Scandinavia and the Vikings

Modern Scandinavians are descendants of the Vikings. The Viking era in Scandinavia lasted from approximately 800 to 1100. The Vikings are known for their naval power and as fierce fighters. They were a heterogenous collection of Scandinavian warriors from Denmark, Norway and Sweden who traded, raided and settled in various parts of Europe, including France, England and Ireland, between the ninth and 11th centuries. They shared some common beliefs, culture and the Old Norse language.

The Gokstad ship, a Norwegian viking ship excavated in Norway 1880.The kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden all arose from smaller Viking kingdoms. Also, a Viking called Rurik of Jutland founded Russia's royal Rurik dynasty. As well, the Normans who conquered England in 1066 came from the French duchy of Normandy, which had been founded by the Viking leader Rollo. And the Vikings traveled far - the elite palace guard of the Byzantine Empire, called Varangians, was made up largely of Vikings. The extent of their expansion, trade and travels are amazing.

Vikings discovered and settled Iceland in the ninth century. They founded the first European settlement in Greenland in the 10th century. The short-lived 11th century Viking colony of Vinland was probably located in what is now Canada. By the 12th century the Viking Age was over, but the wide-ranging Norsemen had helped shape the modern world.

More than just the raiders that many know about, the Vikings were also traders and colonists who left an enduring mark on Britain. (See this overview on BBC's net site.) viking warrior The Vikings and the Viking culture are fascinating and interesting, even today. They had their own written language - Runic writing. The literature about the Viking era - Viking art, war skills, history, culture, tales, novels and fiction - is rich and large. You can now even take a virtual tour of a Viking farm. Much of what we know comes from written sources. There are, for instance, a number of narrative poems, called eddas, which tell tales of Norse gods: Vôluspá , Hávamál, Hymiskvitha , Alvíssmál , and many others. These narratives would be collected in a larger prose work, the Edda written by Snorri Sturluson (1178-1241) and called the Snorra Edda in Icelandic. Much has also later been learned from excavations and other historical sources.

viking animal head

And what has been learned has gradually changed and enriched our understanding of the Vikings. As TIME states:

"They earned their brutal reputation — but the Norse were also craftsmen, explorers and believers in democracy .... . The Vikings were indeed raiders, but they were also traders whose economic network stretched from today's Iraq all the way to the Canadian Arctic. They were democrats who founded the world's oldest surviving parliament while Britain was still mired in feudalism. They were master metalworkers, fashioning exquisite jewelry from silver, gold and bronze. Above all, they were intrepid explorers whose restless hearts brought them to North America some 500 years before Columbus."

We have tried to provide a guide to some of the most interesting and enlightening books about the Vikings. However, we are not perfect, and would greatly appreciate advice and inputs from our visitors so that we can improve our Viking pages!


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