A Viking (pron. /ˈvaɪkɪŋ/) is one of the Norse (Scandinavian) explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided and colonized wide areas of Europe from the late eighth to the early eleventh century.[1] These Norsemen used their famed longships to travel as far east as Constantinople and the Volga River in Russia, and as far west as Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland. This period of Viking expansion is known as the Viking Age, and forms a major part of the medieval history of Scandinavia, Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe in general.

A romanticized picture of Vikings as Germanic noble savages emerged in the 18th century, and expanded during the Victorian era Viking revival.[2] In Britain it took the form of Septentrionalism, in Germany that of "Wagnerian" pathos or even Germanic mysticism, and in the Scandinavian countries that of Romantic nationalism or Scandinavism. In contemporary popular culture these clichéd depictions are often exaggerated with the effect of presenting Vikings as caricatures.[2]

Contents [hide]*1 Etymology
  • 2 The Viking Age
  • 3 Viking expansion
  • 4 Decline
  • 5 Weapons and warfare
  • 6 Archaeology
    • 6.1 Runestones
    • 6.2 Burial sites
    • 6.3 Ships
  • 7 Genetic legacy
  • 8 Historical opinion and cultural legacy
    • 8.1 Icelandic sagas and other texts
    • 8.2 Modern revivals
    • 8.3 Nazi and fascist imagery
    • 8.4 Reenactment
    • 8.5 In popular culture
  • 9 Common misconceptions
    • 9.1 Horned helmets
    • 9.2 Skull cups
    • 9.3 Uncleanliness
  • 10 Vikings of renown
  • 11 Notes
  • 12 References
  • 13 External links


In Old Norse, the word is spelled víkingr.[3] The word appears on several rune stones found in Scandinavia. In the Icelanders' sagas, víking refers to an overseas expedition (Old Norse fara í víking "to go on an expedition"), and víkingr, to a seaman or warrior taking part in such an expedition.

In Old English, the word wicing appears first in the Anglo-Saxon poem, "Widsith", which probably dates from the 9th century. In Old English, and in the writings of Adam von Bremen, the term refers to a pirate, and is not a name for a people or a culture in general. Regardless of its possible origins, the word was used more as a verb than as a noun, and connoted an activity and not a distinct group of individuals. To "go Viking" was distinctly different from Norse seaborne missions of trade and commerce.

The word disappeared in Middle English, and was reintroduced as Viking during 18th century Romanticism (the "Viking revival"), with heroic overtones of "barbarian warrior" or noble savage.

During the 20th century, the meaning of the term was expanded to refer not only to the raiders, but also to the entire period; it is now, somewhat confusingly, used as a noun both in the original meaning of raiders, warriors or navigators, and to refer to the Scandinavian population in general. As an adjective, the word is used in expressions like "Viking age", "Viking culture", "Viking colony", etc., generally referring to medieval Scandinavia. The pre-Christian Scandinavian population is also referred to as Norse, although that term is properly applied to the whole civilization of Old-Norse-speaking people. In current Scandinavian languages, the term Viking is applied to the people who went away on Viking expeditions, be it for raiding or trading.[4]

The term Varangians made its first appearance in Byzantium where it was introduced to designate a function. In Russia it was extended to apply to Scandinavian warriors journeying to and from Constantinople. In the Byzantine sources Varangians are first mentioned in 1034 as in garrison in the Thracian theme. The Persian geographer Al Biruni has mentioned the Baltic Sea as the Varangian Sea and specifies the Varangians as a people dwelling on its coasts. The first datable use of the word in Norse literature appears by Einarr Skúlason in 1153. According to Icelandic Njalssaga from the 13th century, the institution of Varangian Guard was established by 1000. In the Russian Primary Chronicle the Varangian is used as a generic term for the Germanic nations on the coasts of the Baltic sea that likewise lived in the west as far as the land of the English and the French.[5]

The Viking AgeEdit

Main article: Viking Age[1]The Gokstad Viking ship on display in Oslo, Norway.The period from the earliest recorded raids in the 790s until the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 is commonly known as the Viking Age of Scandinavian history. The Normans, however, were descended from Danish Vikings who were given feudal overlordship of areas in northern France — the Duchy of Normandy — in the 10th century. In that respect, descendants of the Vikings continued to have an influence in northern Europe. Likewise, King Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England who was killed during the Norman invasion in 1066, had Danish ancestors. Many of the medieval kings of Norway and Denmark married into English and Scottish royalty and occasionally got involved in dynastic disputes.[citation needed]

Geographically, a "Viking Age" may be assigned not only to Scandinavian lands (modern Denmark, Norway and Sweden), but also to territories under North Germanic dominance, mainly the Danelaw, formerly the Kingdom of Northumbria,[6] parts of Mercia,[7] and East Anglia.[8] Viking navigators opened the road to new lands to the north, west and east, resulting in the foundation of independent settlements in the Shetland, Orkney, and Faroe Islands; Iceland; Greenland;[9] and L'Anse aux Meadows, a short-lived settlement in Newfoundland, circa 1000 A.D.[10] Many of these lands, specifically Greenland and Iceland, may have been originally discovered by sailors blown off course.[citation needed] They also may well have been deliberately sought out, perhaps on the basis of the accounts of sailors who had seen land in the distance. The Greenland settlement eventually died out, possibly due to climate change. Vikings also explored and settled in territories in Slavic-dominated areas of Eastern Europe, particularly the Kievan Rus. By 950 AD these settlements were largely Slavicized. [2][3]A reconstructed Viking Age long houseFrom 839, Varangian mercenaries in the service of the Byzantine Empire, notably Harald Hardrada, campaigned in North Africa, Jerusalem, and other places in the Middle East. Important trading ports during the period include Birka, Hedeby, Kaupang, Jorvik, Staraya Ladoga, Novgorod and Kiev.

