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Vikings history is as extensive as the people it studies. The seafaring Vikings (in Danish, the Vikinger) were a group of people that came from the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. They made an enduring name for themselves in the 8th through the 11th centuries for being tactical warriors, smart traders, and daring explorers. In fact, they arrived in America 1,000 years before Columbus ever did, and archeologists have found some of their remnants scattered as far east as Russia.

The Normans that invaded England in 1066 came from Normandy in Northern France. However, they were originally Vikings from Scandinavia. From the eighth century Vikings terrorized continental European coastlines with raids and plundering. The proto-Normans instead settled their conquests and cultivated land. Over time they assimilated into medieval European society, abandoned paganism, and upheld conventional Christian norms.

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Vikings History: An Overview of the Culture and History of the Viking Age

(See Main Article: Vikings History: An Overview of the Culture and History of the Viking Age)

Vikings history is as extensive as the people it studies. The seafaring Vikings (in Danish, the Vikinger) were a group of people that came from the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. They made an enduring name for themselves in the 8th through the 11th centuries for being tactical warriors, smart traders, and daring explorers. In fact, they arrived in America 1,000 years before Columbus ever did, and archeologists have found some of their remnants scattered as far east as Russia.

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Click here to see more posts in this category. Scroll down to see our comprehensive collection of articles on Vikings history.

Vikings History: The Viking Age—An Overview

Viking is a Verb, Not a Noun

When the quiet monks on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne saw the dragon ships approaching, they didn’t know what was coming. They were fully unprepared for the ferocity of the warriors, armed with sword, axe and shield. The attack and plunder of Lindisfarne, a rich and unprotected monastery, echoed throughout the next 300 years of European history. The Viking Age had begun.

Historians use the term the Viking Age to describe the turbulent expansion of the Scandinavian people into Europe and Russia. Beginning in A.D. 793 with the Lindisfarne raid, Norwegians, Swedes and Danes set to raiding. Any unprotected community was a target. Vikings attacked places all along the coasts of Scotland, England, Ireland, France, Italy and inland Russia. They terrorized, plundered, traded, explored and finally settled and farmed all over the lands they encountered.

Who Were the Vikings?

Simply put, the Vikings were Norwegians, Swedes and Danes, men who were usually farmers, traders, blacksmiths, and craftsmen. For various reasons, they took to raiding towns, churches and monasteries. Many of the places they attacked were on the coasts as they were easiest to reach. With their swift and easily landed ships, the Vikings could quickly swarm over the communities, killing and looting, and just as fast return to their ships and leave. They were gone before any defense or counter-attack could be made.

Strangely enough, for most of the men who went a-viking, it was only part time. When a Viking wasn’t busy farming, planting crops, for instance, they left their farms and went raiding. They often returned in time for harvest in the fall. Raiding was very profitable, however, and many farmers became full time pirates and raiders.

The people called Vikings were also fearless explorers who actually reached North America, making them the first Europeans to discover America. They settled Iceland and tried to colonize Greenland. They were also shrewd and competent traders and merchants. They traded all the goods of the north – furs, amber, iron and timber – for all the goods of the south – silver, gold, silks and spices. And all along the trade routes, the Vikings traded in slaves. Read our articles to explore these aspects of the incredible culture of these intrepid and dangerous men.

Why Scandinavians Left their Homelands

Scholars debate why the Scandinavian people began to go raiding in the late 8th century. Most likely it was a combination of factors that lead to the Vikings setting off in their long boats to raid other communities. We’ll discuss these reasons in articles you’ll find here, explaining why they left their farms and blacksmith forges to first attack and finally settle all over Europe and Russia.

Viking Ships and Navigation

The Vikings’ advanced ships and navigation techniques provided the means and skills for sailing not only over open ocean out of the sight of land but also far up inland rivers into the interior of other countries. Viking ship technology made the fearful Viking raids possible.

Special ship construction techniques made the long ships and larger dragon ships versatile enough to sail great distances, carry up to 200 men, withstand rough seas while still being light enough to drag over land or carry through portages. Explore with us as we consider Viking ship building and navigation skills. Contemporaries of the Vikings were awed by their ships and sailing skills. Find out why by reading further.

Impact of the Viking Age

The Scandinavians changed the history of Ireland, England, Russia and other European countries. They established new territories in Iceland, Greenland and temporarily, North America. From A.D. 793 to 1066, Vikings raided, traded, challenged, conquered and settled in many lands. Popular movies and novels give you a glimpse into their lives, but usually show only a part of the impact these energetic people had on the known world of the time. Reading here will give you a much better grasp of their impact on other cultures.

Viking Culture

We will explore Viking culture and the structure of their society, the roles of men and women and the daily life of the time. Here you will find articles on women and children in that warrior culture. You’ll discover how they lived, what their homes were like and what they did for fun. Examine their stunning artwork and jewelry, as well as their weaponry and armor. The brave among you can read about a Viking raid from the point of view of the victims. Come with us as we take ship with Vikings to explore the new lands of Iceland and Vinland. We’ll explain Viking ship building and their remarkable navigation skills. Find out what your name would look like in runes, the Viking writing system. Explore with us the mythology and literature of the Viking era.

 

 

Vikings History — Why Did the Viking Age Happen?

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While the Vikings had the runic alphabet, they didn’t have written history. Thus, we don’t know exactly why the Vikings began raiding in A.D. 793. Scholars have many theories about the reasons why the Scandinavians began leaving home on extensive raids, trading missions, explorations and settlement, which include:

  • population pressures and not enough good farmland
  • too many landless younger sons
  • easy targets of unprotected, wealthy church properties and towns
  • trade imbalances between European Christians and the pagan Vikings
  • competition among chieftains in their native lands
  • the lure of adventure in foreign lands

Population Pressures

Most scholars today agree that the population pressure theory doesn’t hold weight. As the Viking Age raids and trading brought more wealth into Scandinavian, the growing prosperity might have led to greater population growth. But a burgeoning population probably wasn’t a cause of the Viking Age.

Landless Younger Sons

The Vikings practiced primogeniture, which means the eldest son inherits everything and any younger sons nothing. Without land to farm, younger sons would need to find a way to make a living. This theory seems likely at least as one of the factors leading to the Scandinavian expansion into Europe.

Easy Targets

Vikings were not Christians, therefore, they saw no hindrance in attacking ecclesiastical centers such as monasteries. However, even in warfare, Christians did not attack properties of the Church—at least not often—so Church properties were unprotected. No doubt Vikings did see church properties as easy pickings, as the Church had grown very wealthy and usually had more wealth than even kings or merchants.

Trade Imbalances

While in previous times, Scandinavians had traded with Europeans readily, as Europe became more Christian, Christian traders began to refuse to trade with pagans or Muslims. This created problems for the Vikings, and perhaps they saw raids as a way of fixing those problems.

Power Struggles in Viking Lands

The Ynglinga saga, written by Iceland’s Snorri Sturluson, and based on earlier writings of Norwegian skalds, states that when Harald Fairhair brought Norway under his control, many minor chieftains decided to leave rather than live under the king’s rule. It seems likely that this was one of the causative factors of the Viking Age, as Vikings decided to go raiding or settle elsewhere.

