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The Vikings 750AD - 1050AD


Brought To You By Mitchell Bourman


Click this icon to return to the contents page Table of Contents If you see these icons, click to cycle through slides of the same topic Burials The Drakkar Erik the Red Leif Eriksson Viking Mythology The Valkyrie Viking Gods What Happened To Them? Did You Know? Bibliography Introduction Viking Society Laws and Assemblies Farming and Fishing Food and Feasts Settlements and Towns Western Voyages Runes and Rune Stones The Viking Warrior The Berserker Weapons and Armor


INTRODUCTION The Vikings were early medieval descendants of stone-aged people. They migrated northward from the desert regions of the middle east into northern Europe. The move of the Vikings happened around the end of the last ice age. The Viking people came from three countries of Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They were also known as the Norse people. They were mostly farmers, but some worked as craftsmen or traders. Many Vikings were great travelers and sailed all over Europe and the north Atlantic Ocean in their long ships. Some went as fierce pirate raiders: they stole treasure and attacked local people. But most Vikings who sailed overseas were simply searching for better land for their farms. The Viking Age began about 1,200 years ago in the 8th Century AD and lasted for 300 years.

Viking Society: 

Viking Society Like most societies, the Viking society was a peaceful and growing society. Most Vikings were freemen, or as they called it “Karl's”, who owned some land and traveled out to sea for raids and adventures. Other Vikings were merchants, ship builders or craft workers. The Vikings used slaves as laborers and servants on farms and in craft or ship building workshops. Many slaves were prisoners from previous Viking raids. Also a lot of Vikings were slave traders. The Viking society gave slaves very few rights and if a slave was to give birth her child was to be a slave as well. The most wealthy and powerful Vikings were Earls or Chieftains who owned large areas of country side. Some of these Vikings even became local kings. Viking kings, like any other kings, became more and more powerful as they gained land, established settlements and united countries. In the year 900AD, Harald Finehair, king of Vest fold, managed to bring all of Norway under his command. However, Denmark had always been ruled by Harold Bluetooth.

Viking Laws and Assemblies: 

Viking Laws and Assemblies The Vikings were very strict on their ruling. The laws and judgements were passed at a public assembly which was known “The Thing”. It was met region by region and in the lands were Vikings had settled. The Thing met at regular intervals and was only made up of freemen. Women and slaves were not allowed to speak at these assemblies. The Thing had great powers and could even decide who was to become the next king. If someone was murdered, the victims relatives could attend The Thing and demand justice. Everybody at the assembly would consider the case and if they all agreed that the person was guilty, the judgement was passed. The sentenced person would have to pay a fine in gold or other goods. If the criminal failed or was unable to pay up he or she was named an outlaw, which entitled anyone to kill he or she. Sometimes the only way to settle a dispute was in mortal combat or a fight to the death. Mortal combat was made illegal in Norway and Iceland around 1000AD.

Viking Laws and Assemblies: 

Viking Laws and Assemblies The Thing also dealt with arguments over property, divorce and marriages. In all of the Viking period, Iceland never had a king. Instead each mid-summer a national assembly or “Althing” was held. The Althing was a cross between a court, parliament and a festival. The Althing also meant a chance for families who lived on isolated farm houses to meet up with each other. The assembly of the Althing approved laws that had been drafted by earls and elected a law speaker.

Farming and Fishing: 

Farming and Fishing Vikings are renowned so much as warriors and pirates, that we often forget that most Vikings lived as farmers and fishermen. The Vikings best farmland was in Denmark and southern Sweden. Viking settlements overseas had to make do with poor soil and harsh climates. Most of the farmyards kept pigs and poultry, although sheep, goats and cattle were also raised. The Vikings slaughtered many cattle as the winter season set in. They then preserved the meat by salting, drying or smoking. Crops that were grown included wheat, barley and oats. In warmer regions Flax was grown and made into linen. The farm tools used were hoes, picks, shovels, scythes, sickles and shears and were made from either wood or iron. Fisherman used nets and barbed metal fish hooks to snare their catch. All kinds of fresh water fish could be caught in the rivers and lakes of Scandinavia. The Baltic Sea, North Sea and North Atlantic Sea provided fish such as herring and cod. Fish was a major part of a Vikings diet.