There is archaeological evidence that Vikings reached the city of Baghdad, the center of the Islamic Empire.[11] The Norse regularly plied the Volga with their trade goods: furs, tusks, seal fat for boat sealant and slaves. However, they were far less successful in establishing settlements in the Middle East, due to the more centralized Islamic power.[citation needed]

Generally speaking, the Norwegians expanded to the north and west to places such as Ireland, Iceland and Greenland; the Danes to England and France, settling in the Danelaw (northern/eastern England) and Normandy; and the Swedes to the east. These nations, although distinct, were similar in culture and language. The names of Scandinavian kings are known only for the later part of the Viking Age. Only after the end of the Viking Age did the separate kingdoms acquire distinct identities as nations, which went hand in hand with their Christianization. Thus the end of the Viking Age for the Scandinavians also marks the start of their relatively brief Middle Ages.

Viking expansionEdit

Main article: Viking expansion[4]Map showing area of Scandinavian settlement in the eighth (dark red), ninth (red), tenth (orange) and eleventh (yellow) centuries. Green denotes areas subjected to frequent Viking raids.[image reference needed]The Vikings sailed most of the North Atlantic, reaching south to North Africa and east to Russia, Constantinople and the Middle East, as looters, traders, colonists, and mercenaries. Vikings under Leif Eriksson, heir to Erik the Red, reached North America, and set up a short-lived settlement in present-day L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

The motives driving the Viking expansion form a topic of much debate in Nordic history. One common theory posits that the Norse population had outgrown agricultural potential of their Scandinavian homeland.[citation needed] For a coastal population with superior naval technologies, it made sense to expand overseas in the face of a youth bulge effect. However, this theory does little to explain why the expansion went overseas rather than into the vast, uncultivated forest areas on the interior of the Scandinavian Peninsula. It should be noted that sea raiding was easier than clearing large areas of forest for farm and pasture in a region with a limited growing season. No such rise in population or decline in agricultural production has been definitively proven.

Another explanation is that the Vikings exploited a moment of weakness in the surrounding regions. For instance, the Danish Vikings were aware of the internal divisions within Charlemagne's empire that began in the 830s and resulted in schism.[citation needed] England suffered from internal divisions, and was relatively easy prey given the proximity of many towns to the sea or navigable rivers. Lack of organized naval opposition throughout Western Europe allowed Viking ships to travel freely, raiding or trading as opportunity permitted.

The decline in the profitability of old trade routes could also have played a role. Trade between western Europe and the rest of Eurasia suffered a severe blow when the Roman Empire fell in the 5th century.[12] The expansion of Islam in the 7th century had also affected trade with western Europe.[13] Trade on the Mediterranean Sea was historically at its lowest level when the Vikings initiated their expansion.[citation needed] By opening new trade routes in Arabic and Frankish lands, the Vikings profited from international trade by expanding beyond their traditional boundaries.[citation needed] Finally, the destruction of the Frisian fleet by the Franks afforded the Vikings an opportunity to take over their trade markets.[citation needed]


Following a period of thriving trade and Viking settlement, cultural impulses flowed from the rest of Europe to affect Viking dominance. Christianity had an early and growing presence in Scandinavia, and with the rise of centralized authority and the development of more robust coastal defense systems, Viking raids became more risky and less profitable. [5][6]Blar a' Bhuailte, site of the Vikings' last stand in SkyeIn the Separate Saga of St. Olaf (king of Norway), ascribed to Snorri Sturluson, It describes the brutal process of Christianisation there: “…those who did not give up paganism were banished, with others he (Olaf II of Norway) cut off their hands or their feet or extirpated their eyes, others he ordered hanged or decapitated, but did not leave unpunished any of those who did not want to serve God (…) he afflicted them with great punishments (…) He gave them clerks and instituted some in the districts.”[citation needed]

As the new quasi-feudalistic system became entrenched in Scandinavian rule, organized opposition sealed the Vikings' fate. Eleventh-century chronicles note Scandinavian attempts to combat the Vikings from the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, which eventually led to Danish and Swedish participation in the Baltic Crusades during the 12th and 13th centuries. It also contributed to the development of the Hanseatic League.[14]

One of the primary profit centers of Viking trade was slavery. The Church took a position that Christians should not own fellow Christians as slaves, so chattel slavery diminished as a practice throughout Northern Europe. Eventually, outright slavery was outlawed, replaced with serfdom at the bottom rung of Medieval society. This took much of the economic incentive out of raiding, though sporadic activity continued for a few decades beyond the Norman conquest of England.

Weapons and warfareEdit

Main article: Viking Age arms and armorOur knowledge about arms and armor of the Viking age is based on relatively sparse archaeological finds, pictorial representation, and to some extent on the accounts in the Norse sagas and Norse laws recorded in the 13th century.

According to custom, all free Norse men were required to own weapons, as well as permitted to carry them at all times. These arms were also indicative of a Viking's social status: a wealthy Viking would have a complete ensemble of a helmet, shield, chainmail shirt, and sword. A typical bóndi (freeman) was more likely to fight with a spear and shield, and most also carried a seax as a utility knife and side-arm. Bows were used in the opening stages of land battles, and at sea, but tended to be considered less "honorable" than a hand weapon. Vikings were relatively unusual for the time in their use of axes as a main battle weapon. The Húscarls, the elite guard of King Cnut (and later King Harold II) were armed with two-handed axes which could split shields or metal helmets with ease.


Good-quality written historical sources for Scandinavia during the Viking Period are scarce, but the archaeological record is rich.[15]


Main article: RunestoneThe vast majority of runic inscriptions from the Viking period come from Sweden and date from the eleventh century. Many runestones in Scandinavia record the names of participants in Viking expeditions, such as the Kjula runestone which tells of extensive warfare in Western Europe and the Turinge runestone which tells of a warband in Eastern Europe. Other runestones mention men who died on Viking expeditions. Among them are around 25 Ingvar runestones in the Mälardalen district of Sweden, erected to commemorate members of a disastrous expedition into present-day Russia in the early 11th century. The runestones are important sources in the study of Norse society and early medieval Scandinavia, not only of the 'Viking' segment of the population[16].

