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A History Of The Vikings History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

“The word Scandinavia is a geographical term and it is almost as misleading to apply it to any form of racial unity, as was the German attempt to create a Nordic myth.”

From the 8th to the 11th centuries, the Vikings made a name for themselves. They went in search of lands, slaves, gold, and silver, from their homeland in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. They attacked many major cities across Europe, and traveled as far as Baghdad, and America. The ferocity of Viking attacks became legendary. Christian monks wrote with fear about the raids on monasteries and towns. The Vikings were more than barbarians; they were crafty traders, skilled navigators, and great craftsmen and shipbuilders. They had a deep tradition of story-telling, and lived in a society that was open and civilized for its day.

Viking society was divided into three groups. The people at the top were called jarls. The jarls were rich landowners and were generous to their friends and followers. They were also powerful. As more people began to live closer together, the local jarl was usually chosen as the leader. As time went on one jarl would become more powerful than the others in a district. He might even become known as king. He was only king in his own district, however, and did not rule the whole country.

The largest group in Viking society was the Karls. They were freeborn men and usually owned land. When a karl died, his land when to his eldest son. This left younger sons with no land of their own. They were still Karl, however, and often worked for other karls until they could buy their own land.

The slaves, or thralls, owned nothing and had no rights. Children of thralls grew up to be Thralls themselves. Prisoners taken in battle could also become Thralls. If a karl was very poor, had no family to help him and had no land on which to grow food, he could also volunteer to become a Thrall. When this happened, he lost all the rights he had as a karl. It was possible for a thrall to work hard and buy freedom for himself and his family.

The Vikings believed in many gods and goddesses. These were members of two families, called the Asar and the Vanir. Both families lived in a place called Asgard and had once been at war with eachother.

The earth, where people lived was called Midgard. Asgard was joined to Midgard by a rainbow bridge, known as Bifrost. Around Midgard was a deep ocean full of monsters. Beyond this ocean was Utgard where the Frost Giants lived. These giants were enemies of the gods and one day would destroy them at a battle called Ragnarok. Underneath these worlds of gods, people, and giants was Niflheim, which was full of ice and mist. Vikings thought they would go there if they died in bed.

If Vikings died in battle, however they went to Valhalla. This was the great hall in Asgard, belonging to Odin who was the greatest of the Viking gods. Women called Valkyries took the dead from the battlefield to Valhalla. Odin needed these brave fighters to help him in his battle against the giants. He brought them to life again. Every day “they went out to the enclosure and fought and “killed” each other. Then in the evening, they rode home to Valhalla to eat and drink.”

“The term “Viking age” is commonly applied to the two and a half centuries which followed the fold wanderings of the Germanic tribes on the disintegration of the Roman Empire.

“Cnut the great, King of England and Denmark, Norway, and some of Sweden, Was possibly the greatest Viking king”

“In England the Viking age began dramatically on June 8th 793 when Norse men destroyed the abbey on the island of Lindisfarne. The devastation of Northumbria’s holly island shocked and alerted the royal courts of Europe to the Viking presence. “Never before has such an atrocity been seen,” declared the Northumbrian scholar, Alcuin of York”

The Vikings were great traders who traveled far beyond Scandinavia buying and selling goods. The riches of the North included timber for ship-building, iron for making tools and weapons, furs for warm clothing, skins from whales and seals for ship ropes, and whale bones and walrus ivory for carving. These were carried to far flung places and exchanged for local goods. Traders would return from Britain with wheat, silver and cloth, and bring wine, salt, pottery, and gold back from the Mediterranean. They sailed across the Baltic Sea and upriver into Russia, then continued on foot or camel as far as Constantinople (now Istanbul) and Jerusalem. In markets all along the way, they haggled over the price of glass, exotic spices, silks, and slaves. Some Viking market towns grew to be important trade centers, such as Birka in Sweden, Kaupang in Norway, Hedeby in Denmark, York in England, Dublin in Ireland, and Kiev in Ukraine.

“Leif Ericson was a Norse explorer who is regarded as the first European to land in North America (excluding Greenland), nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus.” North America was first seen by a Viking who was blown off course. This was Bjarni Herjlfsson in about 985. He did not land, however. Instead he returned to Greenland and told of what he had seen. Leif Ericksson went looking for this new land. He went first to Helluland, then to Markland and finaly to Vinland. He stayed during the winter and returned to Greenland in the spring. His brother Thorwald went the next year, but was killed by the local Indian tribe. Later Thorfinn Karlsefni tried to settle in Vinland, but only stayed three years.

The Vikings, to be sure, wreaked much damage and mayhem on the lands and peoples they conquered. Yet most experts now believe that the Vikings were no more brutal or ruthless than other Europeans of the time. Furthermore, the Viking sense of personal freedom and many of the changes they brought about had a lasting impact on all of western civilization.

Political and economic developments in Scandinavia during the Viking Age helped to create the strong and prosperous nations of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, each under the rule of a single King. Viking invasions of England and France in the 800s and 900s led the people in these countries to stand together against the invaders. Under the Viking influence, unified contrives developed where there had once been many small, divided kingdoms.


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