Food and Feasts: 

Food and Feasts The average Viking family ate two meals a day. The meals were usually prepared at the central hearth, although the richer Vikings, who had a larger house, had separate kitchens. Viking chiefs held long, drunken feasts and wedding celebrations in their great halls. These feasts could carry on for weeks on end. Bread and porridge was made from oats, barley and rye. Goat, beef and horse meat was popular among the Vikings. Viking hunters provided venison, reindeer, wild boar, wild fowl and hare. Honey was used to sweeten dishes and was also used to make a strong alcoholic drink called mead. Wines were made from fruit and berries and beer was made from barley then drunken out of a hollowed cattle horn. Bowls and platters were made of wood and spoons were made of horn or metal. The food was eaten using their hands and a knife or dagger. The Vikings did not have forks.

Settlements and Towns: 

Settlements and Towns The Viking world was not as crowded as modern life. Many of the families lied in farm houses far from any neighbors. Some Vikings lived in farm houses on the shores of fords. When settling in new lands, the Vikings would build small towns or trade posts. Towns were usually built on waterfronts where ships could easily moor for landing. The smell of fish was always looming in the air of Viking towns, accompanied by the squawking of gulls. Towns built away from waterfronts were usually defended by a ring of earthworks and wooden stockades. These towns needed to be defended well because attacks on them were random and unannounced. Merchant shops and town houses were often built of timber planks or of daub and wattle. Their fresh water came from springs and wells.

Western Voyages: 

Western Voyages Western Voyages

Runes and Rune Stones: 

Runes and Rune Stones Writing was considered a special skill among the Vikings. The alphabet they used was invented by their ancient Scandinavian ancestors and according to legend, Odin, chief of the Norse gods, speared himself to a tree in an attempt to gain knowledge and learn the mysteries of the runes. He then passed his knowledge to his people. The Vikings believed the runes were a gift from the mighty Odin and so treated them with respect and believed they possessed divine, magical powers. It is more likely that the letters or runes came from Greek and Latin alphabets but had to be changed slightly due to the limited writing materials available to the Vikings. The Vikings did not have paper or use parchments or any paper-like material. Their history and culture was passed down through stories and poems until 1200AD. The Viking alphabet is often called futhork after the first six letters of the original twenty four letter alphabet. Later the alphabet was reduced to sixteen letters. This reduction made spelling difficult for the carvers because all of the sounds in the alphabet could not be covered. Translators also found this difficult when trying to understand their meanings.

Runes and Rune Stones: 

Runes and Rune Stones The Viking runes weren’t written with pen and ink on paper but instead carved with a knife or chisel into stone and wood. The runes were made only by straight lines to make carving into these surfaces easier. The Viking runes weren’t used to write but put to practical uses by ordinary Vikings. They were used for everyday writing such as labeling household possessions and personal belongings. They were also used by merchants to keep records of items bought and sold. Viking warriors decorated their spears and swords with runes as well. Viking warrior spears decorated with runes. The runes identified the owner of a weapon and, because the Vikings believed the runes were magical, they made the weapon stronger in battle. Vikings believed that warriors who knew how to read and write with runes, could blunt an enemies weapon, break chains, cure illnesses, guard against witches and be protected in battle and on threatening seas.

Runes and Rune Stones: 

Runes and Rune Stones Wherever the Vikings went, be it a raid or a battle, they would leave rune graffiti on rocks, buildings and statues. Viking runes have been found carved into European cathedrals and stone statues. Viking rune characters were also carved into thumb-sized stones and placed into small bags. They were removed one by one by Viking fortune tellers and magicians to tell the future, heal the sick or injured, banish evil spirits and bless people, places and things. Above is the 24 character Viking runic alphabet arranged in our alphabetical order.

