The Viking Age lasted from the eighth century to the eleventh century (700-1000 AD) and is sometimes known as the “Germanic Iron Age.” This is the period in history in which the Vikings were most active.
Warriors and traders from Scandinavia were known internationally as Vikings at the time, and they were famous for their raids and pillaging in Europe. Scandinavia had more means of water travel than most European nations, which encouraged them to explore new countries and develop trading relationships with them. Sometimes, the Vikings enslaved the villages they raided. This eventually led to the foundation of the “feudal system in Europe.”
The ancient Vikings followed a pagan religion – this means that they did not follow one of the main religions of the time, such as Christianity or Islam. The Vikings worshipped a great number of gods, and one of their main beliefs was that the world was split into a number of different “realms” = sort of like the floors of a big apartment building! The Vikings believed that all the realms were held in the branches of the ‘world tree’ Yggdrasil. For example, the human world was called Midgard; the world of the gods was called Asgard; and the world of the dead was called Helheim. The other worlds were each devoted to particular races in Norse mythology – frost giants, dark elves, etc.
By the end of the Viking Age, most Vikings had converted to Christianity. However, some still practiced their old pagan beliefs. The most important gods to the Vikings were Odin, Thor and Frey.
The Vikings had very advanced ships for the time. The Vikings made longships and longboats for exploration and battle – long, narrow boats designed for maneuverability and speed on the open seas. Most longboats were controlled using oars, but some had sails to catch the wind as well.
The Vikings were also extremely skilled warriors. Vikings typically used strong axes that could be thrown with great force, and wore thick, heavy armor to protect themselves from their enemies’ swords. Moist of the time, the Vikings attacked small settlements with large groups, so it was almost impossible to defeat them in combat. Spears were also common Viking weapons, due to how little iron they required to be made.
Vikings wore helmets as well as body armor, usually with a nose piece to protect their face. Their helmets were not decorative, and were little more than bowls they wore over their heads. Unlike what you see in cartoons and movies, the Vikings did not wear horns on their helmets – this would have been very impractical for combat. All Viking men carried a shield – depending on how rich you were, your shield could be larger or smaller, with the biggest being up to a meter wide. Viking shields were made of wood.
The Vikings spoke a language called Old Norse, and wrote in the ‘runic’ language. The runic language was based on the alphabet of ‘runor,’ which disappeared shortly after the Viking Age ended. Because of how unusual this language was, there are very few examples of it left in the world – there are few genuine Viking runestones that are still in good condition, despite how widespread Viking influence was.
Historians learnt about the Vikings from the writings of the countries they invaded. Countries like France, England and Ireland had a long-standing tradition of written history when the Vikings first invaded, and so many accounts of what they wore, the weapons they used and the language they spoke come from the writings of these countries. Viking stories, legends and songs spread quickly through the continent as well, and provided historians with a valuable basis for many of their theories of Viking society.
Furthermore, Viking culture was important to the world because of how far it spread – the Viking system of government, for example, was the first parliamentary government in the world, and their feudalist system was one of the few which allowed for slaves and other low-class citizens to work their way up. This system can be seen as a precursor (something that comes before something else) for the modern day system of capitalism.
– 700–1000 AD.
– Warriors and traders from Scandinavia.
– An axe.