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Viking Conquests

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Skrevet av Magnus Lutken
Språk: Engelsk
Klassetrinn: Ungdomsskolen

Conquests of Vikings
The period of the Vikings lasted for almost 400 years, from the late 7th century to the late 11th century. The very start of the Viking age was in June 793 when the Vikings of Norway attacked the monastery of Lindisfarne, on the east coast of England. From there the Vikings raided and plundered the whole of Europe, leaving people in shock over the violent outbursts of these huge, big Vikings which had just plundered their homes, raped their wives, and stolen everything of value that was there.
Although the Vikings lived in Scandinavia, in the countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and they all spoke nearly the same languages and worshipped the same gods, when they started their exploration, they all went their separate ways. The Swedes went mostly east over the Baltic sea and to Russia, the Norwegians went west to Scotland, Ireland, Iceland and America, and the Danes went to England, Ireland and south towards France and Portugal.
The Vikings were feared and hated all over Europe for their violence and for their rawness. Their victims called their ships "the black ships," because when they heard the word Viking the first thing they thought of was plunder and murder. The Vikings were probably the greatest sailors of their time, and you can say that they basically ruled the ocean.
As trade revived at this period of time, they saw this as a great opportunity for piracy. This way they got hold of treasures and whatever else they wanted, which they brought home to their country.
It's very impressive by any standards that these people became as powerful as they did. Before the period of the Vikings, the Scandinavian people had little contact with the rest of Europe and accordingly, no contact with any other part of the world. They were not part of the Roman empire, which was collapsing at this time of history. They were not part of any battles or wars taking place at this time either, except for the Danish monarch which fought against Charlemagne. Then things changed, and their desire for wealth and glory increased. These and several other factors made the Vikings start their raids.

What started the Viking raids to begin with?
To understand what started the Viking raids to begin with, we must look at how the society was built up and what kind of people the Vikings really were, if they really were the furious warriors that was feared all over Europe.
Many people think that the Vikings were people that just plundered and killed everything that got in their way, but the fact remains that the majority of the Vikings were peaceful farmers. What they did have though, was a huge desire for wealth and glory. And as skillful, brave, and last but not least, as big as they were, they could get what they wanted.
My intention when I chose this topic is that I want to show that the Vikings was not just furious warriors, but there was many positive sides to the Vikings as well as negative sides, because the positive sides are often forgotten when the horrible stories of the Vikings are being told.