The Viking Warrior: 

The Viking Warrior The early Viking warriors were mostly farmers rather than warriors. These farmers fought whenever a raiding expedition was formed. Some Vikings became mercenaries who hired out their services for gold or other goods. Later in the Viking age kings could conscript soldiers to fight in a war. Viking warriors fought hard and to die in battle was their greatest glory. To die in battle ensured their welcome by the gods into the halls of Valhalla. Leading warriors would work themselves up into a frenzy before going into battle. They were known as “Berserkir”, named after their bear skin cloaks. Most of the Viking battles took place in skirmishes, ambushes or surprise attacks. There was punching, kicking, biting, bloody wounds and cracked skulls in a Viking assault. Vikings fought to the bitter end.

The Berserker: 

The Berserker The word berserker comes from two Norse words bjorn meaning bear or bare meaning naked and serkr meaning shirt. This may mean that a berserker warrior went into battle dressed in bear skins or without any armor at all. Berserkers thought that by wearing the fur of the bear, they would become possessed by the animal's spirit and gain its strength. This may have been a way of shape-shifting into the animal's form. Shape-shifting was important as their gods also had this ability. Another characteristic of this warrior is berserkergang, a word meaning crazed behavior. Before a battle, berserkers spent hours working themselves into a frenzy by painting their faces, howling like animals, banging helmets, consuming large quantities of alcohol or eating hallucinogenic mushrooms. This crazed state, they believed, made them immune to pain and helped them shrug off the non-lethal blows by enemy weapons. Today, the word berserk means to act crazy.

Weapons and Armor: 

Weapons and Armor Viking warriors were unlike soldiers in an official army because they were not supplied with weapons and armor. Instead they wore their own clothes and brought their own equipment to battle. Most of the warriors wore caps made of hard leather. When metal helmets they were usually conical and sometimes had bars to protect the warriors nose. Vikings wore their everyday tunics and cloaks to battle, purely to keep warm. A richer Viking may have possessed a “byrnie”, which was a shirt mail, made up of interlinking rings of iron. The preferred shield to the Viking warriors was round, heavy and about 3 feet across. It was made of wooden planks and had an iron boss, or knob, in the centre to protect the warriors hand. They also had a rim of iron or leather. On board the long ships were spears of various weights, bows and arrows and long-shafted battle axes. The most prized personal weapon of all was the Viking sword. Often the swords had beautifully decorated hilts. The sword blades were either made by Scandinavian blacksmiths or imported from Germany. To make a sword, the blacksmith would heat up bars of iron, twisting and beating them into a long blade.


Burials The Vikings believed that after death they would join their gods in Asgard. In the after life they believed they needed the things they did while they were alive so they took them to their graves. The men generally took their weapons and the tools of their trade. The women generally took their domestic equipment and their jewelry. Viking burials were often in boats or even the long ship where they were cremated. Some were buried in a ring of stones laid out to form the shape of a boat. The Vikings believed that one way for them to travel to Asgard was by boat.

The Drakkar: 

The Drakkar The Drakkar is a warship designed to carry Viking warriors across seas on raids and for trade. The Drakkar may be the most symbolic feature of the Vikings as most of the paintings and almost everywhere you see Vikings they are pictured in their Drakkar. The Drakkar was also known as a Longship or by their enemies a Dragon Ship. The Average size of a Longship was around 28 meters in length. The largest ever excavated was 70 meters long. It had 60 oarsmen and could deliver 400 warriors to battle. The Drakkar travelled along the coast or inland via rivers. Most Longships were owned by an Earl or Nobleman because they were expensive to construct. The average crew had 20-30 oarsmen, a helmsman who steered the ship, a lookout who watched for rocks in shallow waters, spare men to replace tired oarsmen or those lost at sea during storms and eager Viking warriors ready to do battle or go on a raid.

