Introduction to the Viking Raids

Swedish Vikings
- Sweden
- Estonia
- Ukraine 

Norw. Vikings 
- Isle of Man
- Faeroe Islands
- Iceland
- Greenland
- Canada 

Finnish Vikings
- Finland / Aland Isl.

Danish Vikings 
- British Isles 

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The term Viking is most commonly defined as the ship-borne explorers, traders, and warriors of Norsemen who originated in Scandinavia and raided the coasts of the British Isles, France and other parts of Europe from the late 8th century to the 11th century. This period of European history (generally dated to 793–1066) is often referred to as the Viking Age. It may also be used to define the entire populations of the Viking Age in Scandinavia and their settlements elsewhere. However, the Vikings as such were not of one nationality, but rather different tribes of different origins living in Scandinavia. 

Famed for their shipbuilding and navigational skills, the Vikings for three centuries towards the end of the first millennium founded settlements along the coasts and rivers of mainland Europe, Ireland, Normandy, the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands, as well as the Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland, and Russia, their influence reaching as far south as to North Africa. 

Their influence in North Africa is "testified to" through this French stamp, featuring the city arms of Oran in present-day Algeria. This city is located on the Mediterranean coast, very close to the border of Morocco. 

The arms is highly symbolic, with features of the French influence (the Gallic Cock), the Vikings (a Viking ship), the Muslims (the half-moon and star), and -- more generally -- the Nordic Peoples (the Nordic Lion, similar to the national arms of Norway). 

  • France 1960. City Arms of Oran, Algeria. 

France 1960. City Arms of Oran, Algeria.

They plundered enthusiastically the southern tip if the Iberian peninsula and a city on Sicily in Italy, believing that the latter was Rome! The Viking Age is often considered to have definitively ended with the Battle of Hastings in England 1066. 

Map of the Viking raids.

  • Map of the Viking raids. Scan (c) Microsoft Encarta. 

    • Yellow lines: the routes of the Danish Vikings south to England, Germany, France, Spain,  and the northwestern Mediterranean coast. 

    • White lines: the Norwegian Vikings sailed to Ireland, the Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and Canada (Newfoundland). 

    • Red lines: the routes of the Swedish Vikings going to eastern Europe and Turkey. 

The word viking was introduced to the English language with romantic connotations in the 18th century. They were Scandinavian pirates, 1807, vikingr; modern spelling attested from 1840. The word is a historical revival; it was not used in Medieval English, but it was revived from Old Norse "viking"r, which usually is explained as "one who came from the fjords". Etymologists assign the earliest use of the word to Anglo-Frankish writers, who referred to "víkingr" as one who set about to raid and pillage. In the current Scandinavian languages the term Viking is applied to the people who went away on viking expeditions, be it for raiding or trading. 

They took a heavy toll on the fragile political development and stability of Europe, although the damage caused by the Vikings may well have been exaggerated by the main historians of the period. These historians were usually priests who looked upon the pagan Vikings with particular horror. In addition, the Church, as a wealthy and relatively defenseless target, may have suffered more heavily than many other sectors of European society. 

Despite the notoriety the Vikings attracted because of their ferocity, they converted, within a century or two to Christianity and settled for good in the lands they had raided. At the same time, the Vikings were developing new outposts of settlement in Iceland, Greenland, North America, and the North Atlantic, and established also kingdoms in Scandinavia along the lines of the European kingdoms to the south. As they became assimilated in their new lands, they became farmers and traders as well as they were rulers and warriors. 

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Copyrighted © 14th January 2007. All Rights Reserved
Revised 15-feb-2007

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Contact me: Ann Mette Heindorff