Runestones attest to voyages to locations such as Bath,[17] Greece,[18] Khwaresm,[19] Jerusalem,[20] Italy (as Langobardland),[21] London,[22] Serkland (i.e. the Muslim world),[23] England,[24] and various locations in Eastern Europe.

The word Viking appears on several runestones found in Scandinavia.

Burial sitesEdit

See also: Viking funeralThere are numerous burial sites associated with Vikings. As well as providing information on Viking religion, burial sites also provide information on social structure. The items buried with the deceased give some indication as to what was considered important to possess in the afterlife.[25] Some examples of notable burial sites include:

  • Gettlinge gravfält, Öland, Sweden, ship outline
  • Jelling, Denmark, a World Heritage Site
  • Oseberg, Norway.
  • Gokstad, Norway.
  • Borrehaugene, Horten, Norway
  • Valsgärde, Sweden.
  • Gamla Uppsala, Sweden.
  • Hulterstad gravfält, near the villages of Alby and Hulterstad, Öland, Sweden, ship outline of standing stones


[7][8]Miniatures of two different types of longships, on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark.[9][10]Viking ship head of dragon, has a dog's nostrils, canines, and rounded ears.Main article: Viking shipThere were two distinct classes of Viking ships: the longship (sometimes erroneously called "drakkar", a corruption of "dragon" in Norse) and the knarr. The longship, intended for warfare and exploration, was designed for speed and agility, and was equipped with oars to complement the sail as well as making it able to navigate independently of the wind. The longship had a long and narrow hull, as well as a shallow draft, in order to facilitate landings and troop deployments in shallow water. The knarr was a dedicated merchant vessel designed to carry cargo. It was designed with a broader hull, deeper draft and limited number of oars (used primarily to maneuver in harbors and similar situations). One Viking innovation was the beitass, a spar mounted to the sail that allowed their ships to sail effectively against the wind.[26]

Longships were used extensively by the Leidang, the Scandinavian defense fleets. The term "Viking ships" has entered common usage, however, possibly because of its romantic associations (discussed below).

In Roskilde are the well-preserved remains of five ships, excavated from nearby Roskilde Fjord in the late 1960s. The ships were scuttled there in the 11th century to block a navigation channel, thus protecting the city, which was then the Danish capital, from seaborne assault. These five ships represent the two distinct classes of Viking ships, the longship and the knarr. The remains of these ships can be found on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde.

Longships are not to be confused with later-period longboats. It was common for Viking ships to tow or carry a smaller boat to transfer crews and cargo from the ship to shore, however.

Genetic legacyEdit

Studies of genetic diversity provide some indication of the origin and expansion of the Viking population. The Haplogroup I1 (defined by specific genetic markers on the Y-chomosome) is sometimes referred to as the "Viking haplogroup". This mutation occurs with the greatest frequency among Scandinavian males: 35 percent in Norway, Denmark and Sweden, and peaking at 40 percent within western Finland.[27] It is also common near the southern Baltic and North Sea coasts, and then successively decreases the further south geographically.

Genetic studies in the British Isles of the Y-DNA Haplogroup R1a1, seen also across Scandinavia, have demonstrated that the Vikings settled in the British Isles as well as raiding there. Both male and female descent studies show evidence of Norwegian descent in areas closest to Scandinavia, such as the Shetland and Orkney Islands. Inhabitants of lands farther away show most Norse descent in the male Y chromosome lines.[28]

A specialized surname study in Liverpool demonstrated marked Norse heritage, up to 50 percent of males who belonged to original families, those who lived there before the years of industrialization and population expansion.[29] High percentages of Norse inheritance – tracked through R1a1 haplotype signatures – were also found among males in Wirral and West Lancashire.[30] This was similar to the percentage of Norse inheritance found among males in the Orkney Islands.[31]

Recent research has revealed that the Scottish warrior Somerled, who drove the Vikings out of Scotland and was the progenitor of Clan Donald, was himself of Viking descent – a member of Haplogroup R1a1.[citation needed]

Historical opinion and cultural legacyEdit

In England the Viking Age began dramatically on 8 June 793 when Norsemen destroyed the abbey on the island of Lindisfarne. The devastation of Northumbria's Holy Island shocked and alerted the royal Courts of Europe to the Viking presence. "Never before has such an atrocity been seen," declared the Northumbrian scholar, Alcuin of York.[citation needed] More than any other single event, the attack on Lindisfarne demonized perception of the Vikings for the next twelve centuries. Not until the 1890s did scholars outside Scandinavia begin to seriously reassess the achievements of the Vikings, recognizing their artistry, technological skills and seamanship.[32]

The first challenges to anti-Viking sentiments in Britain emerged in the 17th century. Pioneering scholarly editions of the Viking Age began to reach a small readership in Britain, archaeologists began to dig up Britain's Viking past, and linguistic enthusiasts started to identify the Viking-Age origins for rural idioms and proverbs. The new dictionaries of the Old Norse language enabled the Victorians to grapple with the primary Icelandic sagas.[33]

In Scandinavia, the 17th century Danish scholars Thomas Bartholin and Ole Worm, and Olof Rudbeck of Sweden were the first to set the standard for using runic inscriptions and Icelandic Sagas as historical sources.[citation needed] During the Age of Enlightenment and the Nordic Renaissance, historical scholarship in Scandinavia became more rational and pragmatic, as witnessed by the works of a Danish historian Ludvig Holberg and Swedish historian Olof von Dalin.[citation needed] Until recently, the history of the Viking Age was largely based on Icelandic sagas, the history of the Danes written by Saxo Grammaticus, the Russian Primary Chronicle and the The War of the Irish with the Foreigners. Although few scholars still accept these texts as reliable sources, historians nowadays rely more on archeology and numismatics, disciplines that have made valuable contributions toward understanding the period.[34]