The Construction of A Drakkar: 

The Construction of A Drakkar A Drakkar was constructed using the ‘Clinker’ design. It was planked using 2cm thick oak boards. They were slightly overlapped then nailed together using iron nails. The sail and mast were very expansive to make, often costing more than the ship itself. Tapestries from the Viking age show a cross hatched pattern on the sails. This is a result of how they were made. Viking women were responsible for making the mast and sail and they often took months to make. Most masts were made up to half the size of the Drakkar. The women would add red die to the masts. Red being the colour of blood was meant to strike fear into enemy ships.

The Drakkar At Sea: 

The Drakkar At Sea The Viking Drakkar were better than any other in European seas at this time. They could navigate through water lass than a meter deep. The warriors would move to one side of the ship to tilt it and pass over rocks and shoals. Drakkar were build with tapered bows and sterns so they could row forwards and backwards without the ship having to turn around. This helped in the quick escapes after raids. The Drakkar had no sleeping quarters below deck and the oarsmen sat on chests which held the crew and warriors personal belongings. Fresh food was often a problem on the Drakkar as a fire could not be sustained without the danger of the ship catching fire. The most common sources of food on the Drakkar were dried meat, freshly caught fish, sour milk, water, beer, nuts and cloud berries. Food spoiling and going off was often a problem on long journeys.

Eric The Red: 

Eric The Red Eric The Red was born in 950AD and died in 1000AD. In the Old Norse and Icelandic language he was known as “ Eirikur raudi”. Eric founded the first Nordic settlement in Greenland. He was born in the Jaeran district of Rogaland, Norway and was the son of Porvaldr Asvaldsson (Thorvald Asvaldsson). Eric’s name appears in historical records as “Erik Thorvaldsson” or as “Eirikr Porvaldsson”. The appellation “The Red” refers to his red facial hair.

Eric’s Exiles: 

Eric’s Exiles Eric once lived in Norway but was forced to flee his home because of “some killings”. He and his family then settled on the nearby island of Iceland. Eric was soon exiled from Iceland as well for several murders around the year 982AD. Eric’s first crime was when his neighbor Thorgest borrowed his shovel and when it was not returned he sought an explanation. Thorgest refused to return his shovel so that night Eric stole it back from him. When stealing the shovel he awoke Thorgest and his two sons who chased him. In the chase Eric killed Thorgest’s sons. His second crime was when his slaves accidentally caused a landslide on nearby Valthjaf’s farm. Valthjaf murderously punished the slaves for their misfortune and Eric did not approve of this ordeal. He slew Valthjaf and soon the Icelanders convicted Eric of the murders and banished him from Iceland. This forced Eric and some followers to travel west into the unknown nearly 500 miles.

Eric’s Discoveries : 

Eric’s Discoveries Around the year 982AD Eric sailed into the unknown and mysterious western seas. He had discovered an island, he sailed down and around the southern tip (later known as Cape Farewell) and up the western coast. He soon reached a part of the coast that was ice free and had conditions similar to that of Norway. This newfound land promised growth and future prosperity. Eric spent 3 years of exile exploring the island he had found and soon named it Greenland because he wanted to attract other people to it. After his term of banishment expired Eric returned to Iceland bringing tales of the new found Greenland. He purposely made it sound more attractive than Iceland in an attempt to attract more settlers. Eric explained “ people would be attracted to it if it had a favorable name”. All the while doing this he knew in order to gain favor among the people, Greenland would need the support of as many people as possible. His salesman ship proved successful. Many people, especially the Vikings living on poor land in Iceland and those who had suffered recent famine, became convinced that Greenland held great opportunity.

Eric’s Discoveries: 

Eric’s Discoveries Eric returned to Greenland in 985AD with a large number of colonists. Two colonies were established on Greenland’s south-west coast. There was “The Eastern Settlement” or “Eystribyggo”. Which is modern day Julianhab. The second colony was known as “The Western Settlement” or “Vestribyggo” which was close to modern day Godthab. The eastern and western settlements were both established on Greenland’s south-west coast because they were the only two areas suitable for farming. During the summers, when weather conditions favored travel, the two settlements would send small armies to go hunting in Disko Bay and above the Arctic Circle.

