Scandinavian history establishes the Viking Age as a period from the earliest record raids by skilled Norsemen in 793 until the Norman conquest of England in 1066. During the Viking age, different Viking kings profoundly impacted the early medieval history of Scandinavia, the British Isles, France, and Kievan Rus. In this write-up, we will identify some of the most popular Viking leaders that had a profound impact on early medieval history and the economic and social development of Europe. The Viking Kings were;
Rollo is one of the most popular and is regarded as the first Viking king to take up the throne and establish the law in Normandy province in France. He had sole authority over the region and was regarded as an outstanding and influential warrior among Norsemen who settled in the valley of lower Seine. After the Siege of Charters in 911, Rollo and the Norsemen settlers were given the land between the mouth of Seine and Rouen by King Charles the Simple (the King of West Francia at the time), who wanted Rollo’s conversion to Christianity and a pledge to defend the estuary in the Seine from brutal Viking raiders in exchange.
Rollo accepted to convert to Christianity, and his name became Robert and eventually became a Christian role model to other Norsemen and was greatly valued by future Christian writers. According to Christian literary writing, he is a model of excellence in the religion based on the virtues he exerted and described as a great ruler who established Christian laws within Normandy. Considering that he was involved in the war that destroyed parts of Normandy, he chose to restore Normandy by establishing order among the people. His ruling style was guided by concepts such as personal honor and individual responsibility, which enabled him to successfully reform all the strategies that the magistrates could not enact in the land. Unfortunately, he died in 930CE from natural causes but is still considered the greatest ruler of all time.
2.Erik the Red
Erik the Red is remembered as the Viking King who founded the first Norse settlement in Greenland. Several medieval and Icelandic saga sources claim that the epithet ‘the Red’ was given to him by his subjects and his crew because his beard and the hair on his head had a red tone. He was born in 950 CE in Norway to Thorvald Asvaldson and his wife, who was banished from Norway when Erik was 10 years old because his father was involved in manslaughter. Following his father’s exile, they sailed towards the west of Norway and settled in Iceland.
At his new homeland, his slaves caused vigor between Erik and his neighbors, and it ended in another manslaughter that caused many lives. Because of this, he was banished from his home for 3 years. Since he couldn’t go back to Norway, he went on a discovery quest, where he founded Greenland.
He married a woman known as Jorundsdottir, and they settled in Hawksdale, where they had 4 children. Among his children was Leif Erikson who became an explorer and a Christian missionary; Thorvald who led an expedition to Vinland but died in the hostile clashes with the Native American population in the region; Thorstein who later became a Viking chieftain, and Freydis (his daughter) who became a slave, but a powerful woman once freed.
His son, Leif Eriksson tried to convert him into Christianity, but he rejected the religion and continued to be a follower of Norse Paganism. However, his wife built the first Christian church in Greenland after she successfully became a Christian convert. Unfortunately, his wide denied him his conjugal rights because they worshipped different deities, which constantly angered him.
Olaf Tryggvason reigned as the King of Norway from about 995 to 1000 CE. When in exile, he became a Viking king, and ever since then, he ruled his subjects with sheer brutality and forced Christianity on all his subjects. His grandfather, Harald Fairhair, was the first King of Norway, and his father was Trggve Olafsson. A 10-th century Norwegian ruler known as Erik Bloodaxe and his wife, Gunhild, wanted Olaf Tryggvason dead because they were both against his ruling style. However, his mother was always in the loop and took off with her son Olaf. As they fled, they were sold as slaves, and somehow they found themselves in Russia. While in Russia, they chose to settle and begin their lives.
As Olaf grew up, he was inclined to the mercenary troops of Vladimir the Great in Kiev. In the process, he also received military training and engaged with all the soldiers. Later on, in 985, Olaf led the Vikings and the army through the Baltic Sea in an attempt to raid the British Isles. After they won the Battle of Maldon in 991, he and Sweyn Forkbeard received 10,000 pounds of money in gold and silver as a reward. After a failed attack in London (995), he converted to Christianity and became a missionary, so he went back to Norway. Immediately Olaf got there, he was accepted as the King and forcefully converted anyone within his territory. He brutally burned down and looted pagan temples and threatened to kill anyone who wouldn’t conform to the Christian beliefs.
