Vikings is the modernized name given to the seafaring people that originated from Scandinavia – present-day Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. They pirated, raided, settled, and traded throughout parts of Europe between the 8th and the late 11th century. They greatly influenced European social, political, and economic history. So, what exactly ended the Viking age? Read on to find out!
What ended the Viking age?
The Viking Age ended right after the raids stopped. The events of 1066 in England were the marker for the end of the Viking age. At the Battle of Stamford Bridge, the Norwegian Viking Harald Hardrada was killed when he was trying to reclaim a great portion of Europe. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an heir to continue his legacy, so it was the last major Viking attack on Europe.
Also, the Viking raids slowed down and stopped because the times had changed completely. You may ask, how so? Well, all the Scandinavian kingdoms were Christian by 1066, and everything that remained of ‘Viking culture’ was directly absorbed into the culture of Christian Europe. Christianity embraces the concept of peace and harmony. So, it was no longer desirable or profitable to raid. As the raids reduced entirely, the Vikings were regarded as regular citizens. You know, Swedes, Icelanders, Danes, Norwegians, Greenlanders, and Faroese, among others.
Currently, you can find several signs of Viking legacy in the Scandinavian origins of some vocabulary and place-names in specific areas where they settled, including Scotland, Northern England, and Russia. In Iceland, the Viking kings left behind the Icelandic sagas, which narrated all the stories about Viking victories and social interactions.
How did the Viking age come to an end?
There are two major instances that marked the end of the Viking age: the emergence of nation-states and monetary economies and the full assimilation of European states into Christendom. Let us expound further.
By the late 11th century, the three kingdoms of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark had taken shape and were starting to assert their power with increasing authority and ambition. Additionally, they were fully legitimized by the Catholic Church, and towns were defined as administrative centers and market sites. As this happened, monetary economies slowly started to emerge based on English and German models, rendering barter trade, which the Vikings depended on, useless. This meant that the Vikings couldn’t accumulate as much wealth as they did at first, and had to drastically transition into the upcoming monetary economies.
To add to that, Christianity had fully taken root in Norway and Denmark by the 11th century. Also, the people of Sweden were slowly starting to embrace Christianity. As more people converted to Christianity, dioceses were established in all the 3 royal dynasties. Missionaries and many other foreign churchmen developed more interest in establishing stable religious structures. In the process, old ideologies and lifestyles were slowly erased, and the 1st archbishopric was founded in Scandinavia in 1103.
As the different Scandinavian kingdoms blended into European Christendom, everything changed, from the priorities and aspirations of Scandinavian rulers to the relations that the Vikings had with their neighbors. Let us expound on this further.
Initially, the main source of profit for the Vikings was the slave trade with other European people. However, the medieval Church strongly believed that it wasn’t right for Christians to own fellow Christians or their neighbors as slaves. Based on this belief, chattel slavery was condemned throughout northern Europe. This entirely took the economic incentive out of raiding, and it wasn’t as lucrative as the beginning of the Viking age.
Despite the fact, that’s sporadic slaving activity, and a few raids continued to the 12th century, the military ambitions of Scandinavian kings and other rulers were completely redirected towards new paths, and they had to find new ways of association and maintaining their kingdoms.
Aside from that King Olav Haraldsson, the Viking who established the first church in Europe was defeated in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Right after his death, several churches and shrines were built in his honor across Europe. In 1066, Norway’s Harald Hadrada was killed by England’s King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, and he didn’t have an heir to continue the Viking Kingdom. After that, the William Duke of Normandy defeated King Harold of Saxon at the Battle of Hastings, and a new rule was established in Europe. That officially marked the end of the Viking age.
Why did the Vikings disappear?
The Vikings greatly terrorized medieval Europe for several centuries. While they were often seen as pirates, they were also traders, farmers, colonizers, and the first European explorers of the North Atlantic. They founded several settlements in different regions. Those who settled in Continental Europe and the British Isles played a crucial role in establishing nation-states, such as France, Russia, and England, and these were the only Vikings who survived for a prolonged time period.
Those who settled in Vinland quickly abandoned the region due to the hostilities they met along the way, those who settled in Iceland barely survived there for too long, and those who settled in the Faeroe colony survived for a longer time period. The ones in Greenland, on the other hand, may have explored the land fully but they eventually, vanished! Greenland possessed several natural advantages awaiting exploitation; however, the Vikings overdid it.
While the disappearance of the last Vikings in Greenland is still mysterious, the fundamental causes of their disappearance are quite clear. They inflicted environmental damage in the region, they were very stubborn and only wanted to subsist by a pastoral economy, and they caused negative climate changes. Because of these, the environment could barely respond to their needs for a prolonged time period. Also, they lost essential social links with Europe, and they lost control of the slave and ivory trade, which were the primary source of their profits. Eventually, there weren’t any activities central to the Norse identity aside from farming. While farming was sustainable, it wasn’t as lucrative at the time. As time went by, there weren’t any Vikings exploring the region.