Lure of Adventure

Vikings were bold, brave people who no doubt felt the lure of adventure in foreign lands. A strong Norse pagan belief was that each person’s fate was set by the Norns, and that death in battle is not only honorable, but the warrior will be taken to Valhalla by Odin, the god-father. With these beliefs, why not take chance into your hands and go raiding? After the first raid, the profitability would have been obvious to all.

 

Vikings History — From Pagans to Christians

While Charlemagne “converted” pagans to Christianity by the sword, the conversion of Vikings to Christianity occurred without violence for the most part. In the early Viking Age, Viking traders noted that they suffered losses in trade contracts and deals because the other party was Christian. Christian traders tended to give more business and better deals to other Christians, discriminating against pagans and Muslims. A Viking trader might then wear a cross when he was among Christians only to change it back to his usual Thor’s hammer upon returning home. As long as the Viking trader wasn’t baptized, he could practice both religions, a common practice in Scandinavia for the next few centuries.

At first, the Viking Norse didn’t take to Christianity. They loved their own gods and were content with them. English and Frankish Christian priests and monks had begun missionary tours to the Viking lands from the 700s to 800s. However, the conversion of the Vikings took place over centuries. Even when a Danish or Swedish king became Christian and proclaimed his people were Christian, many still practiced their pagan ways and held to the old gods. By the end of the Viking Age, however, most Vikings had become fully Christian and were baptized and buried in that faith.

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Denmark

While an earlier Danish Viking king, Harald Klak, had been baptized in 826, it wasn’t until King Harald Bluetooth was baptized in 965 that Christianity took a firmer hold in Denmark. Harald Bluetooth raised the Jelling Stone proclaiming that he made all Danes Christian, although the new faith lived side by side with the old for the next few hundred years. Danish Vikings accepted Christianity slowly. By 1110 the first stone cathedral was begun in Denmark’s oldest city of Ribe. It was finished in 1134. By then, most Danes had become Christian.

Norway

Although a few earlier kings had adopted Christianity, it wasn’t until 995 when Olaf Tryggvason led a successful revolt against the pagan king Hakkon Jarl that Christianity came to Norway. Olaf Tryggvason became King Olaf I and proceeded to convert Norwegians to Christianity by force. He burned pagan temples and killed Vikings who wouldn’t convert. Through these violent methods, every part of Norway became Christian, at least in name. Various kings’ sagas attribute the Christianization of Iceland and the other Western islands to Olaf’s efforts.

Sweden

During the later Viking Age, Christianity began making inroads in Sweden, with Episcopal sees being established during the 11th century. Conflict and violence also attended Sweden’s gradual conversion to Christianity, but generally the old and new faith co-existed for many years. Most Swedish Vikings of this time favored a gradual transition to the new religion while continuing some of the old religion’s rituals. By the 12th century, however, Sweden was predominantly Christian.

Vikings History — Society: Men, Women, and Children

Within the male-dominated Viking society, women had a certain amount of personal power, depending on their social status. When Viking men were away from home—raiding, fishing, exploring or on trading missions—women in Viking society took over all the men’s work as well as doing their own. Women were valuable members of the society and it was shameful for a man to harm a woman.

Women’s role was domestic, taking care of the family, preparing food, laundry, milking cows, sheep and goats, making butter and cheeses, preserving food for winter, gardening, cleaning and the most time-consuming task of all, making the family’s clothes. Spinning, carding, weaving, cutting and sewing took a long time. It could take a Viking woman 35 hours to spin enough yarn for a day’s weaving, to give you some idea of how much time it took to make clothing.

Viking women married young—as early as 12 years old. By the age of 20, virtually all men and women were married. Life expectancy was about 50 years, but most died long before reaching 50. Only a few lived to 60.

Marriages were arranged by the parents of the young couple. A marriage was a contract between two families: the groom’s family paid a bride price to bride’s family when the couple was betrothed. At the marriage, the bride’s father paid a dowry. Since both families had a financial investment in the new couple, a marriage was as much a matter for the families as it was for the people involved.

Viking children did not go to school as we know it today. Rather, the boys learned all the men’s work, taught by their fathers, brothers and uncles. Girls worked along with their mothers and aunts learning how to cook, garden, take care of the domestic animals and make clothing. By the time they reached adulthood at 12 to 15, both boys and girls could effectively run a household and a farm.

As is always the case, there were exceptions to these general societal rules of behavior. When the men went to settle Iceland, Greenland and Vinland, women went with them. Vikings settled in England, Ireland and France as families. However, only men went raiding and trading while women stayed home and minded the farm.

Women in Viking society had more power than most other European women of the time. They could divorce their husbands, own some property and sell their own handicrafts. Some women became wealthy landowners. Others participated in trade—scales used for weighing silver used in trade have been found in women’s graves. Even a few weapons were found in female graves, giving the notion that some women were fighters along side of their men. Most women in Viking society, however, lived and worked in the domestic realm of the household.

Vikings History — Norse Mythology

In the world of Norse mythology, we find gods and goddesses, giants, strange and powerful creatures, elves, dwarves and land spirits. It is difficult for a 21st century person to conceive of the worldview of the Vikings, brimming as it was with such a variety of spiritual beings.

Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds

The center of the Vikings’ cosmos is the ash tree Yggdrasil, growing out of the Well of Urd. Yggdrasil holds the Nine Worlds, home of gods, man and all spiritual beings. The gods live in Asgard and Vanaheim and humans inhabit Midgard. Giants live in Jotunheim, elves in Alfheim and dwarves in Svartalfheim. Another is the primordial world of ice, Niflheim, while Muspelheim is the world of fire. The last world comprises Hel, the land of the dead, ruled by the goddess Hel.

Gods and Goddesses

The gods and goddesses venerated by the Vikings are Odin, Thor, Loki, Baldur, Frigg, Freya, Freyr and Njoror. There are many other gods and goddesses in the Norse pantheon but these received the primary attention in the sagas and eddas.

  • Odin, the allfather, the one-eyed seeker of wisdom, god of magic, war and runes, hung himself on Yggdrasil for nine days and nights to find wisdom, brought the runes to mankind
  • Thor, with his magic hammer Mjolnir, protects mankind and his realm of Midgard, god of warriors
  • Loki, a dangerous half-god, half-giant trickster always wreaking havoc among the gods
  • Baldur, son of Odin and Frigg, a beautiful and gracious god, beloved of all, killed by Loki’s trickery
  • Frigg, wife of Odin, practitioner of magic, goddess of the home, mother of Baldur
  • Freya, feather-cloaked goddess of love and fertility but also of war and death
  • Freyr, her brother, god of farming, agriculture, fertility and prosperity
  • Njoror, powerful god of the sea

Giants, Elves, Dwarves and Land Spirits

Giant is not a good name for these spiritual beings; think of them as devourers, out to destroy order and return the world to primeval chaos. They are the enemies of gods, but also their relatives. Giants are dangerous to mankind, which is why Thor often hunts them. Elves and dwarves appear in the sagas, but are different from what we might picture them to be. Dwarves are miners and smiths and live underground. They are invisible, powerful spiritual beings, not short humans. Elves are also spiritual beings, demi-gods who can mate with mankind and have children with them.

Land spirits inhabit everything on the land—trees, herbs, stones and bodies of water. The land spirits (landvaettir in Old Norse) hold considerable power over the well being of the land and those who live on it. People took care to honor and placate the landvaettir. In the first law of Iceland, Vikings were told to remove the dragon heads from their ships when approaching land so they wouldn’t frighten the land spirits.