Until the 19th century reign of Queen Victoria, public perceptions in Britain continued to portray Vikings as violent and bloodthirsty.[citation needed] The chronicles of medieval England had always portrayed them as rapacious 'wolves among sheep'.[citation needed] In 1920, a winged-helmeted Viking was introduced as a radiator cap figure on the new Rover car, marking the start of the cultural rehabilitation of the Vikings in Britain.[citation needed]

Icelandic sagas and other textsEdit

Norse mythology, sagas and literature tell of Scandinavian culture and religion through tales of heroic and mythological heroes. However, early transmission of this information was primarily oral, and later texts were reliant upon the writings and transcriptions of Christian scholars, including the Icelanders Snorri Sturluson and Sæmundur fróði. Many of these sagas were written in Iceland, and most of them, even if they had no Icelandic provenance, were preserved there after the Middle Ages due to the Icelanders' continued interest in Norse literature and law codes.

The 200-year Viking influence on European history is filled with tales of plunder and colonization, and the majority of these chronicles came from western witnesses and their descendants. Less common, though equally relevant, are the Viking chronicles that originated in the east, including the Nestor chronicles, Novgorod chronicles, Ibn Fadlan chronicles, Ibn Rusta chronicles, and many brief mentions by the Fosio bishop from the first big attack on the Byzantine Empire.

Other chroniclers of Viking history include Adam of Bremen, who wrote "There is much gold here (in Zealand), accumulated by piracy. These pirates, which are called wichingi by their own people, and Ascomanni by our own people, pay tribute to the Danish king" in the fourth volume of his Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum.

In 991, the Battle of Maldon between Viking raiders and the inhabitants of the town of Maldon in Essex, England was commemorated with a poem of the same name.

Modern revivalsEdit

See also: 19th century Viking revival[11]A modern reenactment of a Viking battleEarly modern publications, dealing with what we now call Viking culture, appeared in the 16th century, e.g. Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (Olaus Magnus, 1555), and the first edition of the 13th century Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus in 1514. The pace of publication increased during the 17th century with Latin translations of the Edda (notably Peder Resen's Edda Islandorum of 1665).

The word Viking was popularized, with positive connotations, by Erik Gustaf Geijer in the poem, The Viking, written at the beginning of the 19th century. The word was taken to refer to romanticized, idealized naval warriors, who had very little to do with the historical Viking culture. This renewed interest of Romanticism in the Old North had political implications. A myth about a glorious and brave past was needed to give the Swedes the courage to retake Finland, which had been lost in 1809 during the war between Sweden and Russia. The Geatish Society, of which Geijer was a member, popularized this myth to a great extent. Another Swedish author who had great influence on the perception of the Vikings was Esaias Tegnér, member of the Geatish Society, who wrote a modern version of Friðþjófs saga ins frœkna, which became widely popular in the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom and Germany.

A focus for early British enthusiasts was George Hicke, who published a Linguarum vett. septentrionalium thesaurus in 1703 – 05. During the 18th century, British interest and enthusiasm for Iceland and Nordic culture grew dramatically, expressed in English translations as well as original poems, extolling Viking virtues and increased interest in anything Runic that could be found in the Danelaw, rising to a peak during Victorian times.

Nazi and fascist imageryEdit

Main article: Nazi mysticismSimilar to Wagnerian mythology, the romanticism of the heroic Viking ideal appealed to the Germanic supremacist thinkers of Nazi Germany. Political organizations of the same tradition, such as the former Norwegian nationalist/fascist party, Nasjonal Samling, used Viking symbolism and imagery widely in its propaganda. The Viking legacy had an impact in parts of Europe, especially the Northern Baltic region, but in no way was the Viking experience particular to Germany. However, the Nazis did not claim themselves to be the descendants of any Viking settlers. Instead, they resorted to the historical and ethnic fact that the Vikings were descendants of other Germanic peoples; this fact is supported by the shared ethnic-genetic elements, and cultural and linguistic traits, of the Germans, Anglo-Saxons, and Viking Scandinavians. In particular, all these peoples also had traditions of Germanic paganism and practiced runelore. This common Germanic identity became - and still is - the foundation for much National Socialist iconography. For example, the runic emblem of the SS utilized the sig rune of the Elder Futhark and the youth organization Wiking-Jugend made extensive use of the odal rune. This trend still holds true today (see also fascist symbolism).


Since the 1960s, there has been rising enthusiasm for historical reenactment. While the earliest groups had little claim for historical accuracy, the seriousness and accuracy of re-enactors has increased. The largest such groups include The Vikings and Regia Anglorum, though many smaller groups exist in Europe, the UK, North America, New Zealand, and Australia. Many reenactor groups participate in live-steel combat, and a few have Viking-style ships or boats.

On 1 July 2007, the reconstructed Viking ship Skuldelev 2, renamed Sea Stallion,[35] began a journey from Roskilde, Denmark to Dublin, Ireland. The remains of that ship and four others were discovered during a 1962 excavation in the Roskilde Fjord. This multi-national experimental archeology project saw 70 crew members sail the ship back to its home in Ireland. Tests of the original wood show that it was made of Irish trees. The Sea Stallion arrived outside Dublin's Custom House on 14 August 2007.

The purpose of the voyage was to test and document the seaworthiness, speed and maneuverability of the ship on the rough open sea and in coastal waters with treacherous currents. The crew tested how the long, narrow, flexible hull withstood the tough ocean waves. The expedition also provided valuable new information on Viking longships and society. The ship was built using Viking tools, materials and much the same methods as the original ship.

