Primary History

Vikings: Viking raiders

  • A raid on England

    In 793, 'Northmen' (as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle calls them) attacked the Christian monastery at Lindisfarne in Northumbria, in north-east England. Northumbria was an English kingdom, and its monasteries were famous for books, art and treasures. On a January day, the longships arrived and the Vikings attacked. They burned buildings, stole treasures, murdered monks, and terrified everyone. Some Christian Church leaders said the Vikings were sent by God, to punish people in England for doing wrong.

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  • How Vikings attacked

    The Vikings did not send many ships on their first raids. They made surprise attacks on lonely places, like Lindisfarne. They knew they would not have to fight a big English army. English kings were too busy fighting one another to join forces against the Vikings. There was no English navy to guard the coasts, so it was easy for Vikings to land on a beach or sail up a river. After raiding a monastery, the ships sailed home loaded with treasures and captives.

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  • Viking weapons

    The Vikings fought using long swords and axes. A good sword was handed down from father to son, but Vikings also buried weapons with their owner when he died. Wood rots and metal rusts away after a thousand years or more in the ground, but some remains show what the weapons were like.Vikings did not wear much armour, though some chieftains wore mail coats. Most relied on a round wooden shield for protection. On their heads, they wore helmets made of leather or iron. A Viking saying was, 'Never leave your weapons behind when you go to work in the fields - you may need them'.

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  • Viking armies

    In AD 865, a 'Great Army' of Vikings invaded England. The army stayed in England for 14 years, fighting the English kings. In AD 866 Vikings captured York. They captured King Edmund of East Anglia and shot him dead with arrows.

    In AD 892, 300 Viking ships invaded to fight King Alfred of Wessex. No one knows how big the Viking armies were. If there were 20 men in each ship, the army of AD 892 numbered 6,000! That was a huge army for the time. Most Viking armies were probably smaller - perhaps 1,000 to 2,000 men.

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Fun Facts
  • Vikings made steel, by adding carbon (from charcoal) to iron. Steel swords were sharp and strong.

  • Vikings sometimes gave a sword a name - such as Leg-Biter.

  • Some Viking warriors 'went berserk'. Dressed in wolf-skins or bear-skins, they charged like madmen into battle. The craziness might have come from drink or drugs.

  • 'Berserkers' made fierce bodyguards. A 'berserker' just wasn't scared of dying.

  • Aelle, king of Northumbria, killed the Viking leader Ragnar Lothbrok by throwing him into a pit full of snakes.

  • Ragnar's son Ivar later captured Aelle and tortured him to death in revenge.

  • The Vikings used some very nasty tortures, if the stories are true.

  • Some Vikings had funny names - like Ivar the Boneless. His father was Ragnar Lothbrok - which means 'Ragnar Hairy-Breeches'

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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.