From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Abroad they became the most daring of adventurers; their Vikings spread themselves along the shores of Europe, plundering and planting colonies; they subdued England, seized Normandy, besieged Paris, conquered a large portion of Belgium , and made extensive inroads into Spain. They made themselves masters of lower Italy and Sicily under Robert Guiscard, in the eleventh century ; during the Crusades they ruled Antioch and Tiberias, under Tancred; and in the same century they marched across Germany, and established themselves in Switzerland, where the traditions of their arrival, and traces of their language still remain. In 861 they discovered Iceland, and soon after peopled it ; thence they stretched still farther west, discovered Greenland, and proceeding southward, towards the close of the tenth century they struck upon the shores of North America, it would appear, near the coast of Massachusetts. They seized on Novogorod, and became the founders of the Russian Empire, and of a line of Czars which became extinct only in 1598, when the Slavonic dynasty succeeded. From Russia they made their way to the Black Sea, and in 866 appeared before. Constantinople, where their attacks were bought off only on the payment of large sums by the degenerate emperors. From 902 to the fall of the empire, the emperors retained a large body-guard of Scandinavians, who, armed with double-edged battle-axes, were renowned through the world , under the name of Varengar, or the Väringjar of the old Icelandic Sagas. Such were the ancient Scandinavians."--Handbook of Universal Literature (1860) by Anne Lynch Botta
Vikings is the modern name given to seafaring Norse pirates from southern Scandinavia (present-day Denmark, Norway and Sweden) who from the late 8th to the late 11th centuries raided, pirated, traded and settled throughout parts of Europe. They also voyaged as far as the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, and North America. In some of the countries they raided and settled in, this period is popularly known as the Viking Age, and the term "Viking" also commonly includes the inhabitants of the Norse homelands as a collective whole. The Vikings had a profound impact on the Early medieval history of Scandinavia, the British Isles, France, Estonia, and Kievan Rus'.
The Vikings spoke Old Norse and made inscriptions in runes. For most of the period they followed the Old Norse religion, but later became Christians. The Vikings had their own laws, art and architecture. Most Vikings were also farmers, fishermen, craftsmen and traders. Popular conceptions of the Vikings often strongly differ from the complex, advanced civilisation of the Norsemen that emerges from archaeology and historical sources. A romanticised picture of Vikings as noble savages began to emerge in the 18th century; this developed and became widely propagated during the 19th-century Viking revival. Perceived views of the Vikings as violent, piratical heathens or as intrepid adventurers owe much to conflicting varieties of the modern Viking myth that had taken shape by the early 20th century. Current popular representations of the Vikings are typically based on cultural clichés and stereotypes, complicating modern appreciation of the Viking legacy. These representations are rarely accurate—for example, there is no evidence that they wore horned helmets, a costume element that first appeared in Wagnerian opera.
The Viking Age
The Viking Age (793–1066) was the period during the Middle Ages when Norsemen known as Vikings undertook large-scale raiding, colonising, conquest, and trading throughout Europe and reached North America.
It followed the Migration Period and the Germanic Iron Age. The Viking Age applies not only to their homeland of Scandinavia but also to any place significantly settled by Scandinavians during the period. The Scandinavians of the Viking Age are often referred to as Vikings as well as Norsemen, although few of them were Vikings in the sense of being engaged in piracy.
Voyaging by sea from their homelands in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, the Norse people settled in the British Isles, Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Normandy, and the Baltic coast and along the Dnieper and Volga trade routes in eastern Europe, where they were also known as Varangians. They also briefly settled in Newfoundland, becoming the first Europeans to reach North America. The Norse-Gaels, Normans, Rus' people, Faroese, and Icelanders emerged from these Norse colonies. The Vikings founded several kingdoms and earldoms in Europe: the Kingdom of the Isles (Suðreyjar), Orkney (Norðreyjar), York (Jórvík) and the Danelaw (Danalǫg), Dublin (Dyflin), Normandy, and Kievan Rus' (Garðaríki). The Norse homelands were also unified into larger kingdoms during the Viking Age, and the short-lived North Sea Empire included large swathes of Scandinavia and Britain. In 1021, the Vikings achieved the feat of reaching North America - the date of which was not specified until a millennium later.
Several things drove this expansion. The Vikings were drawn by the growth of wealthy towns and monasteries overseas and weak kingdoms. They may also have been pushed to leave their homeland by overpopulation, lack of good farmland, and political strife arising from the unification of Norway. The aggressive expansion of the Carolingian Empire and forced conversion of the neighbouring Saxons to Christianity may also have been a factor. Sailing innovations had allowed the Vikings to sail further and longer to begin with.
Information about the Viking Age is drawn largely from primary sources written by those the Vikings encountered, as well as archaeology, supplemented with secondary sources such as the Icelandic Sagas.
During, and as a result of the Viking Age, Scandinavia moved from a loose coexistence of tribes and petty kingdoms to the three Nordic countries that still exist today.
Settlements outside Scandinavia
- Dyflin (Dublin)
- Hlymrekr (Limerick)
- Veðrafjǫrðr (Waterford)
- Víkingr-ló (Wicklow)
- Veisafjǫrðr (Wexford)
Isle of Man
- Garðaríki (Russia)