The Vikings

More Than Just Barbarians

The Vikings

From about 800 to 1100 AD, Europe was immersed in the Viking Age; which was named for the seafaring warriors who raided along the coasts of Europe and travelled the northern seas of the Western World, and who would eventually set out to conquer the island of Britain. Hailing from Scandinavia - in what is now present day Denmark, Norway, and Sweden - the Vikings travelled the seas and their mark forevermore on the world.

Where Did The Vikings Attack?

The Danish and Norwegian Vikings raided the British Isles and the coasts of France and Spain. While the Norwegians focused on Ireland and Scotland, the Danes turned their attention to England. They would eventually conquer most of Britain that was south of Scotland. On the other hand, the Swedish Vikings set their goals in attacking the kingdoms of Poland, Russia, Lativa, and Lithuania. The Vikings did more than just raiding, though. They were explorers, and the first Europeans to set foot on North American soil - Christopher Columbus didn't come till almost four hundred years after the end of the Viking Age.

Viking Raids

Vikings would arrive in longships, attacking coastal monasteries. They would take their stolen goods and captives back home with them. Their weapons were long swords and axes, and they carried wooden shields and wore leather helmets for protection. It's suspected that the army that fought King Alfred of Wessex was 6,000 men strong, but usually, a Viking army only consisted of 1,000 to 2,000 men.

Viking Ships

  • wooden longships were swift
  • equipped with both sails and oars
  • steered by a single oar mounted on the starboard side
  • crews were normally 25 to 60 men seated on benches on open decks
  • average speed was 10 to 11 knots
  • about 17.5 meters to 36 meters in length
  • could sail on both the sea and inland on rivers
  • figureheads were put at both stem and stern
  • shields mounted on the sides that could be removed while at sea

The Vikings And Their Stolen Treasures

The Vikings would take the precious treasures made of gold and silver from the monasteries, taking it for their own personal wealth, or they would sell captives as slaves; for Vikings, wealth equaled power. Sometimes, they would take the gems from the stolen goods and make them into brooches, and then melt down the silver to be reused - some of which has been found in pagan graves.

More To Vikings Than Just Raiding

The Vikings traded throughout Europe and even in some parts of Central Asia. They would either buy their goods or trade things such as iron, fur, leather, fish, walrus ivory, honey, wheat, tin, wool, and wood for things like spices, jewelry, whine, pottery, silver, glass and silk.

Vikings also sought out new land to farm, since their own was sometimes not fertile enough. This was one of the reason why they would go to Britain and settle, as well as part of why they were apt to explore. They would sometimes even sail south of the Mediterranean or venture out across the Atlantic Ocean. The Norwegian Vikings even began a small settlement in what is present-day Greenland. But due to the harsh conditions in Greenland, not many Vikings came to settle there.

  • Always wondered why Greenland is called Greenland? Finally, the answer: Erik the Red (father of the infamous Leif Eriksson) called it so hoping to attract farmers, obviously trying to hide the fact that Greenland was far from being 'green'

Vikings and America

It's said that a Viking named Bjarni Herjolfsson was sailing for Greenland for Iceland when his ship was blown off course. It was during this misadventure that he saw a strange land he'd never seen before. It was the year 985. Later, in 1001, Erik the Red's son, Leif Eriksson, set sail to find this strange land. They spent a winter there, in what they called Vinland - or, 'Wine-land'. This was in what is present day Newfoundland, Canada. They were the first Europeans to step in foot on North American soil - about 491 years before Christopher Columbus 'sailed the ocean blue'.

Soon after Leif's visit, Thorfinn Karlsefni came with a small number of Viking families to settle there, but the colony didn't last long. They ran into trouble with the Native Americans and had to retreat back to Europe.

