Many tourists who travel to Norway are eager to learn more about the history of the Vikings. And, we can’t blame them. The Vikings were fascinating, complex people. Although they are primarily known as fierce warriors, they also engaged in trade and transport across much of Europe and built incredibly advanced ships that fascinate historians to this day. Here is some of what we know about how and where the Vikings traveled during the late 8th to the 11th century.
The Viking Age
The Viking Age refers to the years 793 to 1066. The year 793 marks the beginning of the Viking Age as it is when the first recorded raid took place on the coast of Northumbria. The Vikings were skilled at building ships, sailing them and using their knowledge of the sun and the stars to navigate the sea. They would go on to raid and pillage a number of coastal communities in north-Western Europe during the next two centuries.
Although the popular image of the bloodthirsty and heartless warrior is what comes to mind for most when they think about Vikings, there is actually much more to their history than violence. In fact, the Vikings were heavily involved in trade across Europe. Their influence reached as far as Russia, Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. They were also great explorers and were among the first to cover uncharted territory in the Atlantic. Their exploration travels even took them as far as North America. The Vikings landed on the coast of North America about five centuries before Christopher Columbus.
In 866, the Vikings began to take hold of the four kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England: Mercia, Northumbria, East Anglia, and Wessex. Wessex avoided a total conquest by the Vikings but the three remaining kingdoms did not. The Vikings expanded their territory in the 9th century by capturing the Isle of Man and a number of Scottish islands.
The Welsh had a strong and skilled army and, as such, the Vikings were not able to gain total control Wales. Throughout history, the Welsh sometimes fought alongside the Vikings and other times sided with the Anglo-Saxons. Ireland was also never fully controlled by the Vikings although a number of regions within the country were.
Finally, Normandy has strong ties to Viking history as well. The Vikings used to travel on expeditions to France during the summer months to pillage the monasteries. Eventually, they began to stay for longer periods of time. Ultimately a powerful Viking leader, Count of Rouen, was able to negotiate a deal with the King of France in which the Vikings were granted control of the region that would become known as Normandy: the country of the Northmen.
Viking history comes to a peaceful and somewhat mysterious end. The Vikings eventually settled in Iceland, Greenland, and even what is now known as the province of Newfoundland in Canada. In Greenland, the Vikings found warmer temperatures and rich pastures able to sustain their stock. However, the Viking population eventually disappeared from Greenland and scientists continue to struggle to discover why. Initially, it was believed that incoming glaciers would have made the climate too cold for the Vikings, however, recent research shows that the Medieval warm period did not extend to Greenland. It is still unknown why the Viking population disappeared from Greenland, but alternative explanations include clashes with the Inuit people, the impact of the Black Plague, and soil erosion due to overgrazing.
The Vikings have a fascinating history that includes much more than just raids and pillages. From their incredibly advanced craftsmanship, contribution to trade and exploration of uncharted territory, the Vikings impacted European and North American history in substantial ways. A visit to Norway will give you plenty of opportunities to learn more about the Vikings, such as the Viking village in Gudvangen, the Viking Planet and Viking Ship museum in Oslo and the Viking House in Stavanger.
Find out more about the Vikings and how to "Go Viking" in Norway here!