The Vikings were a warrior society which had an elaborate and highly developed mythology with a vivid cosmological narrative. Their pagan beliefs directly influenced most of the aspects of society.
The society itself was divided into several social classes. Seafaring, trading and raiding were the primary occupations of the Viking noblemen and warrior class. Although they left a scant body of writings, Viking used an indigenous alphabet called runor which was used to inscribe writings on stones.
Viking mythology comprised of an elaborate cosmological view and a large pantheon of various gods. The entire world, according to the Norse mythology, is centred on an ash tree called Yggdrasil which is divided into different parts.
The world itself is divided into gods, humans, jotnars and other beings. The Vikings believed that the end of the world would arrive at the day of Ragnarok when the Norse gods and their foes would face a final and decisive battle against their foes.
At the occasion, major Norse gods including Thor and Odin will die and the world will be destroyed, eventually to be recreated again. The notion of time is often personified in the Norse mythology while many Viking sources also hold that time is cyclical.
Viking Social Classes
Major social classes in the Viking society comprised of thralls, karls and jarls. Jarls were the nobility of the Viking society, enjoying plenty of wealth, many houses and often engaged in tasks such as politics, military expeditions and sports.
Karls were freemen who could own land, farm land and have a house and family of their own. They formed the bulk of the Viking society and often engaged in different occupations such as farming, smithing and trading. Over time and by amassing sufficient wealth, a karl could transition to the social class of jarls, thereby becoming a nobleman himself.
At the bottom of the Viking social ladder were thralls who were slaves either bought by Vikings or taken captive during raids. These slaves were owned both by karls and jarls. Thralls had a hard life and undertook most of the labor-intensive tasks in the Viking society.
Vikings left no significant body of literature and the Norse sagas were written well after the Viking age was over. However, Vikings did know how to read and write.
In doing so, they used an alphabetic system of their own comprising of runor or runes. Vikings believed that the god Odin had taught the use of runes to the humans.
Consequently, Vikings used runes as inscriptions on stones, often in memory of those warriors who partook in an expedition or died on one. A large body of Viking rune-stones are extant today and most of them recount the events of Vikings raids into northern European territories.
Viking ships were one of the most essential of the Viking lifestyle and culture. Vikings were excellent ship-builders and used innovative designs in the construction of their ships.
The most notable type of Viking ship was the longship which carried sails as well as oars and could attain great speeds even with no wind.
Vikings could use long-ships to row to shallow water which enabled them significantly in raiding European territories from 8th century onwards.