An ahistorical depiction of a Viking
How do we know about
• Sources and Contemporary Accounts
• Vikings left many traces of their
settlements that are still visible today.
Archaeology provides physical evidence
of their conquests, settlements, and daily
• Not a lot of evidence survives, and
much of what we have is either
uninformative or unreliable. Many
popular ideas of Vikings are 19th
century inventions, such as horns on
helmets. Few historical records and
contemporary written sources exist
• Surviving accounts of Viking activity was almost
exclusively written by churchmen. These
included monastic chronicles such as the Anglo
Saxon chronicle, Frankish, and Irish Annals. The
chronicles reﬂect the fact that Vikings attacked
these monasteries for their wealth and the
accounts had a hostile tone to give a popular
image of Viking atrocities. The Vikings were
considered heathens for their invasions in
monasteries and as a result were portrayed in the
worst possible way.
One of the earliest Icelandic Manuscripts in
Old Norse, the Viking language.
“Saga” is a Norse
word meaning tales.
provide almost all of
the knowledge we
have of the Vikings.
• There are about forty sagas that include
descriptions of historical events in Iceland and
voyages across the North Atlantic from Norway,
Greenland and Vinland (Newfoundland). The sagas
also have records of family history such as Erik the
Red who founded Greenland, and his son Leif
Erickson who discovered North America.
• The Sagas were compiled in the 13th and 14th
century, and later based on stories that
originated as early as 400 and 500 years
• Archaeology is proving that a lot of these
stories have a good basis of fact; in fact the
Icelandic sagas were used to help ﬁnd what
might be the site of Vinland.
• There are also Norse oral religious traditions
written as poems that are collectively named as
• They are folktales.
• Eddas and Sagas weren’t written on paper.
Instead on vellum-sheepskin or calf skin. Vellum
is more resistant to rot and preserves much better
than paper does.
What were their goals?
• Raids and loot were not the
An accurate depiction of
whole story of the Vikings.
what a Viking looked like.
Land to farm was also a
commodity. There were
limited sources of food.
• They received inﬂuences from Europe
that they saw as technologically and
politically superior to their culture.
Unlike many other invaders in history,
the vikings weren’t trying to spread their
religion that was paganism, rather gain
new resources and new connections.
They wanted political and economical
• Vikings had to ﬁnd
food, live off the
land, and set up
drove people out
and took their
money and other
valuables they had.
Vikings targeted the
were the major
sources of wealth at
Ships and Navigation
• We know what Viking ships looked
like because many vikings were
buried with their goods that
sometimes included their boats.
• They had swift wooden long ships,
equipped with sails and oars. Figureheads would be
raised at stem and stern
Shallow drought of these ships as a sign of war.
meant they were able to reach far
inland by river or stream to strike and
move before local forces could
• Ships had overlapping planks, and measured
between 17.5m and 36m in length. They
were steered by a single oar mounted on the
• Reached an average speed of 10 to 11 knots
• Crews of 25 to 60 men would be common,
but larger ships could carry over a hundred
• Sea battles were rare. They fought close to
shore. Ships were roped together in lines to
face an enemy ﬂeet.
Battles and tactics
• Vikings had no professional standing army and
tactics and discipline seemed at little
development. They didn’t ﬁght in regular
• Weapons training began at youth in hunting,
sports, and raiding.
• Aspiring warriors wanted armed service so they
clanged to famous ﬁghters in order to be
rewarded with weapons and fame of their own.
A leader needed to wage war frequently in order
to keep his followers and maintain power
Battles and Tactics
• The famous Berserker
warriors fought in groups,
and believed that Odin,
their god of war, gave
them both protection and
superhuman powers so
they had no need for
armour. Berserker battles
were intense and it’s said
they bit on their shields
and could ignore the pain
• Many experienced vikings formed a wedge of 20
to 30 men and would then charge at the enemy.
