A Little Viking History

The Viking Age spans from about 787 A.D. to around 1263 A.D.  In that time we see the Vikings rise to power and the eventual end of the Viking age according to history. The Vikings are generally acknowledged to be the warriors that left Scandinavia between those years to trade and raid all across Europe. Where the found empty ground, such as the Faeroe Islands or Iceland, they settled and often became peaceful farmers. Where they met with fierce resistance, as it was with the Byzantine Empire, they backed off. But where picking s were rich, they returned again and again to raid the local inhabitants , either by carrying of treasures and slaves, or by demanding payment to be left alone.

The name Viking is buried in the past. A Vik, in Old Norse, was a bay or inlet, while vikja was swift movement. Some connection with these terms led to the new word viking ( a pirate raid) and vikingr (a pirate raider). 

The Viking Age saw scattered bands of warriors leaving Scandinavia in search of fortune elsewhere and returning to carve out kingdoms for themselves in their native lands. It ended when the pagan vikings betrayed their religion in turn for Christianity and many converted to this new religious doctrine.

Viking society was loosely based on the organization of the place where Vikings came from. In Scandinavia, isolated communities were organized into small districts, each led by an elected Earls and Jarls (pronounced: yarl). What made someone an Earl or Jarl depended largely on strength – one might be the first to settle a region, the oldest and wisest man in the village, or an individual thought to have a special line of contact with the gods. In most cases, such authority still needed to be backed up with brute force. Earls were able to cal upon the villagers in times of trouble and expected loyalty to them.


The Viking Timeline

789 –Vikings begin their attacks on England.
800 –The Oseberg Viking longship is buried about this time
840 –Viking settlers found the city of Dublin in Ireland.
844 –A Viking raid on Seville is repulsed.
860 –Rus Vikings attack Constantinople (Istanbul).
862 –Novgorod in Russia is founded by the Rus Viking, Ulrich.
866 –Danish Vikings establish a kingdom in York, England.
871 –Alfred the Great becomes king of Wessex; the Danish advance is halted in England.
872 –Harald I gains control of Norway.
879 –Rurik establishes Kiev as the center of the Kievan Rus’ domains.
886 –Alfred divides England with the Danes under the Danelaw pact.
900 –The Vikings raid along the Mediterranean coast.
911 –The Viking chief Rollo is granted land by the Franks and founds Normandy in France.
941 –Rus Vikings attack Constantinople (Istanbul).
981 –Viking leader Erik the Red discovers Greenland.
986 –Viking ships sail in Newfoundland waters.
991 –Æthelred II pays the first Danegeld ransom to stop Danish attacks on England.
995 –Olav I conquers Norway and proclaims it a Christian kingdom.
1000 –Christianity reaches Greenland and Iceland.
1000 –Leif Eriksson, son of Erik the Red, explores the coast of North America.
1000 –Olav I dies; Norway is ruled by the Danes.
1002 –Brian Boru defeats the Norse and becomes the king of Ireland.
1010 –Viking explorer Thorfinn Karlsefni attempts to found a settlement in North America.
1013 –The Danes conquer England; Æthelred flees to Normandy.
1015 –Vikings abandon the Vinland settlement on the coast of North America.
1016 –Olav II regains Norway from the Danes.
1016 –The Danes under Knut (Canute) rule England.
1028 –Knut (Canute), king of England and Denmark, conquers Norway.
1042 –Edward the Confessor rules England with the support of the Danes.
1050 –The city of Oslo is founded in Norway.
1066 –Harold Godwinson king of England defeats Harald Hardrada king of Norway at the Battle of Stamford Bridge
1066 –William duke of Normandy defeats the Saxon king Harold at the Battle of Hastings

The Raid on Lindesfarne

viking raids 793 AD

The attack on Lindisfarne is probably the most noted of the raids set forth by Vikings in history. In 793, a band of Viking raiders sought out fortune and to the detriment of those living at the monastery that was erected there at the time they raided the area for treasure, killed many of the monks living there, took the rest as slaves and then burned the place to the ground.

Despite the surprise attack, the monks of Lindisfarne must have had some warning of the attack to hide some of their most valued treasures such as the Lindisfarne Gospels. Vikings did not care for Christian books and would happily destroy ornate covers and hinges to use them as brooches, and pry jewels from the settings of these sacred objects. To the Vikings, Christianity was a cult and a false religion. They felt this to be a betrayal to the belief in the old gods that had been a part of their history since the beginning of time.

Before long the raiders were back; monasteries and communities on the coasts of England, Ireland and Wales reported further attacks soon after. It is documented that there were many more Viking attacks in that period, but no survivors were left to report them. The Vikings not only took valuables, but also slaves and it is possible that entire villages simply disappeared. Whatever prayers the monks thought would help them in those raids were not answered.

Masters of the Sea

The Vikings were excellent sailors and masters of the ocean. The were well versed in the practice of seamanship learned in the sheltered waters of the Baltic Se and hardened by the terrifying experience of sailing out in to the open areas of the Atlantic. Viking ships were lighter and faster than their equivalents in other countries. They had a low draft that permitted them to sail in shallow lakes and far up rivers, but were also kept light so they cold, if necessary, be lifted out of the water physically by the combined efforts of their crews.

This was useful not only for dragging them up a beach for repairs, but also for “portage” – jumping from one lake or river to another. Portaging allowed Vikings to navigate far inland, and most notably to travel all the way across European mainlands from the baltic to the Black Sea.

permitted them to sail in shallow lakes and far up rivers

Viking ship in Norway
Discovered in 1903, the Oseberg ship is one of only three well-preserved Viking ships on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway.

Scandinavian shipwrights used the clinker (also known as lapstrake) building technique, in which each plank overlapped the one below it. This gave the ships better flexibility in tough seas. Viking ships were usually double-ended, and could be “reversed” simply by changing the direction of the rowing. The rudder or “steer-board” would be carried to the opposite end of the ship, and replaced, always at the right side of the ship. Hence the shipping terms “starboard” for right and “port” for left (the side of the ship without the rudder, and therefore the side which would be moored closely against a jetty in a harbor). In later years, the dragon heads that sometimes formed fearsome adornments on the prows of Viking ships were built so that they could be removed.