In popular cultureEdit

[12][13]A giant Viking welcomes visitors to the town of Dannevirke in New Zealand, founded by 19th Century Scandinavian settlers.Led by the operas of German composer Richard Wagner, such as Der Ring des Nibelungen, Vikings and the Romanticist Viking Revival inspired many creative works.

These included novels directly based on historical events, such as Frans Gunnar Bengtsson's The Long Ships (which was also released as a 1963 film), and historical fantasies such as the film The Vikings, Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead (movie version called The 13th Warrior) and the comedy film Erik the Viking. Vikings appear in several books by the Danish American writer Poul Anderson, while British explorer, historian and writer Tim Severin authored a trilogy of novels in 2005 about a young Viking adventurer Thorgils Leifsson, who travels around the world.

Viking mythology inspired many games such as the Fate of the Norns role playing game. This influence extends into computer games such as Rune.

The genre of Viking metal shows persisting modern influence of the Viking myths. It was a popular sub-genre of heavy metal music, originating in the early 1990s as an off-shoot of the black metal sub-genre.

This style is notable for its lyrical and theatrical emphasis on Norse mythology as well as Viking lifestyles and beliefs. Popular bands that contribute to this genre include Turisas, Amon Amarth, Einherjer, Valhalla, Týr, Ensiferum, Falkenbach, and Enslaved.

Common misconceptionsEdit

Horned helmetsEdit

Main article: Horned helmetApart from two or three representations of (ritual) helmets – with protrusions that may be either stylized ravens, snakes or horns – no depiction of Viking Age warriors' helmets, and no preserved helmet, has horns. In fact, the formal close-quarters style of Viking combat (either in shield walls or aboard "ship islands") would have made horned helmets cumbersome and hazardous to the warrior's own side.

Therefore historians believe that Viking warriors did not use horned helmets, but whether or not such helmets were used in Scandinavian culture for other, ritual purposes remains unproven. The general misconception that Viking warriors wore horned helmets was partly promulgated by the 19th century enthusiasts of Götiska Förbundet, founded in 1811 in Stockholm, Sweden. They promoted the use of Norse mythology as the subject of high art and other ethnological and moral aims.

The Vikings were often depicted with winged helmets and in other clothing taken from Classical antiquity, especially in depictions of Norse gods. This was done in order to legitimize the Vikings and their mythology by associating it with the Classical world which had long been idealized in European culture.

The latter-day mythos created by national romantic ideas blended the Viking Age with aspects of the Nordic Bronze Age some 2,000 years earlier. Horned helmets from the Bronze Age were shown in petroglyphs and appeared in archaeological finds (see Bohuslän and Vikso helmets). They were probably used for ceremonial purposes.[36].

Cartoons like Hägar the Horrible and Vicky the Viking, and sports uniforms such as those of the Minnesota Vikings and Canberra Raiders football teams have perpetuated the mythic cliché of the horned helmet.

Viking helmets were conical, made from hard leather with wood and metallic reinforcement for regular troops. The iron helmet with mask and chain mail was for the chieftains, based on the previous Vendel-age helmets from central Sweden. The only true Viking helmet found is that from Gjermundbu in Norway. This helmet is made of iron and has been dated to the 10th century.

Skull cupsEdit

Main article: Skull cupsThe use of human skulls as drinking vessels is also ahistorical. The rise of this legend can be traced to Ole Worm's Runer seu Danica literatura antiquissima (1636), in which Danish warriors drinking ór bjúgviðum hausa [from the curved branches of skulls, i.e. from horns] were rendered as drinking ex craniis eorum quos ceciderunt [from the skulls of those whom they had slain]. The skull-cup allegation may also have some history in relation with other Germanic tribes and Eurasian nomads, such as the Scythians and Pechenegs, and the vivid example of the Lombard Alboin, made notorious by Paul the Deacon's History.


The image of wild-haired, dirty savages sometimes associated with the Vikings in popular culture[who?] is a distorted picture of reality.[1] Non-Scandinavian Christians are responsible for most surviving accounts of the Vikings and, consequently, a strong possibility for bias exists. This attitude is likely attributed to Christian misunderstandings regarding paganism. Viking tendencies were often misreported and the work of Adam of Bremen, among others, told largely disputable tales of Viking savagery and uncleanliness.[37]

The Anglo-Danes were considered excessively clean by their Anglo-Saxon neighbours, due to their custom of bathing every Saturday and combing their hair often. To this day, Saturday is referred to as laugardagur / laurdag / lørdag / lördag, "washing day" in the Scandinavian languages. Icelanders were known to use natural hot springs as baths, and there is a strong sauna/bathing culture in Scandinavia to this day.

As for the Vikings in the east, Ibn Rustah notes their cleanliness in carrying clean clothes, whereas Ibn Fadlan is disgusted by all of the men sharing the same, used vessel to wash their faces and blow their noses in the morning. Ibn Fadlan's disgust is possibly because of the contrast to the personal hygiene particular to the Muslim world at the time, such as running water and clean vessels. While the example intended to convey his disgust about certain customs of the Rus', at the same time it recorded that they did wash every morning.

