800, a strong central authority appears to have been established in Jutland, and the Danes were beginning to look beyond their own territory for land, trade and plunder.
Norway had been settled over many centuries by Germanic peoples from Denmark and Sweden who had established farming and fishing communities around its coasts and lakes. The mountainous terrain and the fjords formed strong natural boundaries. The communities remained independent of each other, unlike the situation in Denmark which is lowland. By 800, some 30 small kingdoms existed in Norway.
The sea was the easiest way of communication between the Norwegian kingdoms and the outside world. It was in the eighth century that Scandinavians began to build ships of war and send them on raiding expeditions to initiate the Viking Age. The northern sea rovers were traders, colonizers and explorers as well as plunderers.
Prior to 1000, details of Swedish events are obscure. It is known that there were two tribes in the country during Roman times: the Suiones (Swedes) in the north Svealand; and the Gothones (Goths), in the south (hence called Gothia).
It is unknown what triggered the Vikings' expansion and conquests. This era coincided with the Medieval Warm Period (800 – 1300) and stopped with the start of the Little Ice Age (about 1250 – 1850). The lack of pack-ice would have allowed Scandinavians to go "a-Viking" or "raiding".
With the means of travel (longships and open water), their desire for goods led Scandinavian traders to explore and develop extensive trading partnerships in new territories. It has been suggested that the Scandinavians suffered from unequal trade practices imposed by Christian advocates and that this eventually led to the breakdown in trade relations and raiding. British merchants who declared openly that they were Christian and would not trade with heathens and infidels (Muslims and the Norse) would get preferred status for availability and pricing of goods through a Christian network of traders. A two-tiered system of pricing existed with both declared and undeclared merchants trading secretly with banned parties. Viking raiding expeditions were separate from and coexisted with regular trading expeditions. A people with the tradition of raiding their neighbours when their honour had been impugned might easily fall to raiding foreign peoples who impugned their honour.
Historians also suggest that the Scandinavian population was too large for the peninsula and there were not enough crops to feed everyone. This led to a hunt for more land to feed the ever growing Viking population. Particularly for the settlement and conquest period that followed the early raids, the internal strife in Scandinavia resulted in the progressive centralisation of power into fewer hands. This meant that lower classes who did not want to be oppressed by greedy kings went in search of their own lands. Thus, Iceland became Europe's first modern republic, with an annual assembly of elected officials called the Althing.
The beginning of the Viking Age in the British Isles is, however, often given as 793. It was recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that the Northmen raided the important island monastery of Lindisfarne:
In 794, according to the Annals of Ulster, there was a serious attack on Lindisfarne's mother-house of Iona, which was followed in 795 by raids upon the northern coast of Ireland. From bases there, the Norsemen attacked Iona again in 802, causing great slaughter amongst the Céli Dé Brethren, and burning the abbey to the ground.
The end of the Viking Age is traditionally marked in England by the failed invasion attempted by Haraldr Harðráði, who was defeated by Saxon King Harold Godwinson in 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge; in Ireland, the capture of Dublin by Strongbow and his Hiberno-Norman forces in 1171; and 1263 in Scotland by the defeat of King Hákon Hákonarson at the Battle of Largs by troops loyal to Alexander III. Godwinson was subsequently defeated within a month by another Viking descendant, William, Duke of Normandy (Normandy had been acquired by Vikings (Normans) in 911). Scotland took its present form when it regained territory from the Norse between the thirteenth and the fifteenth centuries.
The traditional definition is no longer accepted by most Scandinavian historians and archaeologists. Instead, the Viking age is thought to have ended with the establishment of royal authority in the Scandinavian countries and the establishment of Christianity as the dominant religion. The date is usually put somewhere in the early 11th century in all three Scandinavian countries, but for Denmark it can be argued to be much earlier, and for Sweden much later.
The end of the Viking-era in Norway is marked by the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. They proclaimed Norway as a Christian nation, and Norwegians could no longer be called Vikings.
The clinker-built longships used by the Scandinavians were uniquely suited to both deep and shallow waters. They extended the reach of Norse raiders, traders and settlers along coastlines and along the major river valleys of northwestern Europe. Rurik also expanded to the east and in 859 became ruler either by conquest or invitation by local people of the city of Novgorod (which means "new city") on the Volkhov River. His successors moved further, founding the state of Kievan Rus with the capital in Kiev. This persisted until 1240, the time of Mongol invasion.
