The image we have of Vikings is one of wild-haired barbaric savages, who raided lands across Europe and beyond, all based on their chronicles.
They used two different styles of ships. The “Drakkar” longship was intended for war and exploration designed for speed and agility, with oars and a sail. It had a long narrow hull with a shallow draft for ease of landings and shallow waters. Whilst on the otherhand their “Knarr” longships were designed as a merchant cargo vessel, with a broad hull and deep draft. She would rely more on her sail to drive her, for she carried a relatively small number of oars.
The Vikings had a language all of their own, made up from sound values integrated with Latin, and used their “Runor” alphabet to read and write.
The Vikings left Rune stones inscribed with memories of the dead, or battles won. These can be found across Europe, mainly in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, and gives us an insight into their timeline.
If one looks at a Rune stone, the centre is made up of images similar to those of early cave-man drawings, whilst the outer edge is a creation of their own alphabet.
In Denmark there are Viking Rune stones, dating between 960-985, placed there by King Gorm the Old, the last pagan King of Denmark in memory to his Queen; Thyre.
Harold Bluetooth his son placed a stone, for the conquest of Denmark and Norway, and the conversion of Danes to Christianity.
An inscription on the larger of the stones read: “King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of Gomr, his father, and in memory of Thyre his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.”
There are known Viking burial sites across much of Europe, especially in their homelands of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. A Viking warrior is usually buried with his weapons, and these artefacts give us an insight to their lifestyle.
In England the Viking age began with the spilling of blood and destruction as they destroyed the Abbey on the island of Lindisfarne in 793AD, which sent shock waves across Europe to their presence.
Historical accounts of Viking raids and colonization of Europe, is written in the chronicles of; Nestor, Novgorod, and Ibn Fadlanand Ibn Rusta.
For three hundred years, Viking raiders were the scourge of the waters, plundering, killing and taking captives to sell into a life of slavery. Shoreline settlements lived in fear of these barbaric warriors. For it was in 991Ad “The Battle of Maldon,” took place on the shores of the Blackwater River in Essex, between the Viking raiders and its inhabitants.
The Norwegians are known to have spread to the north and western areas, covering Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and Greenland. Whilst the Danes settled in the northern and Eastern parts of England and Normandy.
Other Vikings ventured the northerly coasts of the North Atlantic Ocean, travelling south to North Africa, and east into present day Russia. They raided, pillaged, traded and some even settled in these new lands, and some were known to have become mercenaries.
Those Vikings under Leif Ericson, heir to Erik the Red, settled in Newfoundland and Labrador Canada.
The Normans were descendants from the Danish and Norwegian Vikings, and were known to raid English shores as early as 790 until the full Norman Conquest of England in 1066. If we look back into our history, we will see that King Harold II was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, and he did in fact have Danish ancestors.
Some Scandinavian Vikings are known to have served as mercenaries, at a time when the Swedish visited the Byzantium Empire in the early part of the 800’s.
By the latter part of the 10th century, the imperial guard consisted of Scandinavians, better known as the Varangian Guard. Varangian, is believed to have stemmed from Old Norse, but in Slavic and Greek refers to Scandinavians.
Harold Hadrada a well respected and influential member of the Varangian Guard, rose to become King of Norway (1047-1066).
By the latter part of the 11th century, the Catholic Church had increased its power and influence amongst the Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway and Denmark). Then in 1103 the first Archbishopric was founded.
A major profit for Vikings had been the taking of captives and selling them as slaves. Christianity had abolished this practice throughout parts of northern Europe, but it continued well into the 11th century, when it was outlawed and replaced by the act of “Serfdom.”
Raids continued for much of the 11th century and early part of the 12th century, until a new target could be found for their fighting warriors.
In 1107 Sigurd I of Norway took his army of Norwegian crusaders to the “Kingdom of Jerusalem,” for the Baltic Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries.
In the 12th century a Scottish warrior named Somerled, of the Donald clan and of Viking descent, drove the Vikings out of Scotland.