Norse mythology is intricate and complex and we’ve presented just the barest bones here. See the resources page for further information on this fascinating aspect of the Vikings’ belief system.

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Vikings History—Symbols

Viking symbols play a large role in their iconography, just as they do in all societies. Symbols are cultural shorthand, a sign that conveys layers of meaning about the culture. The pagan Vikings used symbols to represent their gods, beliefs and myths.

Cultural symbols can take any form, such as sounds, gestures, words, pictures and images. Most of the Vikings symbols we know about were carved on runestones, swords, axes and other items precious to the Norse people. The sagas refer to amulets the people wore, such as Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. In the article on Viking art, we learned that the Vikings loved decorating the items around them, their weapons, bowls, tools and combs. They used their symbols in the decorative arts, in weaving, bone carving and in jewelry.

While some Viking symbols remain mysterious in that we don’t know exactly what they represent, but others have clear meanings. Many Vikings wore Thor’s hammer on thongs around their necks. Jewelry, runestones and valuable weapons were often engraved with the symbols that resonated the most with the Vikings: The Valknut, the Helm of Awe and Thor’s hammer.

The Valknut

the valknut

In the illustration you can see two Valknut symbols: three interlocking triangles that represent Hrungnir’s heart or the heart of the slain. Hrungnir is a legendary giant, discussed in Snorri Sturluson’s Eddas. The Valknut probably signifies the afterlife. The nine points of the three triangles symbolize the nine worlds of the Vikings, which will be discussed in the section on Norse mythology. The Valknut is representative of Odin, the father God of the Vikings, and his power of life over death. The Valknut is often carved on funerary steles and memorial runestones.

The Helm of Awe

The Helm of Awe

 

The term aegishjalmr means the helm of awe or terror. The symbol was used most often in magic to induce delusion or forgetfulness. A special form of magic called seior was used to create illusions or to prevent people seeing things as they really are. Thus, this symbol was used to hide someone from his or her pursuers. It is mentioned often in the sagas as being used by women who performed this kind of magic. The Helm of Awe might be engraved onto a goatskin, which was then thrown over the head of the fugitive. Even after the advent of Christianity, belief in the aegishjalmr persisted.

Thor’s Hammer, Mjolnir

Thor’s Hammer Mjolnir

Mjolnir means lightning, and Thor’s hammer indicates the god’s power over thunder and lightning. Mjolnir, a magic weapon, always came back to Thor when he threw it. Wearing Thor’s hammer as an amulet of protection was quite common as this was probably the most popular of all the pagan Viking symbols. Even during Christian times, from A.D. 1000 on, Vikings wore Thor’s Mjolnir as well as a cross on a chain or thong around their necks.

Vikings History — Sagas and Stories

Viking culture was rich in stories, tales and poems. Kings, brave heroes, beautiful women, dangerous journeys, battles, fearsome dragons and otherworldly creatures were all subjects of tales told by skalds and everyone else. In the Viking Age, no one wrote them down, but everyone knew them, mostly by heart.

Long winters when people were cooped up inside were fertile soil for these stories of old. For centuries, they were kept alive in the hearts of Scandinavians by storytellers. However, the great literature of the Viking Age was in danger of being completely lost as time went by, old folks died and younger people didn’t remember. Finally, with the advent of Christianity in Iceland, Christian churchmen taught the Icelanders to write. Educated men in Iceland saved all of it, from the poetry to the family legends and feuds, by writing it down. Most importantly, now no one would now forget this rich heritage.

Thanks to men like Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic writer, a great flowering of Viking Age literature was produced in Iceland in the 13th century. Sturluson himself produced many of these works: Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, books about Norse mythology and heroes, the Heimskringla, a book about the kings of Norway, Scandinavian history and most likely, Egil’s saga. Sturluson was a lawspeaker at Iceland’s Althing, a poet, historian and politician. Most of what we know about the Viking Age comes from these Icelandic collections of poems, tales, sagas and stories.

All of this Norse literature was written in the vernacular, the language of Iceland, which was unusual for medieval times. Latin was used by educated people and was the usual language employed when writing anything from laws to fairy tales. Viking literature in the vernacular is the only other body of writings in the people’s language besides the Irish hero tales.

Of Norse poetry, there are two varieties: skaldic poetry and eddaic poetry. Skalds were the Viking’s poets and wrote complex, compelling verse usually honoring a king or patron. Eddaic poetry was anonymous and could be about anything—its subjects were humorus, scathing, bawdy, romantic, heroic or brusquely insulting.

Sagas are stories, somewhat like historical fiction. While many of the characters and event are real, saga writers took poetic license in describing them. The events themselves took place a few hundred years before, which is why they should be considered fiction, not fact. Sagas are prose, occasionally with poetic stanzas in the text. The subjects are tales of men’s deeds, battles, journeys, feuds and fights. The subjects could be Christian or pagan, realistic or fantastic, tales of giants or saints or heroes or even regular people.

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Vikings History — What Did They Eat?

What did Vikings eat? The Vikings farmed crops, grew gardens and raised animals, as is typical of food produced from a feudal economy. They ate what they produced on their farms or what they could hunt, fish or gather. Viking farms were generally small, but large enough to keep the family or extended family well-fed in good years. Their food was seasonal, so they might have a lot of food available to eat at some times of the year and very little to eat at others.

On a typical day at the farm, the family would eat two meals. One, the dagmal, or day meal, was served an hour after rising. The family ate the nattmal or night meal at the end of the working day. For breakfast, the dagmal, the adults might eat a bit of some leftover stew still in the cauldron from the night before, with bread and fruit. The children would have porridge and dried fruit or perhaps buttermilk and bread. The evening meal could be fish or meat, stewed with vegetables. They might also eat some more dried fruit with honey as a sweet treat. Honey was the only sweetener the Vikings knew. Vikings drank ale, mead or buttermilk daily.

Feasts would include the same foods—meat, fish, fowl, vegetables, wild greens, bread and fruit, but in a greater variety than usual meal and more of it. Vikings enjoyed drinking ale and mead at feasts. Mead is a strong, fermented drink made from honey.

Women cooked meats, vegetables and breads over the hearth—an open fire pit in the middle of the hall. A Viking wife either roasted the meat on a spit over the fire or boiled it in a soapstone pot or iron cauldron. Vikings loved rich stews, so often meats, vegetables and wild greens were stewed in the cauldron with water. Breads were baked on flat stones or iron griddles over the fire. Salt and pepper were available to most Vikings while costlier spices were imported and added to the foods of wealthier Vikings.

This of course omits the more exotic foods that Vikings obtained by trade.

Crops and Gardens

Barley and rye were the grains that grew best in the northern climate, along with oats. From these grains, Vikings made beer, bread, stews and porridge. Barley was used mostly for beer, with hops to flavor it. Flatbread was the daily bread of the Vikings. A simple dough was made from ground oats or barley, water was added and then the dough flattened out on a griddle and baked over the fire.

Vikings consumed a variety of vegetables including cabbage, onions, garlic, leeks, turnips, peas and beans. These garden crops were sowed in spring and harvested in late summer and fall. Women and children gathered wild plants and herbs, mostly greens. These wild vegetables included nettles, docks, cresses and lambs-quarters. Vikings also grew some herbs such as dill, parsley, mustard, horseradish and thyme.

