Over 101 amazing facts about the notorious Norsemen.
It contains facts, photos and awesome videos that show us more about who the Vikings were, where they came from and how they were able to conquer Northern Europe.
The Vikings were Norse seafarers, speaking the Old Norse language, who from their homelands in Scandinavia raided, traded, explored, and settled in wide areas of Europe, Asia, and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the early or mid11th centuries.
Magnus Barelegs Viking Festival, Delamont Country Park, Killyleagh by Ardfern cc3.0
Coming from the Old Norse word which means “a pirate raid’, people who went off raiding in ships were said to be ‘going Viking’.
The Vikings employed wooden longships or dragonships with wide, shallow-draft hulls, allowing navigation in rough seas or in shallow river waters. The ships could be landed on beaches, and their light weight enabled them to be hauled over land when necessary.
The Gokstad Ship in the purpose-built Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen cc 3.0
The Old Norse feminine noun víking refers to an expedition overseas. It occurs in Viking Age runic inscriptions and in later medieval writings in set expressions such as the phrasal verb fara í víking, “to go on an expedition”. The derived Old Norse masculine noun víkingr appears in Viking-age skaldic poetry and on several rune stones found in Scandinavia, where it refers to a seaman or warrior who takes part in an expedition overseas.
The Icelandic Manuscript (about 1350) by GDK
In later texts, such as the Icelandic sagas, the phrase “to go on a viking” implies participation in raiding activity or piracy and not simply seaborne missions of trade and commerce.
The word víking was derived from the feminine vík, meaning “creek, inlet and small bay”. The form also occurs as a personal name on some Swedish rune stones. There is little indication of any negative connotation of the term before the end of the Viking Age.
The Vikings were known as Ascomanni, ashmen, by the Germans, Lochlannach (Norse) by the Gaels (Ireland) and Dene (Danes) by the Anglo-Saxons.
Between 850-1000 AD, the Vikings explored and invaded many different countries including the British Isles, France, Spain, Italy and North Africa. They also traveled west towards the North Atlantic where they discovered Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland.
The Explorers by hel-hama cc3.0
Many Vikings had nicknames, such as Keik (‘bent backwards’) or Vifil (‘beetle’).
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The Vikings came from three countries of Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
The Geo Location of Vikings by Max Naylor
The Viking age in European history was about AD 700 to 1100. During this period many Vikings left Scandinavia and traveled to other countries, such as Britain and Ireland. Some went to fight and steal treasure. Others settled in new lands as farmers, craftsmen or traders.
Most Vikings lived on farms, grew crops, raised farm animals, fished, and hunted. Farmers used iron tools, such as sickles and hoes. They grew oats, barley and wheat, and ground the grain to make flour, porridge and ale. They also planted vegetables such as onions, beans and cabbages.
Gods were an important part of Viking culture. The two main families of Viking gods were the Aesir Family (sky gods, or gods and goddesses of humankind) and the Vanir Family (earth Gods, or gods and goddesses of nature). The Vikings believed that these families were at war but eventually they made peace.
In Viking culture there were three main classes of people: the noblemen called Jarls, the middle class, free Vikings called Karls, and the slaves – called Thralls (þræll in Old Norse).
Vikings wrote with symbols that are called Runes. The word Rune means ‘secret’, ‘mystery’, or ‘whisper’, and the runic alphabet is traditionally referred to as futhark.
The Runic Inscriptions of the Imperative Vikinger Stone by Boeing720 cc 3.0
When a Viking died they were either buried with some of their belongings (it was believed they would need them in the afterlife) or they were burned. Warrior heroes were set sail to the afterlife in their burning ships as part of a fire funeral ritual.
Lindholm Hoje (Danmark) by Bunnyfrosch
Vikings’ farm animals included pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, horses, geese and chickens. They used manure from the animals to keep the soil fertile. In autumn, farmers killed some animals because there was not enough food to feed them all through winter.
