When Did Vikings Exist and Who Were They?

When you think about Vikings you imagine unruly, bloodthirsty, aggressive barbarians clad in horned helmets and heavily armed. For a long time, the story told about Vikings has been one-sided, They have been from sagas of people who were victims of their raiding expeditions and invasions. So, we can expect that there is some form of bias in what is known today about Vikings.

Which brings up the question, what then do we know about Vikings? Who were they and what was their origin? Did they truly live their home? Where did they settle and what happened to them there? This article will address all of these questions in an attempt to paint a more objective picture of who the Vikings were.

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Who Were The Vikings?

The little that is written and known about the Vikings begins from the Viking Age that lasted between 700-1100AD. These accounts were written years after the end of the period and described Vikings as pirates and raiders who came on their longboats to different parts of Europe and the world, looting monasteries and settlements. They were known as invaders who used axes and long swords in battle. But is this all there is to know about Vikings?

To begin with, the term Viking came from their language, the Old Norse, and it meant ‘pirate raid’. Hence people who left Scandinavia and went off raiding in ships were called Vikings. But not all Scandinavians were as bloodthirsty, most, may not have described themselves as Vikings. While almost all Vikings were seafarers, some went to foreign lands to fight and raid, others were peaceful travelers looking to settle or trade. Aside from aggressive warriors, the Vikings also had farmers who kept livestock and grew crops, as well as skillful crafters of wood carvings and metal works among others. Vikings were also traders who traveled to distant lands to exchange their goods for spices, silver, silk, pottery, glass, wine, and jewelry among others.

Vikings were also not Christians but what Christians referred to as a pagan religion. That was because the Vikings did not believe in a monotheistic God, rather in a Norse pantheon of gods and goddesses. They also believed that there were different realms in the universe where mystical creatures like giants, elves, and dwarves existed. Odin seemed to be the ultimate god for them, being that he was the Allfather and the most powerful of all Norse deities. Aside from their faith, they also had certain practices like burying the dead with goods they would need in the afterlife. They also believed in things like human sacrifice among others. Being pagans, one can understand why they raided the church monasteries. It wasn’t because they were against Christianity, it was simply because they were the easiest targets with the most resources.

What did Vikings look like in real life

Where Did The Vikings Come From?

The Vikings are believed to have originally come from Scandinavia, which today has been divided into Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. Despite coming from a commonplace, speaking a common language, and sharing certain similarities, the Vikings from Scandinavia were not exactly a race. They were also not just limited to Scandinavia. Records show that some Vikings also existed in areas like Estonia, Finland, and Saami. So, as we mentioned the Vikings were not a race but small groups spread all over the region.

Each group was made up of a handful of families and there was no centralized government. Chieftains were the ones who commanded these groups. It is presumed that the people would pay chieftains taxes in exchange for their protection, and the chieftains would in turn use their wealth to buy allies and gain support, especially from along the coastlines.

In these small groups, the Vikings were believed to have lived in what they called longhouses. This was a building that was divided into sections and a fire was placed at the center of it. There were sitting places around the fire that doubled as sleeping areas by night. The Vikings were said to have also lived with their livestock in the same building which they also used as storage for a myriad of goods. Ribe, in Denmark, is said to be the oldest extant town in all of Scandinavia that once used to be a flourishing trading center. The town was established within the first ten years of the eighth century.

Viking town

Leaving Scandinavia

There are many speculations as to why Vikings left their homes to settle in other homes. Among them is the fact that their land was overpopulated, but there is no proof of this. If anything, it’s been proven that Scandinavia had more than enough land. The other explanation would be that they were looking for land, resources, and a better chance to make a name for themselves. Word got to the Vikings that Europe had started growing economically, and they saw this as a chance.

Initially, the Vikings started by raiding Europe in the late eighth century starting with the British Isles in 793 in Lindisfarne.

Eventually, more and more Scandinavians started settling in the different parts they invaded. But not all the settlers were violent. Some lived peacefully along with the original inhabitants. Some settled as a farmer, others as traders, merchants and so much more. They even intermarried and adopted the culture as well as converted to Christianity. Still, we cannot ignore the significant influence the Vikings had over the cultures and languages in these regions as well. In Scotland especially, some Norse traditions and practices are followed until today. Normandy, Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland are also regions where their influence and presence are still felt.

Vikings Settle

Where Did Vikings Settle And Live?

Although the Vikings traveled far and wide across the world, they are believed to have mostly settled in different parts of Europe. They ended up settling in different regions including England, part of Wales, Scotland, and the Isles of Man. They spread further to Ireland and Greenland around the ninth century and conquered areas like Dublin. By the 10th century, their expeditions and subsequent invasions had reached France and continued spreading further into Eastern Europe to Russia.

There are also accounts stating that Vikings also explored North America in places like Ruin Island, Ellesmere Island, and Skraeling Island. Some accounts also place them in Rhodes Island, Maine, and other areas on the Atlantic coast. The only unambiguous settlement, the Vikings were believed to have in North America, however, is said to be in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, Canada. Other areas in the world believed to have had traces of Viking settlement are the Middle East, Asia, and some parts of North Africa.

Vikings at Dublin

Do Vikings Still Exist?

When people think of the ending of the Viking Age, they imagine that that meant the end of the Viking’s existence altogether. But this is not entirely the case. While you do not hear of Vikings today, it doesn’t mean that their kind was completely wiped off. The end of the Viking Age simply referrer to an end of an era whereby they had more dominance. The beginning of this end was probably in 865 when King Alfred of Wessex managed to win the battle over them and later got into a peace treaty that divided England between Vikings and the English. This treaty enabled the Saxons and other settlements to fortify their kingdoms and improve their defenses against the Great Viking army.

Over the years although the Vikings won some battles still, their dominance was gradually fading. They were not exactly defeated in the end but forced into submission as a way of surviving. The spread of Christianity at the time also played a significant role. Although some Vikings fought it at first especially those remaining in Scandinavia, gradually, they converted their faith to Christianity. Along with this, they lost what identified them as Norsemen.

The Vikings eventually even started speaking the languages of the foreign lands they occupied after the Viking Age ended in the 11th century. After intermarriages and over generations, there was no longer a distinct group of Vikings. Their descendants still do exist, however, so we can not entirely rule out their existence. In places like Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, however, there are still Viking villages where people there still identify as modern Vikings.

Conclusion

Despite their dominance not being as significant as before, their influence still lingers in regions they once settled in and occupied. Although little is known about them even today, there is a lot of interest with more and more people wanting to know about them. This is especially after their induction into pop culture through things like Viking movies, TV shows, and characters. Today many people travel to places like Norway and Denmark, to visit the Viking farms, burial mounds, and other historic artifacts or locations related to them. But although we have people who identify as modern Vikings, they do not live exactly as they did back then but simply share the same values and codes they lived by at the time.

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