What Did Vikings Eat? Meat, Fowl and Fish

Scandinavians raised cows, horses, oxen, goats, pigs, sheep, chickens and ducks. They ate beef, goat, pork, mutton, lamb, chicken and duck and occasionally horsemeat. The chickens and ducks produced eggs, so the Vikings ate their eggs as well as eggs gathered from wild seabirds. . Because most Vikings lived on the coast, they ate all kinds of fish, both ocean-going and freshwater fish. In fact, fish was probably a good 25 percent of their diet.

Dairy

Most Viking cows lived long enough to raise a calf and were then slaughtered for meat. Some cows, however, lived to about 10 years old, showing that they were milk cows. While Vikings enjoyed drinking milk, whey and buttermilk, they also used the milk to make other dairy products including cheese, skyr, a soft, yogurt-like cheese, curds and butter. Sour whey was used to preserve cooked meats in the winter.

Fruits and Nuts

Viking farms included apple orchards and such fruit trees as pears and cherries. Wild berries were harvested in the summer, including sloe-berries, lingon berries, strawberries, bilberries and cloud-berries. Walnuts were imported, but hazelnuts grew wild and nuts were a favorite treat.

Seasonal

In summer and fall, Vikings ate well as these were the seasons of plentiful, fresh food. It was important to preserve and store foods for winter and spring, when fresh foods were gone. Fish, fowl and meat were dried, salted or smoked. Vegetables and fruits were dried and stored for winter. Grains were ground and the flour made into bread, which was preserved and stored as well. Even though fresh foods were hard to come by in winter and spring, archeological studies reveal that Vikings didn’t suffer from vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

Vikings History — Explorations and Settlements: Iceland, Greenland and Vinland

When the Vikings burst out of their homelands starting in the 8th century, they raided, fought and settled in many parts of Europe and Russia, but they also took off on voyages of discovery across the Atlantic Ocean. They moved into Scotland and Ireland and most of the Atlantic Islands—Shetland, Orkney and the Hebrides. Vikings soon settled in the Faroe Islands as well and later discovered Iceland through a sailing mishap. Over the next two centuries, Viking explorers settled in Iceland, Greenland and Vinland, in what is now Newfoundland.

Iceland

Norwegian Vikings first discovered Iceland. The first was Naddod, who was blown off course sailing from Norway to the Faroe Islands in 861. He called the new island Snowland. Naddod returned to Norway and told people of his discovery. Six years later, Floki Vilgerdarson was the first Viking to set out for Iceland and find it. Floki gave the island its present name of Iceland. However, it wasn’t until 870 that people arrived to settle in Iceland.

When Harald Fairhair strong-armed Norway under his control, many people fled—some settled in Scotland, Ireland, Orkneys and Faroe Islands and Iceland. A Norwegian chieftain, Ingolfur Arnarson brought his family to Iceland in 874, settling on the southwest peninsula in a place he called Reykjavik or Cove of Smoke. Many other families from Norway, Scotland and Ireland followed. The Icelandic sagas and Landnamabok or Book of the Settlements, written 200 years later, describes the early settling of Iceland. For the next 60 years, settlers came and picked out arable land to farm.

Greenland

Icelanders discovered and settled in Greenland starting in the 980s. Erik the Red, an adventuresome and belligerent man, was exiled from Iceland for killing a man. During his three year-exile, Erik explored the southwest coast of Greenland. When he returned to Iceland, he bragged of the good land he had found, calling it Greenland to attract settlers. Icelanders settled in two main areas, the Eastern Settlement and the Western Settlement.

Farming was difficult, but settlers were able raise livestock and enough grain to feed them. Greenland was able to export furs, wool, sheep, whale blubber and walrus ivory. Due to the advance of the Little Ice Age, however, the colony declined during the 14th century. Life had become too hard, shipping too difficult due t o growing ice. By 1408, all the settlers were gone.

Vinland, North America

A trader named Bjarni Herjolfsson was sailing to Greenland. He was blown off course and sighted lands to the west. He successfully completed his journey to Greenland where he described his accidental find to Leif Ericson, son of Erik the Red. Circa A.D. 1000, Leif and a crew sailed across 1,800 miles across open sea, following Bjarni’s description of his voyage. The Greenlanders made a small settlement in the land they called Vinland. Due to hostile natives that the Vikings called skraelings, the settlement eventually failed.

In the 1960s, a Norse settlement was found at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland by an archeologist Anne Stine Ingstad and her husband Helge. Whether this is the Viking settlement mentioned in various sagas is still in dispute, but archeology proves the Vikings discovered North America 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

Viking Names and Naming Conventions

(See Main Article: Viking Names and Naming Conventions)

Viking parents named their children after a deceased relative, preferably a direct ancestor such as a grandparent or great-grandparent. Vikings venerated their ancestors. By naming a child after a dead relative, it was believed that part of the deceased person’s luck would attach to the new child and bring them success in life. In a sense, a part of the deceased lives on in the child.

If a relative died while a child was the womb, that child always took the name of that relative. If a boy’s father died before he was born, the boy received the father’s name. If an honored ancestor had a common name, then the ancestor’s byname or nickname would also be given to the child. Thus, names remained in the same families for long periods of time.

Alliteration and Variation

Many Viking parents would use two other naming conventions when giving their children names. One was alliteration. The same sound was used in the beginning of each child’s name: Olaf, Olief, Olvir, Ospak, Ottar, for example. Another principle used was variation, changing one name element while leaving the other the same for all children: Hallbjorn, Hallbera, Halldor, Hallfrid, Hallgerd, Hallkel and Halli. Alliteration and variation are ancient naming customs; naming after deceased relatives became more prevalent during the 9th century.

Name Elements

While many Viking names had only one name element, others had two name elements or more. For example, the name Bjorn meaning Bear is one name element. Bjornstein, meaning Bear Rock, is a name with two elements. It’s important to remember that name elements must be carefully used. Some name elements are used only in the first position, others only in the last position. Some are used only for males; others used only for females.

Named for a God

Viking parents also chose the name of a god to use in their children’s names. Thor, the hammer-wielding protector of humanity, was the most popular god and Thor as a name element was quite common for boy’s names: Thorald, Thorberg, Thorbjorn, Thord, Thorfast, Thorgest and so on. For girls, names with As (god) were common: Asdis, Asgerd, Ashild, Asta and Astrid.

Bynames or Nicknames

Vikings often received nicknames from people who knew them well and were usually derogatory. People themselves didn’t use their nicknames, but others referred to them by it. People could get stuck with a nickname because of a physical or character trait, their occupation, place of origin or habits.

Vikings and Norse Mythology

(See Main Article: Vikings and Norse Mythology)

In the world of Norse mythology, we find gods and goddesses, giants, strange and powerful creatures, elves, dwarves and land spirits. It is difficult for a 21st century person to conceive of the worldview of the Vikings, brimming as it was with such a variety of spiritual beings.

Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds

The center of the Vikings’ cosmos is the ash tree Yggdrasil, growing out of the Well of Urd. Yggdrasil holds the Nine Worlds, home of gods, man and all spiritual beings. The gods live in Asgard and Vanaheim and humans inhabit Midgard. Giants live in Jotunheim, elves in Alfheim and dwarves in Svartalfheim. Another is the primordial world of ice, Niflheim, while Muspelheim is the world of fire. The last world comprises Hel, the land of the dead, ruled by the goddess Hel.

Gods and Goddesses

The gods and goddesses venerated by the Vikings are Odin, Thor, Loki, Baldur, Frigg, Freya, Freyr and Njoror. There are many other gods and goddesses in the Norse pantheon but these received the primary attention in the sagas and eddas.

  • Odin, the allfather, the one-eyed seeker of wisdom, god of magic, war and runes, hung himself on Yggdrasil for nine days and nights to find wisdom, brought the runes to mankind
  • Thor, with his magic hammer Mjolnir, protects mankind and his realm of Midgard, god of warriors
  • Loki, a dangerous half-god, half-giant trickster always wreaking havoc among the gods
  • Baldur, son of Odin and Frigg, a beautiful and gracious god, beloved of all, killed by Loki’s trickery
  • Frigg, wife of Odin, practitioner of magic, goddess of the home, mother of Baldur
  • Freya, feather-cloaked goddess of love and fertility but also of war and death
  • Freyr, her brother, god of farming, agriculture, fertility and prosperity
  • Njoror, powerful god of the sea

Giants, Elves, Dwarves and Land Spirits

Giant is not a good name for these spiritual beings; think of them as devourers, out to destroy order and return the world to primeval chaos. They are the enemies of gods, but also their relatives. Giants are dangerous to mankind, which is why Thor often hunts them. Elves and dwarves appear in the sagas, but are different from what we might picture them to be. Dwarves are miners and smiths and live underground. They are invisible, powerful spiritual beings, not short humans. Elves are also spiritual beings, demi-gods who can mate with mankind and have children with them.

Land spirits inhabit everything on the land—trees, herbs, stones and bodies of water. The land spirits (landvaettir in Old Norse) hold considerable power over the well being of the land and those who live on it. People took care to honor and placate the landvaettir. In the first law of Iceland, Vikings were told to remove the dragon heads from their ships when approaching land so they wouldn’t frighten the land spirits.

Norse mythology is intricate and complex and we’ve presented just the barest bones here. See the resources page for further information on this fascinating aspect of the Vikings’ belief system.

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Vikings: From Pagans to Christians

(See Main Article: Vikings: From Pagans to Christians)

While Charlemagne “converted” pagans to Christianity by the sword, the conversion of Vikings to Christianity occurred without violence for the most part. In the early Viking Age, Viking traders noted that they suffered losses in trade contracts and deals because the other party was Christian. Christian traders tended to give more business and better deals to other Christians, discriminating against pagans and Muslims. A Viking trader might then wear a cross when he was among Christians only to change it back to his usual Thor’s hammer upon returning home. As long as the Viking trader wasn’t baptized, he could practice both religions, a common practice in Scandinavia for the next few centuries.

At first, the Viking Norse didn’t take to Christianity. They loved their own gods and were content with them. English and Frankish Christian priests and monks had begun missionary tours to the Viking lands from the 700s to 800s. However, the conversion of the Vikings took place over centuries. Even when a Danish or Swedish king became Christian and proclaimed his people were Christian, many still practiced their pagan ways and held to the old gods. By the end of the Viking Age, however, most Vikings had become fully Christian and were baptized and buried in that faith.

Denmark

While an earlier Danish Viking king, Harald Klak, had been baptized in 826, it wasn’t until King Harald Bluetooth was baptized in 965 that Christianity took a firmer hold in Denmark. Harald Bluetooth raised the Jelling Stone proclaiming that he made all Danes Christian, although the new faith lived side by side with the old for the next few hundred years. Danish Vikings accepted Christianity slowly. By 1110 the first stone cathedral was begun in Denmark’s oldest city of Ribe. It was finished in 1134. By then, most Danes had become Christian.

Norway

Although a few earlier kings had adopted Christianity, it wasn’t until 995 when Olaf Tryggvason led a successful revolt against the pagan king Hakkon Jarl that Christianity came to Norway. Olaf Tryggvason became King Olaf I and proceeded to convert Norwegians to Christianity by force. He burned pagan temples and killed Vikings who wouldn’t convert. Through these violent methods, every part of Norway became Christian, at least in name. Various kings’ sagas attribute the Christianization of Iceland and the other Western islands to Olaf’s efforts.

Sweden

During the later Viking Age, Christianity began making inroads in Sweden, with Episcopal sees being established during the 11th century. Conflict and violence also attended Sweden’s gradual conversion to Christianity, but generally the old and new faith co-existed for many years. Most Swedish Vikings of this time favored a gradual transition to the new religion while continuing some of the old religion’s rituals. By the 12th century, however, Sweden was predominantly Christian.

The Normans that invaded England in 1066 came from Normandy in Northern France. However, they were originally Vikings from Scandinavia. From the eighth century Vikings terrorized continental European coastlines with raids and plundering. The proto-Normans instead settled their conquests and cultivated land. Over time they assimilated into medieval European society, abandoned paganism, and upheld conventional Christian norms.

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Norman migration map

At the beginning of the tenth century, the French King, Charles the Simple, had given some land in the North of France to a Viking chief named Rollo. He hoped that by giving the Vikings their own land in France they would stop attacking French realms. From there they would cultivate land, join the feudal economy, and be a source of manpower the king in times of warfare.

The land became known as Northmannia, the land of the Northmen. It was later shortened to Normandy. The Vikings intermarried with the French and by the year 1000, they were no longer Viking pagans, but French-speaking Christians.

They still held to their Viking enthusiasm of conquest abroad, howerver. In the year 1030 a group of Normans conquered land in Italy. By 1099 they had taken over most of Southern Italy.

Although the Normans are best remembered for their military achievements—particularly in the Crusades—they also showed remarkable skill in government, especially in Italy.

The Normans established many schools, monasteries, cathedrals and churches in both Italy and England and after conquering England built many castles to defend their new land.

Good sources for history of the Normans include the buildings, many of which survive to today, writings of the men of the time, and the Bayeaux Tapestry, which shows the Norman invasion and conquest of England.

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Art of the Normans: They Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry is a piece of embroidery measuring approximately 231 feet by 20 inches. Worked in colored wool on bleached linen, it tells of William of Normandy’s rightful claim to the English throne and his subsequent invasion and conquest of England in 1066. The style of the stitching indicates that the Tapestry was made in England.

History has recorded that the Bayeux Tapestry, was probably commissioned of the Embroiderer’s Guild by William the Conqueror’s brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, to celebrate the Norman conquest of England in 1066.

More recently, embroidery students have argued that the Bayeux Tapestry is an amateur piece of work that was in fact stitched by the ladies of the court of the Normans.

Read the evidence below and decide for yourself.

The Embroiderer’s Guild made the Bayeux Tapestry

  • The size of the piece and the speed at which it was made suggests that it could only have been made by professionals.
  • Bishop Odo became Earl of Kent after the Conquest.
  • Canterbury, Kent was home to Europe’s leading school of embroiderers.
  • Odo of Bayeux is shown in many of the scenes both as a clergyman and as a soldier.