Who were the Vikings?
When most people think of the Vikings, they think of people that killed and raped everyone that got in their way. But is this the whole truth?
By the 10th century, the word "Viking" was included in the old Norse language and the word meant a sea warfare or piracy. People in other parts of Europe simply called them Northmen, or Norsemen, the people of the north. The ancestors of these Vikings had lived for centuries in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. They were fishers, farmers and traders.
For 300 years, from about 790 to around 1100 the Vikings raided, traded and explored areas farther away than any Europeans before them had ever done. It took a great amount of courage, and/or desperation, to sail out of sight of land across the Atlantic, no other sailors would or could attempt this until Christopher Columbus did it in 1492. Columbus is hailed as the founder of America, but the fact is that the Vikings had been there some 500 years in front of him, but they just did not claim it as theirs, and thus Columbus is generally accepted as the founder of America.
Those of the Vikings that were able to earn a reasonable living usually stayed put where they were. Some of them lived in quite large towns, at least large compared to other towns around the 10th century, which were good meeting and trading places where people brought things to buy and sell. Almost all, if not all Viking towns were built near water, since water was the easiest way to travel or transport goods.
A Viking was always loyal, if not he was despised and looked on as a traitor. A Viking family was a wide network of people. If any member of the family was attacked or insulted, all the others were ready to take revenge on the attacker(s).
The Vikings lived in the cold lands of Scandinavia, with hard winters and it was very hard to get enough food for everyone, even in a good year. The old and the ill wasn't fed if food was short. Children on the other side, were usually well cared for, the reason being that they were the future workers, but if a new baby was sickly, it was left to die. Often they just put the baby in a little case and left it in the woods.
The Vikings were good at making things. They had excellent craftsmen, blacksmiths, carpenters, and workers of all kind, so they could make the weapons they needed, and whatever else they needed to live. Families that lived on isolated farms had to be self- sufficient. The men had to be blacksmiths and carpenters as well as farmers. They had to fell timber, put up buildings, make sledges, wagons, plows and furniture. They made tools and weapons from iron and made leather from animals' hides for capes and boots. They also made all the clothes the family needed. The man of the house basically had to do all the work in the house, so he didn't have the time do go on any conquests or anything of that kind. The men that live in the big towns did not have to do all this because they had the market where they could buy whatever they wanted.
The using of a boat was a major part of a Viking's daily life. The shortest way between the different towns and cities was usually to use the rivers and the coasts. The Vikings were the most skillful boat builders and sailors of the North, if not everywhere, of their time.
Their feared warships was known everywhere in Europe. Raiding was a way of winning glory and riches for a real Viking warrior. When they realized that Christian lands to the South were rich with treasures, they could not resist to go 'a- Viking' ( meaning to go raiding). Each raider swore to be loyal to the rest and to share the plunder.
Most Vikings were actually farmers, not the fierce warriors you think of when you hear the dreadful word Viking. When a farmer died, the oldest son of the family inherited the farm and most of the fortune the father may have had. The younger brothers got a share of the wealth, but if they wanted to farm they had to buy new land. But many of them decided to sail and raid overseas, because eventually there were no more land suitable for farming left over, it was all taken.
There was two sorts of laws that governed the way the Vikings behaved. The first part of the laws formed the basis of the honor code of the Vikings: they justified revenge, even though it might involve killing. There was also different laws stating the rules for inheriting property from relatives and describing various crimes and the punishments of the different crimes. If you killed a person, the only thing you had to do was pay his relatives what the person was worth. The worst crimes were punished by banishment from the tribe or group. At an assembly of local freemen that was called the Thing, a group of powerful men from the local areas acted as judges. The laws were not written down though, because the Lawmen knew them by heart and taught the next generation about the laws.
The Norse gods ruled over the Scandinavian world: Odin, king of the gods and his wife Frigg, fiery tempered Thor, treacherous Loki and many others. The religious ceremonies were held in temple or outdoors at a holy place of some sort. The Vikings had a close relationship with their gods. Since they needed them they came to terms with them. The gods were one of the most significant parts of the life of a Viking.
When Christianity became known among the Vikings it took them a long time to accept it, but in 1030 it was made the official religion of Norway and other Scandinavian countries following the Battle of Stiklestad. Vikings had a hard time accepting Christianity, because according to the Christian religion you had to love your enemies, but Vikings did not believe in forgiveness. It took a very long time for the Vikings to accept Christianity.
If a young man wanted adventure he would might spend several years in the service of a king or chief, before settling down to farm or trade. The great chiefs fed and housed his warriors, and in return he got their word that they would fight , and if necessary, die for him in battles, whenever he expected them to help him out. A chief was, and was expected to be generous. When an employee/warrior that had served him retired, he gave them gold rings, armbands and fine weapons.
Every Viking was as hospitable as he or she could afford to be. A chief often invited his men to ale drinking and feasting in his great house or hall. While the Vikings had their feasts, the king brought in a special entertainer, called a skald, to entertain the guests. Only very powerful leaders had this though. The Skald's duty was to make poems and lyrics praising his chief.
For most Vikings was a struggle for survival against bad weather, poor soil, attacks from neighbors, unexpected accidents and untreatable illnesses. Viking knowledge was limited to a few herbal remedies and a trust in magical spells and charms. The average life was usually 50 years.
Ending your life in a battle was one of the greatest things a Viking could achieve. Such a death would be praised in one or more songs when the fighting had ended and the feasting began. A place in Valhalla was then reserved for this glorious warrior, which was heaven for the Vikings, and his name would and was expected to be remembered whenever people spoke of fearless deeds and heroic characters. The sagas sometimes also brave women's deeds, but because most of the women had to spend their entire lives looking after their home and their family. They occasionally ran the family farm or family business if their husband was away on a Viking or on a long journey.
The point of writing all this is to show that the Vikings were not only furious warriors that killed everyone and robbed everything that got in their way. They had the same values as normal people of their time, and it was always a struggle for survival as for other people living around in Europe at this time of history.
Because of the Vikings, and other groups of warriors, Europe went into on of the low-points in history because of their robbing made it so that people had nothing of value left so that they either starved to death or had no money so trade and commerce collapsed.
The Vikings were people with different skills, and they had no fear for the unknown, the dangerous. This was probably because they had such fate that they after death would come to a better place (Valhalla), so they did not fear death. This made them such good explorers. Since the beginning of human beings, they have been seeking riches and glory, and so did of course the Vikings. Most people just dreamt about it, but the Vikings actually did it, because they had such great courage.

