The Vikings (meaning "northmen") were the last of the barbarian tribes
called Germans by the Romans to terrorize Europe. Spreading out from their
homelands in Scandinavia, they struck suddenly across the seas from their
dragon boats (called such because of the dragon heads carved on the bow and
They began by raiding, pillaging, and withdrawing before any serious
armed resistance could be mounted, but they gradually grew more bold.
Eventually they occupied and settled significant parts of Europe.
pagan, they did not hesitate to kill churchmen and loot church holdings, and
they were feared for their ruthlessness and ferocity. At the same time, they
were remarkable craftsmen, sailors, explorers, and traders.
homelands were Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. They and their descendants
controlled, at least temporarily, most of the Baltic Coast, much of inland
Russia, Normandy in France, England, Sicily, southern Italy, and parts of
Palestine. They discovered Iceland in 825 (Irish monks were there already)
and settled there in 875. They colonized Greenland in 985.
Some people think
that the Vikings reached Newfoundland and explored part of North America 500
years before the voyage of Columbus. Vikings began raiding and then settling
along the eastern Baltic Sea in the sixth and seventh centuries. At the end
of the eighth century, they were making long raids down the rivers of modern
Russia and setting up forts along the way for defense.
In the ninth century,
they were ruling Kiev and in 907 a force of 2000 ships and 80,000 men
attacked Constantinople. They were bought off by the emperor of Byzantium
with very favorable terms of trade. Vikings struck first in the West in the
late eighth century. Danes attacked and looted the famous island monastery
at Lindisfarne on the northeast coast of England, beginning a trend.
size and frequency of raids against England, France, and Germany increased
to the point of becoming invasions. Settlements were established as bases
for further raids. Viking settlements in northwestern France came to be
known as Normandy ("from the northmen"), and the residents were called
In 865 a large Danish army invaded England, and they went on to
hold much of England for the next two centuries. One of the last kings of
all England before 1066 was Canute, who ruled Denmark and Norway
simultaneously. In 871 another large fleet sailed up the Seine River to
attack Paris. They besieged the city for two years before being bought off
with a large cash payment and permission to loot part of western France
In 911 the French king made the Viking chief of Normandy a duke
in return for converting to Christianity and ceasing to raid. From the Duchy
of Normandy came a remarkable series of warriors, including William I, who
conquered England in 1066, Robert Guiscard and his family, who took Sicily
from the Arabs between 1060 and 1091, and Baldwin I, king of the crusader
kingdom of Jerusalem. Viking raids stopped at the end of the tenth century.
Denmark, Sweden, and Norway had become kingdoms, and much of their king's
energy was devoted to running their lands.
The spread of Christianity
weakened the old pagan warrior values, which died out. The Norse were also
absorbed by the cultures into which they had intruded. The occupiers and
conquerors of England became English, the Normans became French, and the Rus