Bayeux tapestry showing Odo of Bayeux

Odo of Bayeux (left) is shown with his brothers. William (centre) and Robert (right)

For more detailed analysis visit 1066.com

The Ladies of the Court made the Bayeux Tapestry

  • In France the Bayeux Tapestry is known as Queen Matilda’s Tapestry. Matilda was William’s wife.
  • It is worked in a very quick and simple stitch called ‘laid work’ that was not used by the Guilds of the day.
  • Patches of unpicking and re-working are clearly visible. The Guilds would have taken care to cover any sign of re-working.
  • The figures shown are very simply drawn.

Detail from the Bayeux Tapestry showing how blocks of wool have been laid onto the linen and stitched in place.

William the Conqueror: Overview

(See Main Article: William the Conqueror: Overview)

William, the illegitimate son of Robert, Duke of Normandy, was born at Falaise Castle, Normandy, in 1027 or 1028. He was known as William the Bastard.

When his father died in 1035, William was named as his successor.

By the time that he was twenty-seven, he had earned himself a good reputation as a strong leader. He defended Normandy well from repeated attacks by the French and was feared as a military leader.

William’s Claim to England

Harold

William was a distant cousin of the English King Edward the Confessor and claimed that Edward, who had no children, had promised him the throne of England. He also claimed that when Harold Godwineson had been shipwrecked off Normandy, he had sworn to support his claim.

When Harold Godwineson was crowned King of England, William, with the approval of the Pope, began planning an invasion to take what was rightfully his.

Harold’s Claim to England

Harold was born around 1020, to one of the richest men in England, Earl Godwin. After his father’s death he became a loyal supporter of Edward the Confessor and married the daughter of the Earl of Mercia.

Harold claimed that when his ship had been blown into Norman waters, he had been taken prisoner and had been forced to support William’s claim to secure his release. He also claimed that Edward promised him the throne on his deathbed and that he was the rightful King of England.

William the Conqueror Timeline

(See Main Article: William the Conqueror Timeline)

Date

Summary

Detailed Information

Oct 1066 William took treasury Following the defeat of Harold at the Battle of Hastings, William made it his first priority to gain control of the English treasury. He then marched to London to crush English resistance which was gathering around Edgar Atheling, grandson of Edmund II and Saxon heir to the English throne.
Late Oct/early Nov 1066 William took London William mounted a campaign of devastation in and around London which forced Edgar Atheling to surrender.
25 Dec 1066 Coronation of William William, Duke of Normandy, was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey.
1067 Distribution of land William distributed land to his trusted Norman barons. He was careful to ensure that no one man was given too great an area in any given region. The estates were also scattered all over the country to easily put down any sign of rebellion against Norman rule.
1066 onwards The feudal system All land belonged to the crown. One quarter was treated by William as personal property and the rest was leased out under strict conditions. The country was split into manors which were given to Barons by the King. In return the Baron and his Knights had to serve on the royal Grand Council, pay various dues and provide the King with military service when required. The Baron kept as much land as he wished for his own use, then distributed the rest among his Knights who were thereby bound to meet the Baron’s military needs, when either he or the King called for them. The knights in turn allocated sections of their lands to villeins (serfs) who had to provide free labour and food and service whenever, with or without warning, it was demanded.
1067 William returns to Normandy William returned to Normandy, leaving England in the hands of two trusted regents. The first, Odo of Bayeaux, William’s half-brother who was made Earl of Kent and the greatest landowner in England. It is thought to have been Odo who commissioned the Bayeaux Tapestry. The second was William Fitz Osborn, a good friend of William’s who was also granted extensive lands and the title Earl of Hereford. He was a notable castle builder.
Sept 1068 Birth of Henry I A fourth son, Henry, was born to William and Matilda of Flanders at Selby, Yorkshire.
11 May 1068 Coronation of Queen William’s wife, Matilda, was crowned Queen consort at Westminster Abbey or in Winchester cathedral.
1070 Taxation Tithes were introduced. Under this system, the population had to pay one-tenth of their annual increases in profit for the upkeep of the church.
1070 William refused to allow the church power Although William was very religious, he refused to allow church authority to be greater than his own. Some existing English Bishops were deposed and William insisted that all future church appointments should be Normans. William would allow no bishop to visit Rome or correspond with the Pope without his express permission.
1070 Ecclesiastical/ Lay courts William separated ecclesiastical courts from lay courts and brought many of the church’s everyday functions under the authority of common law.
1070 Devastation of the North William’s new barons grew quarrelsome. They taxed and bullied the defeated Saxons until revolt broke out all over the country. The Saxons had the backing of Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland and Swein Estrithson, one of William’s rivals for the throne. William returned from Normandy and, despite recognising the guilt of many of his Norman barons, he burned and slaughtered his way to total submission of the Saxons. Large areas of Yorkshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire were left derelict following the brutal harrying of William’s forces.
1071 Hereward the Wake defeated. A revolt against William by Hereward the Wake was put down. This eliminated the last major resistance to William’s place on the throne.
1072 Forest Law William, who loved hunting, made large areas of woodland subject to Forest Law. This meant that not only the animals that lived in that specific woodland, but also the leaves on the trees belonged to the King. This law made life very difficult for those living nearby since it was now against the law for them to kill animals in the forest for food and to gather sticks for a fire.
1073- 1076 William to Normandy Because England was now relatively secure, William spent much of this time in Normandy defending it from increasingly hostile neighbours. The main threats to Normandy were King Philip of France and Count Fulk le Rectin of Anjou.
1078 Curthose Defects William’s son, Robert Curthose, who had never been allowed to enjoy either money or power, started working against his father.
1085- 1086 Threat of invasion William returned to England to ward off a threatened invasion from Scandinavia.
1086 Domesday Book The Domesday Book was a survey of England compiled under the orders of William. It is thought to have been carried out because of a need for more money. The survey was carried out by commissioners, grouped in about eight teams that travelled from county to county. The teams were led by bishops who asked questions, under oath, of the people. Records that still exist today show that over 13,000 towns and villages were surveyed. The findings showed that over a quarter of the land belonged to William and his family, two-fifths were shared between the Barons and the church owned the remainder.
July 1087 William injured The garrison of the French fortress of Mantes made a raid into Normandy. William retaliated and sacked Mantes, receiving the injury from which he was to die.
9 Sept 1087 William Died William died in France from wounds received at the siege of Mantes. He left Normandy to his eldest son, Robert Curthose. He left both his sword and the English crown to his second son William. William I was buried in St Stephen’s Abbey, Caen, Normandy.