They fought mainly on foot. The largest armies
may have been 4,000 to 7,000 men. After war
Vikings would return to lives as farmers,
merchants, craftsmen, or join other war-bands.
• The main offensive weapons were the
spear, sword, and battle-axe.
• They carried weapons not just for battle
but also as a symbol of their owners’
class and wealth. Weapons were
decorated with inlays, twisted wire and
other accessories in silver, copper, and
• The spear was the common weapon
with an iron blade 2m to 3m in
• Swords were a sign of high status
because they were costly to make.
The blades were usually double
edged and up to 90cm. Many swords
were given names.
An accurate viking helmet left. The mail armor shown right.
• There were circular shields up to one
metre across that were carried. The
shield may have been leather covered.
Around 1000, the kite shaped shield
was introduced to the Vikings to
provide more protection for the legs.
• The ﬁrst Viking raids were hit- and -run affairs.
There was no coordination and long term plan
behind them. The Vikings would later have
more powerful forays and would have base
camps where they would spend the winter.
• Vikings raided the British Isles and the Western
portions of the Carolingian Empire in France.
They conquered much of Northern England in
the 9th century, and they established a kingdom
• In return for cash Vikings negotiated peaceful
coexistence and conversion to whomever they
Maximum extent of the islamic conquests, 7th - 11th
centuries (Green). Areas ruled by the Vikings or
Normans, 9th - 12th centuries (Brown). Carolingian
Empire at the death of Charlemagne in 814 (Grey)
The Vikings reached Iceland and it had become a settlement for
Norwegians and Danes.
982 - Erik the Red founded Greenland.
Leif Erikson later landed on North America. The Vikings who went to
the British Isles and continental Europe, were mostly from Denmark
The Swedes went beyond the Baltic away from
Christian Europe into Russia, Constantinople, and
Baghdad.The Swedish Vikings inﬂuenced the growth
of the early Russian state around Kiev. The Slavic
people called them “Rus”. They were ruled by Vikings
for a long time that the land was named Russia.
In Constantinople they helped form and were recruited
as Varangian guards of the Byzantine emperors.
Swedes were similar to all
the other Vikings as they
were soldiers, settlers,
traders, and voyagers.
What happened to the Vikings?
Vikings became citizens of many places in
Many had become Christians back in their
homelands. This lead to the downfall of the
Norse religion and culture.
Kings instituted taxes and the economy
changed so that you could get along better
off as a trader than a raider.
The Viking invasions caused European
kingdoms to be more centralized and
European kingdoms learned how to protect
themselves and gain by trading and
negotiating with the Vikings instead of
The Impact of Vikings
• Many styles of the Viking ships were
adopted by other European powers.
• The jury of English common law was a
an outgrowth of Viking ideas about
community obligations and sworn
• Signs of Viking inﬂuence are found in
languages, vocabulary, and place-
names of the areas they settled.
• They had an impact on medieval
technology and trade, and was an
important part of Europe’s
• Fitzhugh, William “Nova Online: The Vikings.” November 2000
• www.pbs.org/wgph/nova/vikings/ last accessed May 15th
• “The Viking Network.” August 2001
• http://viking.no/e/ last accessed May 14th
• The Natural Museum of Natural History “Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga”
• BBC History-Vikings May 2004
• www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/vikings/ last accessed May 2nd
• “The Viking Warriors” Cornish, Jim
• www.stemnet.nf.ca.CITE/v_berserker.htm last accessed May 5th
• Rosenthal, Joel T. “Vikings” 1997
• http://encarta.msn.com last accessed May 12th
• The Russian Primary Chronicle “The Varangians”
• www.dur.ac.uk/~dml0www/variagi.html last accessed May 13th
• It was essential to wear thick padding
underneath to absorb the force of blows
or arrow strikes. Reindeer hide was used
• They used long tunics of mail armor
reaching below the waist. They were not
very protective. It took many hours to
produce a shirt, making it very
expensive. It’s likely they were worn
more by leaders.