The background for the Viking raids.
Exactly when the Vikings went over sea, is very hard to say. The historians have found several different reasons that may have had some kind of an impact.
The first one is that the Scandinavians did not have to deal with the problems the rest of Europe were dealing with at the time: The declining of the Roman Empire, and the beginning of the feudal system. Europe was just a big chaos, while the Scandinavians had a peaceful life with their families on the farms. From 600-800 Sweden was the most advanced Scandinavian country. Their monarchy was the oldest and most powerful, and they had contact with Finland and other countries around the Baltic sea.
Norway was not unified at all. There were numerous communities there, but they were all isolated by wasteland. The mountains and the fjords made it hard for people to travel to different places, so little, or no communication and trade were made between the different villages. Each community formed its own small kingdom. Unification was attempted, but Norway was not unified until Olav the Finehair's reign of the 9th century.
In Denmark there is almost no archeological findings, so to say what life really was like in Denmark at this time is very hard. But what we do know is that king Godfred ruled a part of Denmark around the year 800. He was an extremely powerful warrior, as he even fought the powerful Charlemagne. This is evidence for that kingship was known also in Denmark. Below some of the main reasons for the Viking expansion period will be examined.

As the climate in Scandinavia improved around the 7th century, harvests were becoming more reliable and abundant, and people were better fed and they became stronger. The mortality rate of the old and the infants during the winter had also decreased drastically.
Polygamy was a widespread practice in most Viking communities. The Vikings prided themselves with sons. The first son always inherited the property of the family. The other sons did not get anything, this caused many of them to try their luck over sea. In the beginning of the 9th century the population in Scandinavia had doubled. This made territory that was not occupied hard to find, so people had to find new places to live and start all over.

Economic growth
Europe's economical condition started to get better, and old trade routes were being revived. Churches and the monasteries were especially rich at this period of time.
Their treasures included golden ornaments and Communion vessels. The more wealth, the more the Vikings could steal. A Viking probably wanted glory and wealth more than land. The Vikings started with seizing treasure and bringing the treasure home with them. They started demanding land for settlement later on. When the trade routes were beginning to revive, it was a great opportunity for the Vikings. The opportunity for piracy was great, and we know that the Vikings were good at that. This was probably one of the most important and significant factors behind the Viking raids.

New technology
The technological progress in the art of shipbuilding was another significant factor behind the Viking raids. Scandinavians had a long tradition of building ships. From studying a series of different ships that have been found from different time periods, the growth of Scandinavian shipbuilding can be traced.
Longship, or dragonship is the classic Viking ship of travel and warfare. They had different boats for all purposes, but they were most famed and feared for their warships: long, thin, square- sailed boats, crewed by up to at least 60 warriors and oarsmen. These ships were built to ride stormy seas where the Vikings sometimes sailed.

There is one other important reason we have to add to all of this- the Viking way of life. The Vikings were strong people. They were proud, adventurous, with a yearning for glory, a desire to excel in battle, and a scorn for death. These qualities of heroism and virility, combined with their mercantile skills, made them a powerful and dangerous race.

