Vikings were known as the raiders and warriors who used to travel in longships called ‘Viking ships’. They raided across Europe and Central Asia including Britain, France, Greenland, Turkey, Russia, and Ireland.
Their raids initially began on isolated islands that were home to undefended but exceptionally rich monasteries. Over time, Viking raids turned into full-scale attacks, then invasions and ultimately permanent settlements in many of these lands.
The Viking Age lasted from the 780s to 1066 A.D. Following are some aspects of this period.
The Vikings first attacked Britain in 793 AD and the last Viking invasion of England was in 1066. They initially assaulted monasteries along the English coasts.
These monasteries were known for their riches in gold, silver, and jewelry, many of them religious objects.
Vikings attacked the monasteries, plundered the wealth, and killed or enslaved the monks. In time, Viking raids on England became more elaborate.
They began to range inland and attack towns and villages close to the sea. They used the element of surprise and the refuge of their speedy longships to pull off these attacks with very few losses on their part.
Vikings were skilled as sailors, warriors, craftsmen, and navigators. The Viking ships were capable of sailing in oceans very swiftly and also in shallow water like streams and rivers.
Using their knowledge and skills, they raided the coasts of mainland Europe.
Throughout the 9th century, northern France was particularly ravaged by the Vikings. In 911, the French King Charles allowed the Vikings to settle in northern France for trade. Their leader was a famous Viking Rollo.
In return for their homage and submission, Charles granted Rollo the Duchy of Normandy. In time, Normandy would become a Viking stronghold and Vikings would convert to Christianity.
Most historians believed that the Vikings started raiding because of the Christian provocation and threats given against their culture and religion.
As they were also traders and moved their goods through boats and ships, they wanted to secure their trade routes.
Another reason was the pressure of the increasing population in Scandinavian homelands where resources were scarce. So, Vikings started attacking other kingdoms for land, wealth, slaves, and other resources.
Raiding also came to be seen as part of the Viking warrior culture. Young men would raid other lands, plunder wealth and thus earn prestige in the Viking society.
Following up on their raids in Britain, Vikings began to launch more elaborate attacks. The raids turn into concerted attacks by armies and the attacks eventually turned into conquests.
The conquest of England was not an easy task for the Vikings. They attacked many times and were defeated.
The disintegration of English states allowed the Vikings to proceed to the conquest of England in the 9th century.
In 865, the first large Danish army landed on the coast of East Anglia. They captured York and defeated the army of Northumbria.
Although Alfred the Great was able to withstand the Viking attacks, 1066 marked a complete conquest of England by the Norman Vikings.
When the Vikings started venturing out of their homeland, they raided many lands and settled in them. These included Iceland and Greenland. Norwegian Vikings were the first to discover Iceland in 861. They called it snow land.
In 870, many Vikings moved to Iceland and settled. They then discovered Greenland in 980s. Erik the Red, a Viking adventurer, was exiled from Iceland. During his years of exile, he found Greenland and when he returned home he told the people about this beautiful place.
The Vikings were skilled sailors and navigators. The key to their successful raids were the longships they used and the weapons they carried. They oriented themselves on seas without a compass and took help from the sun and solar stones to know the directions and weathercast.
The warships made by them were light and able to navigate in waters up to one meter deep. They were also excellent carpenters. The swords, axes, and other weapons they used were brilliantly forged.
Vikings also excelled at trade. In fact, they would prefer trade over fighting whenever they had the option. They established some of the most thriving trade centers in Europe.
They founded Dublin, made York the greatest city in England after London, and played a vital role in establishing England as a country that depended on maritime trade.
They traded in a huge range of items including leather objects, rugs, clothes, jewelry, and glasses. They also engaged in the slave trade, selling and buying slaves captured in wars.
After raiding northern France for nearly a century, Vikings began to permanently settle in the area. These Vikings came to be known as Normans, derived from the English term Northmen. In time, the Norman leader Rollo forged an agreement with King Charles of West Francia.
Charles allowed him to settle in the lands and created the Duchy of Normandy. In return, Vikings would stop raiding the French lands and instead defend France against invasions from the north. Over time, Normans intermingled with the French and became Christianized.
In 1066, a Norman leader William the Conqueror set out to conquer England. In the famous Battle of Hastings, he defeated the last Anglo-Saxon king and effectively brought England under Norman control. The Norman Invasion marked a new chapter in the history of England.