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Who Were They?
Vikings, the battle loving, hard-drinking, beard daddies. That’s the first impression most people get when they hear the name Vikings. However, in this article, you’ll find out that there were much to the Vikings, their culture and their way of life that we didn’t know. This map showcases the impact Vikings and Norse people had upon the ancient world.
Vikings were ancient people that raided and traded across a wide area around Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. And where were they from originally? Vikings’ homeland was Scandinavia. Today, these ancient Viking territories belong to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland.
Vikings were not primarily an agricultural society and thus relied extensively on raiding coastal villages and some Viking clans or groups engaged in trade and commercial activities.
Vikings were skilled sailors and shipbuilders and possessed an unrivaled knowledge and technology on naval navigation and boat-writing technologies. The “Long Boat”, the vessel Vikings popularly used to master the sea was used both in exploration, trade and in wars alike. Viking fleets posed an immense threat towards the trading merchants of countries such as France, England, Rome, and Germanic tribes. With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 4th Century A.D and Europe’s dark tread towards disarray and chaos, the Viking raiders prospered as the once-mighty Roman Navy was no longer protecting the Norther European Borders and the Mediterranean Sea.
Viking raids often hit many neighboring coastal regions around Scandinavia and most of the time they were Viking conquests that aimed at looting and pillaging these settlements for wealth and resource. In certain cases, Vikings settled in the regions they raided and subsequently blended with the local populations. However, Vikings were master sea-people and fierce warriors in combat, which made many of their neighbors to tremble in fear just as soon as they hear the name “Vikings”.
Following is a list of regions in which were raided or settled by the Vikings during the 7th century A.D and 14th Century A.D.
8th Century A.D
- Coastal areas around Norway, Sweden, and Denmark
- Scandinavian Midlands (modern Finland and deeper into Norway and Sweden)
- Northern parts of Scotland
- Northern parts of modern Germany and Poland
- Coastal areas of Greenland
- Eastern Europe (Modern western parts of Russia)
- Normandy (Modern northern region of France)
- Southern English territories
- Southern Italy and Sicily
Most of these were raids and eventually, many Vikings would settle in these regions. And by the 15th Century, most of them had converted into Christianity and shared much of the local culture.
However, in terms of Viking conquests, they reached far beyond.
Vikings attacked Iberian kingdoms constantly, which is modern Spain and Portugal. Apart from that, North African regions fell victim to hordes of invading Vikings as well. And the interesting fact is, Vikings, tried to settle in Northern America around 11th Century A.D, which is today parts of Canadian territory. Becoming the first-ever European people to try that. And in the process, beat Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci (the famous explorer that America is named after) by nearly 500 years.
Viking Expansion: Into Europe And Asia
After the 10th century A.D, Vikings had expanded significantly far from their Scandinavian mainland. Written records have been found that the Byzantine Emperors had requested the services of Viking/Norse mercenaries. Late in the 10th century, an elite bodyguard unit for the Byzantine emperor had been established, which was mainly comprised of Norsemen.
There are other records and archeological pieces of evidence survived that prove Vikings had even reached as far as Baghdad, the capital of the then powerful Islamic Caliphate. This could be seen even more as at the time; Vikings had established themselves a quite good reputation as merchants in rare goods from Europe to Asia.
The Culture Of Vikings
People with Many Skills
Contrary to what Hollywood and many people today perceive, Vikings were not a “barbaric” race of people and cast characteristics of a well-developed civilization. Although they were mostly Nomadic, which means a population that keeps shifting and migrating, many of them settled in mainland Europe and turned towards agriculture, commerce, and various industries.
The Norse people were able to read and write and had developed a “non-standardized alphabet”, called “Runor”. Vikings used to carve inscriptions in stones, called “Runestones” and these runestones could be found throughout the Scandinavian nations; often raised to commemorate the men who died in expeditions and fallen kings.
Women in Viking society had many liberties and privileges comparatively to many cultures in the world. They had the right to hold property and at certain times, were allowed to become even the head of the family in the absence of a male heir.
Apart from that, a woman in Viking society could cohabit with a man and have children without a “legal” or socially accepted marriage. Women like that and children born to such women were not treated disreputably or prejudiced and received the same privileges as any other woman.