Leif Erikson was the son of Erik the Red and was popularly known as Leif the Lucky. He is believed to be the first European to have set foot in North America, approximately 500 years before Columbus (a Christian who arrived in 1942). King Olaf, I converted him into Christianity and sent him on a mission to spread the gospel and convert other Norsemen. During his voyage, he stopped at a place between Baffin Island and Labrador. As he and his Viking crew explored the area, they discovered several grapes and berries that would keep them fed for a lifetime. He named the place ‘Vinland’, and they chose to establish a settlement there. During their stay, they made several discoveries but had to escape attacks from the hostile natives and return to the North American shores.
Immediately he got to Greenland, he told his brother (Thorvald) about Vinland and their ordeal, but his brother saw it as an opportunity for conquest. However, he was attacked by the hostile natives of the land upon his arrival. Leif decided to settle in Greenland and spend his time spreading Christianity among the people he would encounter. He eventually influenced the identity and social patterns of all the Nordic immigrants in Europe. Up to date, he is remembered and celebrated as the 1st European explorer of the new world. During the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Norwegian immigrants to the United States, he was fully recognized as the first Norwegian explorer in the land. In 1964, President Lyndon declared the 9th of October as Leif Erikson Day after approval and recognition by the American Congress.
5.Cnut the Great
Cnut the Great, primarily known as Canute, was the king of Denmark, Norway, and England. Also, he was the overlord of Schleswig and Pomerania. During the Viking age, he won the throne of England, particularly in 1016. During his reign, he aimed to maintain and grow his power base by uniting the Danish and the English peoples under a common cultural bond of wealth and custom. When he claimed the Norwegian crown, he chose to rule over all his three territories under a single ruling style. To be more specific, he established common institutions across the 3 territories and created a sense of shared belonging among the people. By binding all his subjects under one functional ruling system, it became much easier for his subjects to co-exist harmoniously and cooperate towards economic, political, and social development.
There is a story that is told of Canute and the Tide. He set his throne by the seashore and commanded the great incoming to halt and not wet the robe he was wearing. However, the tide continued to seemingly rise without paying attention to his royalties or the great deeds he had done in the region. His subjects always assumed that he had supernatural powers as a king. However, King Canute made it clear that he had no control over the natural elements of the earth and further explained to the people that no power on earth matches that of God. He then took off his crown, hanged it on a crucifix, and never wore it again as a way of reverence to the Lord.
Harald Hadrada is considered the last of the Vikings. His death marked the end of the line of Scandinavian tribes that migrated and settled across different parts of the European region. Additionally, the end of his reign paved way for the advancement of Christianity and gave room for more historical and social developments in Europe. He fought his first battle in 1028 at 15 years of age. During this time, his half-brother Olaf was sent to exile, so Harald mobilized an army to go and rescue him. Unfortunately, his brother (Olaf I) died in that battle of Stiklestad against the Danish forces. After his brother’s death, he took up the throne to continue his legacy despite his young age. His reign was regarded as peaceful and prosperous, but he was quite ruthless during battle.
The church fully supported his reign because he was committed to the advancement of Christianity in the region. He developed the Norwegian currency that was used for trade in the region. He was the captain of the army when in Kievan Rus, where he developed his military prowess. He took time to accumulate significant resources needed to reclaim his throne after the exile. Also, when in Kievas Rus, he wanted to marry the Grand Prince’s daughter, but his proposal was rejected because he was broke. However, he looked for all possible ways to become rich and eventually married Elisiv (the GrandPrince’s daughter) as he had planned originally. Unfortunately, he died in battle in 1066, and his death marked the end of the Viking age.