A Timeline of the Danish Vikings In Britain

  • 789: Vikings arrive on the Wessex shore and kill a local reeve (a local official) that had been sent to greet them on the spot
  • 793: Vikings raid the monastery of Lindisfarne in Northumbira, they murdered monks, stole treasures, burned buildings, and inspired fear
  • 802: Vikings attack Iona, burning the monastery
  • 806: 68 Monks are killed by the Vikings
  • 850s: The Viking armies begin to spend their winters in England
  • 860s: The Vikings begin to gather larger armies with the intent of conquest
  • 865: The East Angles are forced to gather an army for the Vikings
  • 866: The army of East Angles capture York
  • 867: The army of East Angles capture southern Northumbria
  • 867: Ragnar Hairy-Breeks and his son, Ívarr the Boneless (two Viking leaders) kill King Ælla of Northumbria
  • 869: Ragnar Hairy-Breeks and Ívarr the Boneless kill King Edmund of the East Angles and destroy Dumbarton, the British kings of Strathclyde's fortress
  • 873: Ívarr the Boneless dies
  • 874: Hálfdan - another Viking leader and possibly Ívarr's brother - leads the Vikings to Mercia
  • 876: Land in Northumbria is divided among the Vikings
  • 878: Hálfdan leads the Vikings south, where they force most of the people of Wessex to submit to their will
  • 878: English king, Alfred the Great, emerges from hiding and forms an army
  • 878: Alfred leads his army against the Vikings and defeats them at Edington
  • 899-924; 924-939: Alfred's son, Edward, and grandson, Æthelstan, begin to take back England. Edward takes back the southern part of England and the king of Scots, king of Strathclyde, and people of Northumbria submit to him.
  • 927: Welsh kings and the Scottish king submit to Æthelstan
  • 937: Vikings once again invade Northumbria, led by Olaf Guthfrithson, with the aid of the kings of Strathclyde and Scotland, but are defeated by Æthelstan
  • 954: York's last Viking king is forced from Northumbria
  • 991: The Danes are paid to leave England with 4,500 kilograms of silver
  • 1012: The English continued to pay the Danes, and by this time the payment had increased to 22,000 kilograms of silver
  • 1013: The payments come to an end when Danish Swein Forkbeard decided to conquer England and forces Æthelred, the English king, into exile
  • 1016: Swein Forkbeard's son, Cnut, conquers and becomes King of England. Cnut marries the widow of Æthelred, Emma, and has a son, Harthacnut. She also has a son by Æthelred, though, named Edward II who succeeded Harthacnut. Edward dies without children, so Emma's great-nephew, Duke William (or, better known as William the Conqueror) from Normandy lays claim to the throne. But Harold, the son of one of Edward's most powerful nobles, resists and battles William. Eventually, though, William wins. The Viking Age comes to an end.

Viking Religion

  • At the beginning of the Viking Age, almost all Vikings were pagans
  • Not much is known about the Vikings' pagan religion
  • Chieftains (Viking leaders) had a role in the religion
  • They sacrificed horses
  • Most powerful god was Odin, the Allfather - he was the god of justice, warfare, poetry, death, and wisdom
  • Most popular god was Thor - he carried the supernatural hammer Miollnir and was the god of thunder. It's said that, while Thor was incredibly strong, he was also very stupid. He defended the gods from giants, and his main followers were seafarers.
  • Other major gods were the brother and sister, Frey and Freyja, who were gods of fertility; there were several more gods and goddesses but they aren't as important in Viking culture
  • In Viking lore, the Viking gods' main enemies were great giants that had to be fought - whom only Thor had the strength to do so. The gods would rely on wit and would often fall back on Loki - the god of fire, who was also very mischievous.
  • The Vikings had their own apocalypse - which involved Loki's son and Thor in a final battle that ended in both their deaths, the death of Odin at the hands (or, rather, paws) of Fenris the wolf (Loki's other son) who would then also be killed. A fire would then destroy the world, killing mankind and the gods, but enough members of both races would survive so that the world could begin anew and be repopulated
  • By the end of the Viking Age, Vikings began to accept the Christian God alongside their own
  • Vikings actually seemed to adopt Christianity very quickly, especially in the British Isles, Ireland, and Normandy
  • When Vikings would settle, they might marry Christians so therefore, their children would be raised a either Christian or with a mixed religion. The marriage and pressure from the church would eventually end in full conversion of the Viking in question
  • Conversion to Christianity was used for treaties and so that the Vikings could trade with Christians because the Christians were not supposed to trade with pagans - in these situations, the conversion wasn't usually complete. More or less, the Vikings just recognized the existence of the Christian God. Normally, they didn't go and get baptized and do the whole 'turn-around'
  • Pagan Vikings and Christians managed to live peacefully alongside one another
  • Eventually, most of Scandinavia was converted to Christianity, though Sweden managed to hold out till the twelfth century due to pagan reactions sometime in the middle of the eleventh century