Other Norse people, particularly those from the area that is now modern-day Sweden and Norway, continued south to the Black Sea and then on to Constantinople. Whenever these Viking ships ran aground in shallow waters, the Vikings would reportedly turn them on their sides and drag them across the land into deeper waters.
The Kingdom of the Franks under Charlemagne was particularly hard-hit by these raiders, who could sail down the Seine with near impunity. Near the end of Charlemagne's reign (and throughout the reigns of his sons and grandsons), a string of Norse raids began, culminating in a gradual Scandinavian conquest and settlement of the region now known as Normandy.
In 911, French King Charles the Simple was able to make an agreement with the Viking warleader Rollo, a chieftain of disputed Norwegian or Danish origins. Charles gave Rollo the title of duke and granted him and his followers possession of Normandy. In return, Rollo swore fealty to Charles, converted to Christianity, and undertook to defend the northern region of France against the incursions of other Viking groups. Several generations later, the Norman descendants of these Viking settlers not only identified themselves as French but carried the French language, and their variant of the French culture, into England in 1066. With the Norman Conquest, they became the ruling aristocracy of Anglo-Saxon England.
There are various theories concerning the causes of the Viking invasions. For people living along the coast, it would seem natural to seek new land by the sea. Another reason was that during this period England, Wales and Ireland, which were divided into many different warring kingdoms, were in internal disarray and became 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. A reason for the raids is believed by some to be over-population caused by technological advances, such as the use of iron. Although another cause could well have been pressure caused by the Frankish expansion to the south of Scandinavia and their subsequent attacks upon the Viking peoples. Another possibly contributing factor is that Harald I of Norway ("Harald Fairhair") had united Norway around this time, and the bulk of the Vikings were displaced warriors who had been driven out of his kingdom and who had nowhere to go. Consequently, these Vikings became raiders, in search of subsistence and bases to launch counter-raids against Harald. One theory that has been suggested is that the Vikings would plant crops after the winter and go raiding as soon as the ice melted on the sea, then returned home with their loot, in time to harvest the crops. They became wandering raiders and mercenaries, like their Celtic cousins.
One important center of trade was at 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 around 1050 York was the center of the kingdom of Jorvik from 866, and discoveries there show that Scandinavian trade connections in the 10th century reached beyond Byzantium (e.g. a silk cap, a counterfeit of a coin from Samarkand and a cowry shell from the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf), although they could be Byzantine imports, and there is no reason to assume that the Varangians travelled significantly beyond Byzantium and the Caspian Sea.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, after Lindisfarne was raided in 793, Vikings continued on small-scale raids across England. Viking raiders struck England in 793 and raided a Christian monastery that held Saint Cuthbert’s relics. The raiders killed the monks and captured the valuables. This raid was called the beginning of the “Viking Age of Invasion”, made possible by the Viking longship. There was great violence during the last decade of the 8th century on England’s northern and western shores. While the initial raiding groups were small, it is believed that a great amount of planning was involved. During the winter between 840 and 841, the Norwegians raided during the winter instead of the usual summer. They waited on an island off Ireland. In 865 a large army of Danish Vikings, supposedly led by Ivar, Halfdan and Guthrum, arrived in East Anglia. They proceeded to cross England into Northumbria and captured York (Jorvik), where some settled as farmers. Most of the English kingdoms, being in turmoil, could not stand against the Vikings, but Alfred of Wessex managed to keep the Vikings out of his country. Alfred and his successors continued to drive back the Viking frontier and take York. A new wave of Norwegian Vikings appeared in England in 947 when Erik Bloodaxe captured York. The Viking presence continued through the reign of the Danish King Canute the Great (1016-1035), after which a series of inheritance arguments weakened the family reign. The Viking presence dwindled until 1066, when the Norwegians lost their final battle with the English.