The Events Leading to the Norman Conquest of 1066

(See Main Article: The Events Leading to the Norman Conquest of 1066)

Edward the Confessor

8 June 1042 Accession of Edward the Confessor Edward returned from exile in Normandy to claim the English throne. However, he was not popular with the  Anglo-Danish aristocracy established by Cnut.
3 April 1043 Coronation of Edward the Confessor Edward was crowned King of England at Winchester Cathedral.
23 Jan 1045 Marriage of Edward to Edith Edward married Edith, the daughter of Godwine, Earl of Wessex, the wealthiest and most powerful English subject. However, because of his religious views, Edward was unwilling to consummate the marriage. There would therefore be no heir to the throne from the marriage.
1045 Harold Godwineson titled Harold Godwineson was created Earl of East Anglia.
1051 Rebellion by Godwine Edward ordered Godwine, as Earl of Wessex, to sack Dover in retaliation for a brawl in which several men were killed. Godwine, however, refused and raised troops against the King. The Earls of Mercia and Northumbria were ordered to raise troops against Godwin. The situation could have resulted in civil war, but many nobles feared foreign invasion and withdrew their support from Godwine. Godwine and his family were exiled.
1052 Rebellion by Godwine Godwine returned to England with a large force and insisted that the King banish several of his Norman nobles. The king had no choice but to do as Godwine asked.
15 April 1053 Godwine died. Godwine died. His son, Harold Godwineson succeeded to the Earldom of Wessex and became the dominant power.
1055 Tostig inherited Northumbria. Harold Godwinson’s brother Tostig inherited the Earldom of Northumbria.
1057 Return of Edward and Edgar Ironside. Edward, son of Edmund Ironside, who had been exiled by Cnut, returned from Hungary with his infant son Edgar. He was heir to the throne of England but died soon after returning. His son, the young prince Edgar, was technically the heir to the throne, but the prospect of an infant King was not favourable.
1058 Harold Godwineson Harold Godwineson was created Earl of Hereford.
1060-66 Westminster Abbey Edward devoted much of the rest of his life to the building of Westminster Abbey. He left the running of the country to the Nobles, especially Harold Godwineson.
1062 Welsh raid England King Gruffydd ap Llewelyn of Gwynedd, ruler of Wales, made a series of raids on England. The combined forces of Harold Godwinson and his brother Tostig were needed to drive ap Llewelyn back to Wales. He died in 1063
1064 Godwineson meets Duke William of Normandy Harold Godwineson was shipwrecked off the coast of Normandy. Some historians believe that Duke William of Normandy held him captive until he had sworn on Holy Relics to enforce William’s claim to the throne of England. Others believe that Harold offered his support willingly.
1065 Tostig exiled. The Saxons of Northumbria rebelled against Earl Tostig, Harold Godwineson’s brother. Although Harold mediated Tostig was eventually exiled. As an exile he was technically Harold’s enemy.
4/5 Jan 1066 Death of Edward the Confessor Edward the Confessor died at the Palace of Westminster. He was buried in the new Westminster Abbey.

Harold Godwineson (Harold II)

4/5 Jan 1066 Accession of Harold Godwineson Although he had promised to support William, Duke of Normandy’s claim to the English throne, Harold allowed himself to be elected King as soon as Edward had died. The move was taken because it was feared that the Norwegian King, Magnus, and his son, Harald Hardrada, would invade England to claim the English throne through their descent from Harthacnut.
6 Jan 1066 Coronation of Harold II King Harold II was crowned King of England at St Paul’s Cathedral
Jan 1066 Invasions planned As news of the accession and coronation of Harold Godwineson spread, both William of Normandy and Harald Hardrada of Norway, Harold’s rivals for the English throne, raised forces and planned to invade England.
1066 Marriage of Harold to Edith Harold married Edith, the daughter of Alfgar, Earl of Mercia.
20 Sept 1066 Battle of Fulford Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, allied with the Orkney Vikings and Harold Godwinson’s brother Tostig and invaded the north of England. The combined forces of Mercia and Northumberland led by earls Edwin and Morcar were heavily defeated outside York. Harold was forced to march his army north to fight off the Norwegian invasion.
25 Sept 1066 Battle of Stamford Bridge Harold Godwineson surprised Harald Hardrada’s forces as they rested outside York. Both Hardrada and Tostig were killed and the invading forces defeated. Harold had recovered Northumbria but his army was considerably weakened.
27 Sept 1066 Normans set sail When he heard that Harold had been forced North, William mounted his invasion. A fleet of ships carrying about 5,000 warriors, horses, arms and supplies left France, paid for by William’s brother, Odo, bishop of Bayeux.
28 Sept 1066 Normans invade William Duke of Normandy landed at Pevensey in the South of England and began a march towards Hastings where a wooden fort was built. Harold Godwinson’s weakened army were forced to march rapidly South.
14 Oct 1066 Battle of Hastings Harold’s army had returned South and Harold, hoping to surprise the Normans, as he had the Norwegians, decided not to wait for reinforcement by the fyrd or thegns.The battle took place at Senlac Hill. Harold ordered his Saxon army to make a shield wall at the top of the hill. William’s army made the first attack but were held off by the shield wall. Successive attacks by the Normans continued to be held off by the shield wall. Some time later, however, some Saxons thought they heard a cry that William had been killed. The Saxon’s believing that they had won the battle, broke the shield wall and chased the retreating Normans down the hill. This gave the Norman horseman the opportunity they had been waiting for. Charging into the Saxon foot soldiers they cut them down before riding up the hill to break the remnants of the shield wall.

The battle lasted all day and towards the end of the day Harold fell, popularly thought to be from an arrow in the eye, but actually from a sword blow wielded by a mounted Norman Knight. The English infantry was broken, William had won the battle. He gave thanks for victory by founding an altar and later an abbey at the place known afterwards as Battle.

Harald Hardrada & Stamford Bridge

(See Main Article: The Events Leading to the Norman Conquest of 1066)

Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, like William of Normandy, believed that the English throne should be his, not Harold Godwineson’s.

Background to Hardrada’s Claim

Edward the Confessor, who had died childless in January 1066, had seized the English throne back from the Norwegian Harthacnut in 1042. Harthacnut was the son of the Viking King Cnut who had ruled England from 1016 – 1035.

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Hardrada claimed that Harthacnut had promised the English throne to King Magnus of Norway. Magnus was an old King and had chosen not fight Edward the Confessor for the throne. Harald Hardrada succeeded King Magnus to the throne of Norway and when Edward the Confessor died he decided to take the English throne for himself. Hardrada began planning his invasion.

Stamford Bridge

September 20th 1066 – Battle of Fulford

Harald Hardrada, with a fleet of more than 300 ships, and the support of Harold Godwineson’s brother Tostig, sailed up the river Humber and landed just south of York. Two powerful Earls in the north, Edwin and Morcar, hurriedly mustered an army. They were heavily beaten by the invaders.

Harold Godwineson’s Problem

Harold Godwineson knew that if Hardrada were to be defeated he had to take his army north to fight him off. However, Harold was also aware that William of Normandy’s invasion force was ready and would sail as soon as the wind changed. If he marched north he would have to leave the south coast unprotected and his army would be forced to march hundreds of miles north, fight a battle, then march back to the south coast and the possibility of another battle.

Stamford Bridge Map

25th September 1066 – Battle of Stamford Bridge

Godwineson decided to march north and fight off the Norwegians. He believed that he could reach the north, defeat the Norwegians and return back south before the wind changed. After a rapid march north, Godwineson’s army caught the Norwegians by surprise at Stamford Bridge. The result was a firm victory for the English.

Both Harald and Godwineson’s brother, Tostig were dead as were hundreds of Norwegian soldiers. Godwineson ordered a huge banquet to be held at York to celebrate the victory. However, the celebrations were cut short when news reached Godwineson that William of Normandy had landed on the South Coast.

Norman Ship

Medieval Life – Feudalism and the Feudal System

(See Main Article: Medieval Life – Feudalism and the Feudal System)

The feudal system was introduced to England following the invasion and conquest of the country by William I, The Conqueror.