Viking Society

Viking Men:

  • Most Viking men could handle a boat
  • Most Viking men could also fight - it was a necessity needed to protect their families and support their chieftains
  • Viking men were usually handymen who could handle a variety of situations
  • There were some that were craftsmen - like boat-builders and blacksmiths
  • The goal of young Viking men was to go off and gain enough riches to come home and buy a farm (they would do this by becoming either traders or raiders)
  • Weapons were carried as a symbol of the owner's status and wealth
  • Men wore trousers and tunics

Viking Women:

  • Would look after children
  • Would make clothes for their family
  • Would make bread
  • Would spin and weave into cloth
  • Would make cheese
  • Would milk the cows
  • Would cook at least two meals a day
  • Were important members of the Viking community
  • Would take care of the farm and home while husbands were away
  • Women wore long dresses with a sort of apron overtop of it

Viking Children:

  • Did not go to school
  • Considered adults by either 15 or 16
  • Fathers chose husbands for their daughters
  • Sons often took their father's name, while daughters would take their mother or grandmother's name
  • Viking babies were given small charms of Thor's hammer to protect them from evil and sickness

Viking Families

  • Family was extremely important
  • If a Viking was killed, then their family would take it upon themselves to take revenge
  • Because of this, there were blood-feuds
  • Blood-feuds could be ended by one family paying the other blood-money as compensation for their loss
  • Women were key in Viking families

Viking Slaves:

  • People captured by the Vikings
  • They were either born into slavery or captured during raids
  • Interesting Fact: if the baby's parents were both slaves, the baby would be a slave, but if its mother was a slave and its father a free man, then the baby would be free
  • They were sold in Viking marketplaces but the slave-trade was stopped in England in 1102

Viking Homes

  • Homes were clustered together along narrow roads
  • Long and shaped like boxes
  • Roofs were either thatched or made of turf and sloped
  • Made of stone, wood, or blocks of turf (layer of grass cut with roots and soil still intact)
  • Walls were made of wattle (woven sticks that were covered with mud to keep out rain and wind)
  • Most floors were dugout below ground level
  • Most homes were only one large room shared by the family
  • If the inhabitants were rich, there might be a small entrance hall, a kitchen, a store room, a bedroom, and a large main room
  • Little furniture - maybe a table and a few benches that were used to sit or sleep on
  • No bathrooms - instead, Vikings dug holes outside and put up a little fence around it (cess-pits)


  • Most Vikings lived on farms
  • They grew barley, wheat, oats, beans, cabbages, and onions
  • Grains were ground to make porridge, flour, and ale
  • They raised livestock such as pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, cattle, and geese
  • When winter came, they would sometimes kill some of their animals for food

Viking Food

  • Ate meat from animals they hunted or that were raised on their farms
  • Cooked the meat on spits or stewpots over fires
  • Ate cod and herring
  • Ate goose and chicken eggs
  • Fish and meat were dried and smoked to preserve it
  • Would collect nuts and berries
  • Bread made from barley flour or rye
  • Milk to make cheese and butter
  • Drank buttermilk
  • At feasts, they would drink either ale or mead
  • Their cups were wooden and they would also drink from drinking horns

Daily Life

  • Would spend time collecting wood for fire, baking bread, and weaving cloth

Free Time

  • Vikings would meet at markets, where they would trade goods for goods, or sometimes coins for goods
  • Men enjoyed going swimming, racing horses, and wrestling
  • In the winter, the people would go skiing and ice skating
  • They would sometimes play a board game called hnefatafl (which means 'king's table)
  • Toys were homemade, usually from bone (e.g. a child might have had whistles made from the bones in a goose's leg)
  • Children would play with wooden dolls
  • At a young age, they were already learning about boats and would sail models
  • They even played football - or, what we call 'soccer' in America


  • Strongest leaders were jarls (earls)
  • Powerful jarls could become kings
  • They would meet at a Thing (a Viking assembly)
  • Both men and women would work together to solve problems
  • There they would swap news, arrange marriages, and meet old friends
  • The laws were passed down by word of mouth
  • If someone broke a law, then they would be dubbed outlaws and could be killed