The Vikings did not get everything their way. In one situation in England, a small Viking fleet attacked a rich monastery at Jarrow. The Vikings were met with stronger resistance than they expected: their leaders were killed, the raiders escaped, only to have their ships beached at Tynemouth and the crews killed by locals. This was one of the last raids on England for about 40 years. The Vikings instead focused on Ireland and Scotland.
The Vikings pillaged monasteries on Ireland's west coast in 795 and then spread out to cover the rest of the coastline. The north and east of the island were most affected. During the first 40 years, the raids were conducted by small, mobile Viking groups. By 830, the groups consisted of large fleets of Viking ships. From 840, the Vikings began establishing permanent bases at the coasts. Dublin was the most significant settlement in the long term. The Irish became accustomed to the Viking presence. In some cases they became allies and also married each other.
In 832, a Viking fleet of about 120 invaded kingdoms on Ireland’s northern and eastern coasts. Some believe that the increased number of invaders coincided with Scandinavian leaders' desires to control the profitable raids on the western shores of Ireland. During the mid-830s, raids began to push deeper into Ireland, as opposed to just touching the coasts. Navigable waterways made this deeper penetration possible. After 840, the Vikings had several bases in strategic locations dispersed throughout Ireland.
In 838, a small Viking fleet entered the River Liffey in eastern Ireland. The Vikings set up a base, which the Irish called a longphort. This longphort eventually became Dublin. After this interaction, the Irish experienced Viking forces for about 40 years. The Vikings also established longphorts in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Wexford. The Vikings could sail through on the main river and branch off into different areas of the country.
In 839, a large Norse fleet invaded via the River Tay and River Earn, both of which were highly navigable, and reached into the heart of the Pictish kingdom of Fortriu. They defeated Eogán mac Óengusa, king of the Picts, his brother Bran and the king of the Scots of Dál Riata, Áed mac Boanta, along with many members of the Pictish aristocracy in battle. The sophisticated kingdom that had been built fell apart, as did the Pictish leadership, which had been stable for over a hundred years since the time of Óengus mac Fergusa (The accession of Cináed mac Ailpín as king of both Picts and Scots can be attributed to the aftermath of this event).
By the mid-ninth century the Norsemen had settled in Shetland, the Orkneys (the Nordreys- Norðreyjar), the Hebrides and Man, (the Sudreys- Súðreyjar - this survives in the Diocese of Sodor and Man) and parts of mainland Scotland. The Norse settlers were to some extent integrating with the local Gaelic population (see-Gall Gaidheal) in the Hebrides and Man. These areas were ruled over by local Jarls, originally captains of ships or Hersirs. The Jarl of Orkney and Shetland however, claimed supremacy.
In 875, King Harald Finehair led a fleet from Norway to Scotland. In his attempt to unite Norway, he found that many of those opposed to his rise to power had taken refuge in the Isles. From here, they were raiding not only foreign lands but were also attacking Norway itself. He organised a fleet and was able to subdue the rebels, and in doing so brought the independent Jarls under his control, many of the rebels having fled to Iceland. He found himself ruling not only Norway, but the Isles, Man and parts of Scotland.
In 876 the Gall-Gaidheal of Man and the Hebrides rebelled against Harald. A fleet was sent against them led by Ketil Flatnose to regain control. On his success, Ketil was to rule the Sudreys as a vassal of King Harald. His grandson Thorstein the Red and Sigurd the Mighty, Jarl of Orkney invaded Scotland were able to exact tribute from nearly half the kingdom until their deaths in battle. Ketil declared himself King of the Isles. Ketil was eventually outlawed and fearing the bounty on his head fled to Iceland.
The Gall-Gaidheal Kings of the Isles continued to act semi independently, in 973 forming a defensive pact with the Kings of Scotland and Strathclyde. In 1095, the King of Mann and the Isles Godred Crovan was killed by Magnus Barelegs, King of Norway. Magnus and King Edgar of Scotland agreed a treaty. The islands would be controlled by Norway, but mainland territories would go to Scotland. The King of Norway continued to be nominally king of the Isles and Man. However, in 1156, The kingdom was split into two. The Western Isles and Man continued as to be called the "Kingdom of Man and the Isles", but the Inner Hebrides came under the influence of Somerled, a Gaelic speaker, who was styled 'King of the Hebrides'. His kingdom was to develop latterly into the Lordship of the Isles.