Vikings were also very fond of trading, especially with their fellow Vikings. For example, Viking traders from Iceland sold dried fish to Vikings in Britain.
Before the discovery of porcelain and metal dish wares, Vikings used wooden tableware such as cups and spoons for their everyday meals.
Pigs and other domestic animals were killed in autumn in November (also known as ‘Bloodmonth’). Pig meat was smoked to make hams so it could last throughout the winter.
Vikings made vegetable dyes from plants to color their clothes: blue (from the woad plant), red (from madder) and yellow (from weld).
The Weld Plant – Source of Color (Yellow) by Lairich Rig cc2.0
Vegetables in Viking times were smaller than those we eat, more like wild plants. Viking carrots were dark-purple, not orange!
Married Viking women usually covered their hair with a scarf, but girls and single women went bare-headed.
Did you know that Vikings were not fond of using zippers? Women and men would usually fasten their clothes with thongs (ties) and brooches.
The family was very important to the Vikings. Most family possessions and heirlooms were kept in wooden chests, locked with padlocks.
Viking houses were built of wood, stone or blocks of turf, depending on local materials. The houses were long box-shapes with sloping thatched or turf roofs. Most houses had just one room for a family to share.
Reconstruction of a Viking house from the ring castle Fyrkat near Hobro, Denmark. by Malene Thyssen cc 3.0
Rich people’s farmhouses might have had a small entrance hall, a large main room, a kitchen, a bedroom and a store room. In a Viking town, houses were crowded close together along narrow streets.
There were no bathrooms in Viking homes. Most people probably washed in a wooden bucket, or at the nearest stream. Instead of toilets, people used cess-pits – holes dug outside for toilet waste. The pit was usually screened by a fence.
Vikings wore clothes similar to those of people in England, Scotland and Wales at that time. Men wore tunics and trousers. Women wore long dresses, with a kind of long apron. Clothes were made from wool, linen and animal skins.
The Very Beautiful and Cherished Clothes belonged to Vikings by Berig cc3.0
At a feast, guests drank ale and mead (a strong drink made from honey). People drank out of wooden cups or drinking horns (made from cow-horns).
Feasts were held to mark funerals and seasonal festivals, such as midwinter. Some feasts lasted over a week!
Jobs such as collecting wood for the fire, weaving cloth and baking bread took up a lot of time. Vikings did not have much furniture ̶ perhaps just a wooden table and benches for sitting on and sleeping on.
Most Viking men were all-around handymen, but some had special skills. For example, there were boat-builders, potters, leather-workers and smiths.
Most Viking men knew how to handle a boat. And most could fight if they had to, especially if it was to protect their family or to support their chieftain.
Viking women baked bread. They did spinning and weaving to turn sheep wool into cloth. They looked after the children, made the family’s clothes and cooked the two meals a day most families ate. On the farm, women milked the cows and made cheese.
Viking babies were given little Thor’s-hammer charms. The Vikings believed that it would protect them from evil spirits and sickness.
Vikings have the practice of naming their children after deceased relatives. Also, they do not use surnames as we understand them. A Viking boy usually took his father’s name. For example, Eric, son of Karl, would become Eric Karlsson. Girls often took the same name as their mother or grandmother.
Viking children did not go to school. They helped their parents at work, and learned Viking history, religion and law from spoken stories and songs, not from books. At about 10-12 years of age they were considered adults. It was common for a girl’s father to choose her husband for her.
Not everyone was free to come and go as he or she liked in a Viking society. Some people were slaves or ‘thralls’. Slaves did the hardest, dirtiest jobs. People could be born as slaves.
Viking men enjoyed swimming, wrestling and horse racing. In winter, people skated on frozen rivers, and used skis over the snow.
When the Vikings came to Britain, they had their own pagan religion. They worshiped many gods. The old stories they told about gods, giants and monsters are known as Norse myths.
In one story, Thor, the god of thunder, tried to prove his strength to the Giant King by attempting to lift a giant cat, but he could only lift one of its paws!
