The Vikings were venturesome seafarers and raiders from Scandinavia who spread through Europe and the North Atlantic in the period of vigorous Scandinavian expansion (800-1000 a.C.), known as the Viking Age. From Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, they appeared as traders, conquerors, and settlers in Finland, Russia, Byzantium, France, England, the Netherlands, Iceland and Greenland.

For many centuries before the year 800, such tribes as the Cimbrians, Goths, Vandals, Burgundians, and Angles had been wandering out of Scandinavia. The Vikings were different because they were sea warriors and because they carried with them a civilization that was in some ways more highly developed than those of the lands they visited. Scandinavia was rich in iron, which seems to have stimulated Viking cultural development. Iron tools cleared the forests and plowed the lands, leading to a great increase in population. Trading cities such as Birka and Hedeby appeared and became the centers of strong local kingdoms. The Viking ship, with its flexible hull and its keel and sail, was far superior to the overgrown rowboats still used by other peoples. Kings and chieftains were buried in ships, and the rich grave goods of these and other burial sites testify to the technical expertise of the Vikings in working with textiles, stone, gold and silver, and specially iron and wood. The graves also contain Arab silver, Byzantine silks, Frankish weapons, Rhenish glass, and other products of an extensive trade. In particular, the silver kufic (or cufic) coins that flowed into the Viking lands from the caliphate further stimulated economic growth. Viking civilization flourished with its Skaldic Literature and eddic poetry, its runic inscriptions (which were also a mysterious and religious handwriting system), its towns and markets, and, most of all, its ability to organize people under law to achieve a common task -- such as an invasion.

Expansion was apparently propelled by the search for new trading opportunities and new areas in which to settle the growing population. By the end of the 8th century, Swedish Vikings were already in the lands around the Gulf of Finland, Danish Vikings were establishing themselves along the Dutch coast, and Norwegian Vikings had colonized the Orkney and Shetland islands, in the north of Scotland.

During the 9th century they expanded beyond these three bases, arriving first as rapacious raiders (looting the treasures of monasteries, for example, and capturing slaves for sale in the Middle East) but soon establishing themselves on a more permanent basis. Swedes called Rus or Varangians established fortified cities at Novgorod (Russia) and then at Kiev (Ukraine), creating the first Russian State (Rurik dynasty), and traded down the great rivers of Russia to Byzantium and Persia. Norwegian Vikings established kingdoms in Ireland, where they founded Dublin about 840, and in northwestern England. They settled Iceland and colonized Greenland in the 10th century and founded the short-lived North American colony called Vinland in the early 11th century. Great armies of Danes and Norwegians conquered the area called the Danelaw in England, overthrowing all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms except King Alfred's Wessex. They attacked cities in France, Germany, the Low Countries, and Spain and, in 911, seized control of Normandy in France, where their descendants became known as the Normans.

After conquering and settling foreign lands, the Vikings came under the cultural influence of the conquered peoples. Originally pagan worshippers of Thor and Odin, many became Christians, and during the 10th century they brought Christianity back to Scandinavia.

The process of conquest slackened during the 10th century as civil wars raged in Scandinavia. Out of these wars emerged powerful new kingdoms with great new fortresses, including Trelleborg in Denmark. Soon armies of a renewed Viking age were sailing forth. In 1013, Sweyn of Denmark conquered all of England. His son, Canute, built an empire that included England, Denmark and Norway.

By the second half of the 11th century, however, the emergence of stronger political systems and stronger armies in Europe, the development of new types of ships, and the redirection of military endeavor by the Crusades brought the Viking age to an end.

Leif Eriksson

Leif Eriksson, c. 970-1020, was a Norse explorer who apparently reached North America about the year 1000. His exploits are known through the Icelandic Sagas of the 13th century. Leif the Lucky was the son of Erik the Red, the colonizer of Greenland. He grew up in Greenland but c.999 visited Norway, where he was converted to Christianity. According to one saga, he was then commissioned by King Olaf I to convert the Greenlanders to Christianity, but he was blown off course, missed Greenland, and reached North America.

The other saga, more probable version describes Leif sailing on a planned voyage to lands to the west of Greenland that had been sighted 15 years earlier by Bjarne Herjulfsson. He landed at places called Helluland and Markland and wintered at Vinland. These may well have been Baffin Island, Labrador, and Newfoundland (Canada), respectively, but historians differ in their identifications of the sites. Leif went back to Greenland, but an expedition led by Thorfinn Karlsefni returned to settle Vinland. Leif may well have helped to christianize Greenland.


A. Give the meaning of the following words:

a) viking

b) warrior

c) sailboat

d) loot (verb)

e) venturesome

f) settle (verb)

B. Write a composition in which you imagine one of the Viking trips to far lands. You can also make use of the true Viking Leif Eriksson, according to his description given above.