The mere mention of the word “Vikings” conjures up a violent image where big bearded men chase down helpless foes with an even bigger axe. To provide an easy mental representation, a quick look at the 2013 television series “Viking” episode guide shows us how most popular culture portrays the Vikings.
The following are the episode synopsis quoted from IMDb which give us an insight to the Vikings.
The amount of violence in just nine episodes is just startling. This is just but one misconception about the Vikings.With popular culture creating a “Single story” moment for us, who exactly are the Viking?
Who are Vikings?
According to Wiles (2016), many Vikings hailed from the country Scandinavia (Modern day Norway, Denmark and Sweden) from the late 8th century to the early 11th century. To be more specific, the group of people commonly known to us as Viking are more aptly called Norseman. The word Viking was derived from the Scandinavian term “vikingr” which is loosely translate to the word “Pirate” in our modern times. Viking would be Norsemen who would take some time off their job to go on sea expedition, either to trade or to partake in a raid. Thus, Goodrich (2016) pointed out that not all Norsemen are Vikings but all Vikings are Norsemen. That is to say, a Norseman is a nationality while being a Viking is an occupation.
Although notorious for being the perpetrator of many violent raids against coastal towns, many Norsemen actually had their peaceful roots in agriculture, metalwork, fishing and trading.
Agriculture was an important aspect Norsemen’s lifestyle. Even Vikings were part-time farmers. Using loots obtained from raids, many Vikings were wealthy enough to be able to buy large quantity of crop and livestock. According to BBC, Crops commonly grown in Scandinavia are Oats, wheats and especially barley, which is used to make their favourite ale. They also grew vegetables like onions, beans and cabbage. Life on a Viking Farm also mentioned that most Norsemen rear pigs, sheeps, goats, cows, chickens and geese. When Viking men went away on an expedition, the woman of the house tend to the farm. This has made women in extremely powerful in Norse’s culture.
During their expedition, their knowledge brought expertise and methods to the UK, where ideal farmland for crops was aplenty, helping implement new strategies increase productivity and efficiency, as well as diversified crops, including rye, barley, and emmer wheat. These made British farmers more capable, becoming influential in agricultural development in the UK, important to the industry as well.
Craftsmanship & Art
As highlighted by Gowling (n.d.), Viking are a race of aggressive warriors and sailors who move from place to place. Thus rather than being extravagant like the Greeks, Norse art tends to be more practical and portable. This is evident in their decorative body armour and paddles. Their art displays creativeness, high level of skillfulness and quality. Early Viking art focused on jewellery and weapons. There were different types of jewelleries varying from small to extravagant lavish pieces or sets in solid gold while later they are known for their silver-work and runestones. Archaeologist have recovered many preserved precious metal objects from the Viking graves which proved the excellent durability of their metalwork.
Construction was, indeed, highly advanced for the Vikings. This is evident in when the Vikings had conquered Jorvik. They then rebuilt Jorvik into a better state of construction. The Vikings certainly assisted in developing new and more effective techniques in construction, and spread them, a vital step to developing architecture.
According to Importance of Norwegian Fishing to the Vikings (2015), and Butler (2014), archaeological evidences from waste dump in several Viking town has shown that in some part of Scandinavia, seafood were staple diet of Norsemen. Vikings spent much time away from land(no LandLubbers here!), so fish were, as such, a huge part of their sustenance. These included herring, plentiful then, and prepared in countless fashions, be it dried, smoked, pickled, or even preserved in sour whey.
And as highlighted by Sarah (n.d.), evidence in the Sagas, such as the Laxdæla saga (ch. 14), which does seem to suggest significance to fishing in that era, takes note of a fishing station, known as Bjarneyjar, where the author explains that people thronged there, and that it was always occupied, throughout the year.
Trading and Exploration
According to Viking Ships (2016), due to Norsemen’s skill in building high-quality ships, many of them were able to go on long expedition within a shorter period of time. As it takes a huge amount of resources to upkeep an expedition, an expedition completed in a shorter amount were considered a boon. Viking’s ships were considered a technological marvel at that period of time. Made to be extremely streamlined to reduce drag, Vikings’ ships were powered by both wind (through sails) and human power (through oars). This enabled the Vikings to have superior naval maneuverability as they are able to access part of the seas where winds were calm. This ship set the stage for seaborne travel, the mighty fleets of Britannia owe their existence to their old ancestors, do they not? #HailBritannia
As mentioned by Lemonick & Dorfman (2000), Vikings started their trading locally, concentrating on areas around Scandinavia through the Baltic sea. Through their prowess in ship-building, many Vikings slowly expanded. Evidence of Vikings can be found as far as Britain, Rome and Russia. Further archaeological study on a Swedish Viking grave also yielded Buddhist artifact from Northern India, strengthening the possibility that the Viking may have even made contact with the Asian.