Vikings of renownEdit

  • Askold and Dir, legendary Varangian conquerors of Kiev.
  • Björn Ironside, son of Ragnar Lodbrok, pillaged in Italy.
  • Bagsecg, A Viking who Invaded and pillaged in England in 870, But was killed in 871 at The Battle of Ashdown.
  • Brodir of Man, a Danish Viking who killed the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru.
  • Halfdan Ragnarsson, pillaged in England conquered London and Northumbria, son of Ragnar Lodbrok
  • Cnut the Great, king of England and Denmark, Norway, and of some of Sweden, was possibly the greatest Viking king. A son of Sweyn Forkbeard, and grandson of Harold Bluetooth, he was a member of the dynasty that was key to the unification and Christianisation of Denmark. Some modern historians have dubbed him the ‘Emperor of the North’ because of his position as one of the magnates of medieval Europe and as a reflection of the Holy Roman Empire to the south.
  • Egill Skallagrímsson, Icelandic warrior and skald. (See also Egils saga).
  • Eric the Victorious, a king of Sweden whose dynasty is the first known to have ruled as kings of the nation. It is possible he was king of Denmark for a time.
  • Erik the Red, colonizer of Greenland.
  • Freydís Eiríksdóttir, a Viking woman who sailed to Vínland.
  • Gardar Svavarsson, originally from Sweden, the discoverer of Iceland. There is another contender for the discoverer of Iceland: Naddoddr, a Norwegian/Faeroese Viking explorer.
  • Godfrid, Duke of Frisia, a pillager of the Low Countries and the Rhine area and briefly a lord of Frisia.
  • Godfrid Haraldsson, son of Harald Klak and pillager of the Low Countries and northern France.
  • Grímur Kamban, a Norwegian or Norwegian/Irish Viking who around 825 was, according to the Færeyinga Saga, the first Nordic settler in the Faeroes.
  • Guthrum, colonizer of Danelaw.
  • Harald Klak (Harald Halfdansson), a 9th c. king in Jutland who made peace with Louis the Pious and was possibly the first Viking to be granted Frankish land in exchange for protection.
  • Harald Bluetooth (Harald Gormson), who according to the Jelling Stones that he had erected, "won the whole of Denmark and Norway and turned the Danes to Christianity". Father of Sweyn Forkbeard; grandfather of Cnut the Great.
  • Harald Hardrada, a Norwegian king who died, along with his men, at Stamford Bridge in an unsuccessful attempt to conquer England in 1066. Only a fraction of the invasion force is thought to have made their escape.
  • Hastein, a chieftain who raided in the Mediterranean, Son of Ragnar Lodbrok.
  • Ingólfur Arnarson, colonizer of Iceland.
  • Ingvar the Far-Travelled, the leader of the last great Swedish Viking expedition to pillage the shores of the Caspian Sea.
  • Ivar the Boneless, the disabled Viking who conquered York, despite having to be carried on a shield. Son of Ragnar Lodbrok.
  • Leif Ericsson, discoverer of Vínland, son of Erik the Red.
  • Naddoddr, a Norwegian/Faeroese Viking explorer.
  • Olaf Tryggvason, king of Norway from 995 to 1000. He forced thousands to convert to Christianity. He once burned London Bridge down out of anger because people were disobeying his orders (and this is conjectured to be origin of the children's rhyme "London Bridge is Falling Down").
  • St Olaf (Olav Haraldsson), patron saint of Norway, and king of Norway from 1015 to approx. 1030.
  • Oleg of Kiev, led an offensive against Constantinople.
  • Ragnar Lodbrok, captured Paris.
  • Rollo of Normandy, founder of Normandy.
  • Rorik of Dorestad, a Viking lord of Frisia and nephew of Harald Klak.
  • Rurik, founder of the Rus' rule in Eastern Europe.
  • Ubbe Ragnarsson, son of Ragnar Lodbrok, pillaged in England and was killed in 878 at The Battle of Cynwit.
  • Sigmundur Brestisson, Faeroese, a Viking chieftain who, according to the Færeyinga Saga, introduced Christianity and Norwegian supremacy to the Faeroes in 999.
  • Sweyn Forkbeard, king of Denmark, Norway, and England, as well as founder of Swansea ("Sweyn's island"). In 1013, the Danes under Sweyn led a Viking offensive against the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The English king was forced into exile, and in late 1013 Sweyn became King of England, though he died early in 1014, and the former king was brought out of exile to challenge his son.
  • Thorfinn Karlsefni, explorer who, along with Freydís Eiríksdóttir, sailed to Vínland. His wife Gudridr gave birth to Snorri, the first European known to have been born in the New World.
  • Thorgils (Thorgest), founder of Dublin.
  • Tróndur í Gøtu, a Faeroese Viking chieftain who, according to the Færeyinga Saga, was opposed to the introduction of Christianity to, and the Norwegian supremacy of, the Faeroes.
  • William the Conqueror, ruler of Normandy and the victor at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, considered by historians as the last great Viking invasion. His kingship of England saw the end of the Anglo-Saxon era and the encroachment of continental magnates and the ideals of Christendom. His great great uncle was Cnut the Great.

Vikings, Scandinavian warriors who raided the coasts of Europe and the British Isles from the 9th cent. to the 11th cent. During the Neolithic period the Scandinavians had lived in small autonomous communities as farmers, fishermen, and hunters. At the beginning of the Viking Age they were the best shipbuilders and sailors in the world; they later ventured as far as Greenland and North America (see Vinland). At the height of the Viking Age, the typical Viking warship, the "long ship," had a high prow, adorned with the figure of an animal, and a high stern (see ship). It seated up to 30 oarsmen and had an average crew of 90. Its square sails were perpendicularly striped in many colors, and the entire ship was vividly painted and elaborately carved. On both sides of the ship hung a row of painted round shields. This is the most familiar Viking ship; the many other types varied according to purpose and period. Among the causes that drove the Vikings from their lands were overpopulation, internal dissension, quest for trade, and thirst for adventure. Many local kingdoms came into existence in Scandinavia, and from them stemmed the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. The Vikings' religion was paganism of the Germanic type; their mythological and heroic legends form the content of Old Norse literature. The Viking Age ended with the introduction of Christianity into Scandinavia, with the emergence of the three great Scandinavian kingdoms, and with the rise of European states capable of defending themselves against further invasions. Many Vikings settled where they had raided. The Scandinavian raiders in Russia were known as Varangians; their leader Rurik founded the first Russian state. Elsewhere the Vikings came to be known as Danes, Northmen, Norsemen, or Normans.

