Vikings were Norsemen who began raiding different parts of Europe during the 8th century. They had their home region in Scandinavia and were expert seafarers who were aided on their sea travels by their speedy longships.
Their raids continued from 8th to 11th centuries, and directly aimed most parts of Western and Central Europe, going as far as modern-day Russian territory, and the English isles, Sicily and other notable island regions in the Mediterranean.
The Vikings would raid a region for slaves and other gains, or use their longships for long-route trading. They had a decisive impact on the dynamics of early medieval Europe in the three centuries of their ceaseless raiding.
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The earliest records of Vikings raiding British Isles date back to the last decade of the 8th century. By the first half of the 9th century, Vikings were a part of the personal bodyguard of the Byzantine Emperor. In the 9th and 10th centuries, Vikings not only made frequent raids on British coastal regions, they also encroached upon mainland areas of Britain, Ireland and Scotland.
In 838, Norwegians who had Viking origins gained control important Irish territories and by 865, Danish descendants of Vikings were rapidly taking one city after another in England. By 11th century, the Vikings had mostly settled down in the areas they had been previously raiding, often becoming ruling dynasties in these regions. Late 11th century is marked as the end of what is conventionally dubbed the Viking Age.
Factors Leading to Viking Age
The raids of the Vikings on different regions on continental Europe and on England suddenly began in the 8th century. Although the exact cause leading to the start of these raids is unknown, it has been surmised that Charlemagne’s campaigns against pagan Germanic tribes in the late 8th century may have triggered it.
Charlemagne waged war on Germanic tribes, including the Saxons, in order to Christianise them and he attained this objective as the cost of many wars and a few massacres of the Saxons. It is also possible that Vikings discerned their obvious naval superiority, thanks to their longships, and decided to put it to use in raiding and trading.
Vikings Impact on Medieval England
The impact of the Vikings on medieval England was decisive. After intermittent raiding and pillaging, the Vikings came to power in England when a large Danish army arrived in 865 and conquered most of the territories. Although the Anglo-Saxon kings put up a fierce fight, they had to compromise with the Danish Kings.
Eventually, England was conquered in 11th century by another group of Viking descendants, namely the Normans. Ireland was likewise conquered first by Norwegians and later, more decisively, by the Normans in the 12th century.
End of the Viking Age
By the 10th century, Vikings has settled in portions of France, England, Ireland and Scotland. Towards the 11th century, they emerged as the ruling dynasties of British Isles. Back at the homeland of the Vikings, the kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden and Norway had emerged.
By the 11th century, these kingdoms had significant power with notable populations adhering to Christian faith and dynasties directly allied with the Catholic Church. With the inclusion of the Viking homelands in mainstream Christendom, the raiding of the Vikings came to an end. However, by dint of their influence on most of Europe, Vikings were to have a lasting influence on the later development of the continent and of Britain.
One of the most notable advantages which helped Vikings raid near and far, carry out long-route trading and move swiftly over large distances in the sea, was that they had longships. Longship had a long and narrow hull and came equipped with both sails and oars. The longships were designed in such a way as to offer maximum speed and agility when travelling, and a rapid landing. Vikings used these ships for their raids and in warfare.
Vikings were a highly hierarchical society with distinct social classes. They were fond of games and actively encouraged such sports which involved combat training and the use of weapons. These sports included mountain climbing, spear throwing and stone lifting among others. Board games such as chess were also popular.
The cuisine of the Vikings was quite diverse, comprising of meats of different kinds, seafood, dairy products, fruits and nuts among other ingredients. The ability to do long-range trading also helped Vikings import different things such as food spices.
Vikings made use of a vast range of weapons during warfare. Typically, every Viking freeman was required to own weapons and the outlook and range of weapons of a Viking also reflected his social status. So while common freemen usually wielded a spear, a Viking nobleman had more elaborate list including a sword, helmet and mail shirt.
An interesting part of Viking warfare was the use of “berserkers”, groups of violent Viking fighters who fought in a fierce style and were claimed to be immune to pain. It has been theorised that berserkers possibly used psychoactive herbs. Viking fierceness in warfare also informed by Norse mythologies related to Thor and Odin.
Vikings Social Hierarchy
The Viking society chiefly comprised of three social classes. The Jarls were the highest on the social ladder and constituted the aristocracy. They owned huge longhouses, occupied administrative positions and were warrior leaders. Karls were freed peasants who owned their own land, earned their own bread and sometimes employed Thralls. Thralls were the lowest on the social rung, usually slaves captured during wars and employed to carry out menial chores.
Vikings were Germanic Norsemen who were excellently skilled in sea travel with the aid of their longships. From 8th to 11th centuries, Vikings raided many areas of Western Europe and British Isles. In time, they settled on British Isles and in Normandy.
The later Normans who came to conquer and rule England were descendants of the Vikings. Although the so-called Viking Age came to an end in the 11th century, Vikings left a lasting imprint on the culture and politics of Europe and especially that of Britain.