Even after the end of the Viking Age centuries ago, their impact is still felt even today, in many parts of the world. Vikings were mainly known as sea-farers, even though some held different occupations. They enjoyed long sea voyages for many reasons including looking for land and resources, trading, and raiding expeditions. They were especially known for the latter. Sadly, there is little written of their many adventures across the world.
Certain things remain speculations built from the little evidence found in their settlements. Among them is how they managed to travel and the exact places they went. That is why the focus of this article is to look into the voyages taken by the Vikings. We will explore where they went, how they got there, and their activities in the main regions they visited.
Were The Vikings Explorers?
When you think of explorers, names like Marco Polo and Columbia come to mind, because they are some of the greatest explorers to have existed in history. But would you call Vikings explorers? By definition, an explorer is a person who travels to unfamiliar places to make discoveries. With that as their operating definition, it is safe to say that Vikings were in fact, explorers. Like we mentioned above, they traveled far and wide through the seas in search of new land, resources, and new markets for them to trade their goods. They would then create sagas of the places they discovered and the things they did while there, It is a sham, however, that these were orally passed on and there is no substantial written evidence of them.
What made Vikings such great explorers was that they were expert sailors. That is because they spent most of their time at sea. As such, they became great navigators of the sea. They used the sun compasses by day and stars by night to let them know they were headed in the right direction. They also utilized other elements and creatures of nature including the wind and the birds. Another advantage for them was that they were highly skilled craftsmen especially when it came to building ships. Their great and mighty longboats were not only visually appealing but they were also built to survive the harshest conditions at sea.
Where Did The Vikings Travel To?
Based on the Viking influences noticed in many parts of the world today, it is safe to say that the Vikings traveled far and wide across the world. Europe, especially, was the place most traveled by them, judging from the Vikings settlements found in different regions within the continent. England happens to have the majority of these settlements seeing as the Vikings managed to divide it into two at some point. The regions under their rule at the time formed what was known as the Dane Law. They included regions like Northumbria, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Lincoln, Stamford, and so on.
They also traveled to other parts of the British Isle, in areas like the off-coast islands of Scotland like Shetland, Orkney, and Hebrides. Aside from Scotland the Vikings also reached different parts of Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Greenland, Iceland, France, Russia, and other regions within the Northern parts of Europe. Their travels did not stop there, the Vikings managed to reach as far as North America, in parts of Canada. They were also believed to have been to Asia, the Middle East, and even some parts of North Africa.
One reason they were able to travel so far in such a short period of their era, could be that they chose to travel by sea rather than by land. One Viking traveler once recounted that a journey that would have taken him a month on land took him about five days via sea. What’s more, the Vikings were great navigators, so it was hard for them to get lost and for their ships to get wrecked regardless of the harsh conditions they may have faced.
How Did The Vikings Travel Around In The World?
Being that they were such great sailors, it makes sense that their mode of transport was through water bodies like rivers, lakes, oceans, and seas. They would use boats to cut across rivers and lakes and larger ships to voyage across oceans and seas. Their boats and ships came in different designs, shapes, and sizes, depending on their functions. This included carrying Cargo for trade or transporting people or warriors.
Regardless of the type of vessel, the overall design was similar. They were made using planks of oak timber overlapped together and filled with wool or animal hair to prevent water from seeping through. Most of the ships and boats were long narrow and light, hence why they were called longboats/ships. This allowed them to travel faster on the water although the cargo ships were slightly larger and heavier to carry more goods and bear their weight.
The ships moved either by wind or oars. Each ship had a large square sail, most likely, made of mainly wool and strips of leather to help maintain its flexibility when wet. This is what was used to propel the ships by the wind. On the days when the winds were not strong enough, oars were used. Some ships came with holes on the side through which the oars were put through. Other ships had their oar placed on the railings. Their length varied based on where they were used. There were oarsmen on the ship with the special duty of working the oars.
As for navigations, the Vikings Age was at a time when there wasn’t much development in technology. So, you may be wondering, how did they manage to navigate the sea? Well, as we mentioned earlier, they used the elements of nature and birds. At night they would read the stars to help guide their way. During the day, they would use the sun. They had a device called the sunstone or compass that helped them determine the overcast of the sun. This was aided by their great knowledge of nature, and so with a combination of all these components, they were able to travel easily across the world.
The Vikings In North America
Unlike popular belief, the Vikings were the first to discover America and not Columbia, at least North America. Based on the Icelandic saga, in 985, Bjarni Herjólfsson, a Norwegian captain, was the first to stumble upon North America. This happened when his ship was blown off course while on his voyage to Greenland from Iceland. Later on, other Viking explorers like Leif Erikson, while on expeditions, to explore areas to the west of Greenland trying to find timber and other resources, also ended up in North America.