From the 750s to the 1050s, the Vikings were warriors, pirates, and traders from Scandinavia who employed the most sophisticated naval technology of the time in Northern Europe to launch extensive raiding and trading expeditions stretching west to Canadian Labrador and east to the Caspian Sea.

Vikings (called Rus in the Arabic and Varangians in the Greek sources), primarily from Sweden and the Isle of Gotland, first entered European Russia in small groups in search of trade and tribute in the second half of the eighth century. By the ninth century, the Rus had established a complex commercial network stretching from the Baltic to the Islamic Caliphate. By the tenth century, the Rus extended this network southward to the Byzantine Empire via Kiev, continuing the eastern trade through intermediaries on the middle Volga in Volga Bulgaria. Also by the tenth century, the Vikings traveling through Russia had entered the service of the Byzantine Emperor (tenth through twelfth centuries) and helped found the first East Slavic kingdom, Kievan Rus.

The Russian Primary Chronicle relates that in 862 the Viking Rurik and his kin were invited by Slavic and Finnic tribes to come and rule over them, after which they developed a system of tribute that encompassed northwestern Russia, Kiev, and its neighboring tribes. The Chronicle's account is substantiated by finds of Scandinavian-style artifacts (tortoise shell brooches, Thor's hammer pendants, wooden idols, armaments), and in some cases graves, found at Staraya Ladoga, Ryurikovo Gorodishche, Syaskoe Gorodishche, Timerevo, and Gnezdovo. These sites were tribal and commercial centers and riverside waystations, typical of those found along trade routes used by the Rus, most notably that of the Volga Route to the Islamic Caliphate and the Route to the Greeks along the Dnieper.

In contrast to Viking activity in the West, which is characterized primarily by raiding and large-scale colonization, the Rus town network and subsequent tribal and political organization was designed for trade. Subject tribes living along river systems supplied the Rus with the furs, wax, honey, and slaves that they would further exchange for Islamic silver (especially dirhams), glass beads, silks, and spices in southern markets. The Rus expansion into Byzantine markets began in earnest in the early tenth century, with Rus attacks on Constantinople in 907, 911, and 944, which resulted in trade agreements. By the end of the century, in 988 - 989, Vladimir I (ruled 980 - 1015), a quarter Viking through his father Svyatoslav, had married into the Byzantine royal family and converted to Byzantine Christianity, thereby laying the foundation for the Eastern Slavic relationship with the Greek world.

The tenth century marks the high point of Viking involvement in the East. Much of the Scandinavian-style jewelry found in European Russia and a majority of the Scandinavian-style graves date to the second and third quarters of the tenth century. Vladimir I and his son Yaroslav the Wise (ruled 1019 - 1054) enlisted Viking mercenary armies in internecine dynastic wars. In the eleventh century, however, the Viking foot soldier armies had become obsolete as the Rus princes were forced to adapt to another enemy in the south, the Turkic nomads who fought on horseback. The defeat of Yaroslav's Viking mercenaries by a nomadic army at the Battle of Listven (1024) is indicative of this trend.In 793, a group of Scandinavian warriors sacked the monastery at Lindisfarne, off the north-east coast of England, unleashing two and a half centuries of turmoil on western Europe. Scandinavia already had close ties with its North Sea neighbours: trade links were strong between Swedish, Danish, Frisian, and English merchants, and East Anglia may have had kings of Swedish origin. The wealth of western Europe eventually tempted some to take what they could not barter for.

The causes of the ‘Viking Age’ (in England, c.793-1066) are disputed but include such factors as a worsening climate in Scandinavia making agriculture more difficult; poor prospects at home for younger sons who stood to inherit little; a religion (see below) promoting aggressive self-reliance; political consolidation in Denmark and, later, Norway which uprooted many earls and their followers, whose only skills were in warfare. The technological breakthrough which made Viking raids possible was in shipbuilding; the typical Viking craft was a low, sleek, clinker-built vessel, designed with a prow at either end for rapid relaunching and fitted with a sail, but capable of being rowed (or even carried short distances overland) by its crew of between 40 and 60 men. In small groups they were fast enough to evade detection, to make a sudden raid from a beach landing and put out to sea again before land forces could be mustered against them. The decisive Viking advantage was the ability to make a sea-crossing without hugging the coasts, so maximizing the element of surprise.

The early raids were mostly hit-and-run attacks, but in 864-5 a Danish force (known as se micla here, ‘the Great Army’) decided to winter over in England. From this point on, the character of Viking activity changed: a more mature leadership saw the benefits of a settled life in the west over the perils of transporting plunder back to Denmark or Norway. The Vikings moved into the north-east of England, Ireland, the Hebrides, and Orkneys as settlers, changing the political geography of these regions. At about this time, Norwegian adventurers discovered Iceland and within a few decades permanent settlements had been established. They also, of course, ‘discovered’ America 500 years before Columbus.

If fast-moving raiders were hard to deal with, warlords determined to overthrow the existing hierarchy and install themselves as leaders were even harder. The coasts of northern Europe were defended by a variety of measures. In France, bridges over navigable rivers were strengthened with towers at either end, and town defences were refurbished. Viking attacks destroyed one English kingdom after another until only Wessex survived in the south-west of the country. There, King Alfred (849-99) devised a system of burh strongholds which provided static points of defence for the countryside. He also reformed the pattern of military service to make better use of his resources and designed ships which could match those of his foes. After years of struggle, a treaty of 886-90 between King Alfred and the Danish leader Guðrum (d. 890) ceded the north and east of England to Danish control, an area known as the ‘Danelaw’. It fell to Alfred's son, Edward (c.872-924), and grandson, Æðelstan (c.894-939), to recapture this territory also.

