The Vikings came from three countries of Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The name ‘Viking’ comes from a language called ‘Old Norse’ and means ‘a pirate raid’. People who went off raiding in ships were said to be ‘going Viking’. Historically, the Viking era began with the attack on Lindisfarne monastery in AD 793, and ended with the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, when the English army successfully repelled the Viking invaders led by King Harald Hardrade.
The Vikings’ seaworthiness and impulsiveness led to the development of new areas along the Norwegian coast, westward to Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Shetland, Orkney, Scotland, Ireland and Greenland. The Norwegian Vikings also discovered Vinland, present-day America, long before Columbus.
Think of the Vikings and it’s not poetry, wood carving and storytelling that spring to mind, but colourful images of horned helmets, berserkers, longships, Valhalla, the one-eyed god Odin and men dying sword in hand or drinking out of skulls. And it’s true, the Vikings were pirates who came to plunder and kill, and they spread terror along Europe’s coasts. But their reputation is not entirely fair: They were not just ruthless warriors, but also skilled traders, administrators and craftsmen in metal and wood, producing beautiful jewellery and artefacts that survive to this day. They were courageous, cunning and had a fatalistic outlook which made them natural risk takers.
Viking raiding parties seem to have had an amazing ability to shrug off losses, whether in battle or in dangerous sea voyages. Many men were lost in battles in continental Europe, and in 876, the Vikings lost as many as 4,000 men and 120 ships in a great storm off the south English coast. There was also much infighting between Danish and Norwegian Viking bands, especially in Ireland, where losses were extremely high in relation to the Viking population. Despite all of this, their appetite for conquest and exploration remained high.
Odin (Old Norse inn) is a God and ruler of Asgard in Norse mythology. Odin is the most powerful God in Asgard and he lives in the house called Valaskialf. In this house Odin has a tall tower and in the top of the tower he has a throne called Hlidskialf, from here Odin can see throughout all the nine worlds.
Odin is associated with healing, death, royalty, wisdom, battle, sorcery, poetry, and the runic alphabet, but also the day ‘Wednesday’ is known as Odin’s day and he is thought to be “the leader of souls”. Odin looks like a sorcerer, and may have been an inspiration to Gandalf from J.R.R Tolkien’s books Lord of the Ring and the Hobbit. Odin is able to shapeshift just like Loki, into any animal shapes at will. Odin mostly speaks in phrases and riddles, and Odin’s voice is so soft that all who hear him speak think all he says is true. Odin can also just say a single word and blow out the flames of a fire, or tone down waves of the sea.
Sleipnir (Old Norse ‘Slippy’ or ‘The Sliding One’) is a gray eight legged horse, this horse is a magical horse, and the most beautiful of all horses. Sleipnir is the symbol of the wind, and has the marks of hell upon it. Sleipnir can just as easily gallop through the air as on land. Sleipnir was born by the God Loki when he shape-shifted into a mare and used the stallion of the giant builder to become pregnant. Sleipnir was later on given to Odin as a gift from Loki.
Thor (In Old Norse Þórr) is the almighty God of thunder in Norse mythology, he is the son of Odin and Fjörgyn.
Thor is associated with the day thursday which is named after him. He has red hair and a beard, and is also known to be very ill tempered. He is associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees and strength, Thor is the strongest of all the Gods and the protector of mankind in Midgard.
While Thor is the strongest of the Gods, he is not the smartest or the most wise of the Gods, and many giants tease or fool him as much as they can. When the giants make fun of him it makes him furious, and when Thor grabs his hammer Mjölnir while enraged, it makes loud noises with sparks and lightning. This makes the giants crumble in fear and sends chills down their spines. Thor loves to fight the giants, and with his hammer Mjölnir, his powerbelt Megingjörð and his iron gloves Járngreipr, he always has the upper hand.
One day Thor discovered that his hammer was missing, and Loki found that the Giant Thrym had stolen it. Thrym wanted to marry Freya in return for the hammer, but the goddess Freya loathed the idea. So it was decided that Thor would go to Thrym’s hall disguised as Freya. Thor took Loki with him. Thrym was astonished at how much
the bride ate and drank, but Loki told him “she” had not eaten or drunk for nine days in her anxiousness to join the Giants. Thrym then went to kiss his bride and was amazed that she had a red complexion and eyes that flashed fire. Again Loki explained she was feverish from lack of sleep in her joy at joining Thrym. In a hurry to get the marriage over with, Thrym ordered that the hammer be placed on the bride’s knees according to custom. Thor laughted in his heart, and having regained his hammer he struck all the Giants in the hall dead.
For centuries the secret of Viking success was their ships. To sail in them was to be a Viking. The Vikings built fast ships for raiding and war. These ships were ‘dragon-ships’ or ‘longships’. They were built from shaped, wooden planks held together with iron rivets and wooden frames. Any gaps were sealed with animal hair to make them waterproof. These ships meant they could sail all round Scandinavia, and then on to Ireland, England and Scotland, transporting people, animals, weapons and tools. It’s been estimated that in the case of the bigger vessels with crews of 70 men, to keep them going for a sailing season lasting four months would require the surplus from 460 farms. But not all Viking boats and ships were meant for sailing across the open ocean. Some Vikings used their vessels to sail up the mighty rivers in Russia and beyond. This would take them to the mysterious lands in the East, where they could find riches beyond their wildest dreams.
A dead person was buried or cremated (burned) with some of their belongings, to take into the next world. Some Viking chiefs were given ship-burials, with treasure, weapons, and favourite dogs and horses buried with them. Vikings believed that a warrior killed in battle went to Valhalla, a great hall where dead heroes feasted at long tables. Odin sent his warrior-maidens, the Valkyries, riding through the skies to bring dead warriors to Valhalla.
WHAT THE VIKINGS LEFT BEHIND…
Archaeologists find the remains of Viking houses, burial sites, treasure hoards, carvings on stones, and writing carved in runes. Vikings left their mark on Britain in other ways too, such as language, Lots of familiar English words originally came from the Vikings’ Norse language. Examples are ‘husband’, ‘egg’, ‘law’ and ‘knife’. Place names show where Vikings once lived. A place with a name ending in -by, -thorpe or -ay was almost certainly settled by Vikings. The Vikings also left behind many stories about real people, called ‘sagas’. Scotland has its own saga from the Viking Age, called ‘Orkneyinga Saga’ or ‘The History of the Earls of Orkney’.
The Vikings have earned their place in history as a seafaring warrior culture with a fine eye for design and a good ear for storytelling.