A shieldmaiden was a mythical name given to warrior woman. Evidence suggests that there were women warriors in the Viking era (although very rarely). Some experts suggest that Sela, Lathgertha, Hetha and Visna may well have been the names of warrior women.
Hervor – The Viking Shieldmaiden by Ranveig
The Viking people could read and write using a non-standardized alphabet, called runor, built upon sound values. While there are few remains of runic writing on paper from the Viking era, thousands of stones with runic inscriptions have been found where Vikings lived. The use of runor survived into the 15th century; it was used in parallel with Latin.
Runestone U 240, Vallentuna by Berig cc 3.0
Many runestones in Scandinavia record the names of participants in Viking expeditions—such as the Kjula Runestone, which tells of a man who participated in an extensive warfare in Western Europe, and the Turinge Runestone, which tells of a war band in Eastern Europe. Other runestones mention men who died on Viking expeditions.
The Jelling stones, found in the Danish town of Jelling, date from between 960 and 985. The older, smaller stone was raised by King Gorm the Old, the last pagan king of Denmark, as a memorial honouring Queen Thyre. The larger stone was raised by his son, Harald Bluetooth, to celebrate the conquest of Denmark and Norway and the conversion of the Danes to Christianity.
Rune Stones At Jelling After Building Glass Houses To Protect Them by Alicudi cc3.0
Runestones attest to voyages in locations such as Bath (Somerset, South West England), Greece, Khwaresm (Western Central Asia), Jerusalem, Italy (as Langobardland), London, Serkland (i.e. the Muslim world), and various locations in Eastern Europe. Inscriptions from the Viking Age have also been discovered on the Manx runestones on the Isle of Man, located in the Irish Sea.
The Vikings built fast ships for raiding and war. These ships were ‘dragon-ships’ or ‘longships’.
The Smart Ships by Vikings “Morąg” by archiwum własne wikingów
Knarrs (or knorrs in Old Norse) were the Vikings’ slower passenger and cargo ships. They also built small boats for fishing or short trips.
Model Knar by Europabid cc3.0
Viking longships could sail in shallow water, enabling them to travel up rivers as well as across the sea. In a raid, a ship could be hauled up on a beach. The Vikings could jump out and start fighting, and then make a quick getaway if they were chased.
A Viking ship was usually built beside a river or an inlet of the sea. A tall oak tree was cut to make the keel. The builders cut long planks of wood for the sides, and shorter pieces for supporting the ribs and cross-beams. They used wooden pegs and iron rivets to fasten the wooden pieces together.
Overlapping the side planks, known as ‘clinker-building’, made the ship very strong. People stuffed animal wool and sticky tar from pine trees into every joint and crack in order to keep out the water.
A Viking ship had one big square rigged sail made of woven wool. In some ships, the mast for the sail could be folded down. When there was not enough wind for the sail, the men rowed with long wooden oars.
To steer the ship, one man worked a big steering oar at the back end, or stern. At the curved front end of the ship was a carved wooden figure-head.
A dragon-ship had room for between 40 and 60 oarsmen. The men slept and ate on deck. There was some space below deck for stores, but no cabins.
The Dragon-Head Sorts of Ship by Museum of Cultural History cc3.0
Two of the most famous Viking Ships, the Gokstad and the Oseberg, were found by archaeologists working in Norway. The Gokstad ship was dug up on a farm in 1880 while the Oseberg ship was found on another farm in 1904-1905. Both ships were buried in Viking funerals between AD 800 and 900 and are now in the Viking Ship museum in Oslo, Norway.
In 1893, a copy of the Gokstad ship sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Norway to America. The Gokstad ship is 23 meters (76 ft.) long and 5 meters (17 ft.) wide and was big enough for 32 oarsmen with 16 oars each side. It contained 64 wooden shields, painted either black or yellow.
The Viking’s Very Smart Ship – Gokstad by Karamell cc2.5
The dead chieftain in the Gokstad ship was buried with three small boats and a sledge.