Viking control continued in Dublin and there was even a short-lived Scandinavian ‘Kingdom of York’ under the exiled Norwegian King Eirikr Blóðox (‘Eric Bloodaxe’) who was killed at Stainmoor, Yorkshire, in 954. In 911 Norsemen were granted territory on the coast of northern France where they set up a buffer state; this province of Normandy eventually proved a troublesome neighbour and, of course, the source of the last successful invasion of England 155 years later.

Viking interest was not confined to western Europe, and Swedes navigated the rivers draining into the eastern Baltic in search of trading opportunities and sources of silver, the principal medium of exchange. Viking kingdoms based on Novgorod and Kiev were established in the 10th century through trading contacts with the Slavs, although within a century the Swedish rulers had forsaken their separate identity and adopted Slavonic names and customs. The Slavs called these Scandinavians ‘Rus’, which may be the origin of the name ‘Russia’. They also traded along the great rivers down to the Black Sea, and some enlisted as mercenaries with the Byzantine emperor, providing him with the élite Varangian Guard. Others sailed through either around Spain or along the rivers of France to raid in the Mediterranean, forming a permanent settlement in Sicily. The archaelogical indicators that Vikings once cruised offshore are the watchtowers built along the coasts of Spain, France, and Italy by people anxiously looking out for their signature longships.

From the late 980s a fresh wave of raiding from Scandinavia hit western Europe; these were larger forces led by determined men such as Olaf Tryggvason (968-1000), later king of Norway. The English King Æðelred II Unræd (c.966-1016) (Ethelred ‘the Unready’) saw one of his best generals slain at Maldon, Essex, in 991 and on the advice of his churchmen decided to buy the Vikings off. Taxes were raised to pay this ‘Danegeld’, but the payments only encouraged raiding by other groups. Thus began an ignominious period in English history during which the nation paid taxes to raise armies against itself. Æðelred went into exile in Normandy in 1013-14 with his Norman wife, Emma, leaving the country to the Danish leader, King Sven ‘Forkbeard’. Æðelred's third son, Edmund Ironside, led a bold, determined, but ultimately unsuccessful resistance to Sven's son, Knut (‘King Canute’), whose reign proved a period of reconstruction and consolidation.

The last great Viking leader must be Haraldr Harðráða (1016-66), sometime king of Norway and leader of the Byzantine emperor's Varangian Guard, whose invasion of the north of England was crushed by Harold (Godwinson) II's Saxons at Stamford Bridge, a battle that may have weakened them sufficiently to make the difference at Hastings 21 days later against the Normans, themselves of Viking stock.

The size of Viking armies is difficult to assess; English sources refer for example to ‘250 ships’, but there is no agreement as to what this means in terms of battlefield army size. A surviving Viking warship from Gokstad had provision for 32 oarsmen, but it is not clear whether this was the entire ship's company and, furthermore, what proportion of the crew would be non-combatants or wat chmen to guard the craft. Were all the 250 vessels warships, or were some cargo vessels with a large hold and correspondingly less room for warriors? It seems safe to conclude that armies (better, ad hoc groupings) numbering some thousands could be assembled by charismatic leaders.

Viking techniques of warfare were in the mainstream Germanic tradition of mobile infantry engagements. Generally, Viking armies, whose main advantages were speed and surprise, avoided open battle, preferring the swift raid against a wealthy, unsuspecting target followed by orderly withdrawal. When reluctantly brought to battle, leaders used standard ‘shieldwall’ formations of front-rank men standing shoulder to shoulder with their shields before them, wielding long (6-8 foot (1.8-2.4 metre) ) thrusting spears to break up enemy formations as they advanced to within striking distance. Hostilities began with an exchange of missiles (arrows and throwing spears) followed by one side charging the other's line; if the defenders' shieldwall held, the attackers were beaten back onto their own second rank, while if the attackers broke through, the shieldwall fragmented into a series of isolated battle groups. A general mêlée followed, where confidence and determination must have been as important as skill at arms.

Body armour and weapons were very personal items, and the wealthy chose them as much for display value as for technical effectiveness. Characteristic Viking hand weapons included swords, the slashing blades often of Rhenish workmanship, tapered and up to 3 feet (0.9 metre) in length; narrow, single-edged, sharply pointed knives; long-shafted, broad-bladed axes, and shorter, single-handed forms such as the ‘bearded axe’ (Norse skeggox). Shields were usually circular (occasionally kite-shaped), up to 3 feet (0.9 metre) in diameter, with a conical, central iron boss covering the hand. Viking warriors commonly used bows and arrows, as well as other missile weapons such as throwing-spears and axes. Armour consisted of a knee-length mailshirt, a helmet with faceplate, and iron-banded protection for forearms and lower legs (although these latter are only attested from the earlier Vendel period). Leather, hide, and fur garments formed a cheaper and warmer alternative—an important factor when crossing many miles of open sea.

An aspect of Norse society which contributed to the success of its warriors was its religious background. Much is made of the cult of nðinn (Odin), the one-eyed master of death and magic whose handmaidens, the Valkyrjar (Valkyries), welcomed fallen warriors into his hall, Valholl (Valhalla) ; worshippers of this god actively sought battle death, regarding anything less as unmanly. Devotees of nðinn included the notorious berserkir and ulfheðnir, who fought unprotected except by bear- or wolf-skin respectively, without regard for personal safety. Impressive though these specialists were, the majority of Vikings were worshippers of Þórr (Thor) whose cult centred round the weather and the agrarian cycle. The irascible, red-bearded giant-killer protected men and their livelihoods against the savage elements of the northern winter; his hammer, Mjolnir, was a popular amulet and continued even into the period of contact with Christian belief. In time, Vikings gained knowledge of Christianity during their activities in the west and many accepted the ‘White Christ’ into their pantheon, but without abandoning their older gods.

For all the immense distances they covered and their qualities as warriors, the Vikings made no lasting cultural impact on western Europe and were ultimately absorbed into the host populations wherever they settled.

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