Primary History

Vikings: Viking settlements

  • Making laws

    In Viking society, the strongest leaders were 'jarls', or earls. The most powerful jarls became kings. Freemen met at the Thing, or Viking assembly. People (men and women) met in the open air to settle problems, such as deciding who owned land or farm animals, and to punish criminals. They met old friends, swapped news, and arranged marriages. Viking laws were passed from parents to children, by word of mouth. People who broke the law became 'outlaws', and anyone could kill them.

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  • Family loyalty

    The family was important to every Viking. An argument might end in a fight. If someone was killed, the dead man's family saw it as their right to take revenge. His relatives tried to punish the killer and the killer's family. This led to long and violent blood-feuds between families. These feuds could be ended by one side paying 'blood-money' to the other as compensation.

    Women were important in Viking family life. A wife kept the keys to the chest holding the family valuables. She ran the home and farm while her husband was away trading or fighting.

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  • Vikings and Alfred

    The English king Alfred the Great beat the Viking army in battle in AD 878. Alfred then made a peace agreement with the Viking leader Guthrum, who agreed to become a Christian. Alfred allowed the Vikings to settle in part of England, which became known as the Danelaw.

    However, even after this agreement, fighting between English and Vikings went on for many years. More Vikings sailed across the North Sea from Norway and Denmark. The English built a navy to fight Viking ships at sea before they could land armies.

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  • Life in the Danelaw

    The Danelaw covered an area roughly east of a line on a map joining London and Chester. There were three main areas where Vikings lived. These areas were Northumbria (which included modern Yorkshire), East Anglia, and the Five Boroughs (a borough was a town). The five towns were Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Lincoln. In the Danelaw people followed Viking laws, spoke Viking languages, and lived in much the same way as Vikings in Scandinavia. Most people were farmers.

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Fun Facts
  • The Thing was usually a summer gathering, and people wore their best clothes.

  • In the Danelaw, land was measured in units called 'wapentakes'. The name meant 'weapon-touching'. Viking warriors touched spears with their leader (like saluting today).

  • Yorkshire still has three areas called 'ridings', from the Viking word 'threthingr' meaning 'a third'.

  • Children in parts of Yorkshire ask if friends are coming to lake out - lake is a Viking word meaning play.

  • Viking bread often had cornfield weed-seeds mixed in with the flour. Corncockle seeds are poisonous - so a Viking sandwich might have given you tummy-ache.

  • Bones from pigs' feet were used to make toggles, to fasten clothes.

  • Vikings and English could probably understand one another's languages. The Old English and Old Norse languages were quite similar.

  • Most Vikings carried combs. Women carried a comb in a purse hung from their belt. Men had special comb-cases, also hung from a belt.

  • A very fiddly job was cutting the teeth in a comb. It was done with a fine saw.

  • Viking farmers used wooden spades, sometimes tipped with iron.

  • The basic coin in Viking Britain was the penny. A penny cut in two became a halfpenny.

  • Vikings had pet dogs, some as big as Labradors, and cats to catch rats and mice.

  • Vikings often felt itchy. The reason - fleas and nits. That's one reason why they combed their hair so much.

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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.