The Viking raids
The Vikings embraced the whole of Europe. In the East these Northmen thrust down the great rivers of Russia to the Caspian and the Black sea. In west they sailed along the Atlantic coasts, passed Arab Spain, through the Straits of Gibraltar, and so far and wide over the Mediterranean. This was not all. They reached out across the wild and unknown Atlantic, to the Faeroes, Iceland, Greenland, and even to America. The direction each of the three Scandinavian lands faces, corresponds to, indeed determines, the sphere of influence it's Vikings commanded.
As the raids started and the Viking empire expanded, it resulted in the following:
1) Political expansion: The Danish king during the 9th century, Godfred, is said to have moved the Slav town of Reric to the head of the Slie fjord in Slesvig. Shortly before his death in 810 he launched a sudden and well-planned attack on Friesland, a province of Charlemagne's empire. With a fleet of two hundred vessels he broke through the coastal defenses and occupied the country, imposing on it a tribute of 200 pounds of silver. The conquests of these territories were very politically and commercially valuable to King Godfred.
2)Colonization: The biggest campaigns in the West were motivated by a colonizing impulse, and these showed the great power of the Viking period.
They occurred in the later half of the 9th century and the beginning of the 10th, being resumed in the early part of the eleventh century. During this period large parts of northern France, England, and Ireland, were occupied and ruled by the Vikings. The invasions were usually not led by heads of states, but by men of high rank. These leaders often held equal powers, with no supreme commander. The Vikings insisted on this equality.
3)Commercial expansion: An other type of Viking activity comprises the journeys in search of new trading opportunities. New trade routes were being revived, which then also led to piracy. The Vikings were great navigators and great sailors, which made them especially good traders. They used special instruments to help them with their navigation.

The Viking empire stretched all over Europe. But I have decided to take a closer look at the Norwegian Vikings, where they went, and what influence they had on these places. I am going to follow the Norwegian Vikings from the late 7th century to the end of the 11th century.

The Viking raids starts
The Vikings started their assault on the Christian nation of Europe in 793, when they captured the monastery of St.Cuthbert on the island of Lindisfarne, right outside the northeast coast of England. They took all the treasures from the churches before putting them on fire, killed the monks that tried to stop them, and then went home in their longships.
After this disaster, an English scholar called Alcuin, said this. "Never before had such terror appeared in Britain we now have suffered from a pagan race, nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made. Behold, the church of St.Cuthbert spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments. " This attack was the official beginning of the Viking Age.

The raids continued, now into Scotland, Ireland, and the Shetlands, Orkneys, and Hebrides island.

Scotland, Orkneys, Shetland
The Vikings appear to a have established bases on the Shetlands and Orkneys, before advancing to the Scottish mainland. The Shetlands may have been uninhabited when the Vikings arrived, but people lived in the Orkneys.
Why the Vikings had such a success in Scotland, Ireland, and England were probably because these countries were not yet unified kingdoms and were very similar to Scandinavia. Disunion and rivalry among local leaders made it easier for the Vikings to gain a foothold because they were not opposed by a single, organized foe. The Vikings were able to establish themselves in Scotland with little trouble, because it was the least settled and fewest politically organized parts of the British island. It is not known if the Vikings killed the original inhabitants or if they just absorbed them into their own culture.
From the Shetlands and Orkneys, the Vikings moved on to the Hebrides Islands off the Scotland's west coast and also settled on the Isle of Man. In these places, the Vikings did not replace the original inhabitants, but Scandinavian culture reigned supreme for centuries.
The Norwegian Vikings also made inroads in mainland Scotland. Later the Vikings started to lose their interest, and they never established lasting dominion over Scotland. There were several reasons for this:
1) Scotland was less wealthy than England, Ireland, or France, and because of that less interest to the Vikings. The Norwegian Vikings were satisfied enough with just having control of the offshore islands.
2) Scotland was rugged and wild, a very difficult land to get around. The various Scottish people fought persistently against the Vikings and eventually united against them. The Norwegian grip on Scotland weakened from the early 11th century, but the Shetlands and Orkneys, remained under Norwegian rule until the middle of the 15th century.4