Leif Eriksson: 

Leif Eriksson Leif Eriksson was a Norse explorer and was known to be the first European to land in North America. Leif was born around 970AD and was the son of Erik the Red and Thjodhild. He had two brothers named Thorvald and Thorstein. He also had a sister named Freydis. Leif married a women named Thorgunna and they had a son named Thorkell Leifsson. During a stay in Norway, Leif converted to Christianity. He also served the king of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason. When Leif returned to Greenland, he bought a boat from Bjarni Herjolfsson and set out to explore west of Greenland. The first land he found was covered in flat-shiny rocks so he named it Helluland (Land of the Flat Stones). Next, Leif and his crew came to a land that was flat and wooded with white sandy beaches. He named this land Marksland (Wood-Land).

Leif Eriksson: 

Leif Eriksson The next land Leif and his crew found was Vinland, where they settled and built some houses. The area around Vinland was pleasant, there was plenty of large salmon in the rivers and the climate was mild with little frost through the winter and green grass all year round. Leif and his crew stayed here through the winter. On their return voyage, Leif found and rescued an Icelandic cast away named Thorir and his crew. This incident earned him the nickname “Leif the Lucky”.

Viking Mythology: 

Viking Mythology In order for the Vikings to make sense of their surroundings their ancestors imagined that their world was created by powerful gods. Their presence was evident in every force of nature and in the fortune and misfortune of the Vikings. The Vikings believed that in the beginning there was an enormous gap that existed in the centre of space. On one side of the gap was Niflheim, pronounced ne-ful-ham, which was filled with ice, mist and darkness. From its huge spring flowed twelve large rivers. As the rivers flowed into the gap, they formed ice blocks that filled one side of the it. On the opposite side of the gap was Muspelheim, pronounced mus-pel-ham, which was filled with fire, warmth and brightness. It was guarded by a flame giant whose sword sent showers of sparks into the gap.

The Birth and Death of Ymir The First Frost Giant: 

The Birth and Death of Ymir The First Frost Giant Soon, the ice of Niflheim and the fire of Muspelheim regions mixed in the gap. A mist arose from the gap and froze to form Ymir the ice giant. An enormous cow was also created to feed him. From a salty ice block that was licked by the cow, Buri, the first god, emerged. Soon after more giants appeared, two from drops of sweat from under Ymir’s arms and another two from his feet. As time passed on more giants were born and eventually there was a struggle between the giants and the gods. This dispute continued until Odin and his two brothers, Vili and Ve, were born. Their father was Borr, who was the son of Buri, and their mother was Bestla, who was the daughter of a frost giant. Together with his three sons, Borr was able to kill Ymir. Ymir’s blood rushed into the great gap and drowned all but two of the frost giants, who escaped on a boat. The Vikings imagined that from Ymir’s corpse, Odin and his brothers created the universe.

Odin Creates The Universe: 

Odin Creates The Universe After slaying their foe, Odin and his brothers first fashioned the earth (Midgard) from Ymir’s flesh and encircled it in a protective wall, which was the atmosphere, using his eyebrows. Mountains were formed by his unbroken bones and his teeth were used for rocks, boulders and stones. From his blood they created the sea and lakes and his skull was used to create the endless expanse of sky. Its four corners were guarded by four dwarves; Nordi, Surdi, Austri and Westri. From these four names we get our main points on a compass; North, South, East and West. From his brains they created the clouds and the sparks from Muspell were used to create the sun, moon and stars to give light to the world. The stars were fixed in place but the sun and moon were placed in golden chariots. To riders named Day and Night were in charge of guiding the chariots on their journey through the sky each day. The Vikings also imagined that by using the rotting remains of Ymir, Odin and his brothers created trolls, dwarfs, gnomes, fairies and elves. During the day the brothers sent the dwarves deep into the darkness of the underworld to mine gold and silver which they stowed away in hidden crevices.

