Vikings have become an interest for many people recently. The concern most people have, however, is that the story told about them is one-sided and biased. That’s because the Vikings had no written records of their culture and beliefs. They passed down these things orally. What is known about them today are from sagas written y the third-parties years after the Viking Age. Fortunately, the archeological finding that has been discovered to date have helped confirm some of these stories.
Still, there is a great gap of information yet to be found. That is why one has to wonder, do we know who Vikings are, or where they came from? Are they the barbarians they are often depicted as? That is what we will be assessed in this article.
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.
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.
New World Expeditions
According to the Viking sagas of Erik the Red is believed to have been the one to discover the New World more than centuries before Columbus came along. The sagas state that Erik encountered a barren, rocky land after he managed to cross the Atlantic. He named the land Helluland which in Old Norse meant Stone Slab Land. This area is believed to be the modern-day Baffin Island. From there they traveled south and came to a place they called Markland meaning forest land due to its richness in timber. The place is believed to be modern-day Labrador. From there they ended up settling in Newfoundland a place they called Vinland for its richness in grapes, salmon, and other resources.
Because of this, scholars believe that there is still more to discover and understand about the Vikings. That is why even today, there are still more discoveries being made that suggest Viking sites existed in the New world as well. In 1960, the settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows (which they named Vinland) in Newfoundland Canada was confirmed and dated back to 1021AD.
More recently, there have been three more possible sites that have been discovered. Two of them are in Newfoundland, while the last one is in Baffin Island in the Arctic of Canada. Of the two possible Viking sites in Newfoundland, one of them near Point Rosee, and another one in Sop’s arm. The one site on Basin Island is located in Nanook. Archeologists discovered various Viking tools and traps as well as remains of a structure that may have been built by Vikings. It seems, however, that unlike their settlements in Europe, these were short-lived settlements, since they don’t appear to have spent a lot of time in these sites.
Although not everything is known about Vikings even now, one thing is clear, that is they have had a significant impact on many cultures around the world. Given how far they traveled across the world, their dominance can still be felt even today in some parts like Scotland and Ireland. There are even people today who identify as Modern Vikings. Of course, they may not dress like them but they claim to live by the values and codes the Vikings lived by, which included Honor and Loyalty.