The first attackers in Ireland were the Norwegians. Full of defenseless churches and monasteries, Ireland was very attractive.
It was ruled by at least seven kings, and none of them could control their rebellious princes and chieftains. The country was torn by internal strife that had nothing to do with the Vikings; annals show that between 795 and 820 Ireland experienced 26 Viking attacks- and 87 wars among the Irish.4 But the Viking attacks on Ireland was a great shock on the Irish inhabitants.
The headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, was plundered three times in a single month in 832 . Monks and priests lived in deep fear. Large Viking fleets plundered the coast and ventured far up rivers, and in 840-41 the Vikings spent their first winter in Ireland. The Viking leader for this was Thorgestr. He and his men built several forts and seized control of part of the countryside, but Thorgestr was captured and killed by the Irish.
In the centuries that followed, successive waves of Viking invaders took control of various parts of Ireland. The Vikings founded the country's first major cities- Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, and Limerick. They also introduced trade and currency to the land. The Vikings were kings in Dublin for a while, but they were driven out by the Irish in 902.
Twelve years later the Vikings returned. With their ships, their experience in trade, and their connection with Vikings from all over Europe, they made Ireland into a prosperous center of international commerce.
Many Vikings at this time became Christians and married among the Irish. Some Irish adopted the Viking culture and way of life, they were called the Gaill - Gaedhil, "Irish strangers".

The Norwegians participated with the Danes in the great battles of northern France, but their favorite hunting places in France were along the Atlantic coast.
One of their many raids was on Nantes in 843, when that flourishing town was sacked and burned by the Vestfaldingi (the Norwegians from Vestfold in the Oslo fjord). They made a long stay on a small island in the mouth of the Loire called Noirmoutier, from where they were able to control extensive trade of the area, which mainly consisted of wines.
The Norwegians wanted to expand even longer. Ahead of them lay Spain and the Mediterranean, here they got help from the Danes.
They started their expedition in 844, at the Christian town of La Coruna. The natives were too strong, and they defeated the Vikings. They then continued and sailed along the Portuguese coast, and captured Lisbon. Later Cadiz and Seville were also defeated. This was very impressive since these towns were in the very middle of the mighty Caliphate of Cordova. But then the Viking luck was over, after a heavy defeat they were happy to exchange their prisoners for food and clothing, and soon the whole fleet was homeward bound.
The later fleet was held by Bjorn Ironside. A fleet of 62 vessels set out from Brittany . This time the Spanish coast was heavily guarded, so they went to Algeciras. From here they crossed to Necor in Morocco, and eight days later sailed north passed the Balearic Islands to La Camargue. Here they remained for a while, and battled against the inhabitants of the coast and delta area.
In 860 the Vikings turned east into northern Italy, where they pillaged Pisa. It is said that after this trip the Vikings brought back with them to Ireland a number of black prisoners . Finds of Arab silver coins in Norway reveal that Vikings even went as far as North- Africa.

Shortly before 815, Floki of Rogaland set out from Denmark. When he got near Iceland, he released two ravens to see which way they could go, then he followed the birds. Iceland was right in front of him.
Following this first sortie to Iceland, a huge immigration took place: between 870 and 930 more than 10,000 Viking colonists landed in Iceland. Having expelled the Papers - the Irish hermits who had made their way there in frail skiffs of reed and skin propelled by oars - the Viking overlords installed themselves in Iceland with their families and servants. There they found conditions for farming similar to their Norwegian homeland.
In the early years settlers organized themselves into small communities, each under a single chieftain. But as more people came they divided the island into four federal parts governed by a general assembly, the Althing.
The Althing made laws and settled legal disputes. All free men who owned land could participate. Not since the days of ancient Greece had there been such an effective democratic government.
The new Icelanders preserved their ancient customs and even continued regular trade with the Continent. After a while when the population grew to 60,000, the resources of Iceland soon became insufficient to feed this many people. This made the people want to seek land even farther away, farther west.

