What Is A Viking

Viking horse riders

The Word Viking

The word Viking means a pirate, and the noun Viking means a pirate raid. It's a Scandinavian word describing the seafaring raiders from Scandinavia, but has come to mean all Scandinavians in the viking age between 800 and 1050 AD. If you walked up to somebody at that time and told him or her that he or she was a viking they'd have no idea what you were talking about and probably tell you that somebody in their family or among their friends had gone off on a raid and that they were vikings.


Vikings lived in or came from what today is called Scandinavia or the Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Norway and Sweden. During the viking age Norwegian vikings settled in Ireland, Iceland, Greenland and even had a camp in Wineland, today's Newfoundland. Danish vikings settled in France, England and Ireland and became life guards to the emperor in Constantinoble, today's Istanbul. Swedish vikings sailed the rivers that end in the Baltic Sea, mainly in today's Russia.

Viking tents in a viking camp

Social Structure

The society was hierarchic: A king, below him the chieftains and heads of clans, below them the free farmers and their families, and at the bottom of society the slaves. Slaves were usually brought back as war prisoners or from viking raids, having been abducted during attacks. Slaves were quite valuable commodities, you didn't just kill a slave for fun, they were too valuable parts of the daily activities of the farm. During the viking age kings rarely if ever lived in a castle, they had a royal farm on which they lived and from which they ruled. Viking ship with the oars out rowing into a harbor Vikings were first and foremost farmers, secondarily tradesmen with widespread trade routes and trade connections, and thirdly raiders of towns, churches and monasteries throughout Europe. Vikings thought that it was a crying shame to let large sums of money and valuables lie around untouched, they should be used in trade and the economy in general - and the vikings put the money and valuables acquired from their viking raids back into active circulation, giving much of Europe a positive economic boost.

Viking Colonization

There was only so much space in Scandinavia, and only one son could inherit the family farm. What were the other sons to do? One choice was to emigrate - to set sail and go looking for new land where they could settle. This is why the vikings travelled so far into unknown areas, they wanted to find good farming land to settle on. Should they happen to pass a monastery or convent on the way, offering additional riches and slaves to help in the settlement process then so much the better.


Viking Denmark was divided into 200 burroughs. Each burrough was obligated to send a number of horsemen when the king needed them, and required to have and maintain a viking ship and a crew, usually of about 40 men, ready as their share of the defensive forces of Viking Denmark. A viking attack with warriors storming the enemy The king could send for them whenever the kingdom was at war, or every 4 years in peacetime, for military maneuvers or to work on larger projects. The king alone decided whether the men sent should be used for military or civilian purposes. When Viking King Gotfred went to meet the West Roman Emperor Charles in Hedeby in 804 AD he sent for the entire army, and 200 viking ships lay in wait for the emperor. However, Emperor Charles learned of this on the way and decided to return to his court in Aachen, avoiding any direct combat between forces from Viking Denmark and The West Roman Empire. Both Emperor Charles and King Gotfred are described by sources at the time as very self centered if not megalomanic - the premature return of the emperor probably saved thousands of lives and the emperor a lot of embarassment.

Viking warriors waiting to go into battle

Each viking was responsible for his own equipment when going to war or on a raid, there was no such thing as a common uniform. A viking's uniform was whatever he could afford, what he could fight well in and what he thought he looked good in. It often included chain mail for body protection and a cap or helmet. Note that viking helmets did not have horns on them. The only persons who put horns on their helmets were chieftains or kings, a regular foot soldier wouldn't dream of it. A male viking always had a sword, an ax and a knife on him at all times for his personal defence. When going to war or on a raid, equipment like shields, spears and bows and arrows was added.


A viking blacksmith at work

Viking mythology is quite complex. Earth was created by the corpse of a giant named Ymer, the sea and water is the giant's blood, the giant's scull is the heavens, his brains the clouds and his bones and bone splinters became rocks and stones. The way you die decide where you go in the afterlife until Armageddon: If you die in battle you go to Valhal (Val means fallen warrior, Hal means hall) where you join in daily fights with your peers, followed by giant feasts with all the meat and beer or mead you can handle. If you die of disease or of old age you go to Hel, a dark, cold, miserable place where people are always hungry. Those being the alternatives, who wouldn't want to die in battle?

Stone Ship with the Glavendrup Runic Stone at Glavendrup on Funen in Denmark

The gods are not as godlike as you might expect. Only Odin and his wife Frigg are omniscient or all-knowing, yet Odin still has a couple of black ravens fly out each morning to see what is happening and come back and report to him during his breakfast. Odin got his wisdom from visiting the well of wisdom in Jotunheim, which was owned by Mimer. Mimer wouldn't let him drink from the well for free, Odin had to give one of his eyes as payment, in spite of being a God he wasn't in a position to command or demand anything. The gods are not necessarily fair and cannot always be trusted, as they may have hidden agendas when giving signs to those looking for them.

Viking mythology includes an armageddon when the fire giants from Muspelheim gain access to Midgaard over the rainbow Bifrost, and the final fight takes place with the warriors in Valhal as the defenders. This is one of the reasons why Odin might lie in signs and cause excellent warriors to get killed prematurely in combat - they will be needed in the ultimate combat against the fire giants, and Odin and Midgaard need as many skilled warriors as possible when it is time. After Armageddon all the dead, both warriors from Valhal and every guilt free from Hel, convene in Gimle, an enourmous hall at the South side of the sky, with roofs made of gold that outshine the sun, and stay there forever more.

From Viking To Crusader

Religion was the reason why the vikings stopped being vikings and became crusaders. As Christianity won over the Viking beliefs the Scandinavian people stopped raiding Christian possessions and began fighting on behalf of the Christian Church, most notably in Pope sponsored crusades around The Baltic Sea. The vikings, Christianity's biggest enemy, became Christianity's strongest supporters. In 1147 AD Pope Eugene III in his Divini Dispensatione gave Christians in Northern Europe permission to go on crusades in the Baltic Sea area, not just to The Holy Land and The Mediterranean. The Danish conquest of Estonia in 1219 AD was a direct result of this divine dispensation.




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