The end of the Viking age proper in Scotland is generally considered to be in 1266. In 1263, King Haakon IV of Norway, in retaliation for a Scots expedition to Skye, arrived on the west coast with a fleet from Norway and Orkney. His fleet linked up with those of King Magnus of Man and King Dougal of the Hebrides. After peace talks failed, his forces met with the Scots at Largs, in Ayrshire. The battle proved indecisive, but it did ensure that the Norse were not able to mount a further attack that year. Haakon died overwintering in Orkney, and by 1266, his son Magnus the Law-mender ceded the Kingdom of Man and the Isles, with all territories on mainland Scotland to Alexander III, through the Treaty of Perth.
Orkney and Shetland continued to be ruled as autonomous Jarldoms under Norway until 1468, when King Christian I pledged them as security on the dowry of his daughter, who was betrothed to James III of Scotland. The dowry was never paid, and the islands passed to Scotland.
The term Varangian remained in usage in the Byzantine Empire until the 13th century, largely disconnected from its Scandinavian roots by then.'' Having settled Aldeigja (Ladoga) in the 750s, Scandinavian colonists were probably an element in the early ethnogenesis of the Rus' people, and likely played a role in the formation of the Rus' Khaganate. The Varangians (Varyags, in Old East Slavic) are first mentioned by the Primary Chronicle as having exacted tribute from the Slavic and Finnic tribes in 859. It was the time of rapid expansion of the Vikings in Northern Europe; England began to pay Danegeld in 859, and the Curonians of Grobin faced an invasion by the Swedes at about the same date.
In 862, the Finnic and Slavic tribes rebelled against the Varangian Rus, driving them overseas back to Scandinavia, but soon started to conflict with each other. The disorder prompted the tribes to invite back the Varangian Rus "to come and rule them" and bring peace to the region. Led by Rurik and his brothers Truvor and Sineus, the invited Varangians (called Rus) settled around the town of Holmgard (Novgorod).
In the 9th century, the Rus' operated the Volga trade route, which connected Northern Russia (Gardariki) with the Middle East (Serkland). As the Volga route declined by the end of the century, the Trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks rapidly overtook it in popularity. Apart from Ladoga and Novgorod, Gnezdovo and Gotland were major centres for Varangian trade.
Western historians tend to agree with the Primary Chronicle that these Scandinavians founded Kievan Rus' in the 880s and gave their name to the land. Many Slavic scholars are opposed to this theory of Germanic influence on the Rus' (people) and have suggested alternative scenarios for this part of Eastern European history.
In contrast to the intense Scandinavian influence in Normandy and the British Isles, Varangian culture did not survive to a great extent in the East. Instead, the Varangian ruling classes of the two powerful city-states of Novgorod and Kiev were thoroughly Slavicized by the end of the 10th century. Old Norse was spoken in one district of Novgorod, however, until the 13th century.
The French region of Normandy takes its name from the Viking invaders who were called Northmanorum, which means ‘men of the North.’
The first Viking raids began between 790 and 800 along the coasts of western France. They were carried out primarily in the summer, as the Vikings wintered in Scandinavia. Several coastal areas were lost during the reign of Louis the Pious (814-840). The incursions in 841 caused severe damage to Rouen and Jumièges. The Vikings attackers sought to capture the treasures stored at monasteries, easy prey given the monks' lack of defensive capacity. In 845 an expedition up the Seine reached Paris. After 851 Vikings began to stay in the lower Seine valley for the winter. Twice more in the 860s Vikings rowed to Paris, leaving only when they acquired sufficient loot or bribes from the Carolingian rulers.
The Carolingian kings tended to have contradictory politics, which had severe consequences. In 867, Charles the Bald signed the Treaty of Compiègne, by which he agreed to yield the Cotentin Peninsula to the Breton king Salomon, on the condition that Salomon would take an oath of fidelity and fight as an ally against the Vikings. Nevertheless, in 911 the Viking leader Rollon forced Charles the Simple to sign the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, under which Charles gave Rouen and the area of modern Haute-Normandie to Rollon, establishing the Duchy of Normandy. In exchange, Rollon pledged vassalage to Charles in 940, agreed to be baptized, and vowed to guard the estuaries of the Seine from further Viking attacks.