The feudal system had been used in France by the Normans from the time they first settled there in about 900AD. It was a simple, but effective system, where all land was owned by the King. One quarter was kept by the King as his personal property, some was given to the church and the rest was leased out under strict controls.

Feudal System

 

 

The King: Leader of the Feudal System

King

The King was in complete control under the feudal system (at least nominally). He owned all the land in the country and decided to whom he would lease land. He therefore typically allowed tenants he could trust to lease land from him. However, before they were given any land they had to swear an oath of fealty to the King at all times. The men who leased land from the King were known as Barons, they were wealthy, powerful, and had complete control of the land they leased from the King.

Barons: Executors of the Feudal System

coat of arms

Barons leased land from the King that was known as a manor. They were known as the Lord of the Manor and were in complete control of this land. They established their own system of justice, minted their own money, and set their own taxes. In return for the land they had been given by the King, the Barons had to serve on the royal council, pay rent and provide the King with Knights for military service when he demanded it. They also had to provide lodging and food for the King and his court when they traveled around his realm. The Barons kept as much of their land as they wished for their own use, then divided the rest among their Knights. Barons were very rich.

Knights

Knight

Knights were given land by a Baron in return for military service when demanded by the King. They also had to protect the Baron and his family, as well as the Manor, from attack. The Knights kept as much of the land as they wished for their own personal use and distributed the rest to villeins (serfs). Although not as rich as the Barons, Knights were quite wealthy.

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Villeins

peasant

Villeins, sometimes known as serfs, were given land by Knights. They had to provide the Knight with free labor, food, and service whenever it was demanded. Villeins had no rights. They were not allowed to leave the Manor and had to ask their Lord’s permission before they could marry. Villeins were poor.

What Were the Crusades?

(See Main Article: What Were the Crusades?)

The Crusades that were known as “Holy wars,” were military campaigns of the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. Pope Urban II was the first pope who inspired people to the take part of the first crusade of 1095. The Pope’s speech was so motivational; thousands of people took a cross and fastened it to their garments, hence the name “crusade”. The idea behind the first crusades was to restore Christian access to the Holy Land. The first crusade was very successful and ended with the capture of Jerusalem.

200 Year Struggle

After the first crusade took place, a 200-year long conflict ensued. The Christians established several Latin Christian states in the Holy Land, while the local Muslims fought back to regain what they considered to be theirs. The Crusaders had other Christian allies in the Byzantine Empire, but relations soured during the Third Crusade and escalated in the sack of Constantinople. By 1291, the Christian rule of the Holy Land had come to an end when the Mamluk dynasty in
Egypt destroyed Acre, the last stronghold.

What Was the Black Plague?

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The Black Death, also often called the “bubonic plague” was an epidemic of disastrous proportions that is said to have killed up to 50% of the European population in the 1300’s and around 12 million people in China in the 1800s. According to historians, the Black Death came from the East (Either China or Mongolia) and reach Italy in 1348, during the spring. So many centuries later, it is hard to determine the exact cause of death, which is why several theories exist. The most widely adopted theory is that it was caused by rats, but other theories claim that it may have been a viral infection.

Bubonic Plague

According to the “bubonic plague” theory, the disease was a bacterium, Yersinia pestis spread by fleas that lived on infected black rats, which typically live in close proximity to humans. Once a colony of rats has been killed off due to the disease, starving fleas would jump over on humans. Symptoms are flu-like, with headache, fever, weakness, and swollen lymph glands or “bubos,” hence the name “bubonic.” Humans would show their first symptoms three days after infection and 80% of those died within five days after onset. The Bubonic plague still exists in pockets today, but thanks to modern medicine, only 1 out of 7 of those that become infected die. The fact that the Black Death claimed larger portions of the population in the countryside than in urban areas supports the fact that it was spread by fleas.

The High Middle Ages

(See Main Article: The High Middle Ages)

The High Middle Ages were a period of incredible technological innovation, architectural design, and artistic production. Nevertheless, myths about the period’s backwardness and ignorance remain. Below is an excerpt from a book by medieval and Renaissance scholar Anthony Esolen on myth and fact about the High Middle Ages.

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Thmythabouthe High MiddlAges are passedowtusin partfroKarl Marx.

Thhistoroalhitherto existinsocietithhistoroclasstruggles.

Freemaanslavepatriciaanplebeianloranserf, guild-masteanjourneymanin a wordoppressoanoppressedstooin constanopposition to onanother.

Karl MarxThCommunist Manifesto (79)

Nothedidn’tTake thmedievajourneymanHe benefitefrotraininhhad receiveas an apprenticeanwhehproduced a worosufficientlimpressive quality—literally, a master-piece—htoo would become a fulmembeof a guildIfactthguild systeiexactly what MarxcontemporaryPopLeXIII, a great opponenosocialism, recommendefothe workingmanwhoMarheliscorn.

Warmer is better

The third factor is a subtle one. We hear a lot about global warming these days, and since I’m no geologist I won’t venture an opinion, except to say that in history the great threat to man has not been warming but cooling. Its obvious why. If you shorten the growing season by a few weeks and makthsummehighs a littlcooleryoremovmillionoacreof land from the plowYou put stubby grass and mosses where cattle used tgrazothsavannah, and yoturn intsavannawhausetbe prime land for growing cereal grains.

The cooling helps explain the barbarian invasions: they and their cattlwercolanhungryAndaI’vnotedonwintethehad a Rhine Rivefrozesolidsthecoulcroswherthepleasedanthe Roman legions, already stretched thin, could do nothing about it.

Coolinweathecausethe occasionally faileharvestBuiharvests are only fair, any outright failures will deplete your stores of grain. People grow sickly. Life expectancy drops. Population shrinks. The cities—dependent upon storable grain—emptyTown life withers away. People cannot afford the division of labor that allows for scholars, accountants, merchants, sculptors, actors, whatever. Back to the land, they go: for man needs bread.

BuwheonotwothesfactorhadisappeareobeeovercomeEuropwaready foitgranresurgenceConsideitcultural advantagesChristianithascrubbeawamosothlate Greco-Roman prejudice against manual labor. Recall Benedict and his monastiruleMonkswhatevetheibackgroundworkethlandThey cleareththickdamGermaforestotreeanstumpsThedrained thmarshesTheduwellsbuilgranariesplantevineyardsancommunicatetechnologicainnovationamonthemselvesin a network extending across Europe.

The monks retained a healthy respect for hierarchy and law. Imagine what imighbliktbuild aeconomihospowhere nothinbut black firs and mosquitoes had been, without a clear and effective chain of command. At the same time, they inherited the Christian revelation that Christ came for all men, not only for the rulers. Their model of hierarchy and equality, or equality expressed by obedience and Christ-like service, exerted a powerful influence upon the villages that grew up around the monasteriesantheupomedievalifgenerallyFoChrisHimself waobedienteveunto deatupon a crossanthereforesayPaul, every knee shall bend to Him, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. So despite wickedness and selfishness, which we will always have with us, the people of the High Middle Ages knew that the soul of a peasant was no less worth saving than was the soul of a duke. That meant that, as harsh as serfdom could be, the continent could never quite slide back into slavery. The irrepressible movement in the High Middle Ages is towards freedom.

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"Viking And Norman History" History on the Net
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December 7, 2022 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/ancient-viking-norman-history>
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