Bayeux Tapestry

Men from the North – A Brief History of the Vikings

Men from the North – A Brief History of the Vikings

The Vikings were Scandinavian seafarers whose activities of trade, exploration and maritime warfare had an important influence on much of Europe during the early medieval era.

They were skilled sailors and navigators, handling their iconic longships with great skill and fleets of these were used to launch surprise raids along the coastlines of the British Isles, France and the Mediterranean countries.

Many of these raids were treasure hunts, but sometimes the precursor of Viking settlements that sprouted around Britain, Iceland, Greenland, modern day Russia and even across to Newfoundland in modern day Canada.

The name Viking is thought to have originated from the old Norse word “Vik”, meaning bay or harbour, emphasising their maritime connections. They came from Scandinavia including the modern day countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They were particularly feared by the English and Europeans of the era because they were not Christians in the early days and were regarded as uncivilized.

Their first major encounter with the English was the 793 raid and subsequent sacking of the Lindisfarne monastery off the northeast coast of England and further attacks on undefended monasteries became their modus operandi over the next decade.

Viking settlements followed in England, Scotland and Ireland in the mid ninth century and then another was established by Erik the Red in Greenland around the year 985. It is thought that this was made possible by the onset of the “Mediaeval Warm Period”, a time of unusually warm temperatures that allowed agriculture to develop across the area.

Viking populations flourished in many of their settlement sites for extended periods but in 1066 with the successful invasion of William The Conqueror, Viking influence effectively came to an end after nearly 273 years. This process was also assisted by the Scandinavian countries adopting Christianity, with the Viking culture gradually becoming absorbed into general European society.

Image: A section of the Bayeux tapestry depicting a Danish axe. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.