Lands discovered by Viking
Due to their naval prowess, new lands were often discovered and colonized. One example being Iceland. Discovered in 861 by a Viking named Naddod, the land was later a place of refuge in 870 for many seeking safety from Norwegian ruler Harold Fairhair, who had chased them out of Britain. Later on in 930, around 10,000 Vikings were known to reside there.
Eric the Red discovered Greenland in 982, and three years later many joined him on the island. His son, Leifr, later found ‘Vinland', named due to the plentiful grapes Leifr found suitable for making wine. This ‘Vinland’ turned out to be North America, making the Vikings the first to discover the continent.
To the east, in Russia, the 850s-860s saw the founding of city states, including Kiev and Novgorod, and is significant due to the possibility that without the Vikings, these lands would remain undiscovered till today, and so civilization would not have been as prone to developing there.
With the discovery of new countries and continents comes the discovery of newer and efficient trade routes. Some were as far as to Russia, the Middle-East, Northern India, and even China, which then linked with routes closer to home. In Europe, Trade routes down the Volga and Dnepropetrovsk were pioneered, opening routes to the Byzantines, at the same time trading with the Francs and Baltics.
Their trade across the world plays a crucial aspect in creating longstanding relations with other nations, ensuring resource-sharing between various countries, allowing mutual profit. These relations allowed the Viking nations to benefit from a more liquid assets to invest in their nations. Without the Vikings, our relations today with other nations may be weaker than they are today, as well as having slower development as a whole.
Due to their presence in various part of the World through conquest or trade, the economies were completely changed. The previously lavish markets became more focus on merchants leading the economy, leading to people being the center of economies instead of the government. This then increase accessibility to more goods, which allows more people to be merchants and engage in market trading. Market towns, offering employment to a plethora of people, and implementing an idea of currency, was established by the Vikings. This developed the economies in conquered nations, and set the stage for international trade. The idea of currency, if not implemented, would not allow us the modern world we live in.
(The Vikings, n.d.)
Lemonick & Dorfman (2000) stated that somewhere in the late 8th century, The Vikings founded a more efficient way of obtaining luxurious good such as Gold. Using their superior maneuverability on the sea, the Vikings targeted monasteries situated on the coasts of Britain, Ireland and mainland Europe. Not only were these monasteries wealthy, many of them were poorly defended and hence easy target for raid. This then begin the reign of Viking’s terror and also probably the time when people thought of the Vikings as a barbaric and vicious aggressors.
In these ways, the Vikings were an immeasurably important part of our history, significant in our civilisation as a whole, be it the English vocabulary, maritime technology, or even art, all of which, without the Vikings, would have been far different in our era. To that end, we have their culture still present in modern Scandinavian countries, such as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, that still host Viking festivals every year! We believe that the Vikings do not deserve their title as just a barbaric raider and their cultures deserve their place in history as important landmarks, as well as being the first Europeans to set foot in the New World, America.
Butler, S. (2014, February 21). The Surprisingly Sufficient Viking Diet. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/the-surprisingly-sufficient-viking-diet
Goodrich, R. (2016, April 20). Viking History: Facts & Myths. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/32087-viking-history-facts-myths.html
Gowling. L. (n.d.). Viking Art (c.700-1150). Retrieved from http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/ancient-art/viking.htm
Importance of Norwegian Fishing to the Vikings. (2015, April 10). Retrieved from http://www.danishnet.com/vikings/importance-norwegian-fishing-vikings/
Lemonick. M., & Dorfman. A. (2000, May 08). The Amazing Vikings. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,996836-2,00.html
Life on a Viking Farm. (2014, June 20). Retrieved from http://www.historyonthenet.com/vikings/life-on-a-viking-farm.html
Nix, E. (2013, March 20). Did Vikings really wear horned helmets? Retrieved from http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/did-vikings-really-wear-horned-helmets
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2306299/parentalguide
Sarah. H. (n.d.). Hurstwic: Food, Diet, and Nutrition in the Viking Age. Retrieved from http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/food_and_diet.htm
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Viking ships. (2016, September 19). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viking_ships
Wiles, B. K. (2016, May 18). Who are the Vikings? Retrieved from http://www.historytoday.com/kate-wiles/who-are-vikings