When rowing, Vikings probably sat on their ‘sea-chests’, which were wooden boxes with their belongings inside.
Viking ships could sail at about 18 km/h (10 mph). The steering oar was on the right-hand or ‘starboard’ side of the ship. The Sea Stallion is a replica Viking ship built to recreate voyages from Denmark to Ireland.
The Viking warriors’ shields would edge the outer sides of the longships. This ensured that they were stored effectively, were ready for use and buffeted the ship against waves. They were made of wood and covered with leather. Many shields had an iron rim and they were held with a grip on the reverse side.
Viking Longswords by Viciarg cc3.0
A Viking warrior equipped for attack would be armed with a shield, a small battle axe, a helmet, protective clothing and frequently, a sword or spear. Weapons were made with iron and wood.
Authentic spear and shield 7th century Anglian warrior by Antony McCallum cc3.0
The most popular weapon during the Viking age was an axe. Made with heavy sharp blades, they could easily smash through helmets or sever limbs.
One of the Two Viking axes found in Western Norway by Chaosdruid
Some spears were used to thrust into victims, while lighter ones were thrown. Spears were the preferred weapon for poorer warriors as swords and axes were very costly.
Swords were considered the “heroes’ weapon”. They were usually a prized possession and good ones were sometimes given names such as ‘Fierce’ and ‘Leg Biter’. Most swords were double edged and they often had a central long groove which made them lighter.
When the sword was not being used it was carried attached to a leather belt or baldric (shoulder strap). Swords were often passed on from father to son or buried with the warrior when he died.
We often see Viking helmets depicted with wings but actually, these did not exist in the Viking period. Helmets with horns did exist but only for religious ceremonies and not for warfare as is sometimes portrayed.
Viking helmet from Kultuhistorisk Museum by Jeblad cc3.0
Warrior helmets were made of leather or metal, some Viking helmets were round, some slightly pointed and some helmets had eye guards and nose pieces.
Only one complete Viking age Helmet has ever been found. It was found on a farm called Gjermundbu in Ringerike, Norway. Experts suggest that helmets were passed on through families for generations, then reused or recycled and turned into swords. This is why complete helmets are particularly hard to find.
The quality of a warrior’s protective clothing depended on his status and wealth. Richer warriors had heavy tunics made of iron rings or chain-mail, while poorer warriors had padded leather jackets
The Viking Age is the period from June 793 A.D. to September 1066 A.D in European history, specifically in Northern European and Scandinavian history, following the Germanic Iron Age. It is the period of history when Scandinavian Norsemen explored Europe by its seas and rivers for trade, raids and conquest.
During the Viking Age, the Vikings also settled in Norse Greenland and Newfoundland, and present-day Faroe Islands, Iceland, Normandy, Scotland, Ireland, Russia and Anatolia.
A map of all Viking towns in Scandinavia by Sven Rosborn cc3.0
In England, the Viking Age began on the 8th of June in 793 when Vikings destroyed the abbey on Lindisfarne, a center of learning that was famous across the continent. Monks were killed in the abbey, thrown into the sea to drown, or carried away as slaves along with the church treasures.
The Vikings sailed most of the North Atlantic, reaching south to North Africa and east to Russia, Constantinople and the Middle East, as looters, traders, colonists, and mercenaries.
Nicholas Roerich “Guests from Overseas
Vikings under Leif Eriksson, heir to Erik the Red, reached North America, and set up a short-lived settlement in present-day L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Longer, more established settlements were formed in Greenland, Iceland, Great Britain, and Normandy.
Viking expansion was said to be a quest for retaliation against continental Europeans for their previous invasions of Viking homelands, such as Charlemagne’s campaign to force Scandinavian pagans to convert to Christianity by killing any who refused to become baptized.
Another reason for the Viking expansion is that the Viking population had grown too large to be fed from the land they possessed. This may have been true of western Norway, where there were few reserves of land.
