about 300 years, from before the year 800 until almost the 11th
century, the Scandinavians are highly conspicuous in their efforts
to gain new lands. Scandinavian hosts establish themselves in the
West and the East, they are in evidence in the Frankish area, they
ravage the coasts of the Mediterranean, and they feel at home in
Constantinople in the Emperor’s Court. It is a Scandinavian time
of expansion, which has its counterpart in the British expansions in
the 18th and 19th centuries when the British visited the coasts of
the oceans of the world in large or small groups.
can only guess at the underlying reasons for these Scandinavian
naval expeditions and migrations. We must imagine that the
settlement and cultivation of Scandinavia had gone so far that many
young men found it too toilsome and unrewarding to clear new land,
when the sea could take them to rich countries. In addition to that
the population growth must also have played a part. And as the
powerful kings increased their areas, the importance of the small
kings and chieftains were gradually diminished. Their sons were the
born leaders on these fantastic Viking raids, and there were always
plenty of courageous young warriors willing to sally forth.
a long time the Scandinavians had been famed for their skill in
building ships which were long, narrow, light vessels propelled by
oars. They had masts and sails, but only as subordinate propelling
the very early Viking raids and trading expeditions to Friesland
very probably followed the coasts and never lost sight of land, we
see in the heyday of the Viking Period around the 9th
century that Scandinavian seafarers venture on to the open sea and
suddenly appear in distant lands. At first they show up in small
groups robbing cattle and plundering a farm or two or a monastery
close to the coast. Soon, however, they unite in larger and larger
numbers, and every summer they go ravaging along the coasts. Now and
again they rob horses and venture into the countryside on
expeditions lasting several days. When winter comes, they do not all
return home, some decide to winter for instance on an island in an
estuary, and the following spring they continue their practices. At
last we see them arrive in big fleets and land huge armies that stay
on in the country. They fight on from year to year and end up
subjugating entire kingdoms. From their native countries still more
ships keep arriving with more warriors. Often women and children
the end of the 10th century the Scandinavians have settled and now
rule extensive areas far removed from their origins. We come across
them as masters far away on the Eastern European steppes and in most
of the British Isles, in Iceland, and soon also in the estuaries of
the Seine. All the peoples along the European coasts fear the
dragon-stemmed Viking ships with the raven banners.
The preferred weapons of the Vikings were the
broad-bladed battleaxes which
only they used. The sword was very much used as a war weapon and was
often of high quality. Many swords came from the Rhineland because
of their high quality.
The Viking helmets were
made of metal.
The Viking shields were made of wood, reinforced with iron and
decorated with paint.
is not always easy to determine from which area of Scandinavia a
specific Viking army came. The victims from whose chronicles we must
gather our knowledge had a hard time distinguishing among the
various Scandinavian tribes as they spoke the same language. It is
evident that the hosts that went East to the countries of the Finns
and the Slavs came from Svealand (Sweden).
Likewise it is quite likely that especially the islands in the North
Sea were the goals for Norwegian ships, but there has been much
doubt as to the origins of the armies that went to Britain and the
Frankish Kingdom. The chronicle writers seem to call the foreigners
Danes and Normans quite haphazardly, and at any rate the two names
are ambiguous. “Normans” originally means “men from Norway.”
“Danes” is in actual fact the name of the people of Denmark, but
as they were both the nearest and mightiest of all the Scandinavian
people, it is probable that many Frankish scribes have used
“Danes” because they could not differentiate. It is also quite
likely that the Danish hosts have included people from Viken in
Norway and Visigoths from Svealand. The largest number of Vikings
came from Denmark and its neighbouring areas, but the Viking Raids
did not start from there.
day around the year 790 the inhabitants on the north coast of
Britain saw sails appear on the sea. Foreign ships were heading for
shore and wild warriors set foot on the coast. The Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle says that there were three ships from Hæreqaland, which
must mean Hørdaland, the well known west Norwegian region, which in
those days was called Haruqaland. The Viking Raids started off from
this area close to the sea, which was second nature to them, and
they moved effortlessly at sea.
west of Hardanger Fiord, only a few days’ sailing away, the cliffs
of the Shetland Islands rise from the sea. And from there the way
lies open to the Orkney Islands in the south, to the shores of
Scotland, and on to Ireland.
the Danes and other tribes also moving along the coasts of the North
Sea found their way to the Anglo Saxon and Irish kingdoms, the
Vikings from western Norway crossed the open sea on their way to the
same regions. The Norwegians and the Danes did not stop there. They
sailed through the English Channel and farther south through the
Strait of Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean.
ancestors were now introduced to quite a different and varied world.
They ravaged many different peoples with highly different cultural
traits, and they learned a lot. The Scandinavian people have played
an active part in their lives , but were influenced even more
themselves by the Mediterranean cultures.