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The Vikings

Verónica De Luca, Nicolás Freixa and Magalí Schmidt

The Vikings, also known as Norsemen, Northmen or Danes were a race of warriors and raiders;
descendants from the Germanic tribes who settled in Scandinavia; a territory located in Northern
Europe which is nowadays Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. The Viking Age is believed to have lasted
from the 8th to the 11th century A.D. [1] During this period, they caused panic amongst the Anglo-
Saxons when they invaded the British Isles and were eventually defeated by the Normans. [4]

In spite of the fact that the Norsemen became infamous for their ferocity, not all of them were
savages. Most people had a quiet life, although they would fight if they had to. They lived in large
houses called longhouse made from wood, stones, wattle and daub . [9] There were farmers,
fishermen and craftsmen as for example, blacksmiths, leather workers and jewellers.[1] Besides being
housewives, women worked just as much as men on the farm, milking the cows and goats, feeding
the animals and making cheese. In the case of children, girls helped their mothers with housework
and boys not only helped their parents, but also learned to hunt and to fight as well as, history and
religion. [9]

The Vikings were highly skilled shipbuilders, expert navigators and explorers who travelled long
distances with their longships either to conquer new lands or to trade. They traded all over Europe
and the east of Asia buying silver, silk, spices, wine, jewellery, glass and pottery in return for leather,
fur, iron, grindstone and wood. They bought and sold slaves, too. [10]

Contributions to the English language

Regarding their language, they spoke Old Norse. They believed their god Odin (Wooden) had created
the Runes, which were the twenty-four letters of the alphabet. These were also carved on stone
tablets. In addition, such symbols were not only used as a writing system but also for divination or
fortune-telling [1]. The English language has inherited over a thousand words from the Vikings such
as, eggs, steak, law, die, bread, down, village, window, die, husband, knife [2] and also they, their and
them. According to historians, when Old Norse and Old English mixed, it may have helped to create
Middle English. [5]

Invasions of the British Isles

The Vikings raids started at England’s Lindisfarne monastery around the year 793 AD. Their main goal
was looting treasures; things made of gold or silver and they also captured people as slaves. Over the
next few decades, as a result of the raids, many monasteries in the north were destroyed, and with
them all the records that might have existed. [11] In 794 AD, the raids started in the Hebrides, where
they attacked another monastery located on Iona, sacked it and slaughtered the monks who lived
there. [12] Thereafter, the Hebrides became one of the many places dominated by the Vikings,
together with Shetland and Orkney Islands in Scotland. [3] The first Viking raid in the Irish Kingdoms
took place in 795 AD, at a church at Rathlin Island, which was burned. It is also known as a Viking
cemetery. [13] In 841 AD, a Viking leader named Thorgest, declared himself king of Ireland and
founded the city that we know today as Dublin. Eventually, Dublin, Limerick and Cork became Viking
strongholds. [14]

Furthermore, in 865 AD, the East Angles were forced to join their army which, led by Halfdan and Ivar
the Boneless, captured York in 866 AD and took over the southern part of Northumbria in the following
year. [11] They killed King Edmund of East Anglia, also known as Saint Edmund the Martyr, in 869 AD
in order to conquer the land. Nearly ten years later, they invaded Mercia and established their
settlements in the midlands. A third invasion occurred in Wessex in 878 AD, commanded by the Viking
leader Guthrum, in what might have looked like a victory to them since King Alfred the Great had
disappeared. However, King Alfred was preparing an army to fight them back in the battle of Edington.
Finally, both leaders came to an agreement, and the Norsemen were given lands that they called The
Danelaw. [15]

Their government and main rulers

The Norsemen had a government and laws, which were spread by word of mouth. If there were
problems to be discussed, the people would meet in an assembly, which they called Thing. The people
who were found guilty became outlaws and consequently, were forced to leave the village and live in
the wilderness. The head of the society was the king and below this one, there were jarls; wealthy
landowners, nobles or traders. Following the line, there were karls, who were ordinary people. Lastly,
the ones who had the worst jobs were the thralls or slaves, although they were allowed to buy their
freedom once they had earned enough to pay for it. [9]

