Vikings

The Viking Age

The Viking Age began with their attack on England’s Lindisfarne Abbey on the 8th June 793 and can be said to have ended with the death of the King Canute on 12th November 1035. For three centuries the mighty Vikings traded, raided, plundered and explored their way from Scandinavia across the Atlantic, through the Mediterranean and along the rivers of Russia scaring and amazing the peoples they encountered. They can be described as merchant warrior Gypsies of the Sea.

Favourable accounts document the history of the Vikings in the East where they were known as Rus, but are in stark contrast to the bloodthirsty tales of encounters that terrified the coastal peoples of the British Isles and northern Europe at the same time. Until the 19th Century the unflattering version of the Vikings recorded by Western European monks tended to predominate, but scholars have re-examined the records and discovered a different version of the same events.

Homelands

The Vikings or Norse came from modern day Scandinavia. The Vikings of Denmark and Norway tended to look west towards the British Isles and headed off to the south and west, even passing the Straits of Gibraltar, sailing and trading around the Mediterranean. The Vikings of Sweden looked to their east and south, using the mighty rivers of Russia as highways. They reached the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and evidence shows they were regular visitors to Constantinople, Baghdad and who knows how far beyond? Vikings were keen colonisers, reaching as far north as Svalbard, discovering and settling Iceland, Greenland and attempting to settle America with a colony established at Vinland in Canada’s Newfoundland.

Raiders or Traders?

The Vikings burst onto the pages of history on 8th June 793 when the fearsome blond pagans stormed the Lindisfarne Monastery in England’s Northumbria. The unsuspecting and undefended Monks fell prey to the mighty Vikings who carried off much of the Monastery’s wealth in their Long Boats. The news of this atrocity spread throughout Western Christendom and the appearance of Nordic sails on the horizon became a common and dreaded sight from this time onwards. Many coastal communities moved inland or fortresses were built to defend the shores. The coasts of France proved rich pickings for Viking raiders who eventually conquered Normandy. Danish Vikings found the northeast of England inviting and conquered this region, eventually claiming half the country. In the east, Vikings sailed into Russia establishing towns and cities and they take pride in being the founders of modern day Novgorod in Russia and the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

Viking merchant-warriors brought with them many trading goods, particularly luxurious furs and leather products and highly prized Baltic Amber, favourites with Eastern merchants. The Vikings were hungry for silver and vast quantities of Arab coins have been found throughout their Scandinavian homelands. The initial perception of bloodthirsty savage Vikings is now giving way to a technologically advanced, artistic and cultured people who were deeply curious and highly adventurous, physically fit, rich in culture and who equally enjoyed a good time and strong drink.