Primary History

Vikings: Who were the Vikings

  • Where did the Vikings come from?

    The Vikings came from three countries of Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The name 'Viking' comes from a language called 'Old Norse' and means 'a pirate raid'. People who went off raiding in ships were said to be 'going Viking'.

    The Viking age in European history was about AD 700 to 1100. During this period many Vikings left Scandinavia and travelled to other countries, such as Britain and Ireland. Some went to fight and steal treasure. Others settled in new lands as farmers, craftsmen or traders.

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  • The Vikings in Britain

    Southern Britain (England) had been settled by the Anglo-Saxons. You can find out more on our Anglo-Saxons site. In AD 787 three Viking longships landed in southern England. The Vikings fought the local people, then sailed away. This first raid is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It was the start of a fierce struggle between English and Vikings. The English called the Viking invaders 'Danes' but they came from Norway as well as Denmark.

    Norwegian Vikings or 'Norse' sailed to Scotland, where they made settlements in the north and on the Orkney and Shetland islands. Vikings also settled on the Isle of Man. Vikings raided Wales, but few made homes there.

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  • Why did Vikings attack monasteries?

    In 793 Vikings attacked the Christian monastery at Lindisfarne in Northumbria. They were pagans, not Christians like most people in Britain. A Viking robber did not think twice about robbing a Christian church. Christian monasteries in Britain were easy to attack, because the monks in the monasteries had no weapons. Churches and monasteries kept valuable treasures, such as gold, jewels and books. There were food, drink, cattle, clothes and tools too - tempting for greedy Vikings.

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  • Where did Vikings settle?

    Some Viking ships brought families to Britain looking for land to farm. Good farmland was scarce in the Vikings' own countries. The parts of Britain where most Vikings settled were northern Scotland and eastern England. For 500 years, from about AD 900, Vikings ruled the north of Scotland, the Orkney and Shetland isles and the Hebrides islands off the west coast. In Ireland, Vikings founded the city of Dublin.

    Viking areas in east and northern England became known as the Danelaw. Viking settlements brought new words into the English language, and new ideas about government too. For a short time England had Danish kings (King Cnut and his sons, from 1016 to 1042).

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  • How far did Vikings roam?

    Norwegian Vikings sailed west across the Atlantic Ocean to Iceland and Greenland. About AD 1000, Vikings sailed to North America and started a settlement, though it did not last long. Danish Vikings went to France and founded Normandy ('Land of the North-men'). Danish Vikings also sailed south around Spain, and into the Mediterranean Sea. Swedish Vikings roamed along rivers into Russia. Viking traders could be found as far east as Constantinople (Turkey), where they met people from Africa, Arabia and Asia.

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Fun Facts
  • The Byzantine (Eastern Roman) emperors in Constantinople hired Vikings guards, called the Varangian Guards.

  • Vikings in the East saw people playing chess, and took the game home with them.

  • An Arab traveller saw Vikings in the 900s in Russia. He wrote that each Viking carried an axe, a sword and a knife - and would never be parted from these weapons.

  • Vikings had no matches. They lit a fire by striking a piece of iron against a flint, to make a spark.

  • Viking women liked beads, but strung them from brooches, not round their necks as necklaces.

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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.