In 982 the Viking chief Erik the Red was banished from Iceland for three years because of a murder he had committed. He therefore decided to sail for the West and try to find a land sighted some years ago.
He pressed on north around Cape Farewell, and there discovered welcoming fjords bordered by fertile valleys. He returned at once to boast of the marvels of this country, which he called Greenland. People were astonished, and followed him to this country. The first time 500 men women and children were on board. Of 25 ships only 15 reached their destination.
The immigrants started two colonies, one in west and one in east. But very soon the Norwegians felt that life in this green land was miserable. Survival became to depend on the export of furs, skins, Walrus teeth. Towards the year 1000, the population was probably around three thousand peasants living on three or four hundred farms. This small community endured for nearly 5 centuries before being extinguished.

In 992, Leiv Eriksson led to see if he could find a country even further west. Leiv reached a country he called "Vinland", which we today know as America. He settled down in this new country, but after confronting with the American Indians, he decided to return to Greenland. This new world was soon forgotten by the Vikings.
Concluding Summary
The Vikings were a people of great honor, who deeply and equally respected each other. The Vikings raiders had a very different life than the farmers back home in Scandinavia, but they all had the strong belief the northern Gods, which was one of the most important things for a Viking.
With their beliefs and their impressive skills in navigation and shipbuilding, they sailed far, and were feared by people from all over Europe.
It was as if the Vikings suddenly woke up and realized that they had to move on from life inside Scandinavia, and attack different countries all over Europe.
They reached destinations which people from Europe had never seen or heard of before.
One important things among the Vikings, was equality. There was no special leader when they went into a battle, and treasures were sworn to be spread equally among the raiders. Especially in Norway, but also in other Scandinavian countries, you can still see trace of this. The Vikings were more democratic, while the other European countries ruled as a hierarchy. That the Vikings had the first democratic "government" in history, which we know as "the Althing", is the Vikings one, main contribution to history.
They got new ideas that they brought with them home. when they traveled all over Europe, and they also brought new ideas to the countries they conquered. They also introduced trade to Ireland, which made Ireland to a trade center, later on in history. They started living in places where nobody had lived before.
I think the Vikings should be remembered as brave and skillful people, instead of just as plunderers and killers which are the general person's view of the Vikings, although they did all the terrible things that they did.
1) Jacqueline Morley, First facts about the Vikings: pg.18
2)Jacqueline Morley, First facts about the Vikings: pg.28
3)Rebecca Stetoff, The Viking explorers: p.43
1 4)Rebecca Stetoff, The Viking explorers: p.45
1 4)Rebecca Stetoff, the Viking Explorers: p.46
4)Johannes Brøndested, The Vikings: p.60
5)Johannes Brøndested, The Vikings: p.60
6)The Vikings, Lords of the Seas: p.33
7)The Vikings, Lords of the Seas: p.34

Note: There is something wrong with my endnotes, because I could not get them in the right order for some reason. So the three number fours in a row, represents the different number fours in the paper, in their respective order.(Meaning, first number four in paper is first number four in endnotes.)

Brøndested, Johannes. The Vikings. London:
Penguin Group, 1965.
Cohat, Yves. The Vikings: Lords of the sea. New York:
A Times mirror company, 1992.
Jones, Gwyn. A history of the Vikings. 2nd ed. London
Oxford university press, 1984.
Morley, Jacqueline. First facts about the Vikings. New York
Peter Bedrick Books, 1996.
Rosendahl, Else. The Vikings. London:
The Penguin Group, 1991.
Stetoff, Rebecca. The Viking explorers. London:
Chelsea House Publishers, 1993.
Viking Network, The (
"Harald Hardrade in Miklagard". Last updated October 6, 1996.[online]
Viking Network, The (http://www.laer- "Map of the Viking World".
Last updated October 9, 1996.[online] Available: http://www.laer-

Table of Contents
A. Introduction
B. 1 Who were the Vikings ?
2 The background for the Viking raids
3 The Viking raids:
C. Concluding Summary
D. Bibliography


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