The Creation of Humans: 

The Creation of Humans After creating Midgard, the brothers realized they needed something to inhabit their new world. The Vikings imagined that Odin and his brothers created the first humans. From the branch of an ash tree, they created a man named Askr and from the branch of an elm tree, a woman named Embla. They were both placed in Midgard and from them the human race was born. Because Odin cared so much for his human creations, all future generations of their offspring were watched over and protected by the gods in Asgard. Loki, an offspring of ice giants and blood brother of Odin was introduced and gave blood to the humans. To influence the destinies of humans, a rainbow bridge called Bifrost connected Asgard to Midgard.

Yggdrasil, The World Tree: 

Yggdrasil, The World Tree The Vikings imagined that the nine worlds of the universe existed in a world tree named Yggdrasil. Asgard, the realm of the gods, was on the top, Midgard in the middle and Hell at its roots. The realms of the dwarfs and the frost giants also existed within the tree. The Yggdrasil had three large roots, each one was dipped into three different wells. The first root dipped into the waters of Mimir’s spring. These waters were filled with wisdom. The second root lay in the Well of Urd, where mythical creatures weaved the fates of mankind and tended to the needs of the tree. The third root fell into the dark waters where a dragon tore and gnawed aggressively at the tree. Four stags ate hungrily at the tree’s Green buds, while goats tore at the bark. High in the tree sat an eagle with a hawk perched upon his brow. A squirrel scurried up and down Yggdrasil all day carrying insults between the eagle above and the dragon below.


Valkyrie In old Norse the word “valkyrjr” means choosers of the slain. The Valkyrie were the nine daughters of Odin and at his command they would fly on horses over a battlefield and choose who would die in the coming battle. When the battle was over they returned as ravens to collect the souls of half of the warriors who had died a heroic death. They carried the souls to Odin’s banquet hall Valhalla in the realm of Asgard. The remaining souls were taken by the Viking goddess Freya. They also rode over the seas to take the souls of Vikings who were doomed on their long ships. The were depicted as young, beautiful, but fierce women dressed in full armor as they rode their mighty steeds. Never did a Valkyrie engage in battle.


Valkyries When the Valkyrie returned to Valhalla, they replaced their armor with long white robes decorated with white swan feathers. They greeted the souls of each slain warrior with a horn of mead. The warriors then feasted on boar and trained as members of Odin’s army. Valkyries were also known as Swan Maidens when they weren't collecting souls.

Viking Gods: 

Viking Gods Aegir Balder Bor Bragi Buri Eir Frey Freya Frigg Froseti Fulla Gefjon Gullveig Heimdall Hel Hermod Hlin Hod Hoenir Huldra Idun Jord Kvasir Lodur Lofn Loki Magni Minir Modi Nanna Nerthus Njord Odin Ran Saga Sif Sjorn Snotra Syn Thor Thrud Tyr Ull Vali Var Ve Vidar Vili Vor Throughout the Viking saga the Viking people believed in a total of 49 gods. Each god had his or her own role in keeping Midgard in peace.

What Happened To Them?: 

What Happened To Them? Like many other cultures the Vikings became more so marketers, traders and crafters rather than warriors. The later generations were raised more as crafters and less as warriors. This change left the Viking warriors with little purpose. They started to hire themselves out as mercenaries to other kings and lords and because of their unique skills, the quickly became personal body guards. Some ventured east, but to no prevail. Others went as far west as North America, only to be driven back by the Native Americans. Eventually the warriors went back to their traditional sea raids, although these raids were on their own settlements. Many other Vikings, especially those in Norway, began converting to Christianity. Thus the fall of the mighty Vikings and the end of their fearsome saga.

Did You Know?: 

Did You Know? The Riders of Rohan, from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, were based on Viking lifestyles such as clothing, armour and settlements! The Swedish band “Amon Amarth” write their songs based on Viking mythology!


A 2007 English Assignment Google Search Engine Thanks for Watching Raiders of the North By Philip Steele & Fiona Macdonald

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