While many buildings were pillaged, burned, or destroyed by the Viking raids, ecclesiastical sources may have been overly negative as no city was completely destroyed. On the other hand, many monasteries were pillaged and all the abbeys were destroyed. Rollon and his successors brought about rapid recoveries from the raids.
The Scandinavian colonization was principally Danish, with a strong Norwegian element. A few Swedes were present. The merging of the Scandinavian and native elements contributed to the creation of one of the most powerful feudal states of Western Europe. The naval ability of the Normans would allow them to conquer England and southern Italy, and play a key role in the Crusades.
After 842, when the Vikings set up a permanent base at the mouth of the Loire River, they could strike as far as northern Spain. They attacked Cadiz in AD 844.
There are more than 1,500 Scandinavian place names in England, mainly in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire (within the former boundaries of the Danelaw): over 600 end in -by, the Scandinavian word for "village" or "town" — for example Grimsby, Naseby, and Whitby; many others end in -thorpe ("farm"), -thwaite ("clearing"), and -toft ("homestead").
The distribution of family names showing Scandinavian influence is still, as an analysis of names ending in -son reveals, concentrated in the north and east, corresponding to areas of former Viking settlement. Early medieval records indicate that over 60% of personal names in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire showed Scandinavian influence.
The Vikings were equipped with the technologically superior longships; for purposes of conducting trade however, another type of ship, the knarr, wider and deeper in draft, were customarily used. The Vikings were competent sailors, adept in land warfare as well as at sea, and they often struck at accessible and poorly defended targets, usually with near impunity. The effectiveness of these tactics earned Vikings a formidable reputation as raiders and pirates. Chroniclers paid little attention to other aspects of medieval Scandinavian culture. This slant was accentuated by the absence of contemporary primary source documentation from within the Viking Age communities themselves. Little documentary evidence was available until later, when Christian sources began to contribute. As historians and archaeologists have developed more resources to challenge the one-sided descriptions of the chroniclers, a more balanced picture of the Norsemen has become apparent.
The Vikings used their longships to travel vast distances and attain certain tactical advantages in battle. They could perform highly efficient hit-and-run attacks, in which they quickly approached a target, then left as rapidly before a counter-offensive could be launched. Because of the ships' negligible draft, the Vikings could sail in shallow waters, allowing them to invade far inland along rivers. The ships' speed was also prodigious for the time, estimated at a maximum of 14 or 15 knots. The use of the longships ended when technology changed, and ships began to be constructed using saws instead of axes. This led to a lesser quality of ships.
Together with an increasing centralization of government in the Scandinavian countries, the old system of leidang — a fleet mobilization system, where every skipen (ship community) had to deliver one ship and crew — was discontinued. Changes in shipbuilding in the rest of Europe led to the demise of the longship for military purposes. By the 11th and 12th centuries, European fighting ships were built with raised platforms fore and aft, from which archers could shoot down into the relatively low longships.
The nautical achievements of the Vikings were exceptional. For instance, they made distance tables for sea voyages that were remarkably precise. They have been found to differ only 2-4% from modern satellite measurements, even on such long distances as across the Atlantic Ocean.
An archaeological find in Sweden consists of a bone fragment fixated with in-operated material; the piece is as yet undated. These bones might be the remains of a trader from the Middle East.
Freyr and his sister Freya were fertility gods. They were responsible for ensuring that people had many children and that the land produced plentiful crops. Some farmers even called their fields after Freyr, in the hope that this would ensure a good harvest. Towards the end of the Viking Age, more and more Scandinavians were converted to Christianity, often (or mostly) by force. The introduction of Christianity did not immediately end Viking voyages, but it may have been a contributing factor to bringing the Viking Age to an end.
Some of the most important trading ports during the period include both existing and ancient cities such as Jelling (Denmark), Ribe (Denmark), Roskilde (Denmark), Hedeby (Denmark, now Germany), Aarhus (Denmark), Vineta (Pomerania), Truso (Poland), Kaupang (Norway), Birca (Sweden), Bordeaux (France), Jorvik (England), Dublin (Ireland) and Aldeigjuborg (Russia).