Vikings were a Norse people who originated in Scandinavia and began raiding shores in Northern Europe by the end of the 8th century. Their raids which continued until the 11th century would significantly alter the socio-political dynamics of Europe.
Vikings were pagans who had an elaborate mythology of their own and a sizable pantheon of gods including such well-known deities as Odin and Thor.
The Viking society itself was primarily a warrior society with a strict social hierarchy. By the 11th century, Vikings had become a permanent part of many regions in northern Europe while their homeland in Scandinavia congealed into several kingdoms.
The homeland of the Vikings was Scandinavia. They originated from the modern-day Scandinavian regions of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
The name ‘Viking’ itself is an Old Norse word which means ‘a pirate raid’. Once raiding became one of the predominant Viking occupations, they came to be identified with the word itself.
In European history, the period from the late 8th century to the 11th century is regarded as the Viking age. By the end of the 8th century, Vikings had acquired the skill of rowing their well-made longboats to distant lands at great speeds.
This enabled them to launch swift and highly effective raids on unguarded coasts of northern Europe, earning them booty and slaves. By the 9th century, Vikings raids on British Isles and mainland northern Europe led to permanent settlements in these regions, making Vikings a permanent part of the local populations.
Vikings also came to rule the Orkney and Shetland islands and established the kingdoms of Scandinavia, Norway and Sweden. By the 11th century, the Viking lifestyle had altered sufficiently so that raiding came to an effective end, marking the end of the Viking age.
The Viking society was a warrior society with rich warriors and noblemen forming the top echelon of the society. Under them came the freedmen who excelled in different skills and trades such as farming, smithing and trading.
The lowest social class in the Viking society were thralls who were slaves and led lives of hard labour, being owned by the noblemen or the freemen. Sports involving rigorous physical activity and military training were popular in the Viking society. Notable among these were mountain climbing, stone lifting, swimming, skiing and ice skating.
Viking longships were one of the most important features of the Viking warfare culture. These ships came with sails as well oars which enabled them to sail at great speeds, even in the absence of wind.
Moreover, these ships were slimmer and agile, making it possible for the Vikings to park them directly on a beach, launch a rapid raid and them be on their way within no time.
It was largely thanks to these longships that Vikings were able to extensively raid northern Europe for decades without facing any major naval resistance from the European powers of the time. Other ships meant for regular travelling and trading were also built by the Vikings.