Many powerful men ruled the Norsemen, but only a few of them are said to have been the most
important. Gaange Rolf, better known as Rollo, founded Normandy and conducted raids on France in
the ninth century. Probably the most remarkable ruler was Erik the red, as it is believed that he was
the first to discover Greenland. After being exiled from Iceland due to a feud with other fellows; Erik
and his family settled in the only area that was not covered in ice and later, invited others to settle
there as well. [16] The first King to bring Christianity to Norway was Olaf Tryggvason. After winning
the Battle of Maldon in England in 991, he obtained a payment from the English as a bribe to prevent
further attacks. This payment was later known as Danegeld. [8]

Cnut the great was England’s Viking King. He not only conquered Britain in 1013 but also had Norway,
Denmark and part of Sweden under his control, creating a vast empire. Leif Eriksson, who was Erik the
Red’s son, is believed to have discovered American five hundred years before Christopher Columbus
as he had set foot in what was later called Newfoundland; nowadays Canada. To complete this list is
Harald Hardrada, the last great Viking king who marked the end of the Viking Age. His efforts to
weaken the Anglo-Saxons helped William the Conqueror (Rollo’s son) to win the Battle of Hastings, in
1066 AD. [8]

Religion and beliefs

Regarding their religion, they believed in many gods. The supreme god was Odin; god of warfare,
justice, death, wisdom and poetry. The most popular one was Thor, who was the god of thunder and
main defender of the gods against the giants with his hammer Mjolnir. Frey and Freyja; brother and
sister, were the gods of fertility. [18] Loki, a god who had the ability to change his shape and sex, was
represented as the companion of the great gods Odin and Thor, helping them with his clever plans but
sometimes causing problems. [19]

The gods lived in Asgard, a kingdom connected to the land of mortals, known as Midgard, through a
rainbow bridge called Bifrost. They were destined to fight against the giants in a battle known as
Ragnarok. There was a Norse prophecy which predicted that the gods would lose this battle, allowing
Asgard, Midgard and the entire universe to collapse into darkness and chaos. [17] Warriors who died
nobly in battle could end up in Valhalla, a sort of warrior heaven where everyone gets to fight
alongside Odin, die, feast and do it all over again the next day. They were escorted to Valhalla by the
Valkyrie, which were like warrior angels who assisted Odin. [6] At first, the Vikings did not adopt
Christianity, but when some leaders decided to be baptized many others followed them. [7]
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[1] New Headway Upper-Intermediate, Fourth Edition (2014). The Vikings: Raiders, traders and
intrepid explorers (pp. 82 – 83). Oxford University Press
[2] Treharne, Elaine (2004, Nov 17). Legacy of the Vikings. BBC. Retrieved from
[3] The Historical Association (2018) The Vikings in Britain: a brief history. Retrieved from
[4] Rayner, R. M. (1942) – A concise History of Britain. Chapter III: The Danes (pp. 14-20) London:
Longmans, Green and Co. LTD.
[5] Scott Shay (2008). The history of English: a linguistic introduction. Wardja Press. p. 86.
[6] Williams, Gareth (2011, Feb 17). Viking religion. BBC. Retrieved from
[7] "Vikings: From Pagans to Christians" History on the Net. Retrieved from
[8] History - 6 Viking leaders you should know. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/6-
[9] BBC - What was life like in Britain? Retrieved from
[10] BBC - Viking traders and explorers. Retrieved from
[11] Edward James (2011). Overview: The Vikings, 800 to 1066. BBC. Retrieved from
[12] Scotland’s History. Retrieved from
[13] Kieran Meeke (2017). Viking Cemetery. History of Rathlin. Retrieved from
[14] Extra Credits (2018). Viking Expansion - Ireland - Extra History - #3. Retrieved from
[15] M. A. McIntosh (2017). A Brief Introduction to the Vikings. The Vikings in England. Brewminate.
Retrieved from https://brewminate.com/vikings-in-east-anglia-conquest-and-impact/
[16] History Lists - 9 of the Most Important Viking Leaders. Retrieved from
[17] Ed Grabianowski. How Stuff Works. How the Vikings Worked. Retrieved from
[18] Danishnet.com (2015). Retrieved from https://www.danishnet.com/vikings/vikings-religion/
[19] Encyclopaedia Britannica - Loki, Norse Mythology. Retrieved from