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The Vikings - An Overview

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When and Where:

The Vikings were a Scandinavian people highly active in Europe between the ninth and eleventh centuries as raiders, traders and settlers. A mixture of population pressure and the ease with which they could raid/settle is commonly cited as the reasons why they left their homeland, the regions we now call Sweden, Norway and Denmark. They settled in the Britain, Ireland (they founded Dublin), Iceland, France, Russia, Greenland and even Canada, while their raids took them to the Baltic, Spain and Mediterranean.

The Vikings in England:

The first Viking raid on England is recorded as being at Lindisfarne in 793 CE. They began to settle in 865, capturing East Anglia, Northumbria and related lands before fighting with the kings of Wessex. Their regions of control fluctuated greatly over the next century until England was ruled by Canute the Great who invaded in 1015; he is generally considered one of England's wisest and most able kings. However, the ruling House which preceded Canute was restored in 1042 under Edward the Confessor and the Viking age in England is considered to have finished with the Norman Conquest in 1066.

The Vikings in America:

The Vikings settled the south and west of Greenland, supposedly in the years following 982 when Eric the Red – who had been outlawed from Iceland for three years – explored the region. The remains of over 400 farms have been found, but the climate of Greenland eventually became too cold for them and the settlement finished. Source material has long mentioned a settlement in Vinland, and recent archaeological discoveries of a short lived settlement in Newfoundland, at L'Anse aux Meadows, have recently born this out, although the topic is still controversial.

The Vikings in the East:

As well as raiding in the Baltic, by the tenth century Vikings settled in Novgorod, Kiev and other areas, merging with the local Slavic population to become the Rus, the Russians. It was through this eastern expansion that the Vikings had contact with the Byzantine Empire – fighting as mercenaries in Constantinople and forming the Emperor's Varangian Guard – and even Baghdad.

True and False:

The most famous Viking characteristics to modern readers are the longship and the horned helmet. Well, there were longships, the 'Drakkars' which were used for war and exploration. They used another craft, the Knarr, for trading. However, there were no horned helmets, that "characteristic" is entirely false.

Historical Myths: Viking Horned Helmets

Famous Vikings:

  • King Canute the Great
  • Eric the Red, settler of Greenland.
  • Leif Ericsson, settler of Vinland
  • Sweyn Forkbeard, King of England and Denmark.
  • Brodir, active in Ireland.
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