The end of the Viking Age is traditionally marked in England by the failed invasion attempted by the Norwegian king Harald III (Haraldr Harðráði). He was defeated by Saxon King Harold Godwinson in 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
The Battle of Stamford Bridge by Illustratedjc PD-Art
Godwinson was subsequently defeated within a month by another Viking descendant, William, Duke of Normandy (Normandy had been conquered by Vikings in 911).
Scotland took its present form when it regained territory from the Norse between the 13th and the 15th centuries. The Western Isles and the Isle of Man remained under Scandinavian authority until 1266. Orkney and Shetland belonged to the king of Norway as late as 1469.
Throughout the Viking Age, there were many battles between the Vikings and the English. In the 9th century, the English king Alfred the Great stopped the Vikings from taking over all of England.
Harald III of Norway
In the 10th century the English reconquered much of the land held by Vikings. They drove out Eric Haraldsson, also known as Eric Bloodaxe, the last Viking king of Jorvik (York) in 954. After Eric was killed in battle, the Vikings in England agreed to be ruled by England’s king.
Scandinavian Vikings were the first Europeans to reach America. Explorer Leif Eriksson and his crew reached America around 1000AD, 400 years before Christopher Columbus. Experts estimate that Leif Eriksson and his crew sailed a distance of approximately 11,000 km (7,000 miles) to reach America.
Blair A’Bhuailte, site of the Vikings’ last stand in Skye by Sarah Charlesworth cc2.0
Leif Eriksson was probably born in 970 and he lived for about 50 years. He was a Norse explorer who apparently reached North America around the year 1000. Leif Eriksson’s exploits are known through the Icelandic Sagas of the 13th century.
Leif “the Lucky” Eriksson was the son of Erik the Red, the colonizer of Greenland. He grew up in Greenland but he visited Norway around 999, 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 instead.
Erik the Red discovered Greenland and established the first European settlement in the New World there.
Born as Erik Thorvaldsson, in Norway in the mid-10th century, Erik the Red descended from Viking chieftains. He went to Iceland as a child when his father was banished from Norway.
Erik himself settled at Brattahlid (Tunigdliarfik) in Greenland, where he died sometime after year 1000. The Christian church built by Eric’s wife at Brattahlid was excavated by Danish archaeologists in 1962.
Gardar (Garthar) Svavarsson, a Swedish Viking, is widely believed to be the first person to both circumnavigate and live in Iceland.
The painting of Viking Garoar Svavarsson is by Lithuanian artist Arturas Slapsys cc3.0
A famous Viking warrior, Ingvar the Far-Travelled, led an unsuccessful Viking attack against Persia from 1036 AD through 1042 AD. There are some twenty six Runestones that mention Ingvar and the Swedish Viking warriors who accompanied him on his expeditions.
Ragnar Lodbrok (Ragnar HairyBreeches) was a legendary Norse ruler and hero and was very popular amongst the ancient Norse people. For a short period of time, he was king of Denmark and a large part of Sweden. He was famed for his raid of Paris in 845 AD. After being caught in a storm and shipwrecked on the English shore, he was captured and put to death supposedly by being thrown into a pit of vipers.
Rayner Lothbroc and Kraka by August Malmstrom
One of the most famous female Vikings, Sigrid “the Haughty”, was famed for standing up to King Olaf of Norway and refusing to convert to Christianity. Sigrid was able to avoid the proposed marriage of King Olaf and eventually helped form an alliance among the king’s enemies that would bring about his downfall.
Also known as Thorfinn the Valiant, Thorfinn Karlsefni was one of the first Vikings to sail to and settle in North America. He and approximately one hundred and sixty other Norse settlers landed in the New World sometime between the years 1004 AD and 1010 AD.
Thorfinn Karlsefni by Einar Jonsson cc1.0
Ivar Ragnarrson, also called Ivar the Boneless, was the disabled son of Ragnar Lodbrok. Despite his infirmities, he was able to conquer York! Although he was always carried on a shield, Ivar had a reputation of being a berserker and a conqueror.