Primary History

Vikings: Trade and exploration

  • Trading

    The Vikings traded all over Europe, and as far east as Central Asia. They bought goods and materials such as silver, silk, spices, wine, jewellery, glass and pottery. In return, they sold items such as honey, tin, wheat, wool, wood, iron, fur, leather, fish and
    walrus ivory. Everywhere they went the Vikings bought and sold slaves. Traders carried folding scales, for weighing coins to make sure they got a fair deal.

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  • Discovering new lands

    The Vikings were brave sailors and explorers. Families were ready to risk their lives on long, dangerous journeys to find new land to farm. Vikings settled in Britain, but also sailed out into the north Atlantic Ocean and south to the Mediterranean Sea. They sailed to the Faeroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland. A Viking ship was small - only about 20 tonnes compared with 100,000 tonnes or more for a big modern cargo ship. But bold Vikings sailed their ships far across the ocean. They found their way by looking for landmarks, such as islands and distant mountains.

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  • From Iceland to Greenland

    Vikings from Norway sailed to Iceland in the late 800s - about the same time as King Alfred was fighting Danish Vikings in England. In 930, the Vikings living in Iceland set up what is often called the world's first parliament, the Althing. One of the Iceland Vikings was Eric the Red, and in AD 983 he sailed off west to Greenland. Greenland is much bigger than Iceland, and much colder too. It is not much good for farming. Eric hoped the name 'Greenland' would attract farmers, but not many Vikings went there.

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  • Vikings in America

    A Viking called Bjarni Herjolfsson 'discovered' America by accident in the year 985. He saw an unknown land, after his ship was blown off course on the way from Iceland to Greenland. In 1001, Leif Ericsson, son of Eric the Red, sailed west to find this new land.

    Leif and his men were the first Europeans known to have landed in America. They spent the winter in a place they named 'Vinland' (Wine-land). It was in Newfoundland, Canada. Soon afterwards, Thorfinn Karlsefni led a small group of Viking families to settle in the new land. But after fights with the local Native American people, the Vikings gave up their settlement.

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Fun Facts
  • Vikings called Leif Ericsson 'Leif the Lucky' - perhaps because he never got lost.

  • Vikings were superstitious. When Eric the Red fell off his horse before a voyage, he decided not to go to sea at all.

  • Red-haired Eric had a fiery temper. He was sent away from Iceland, after several fights and killings, and went to Greenland.

  • In America, the Vikings found grapes and berries, which is why they called it 'Wine-Land'.

  • In 1961, archaeologists found a Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in Canada. Today tourists can visit a reconstruction of the village.

  • Viking sailors would sometimes release ravens. The birds would fly towards land. The ship would follow.

  • The Vikings called the Native Americans 'Skraelings'. No one is quite sure what this name meant.

  • The Althing is still Iceland's parliament, and passes the laws for the country.

  • It's said that fleas always hop North. So a Viking could use one of his own fleas to check he was sailing in the right direction!

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-S | T-Z

A to D

ale
A strong drink made from barley.
amber
Hardened tree sap, used to make jewellery.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
A history of England begun in the 800s.
archaeologist
A person who finds out about the past by looking at old objects or buildingsthat are buried under the ground.
blacksmith
Another name for a smith. A worker who makes things of metal, usually iron.
blood-feud
An argument between two families that involves fighting or killings.
brooch
Ornament used to fasten clothing.
buttermilk
Watery liquid left over when butter is made from milk.
carving
A design cut out of wood.
charm
A magical object or words, to protect a person from harm.
chieftain
The leader of a village or small group of people.
Christian
A person who follows the religion taught by Jesus Christ.
colonize
A settlement founded in one country by people from another country.
compass
A device for finding direction (east, west, north, south).
conquer
To beat an enemy and control them using force.
Danelaw
The area of England ruled by the Vikings.
descendants
People who are related to earlier people, in a direct line.
dragon-ship
Another name for a longship.

E to G

explorer
Someone who travels to unfamiliar places to discover new things.
feast
A special meal for a large group of people.
figurehead
A carved wooden piece at the front of a ship.
Freeman
A person who is not a slave and free to choose who he or she worked for.

H to L

helmet
Hat made of leather or iron worn by a soldier to protect his head.
hoard
A hidden treasure, usually buried in the soil.
jet
A kind of black stone used to make jewellery.
keel
Long wooden bottom part of a ship, that gives it strength.
invaders
People who try to take over land from other people.
landmark
A natural feature that helps a traveller find his way, such as a mountain, a rock, an island, or a group of trees.
launch
To put a new ship in the water.
longship
A Viking ship with a sail and oars. Sometimes called dragon-ship. A Viking ship with a sail and oars. Sometimes called dragon-ship.

M to O

mail coat
Armour made from chain mail (metal rings), worn like a shirt.
manure
Animal waste such as dung put on soil to make it fertile for crops.
mast
Tall wooden pole from which a ship's sail is hung.
merchant
A trader, someone who buys and sells things.
monastery
The building where monks live.
norse myths
Stories told by the Vikings about gods and goddesses, giants and strange creatures.

P to S

pagan
A person who believed in many gods.
raven
A large black bird of the crow family.
rivets
Bits of metal hammered into holes to join ship planks or metal sheets together.
runes
The name given to the Viking alphabet.
settlement
An area where people live.
shield
A large piece of wood or metal held in one arm for protection in battle.
sickle
A curved knife used for cutting grain stalks at harvest time.
slave
A person who is not free but is treated as someone else's property.
smith
A worker who makes things of metal, usually iron.
spices
Plants such as pepper which can be used to flavour and preserve foods.
spinning
Twisting and drawing out sheep wool into long thin thread.
spit
In cooking, a rod or stick on which meat is stuck to roast over a fire.

T to Z

thatched
A roof covered in straw.
Thing
An open-air meeting where Vikings gathered to discuss the law.
trader
A person who sells goods.
turf
A layer of grass cut with roots and soil, that can be used to roof a house.
walrus ivory
The tusk, or sticking-out tooth, of a walrus (a large sea mammal), which can be carved.
weaving
Making cloth on a machine called a loom.