Leif’s exploration led him to places like Skraeling Island, Ellesmere Island, and Ruin Island. There they interacted with the Inuit groups through hunting and trade. Some sagas talk about the possibility of having Viking settlements in regions such as Maine, Rhodes Island, and parts on the Atlantic coast. Sadly there isn’t enough proof for this since little is known about the Viking escapades while in North America.
A fact that is known and proven, however, is that there was a Viking settlement in, Newfoundland, Canada, at a place called, L’Anse aux Meadows. Thanks to the atmospheric radiocarbon produced by a dated solar storm, scholars were able to date the building found in that area to the year 1021. The date coincides with what was accounted for in the Icelandic sagas, proving that there is some level of truth in them. The Vikings don’t seem to have settled there for too long, however, probably due to the conflicts between them and the Natives.
The Vikings In The Mediterranean
Unlike England, Scotland, and other places like Ireland, where there is enough data to paint a picture of the Viking’s dealings in those regions, the same cannot be said for the Mediterranean. It would seem that majority of scholars put their focus on regions where the majority of the Viking settlements were found. Still, there is little evidence that proves that the Vikings did in fact travel as far as Istanbul, Turkey. There is a church in the city called Hagia Sophia, where a Viking named Halvdan curved the statement “Halvdan carved these runes” on its marble banister. Because of the scarcity of Viking information related to the Mediterranean, conferences like ‘Vikings in Mediterranean 2019” are organized by Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish institutes in Athens. There are also calls for more papers on the topic by these same institutes in an attempt to know more.
Still, considering that there is at least some bit of information known about the Vikings in France, which is considered among one of the countries in the Mediterranean, we could at least have an idea of the Viking dealings there. Around the 10th century is when they were believed to have made their entrance into France. They began with raids around River Seine before moving deeper into Frankish territories, like Rouen, Jumiegs, and Pari. The Frankish king Charles the Bald, first tried paying off the Viking raids with large sums of silver and gold, but they kept coming back for more.
Later, in 911, King Charles the simple sought a more permanent solution by entering the Treaty of Saint-Clair-Sur-Epte with Rollo who was the Viking leader at the time. This gave Rollo and the Vikings legal ownership of the territory that they had already conquered on the condition that King Charles the Simple was their overload. The territories under Rollo’s rule were named Normandy, after Northmania, a Viking word meaning Land of the Norse Men. That was where the Vikings settled in France intermarried and even adopted the language of the original inhabitants.
The Vikings In Northern Europe
Northern Europe can be divided into three main regions, namely, the British Isles, Scandinavia, and the Baltics. Scandinavia is made up of the modern day, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. The British Isles is made up of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales) and Ireland. The Baltics include countries like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Vikings were originally from Scandinavia. Some records show that some Vikings came from regions like Estonia and Finland. It would make sense since Vikings were not a race, rather different groups of people who shared certain similarities. Around 793AD, the Vikings began going on expeditions, exploring new lands in an attempt to find new markets and resources. They began with regions closer to home, within Northern Europe. The first region was England in the British Isles, they later spread to Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the Isles of Man.
Initially, they were only raiding places in these regions, especially monasteries, and taking the loot back home. But soon they began valuing the land, probably because it was as familiar as home and more resourceful. They eventually invaded and settled in this region, even managing to create the Dane Law regions within England. Their reign of terror all through Northern Europe didn’t last for too long. Soon enough, they were subdued and forced to adopt the culture and way of life, of the indigenous people to survive.
The Vikings In Russia And Beyond
From Northern Europe and France, the Vikings traveled further east to Europe. They used the rivers and lakes to go deeper into the heart of Russia. They were believed to be dominant in regions like Novgorod and Kyiv, for a period. Eventually, the Slavonic community absorbed them rapidly. They became known as the Rus, which was used to refer to Russian Vikings. They didn’t stop their explorations there. They continued moving south from Europe towards the Mediterranean. By the end of their existence, in 1050, they are believed to have reached as far some parts of Asia, the Middle East, and some parts of North Africa. This is based on the traces of Viking settlement and the influence they had in these regions.
If there was a group in history that managed to cut across most of the world, we would have to say it is the Vikings. They not only spread themselves so far and wide, but they also managed to leave behind a huge impact on most of the world. This is proven by the traces of Viking influences found in various cultures and languages.