The Vikings!

The Vikings were from Scandinavia, the countries we now call Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They were raiders and traders from the late 8th to the late 11th centuries, wandering over a vast area of northern Europe all the way to Iceland, Greenland, Russia, and even Canada. A Viking named Leif Ericson was the first known European to set foot in North America. He landed in an area he called Vinland (we call it Canada) about 500 years before Columbus, and found timber, salmon, berries, and other supplies. In the map below you can see how far they made it in their travels.

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The Vikings spoke a language called Old Norse. Its written form is almost the same as the modern Icelandic language. The Vikings left inscriptions in letters called runes; you can see an example in the picture. The name of the runic alphabet used to write the Old Norse language is “Futhark”. There are a lot of Old Norse poems and stories about their gods and heroes that you can still read today.

The Vikings had many gods. One of the most important was Odin, the god of war, death, and sorcery, among other things. He was also known as Woden, and our Wednesday is named after him. In Old Norse texts he is described as one-eyed and bearded, wearing a cloak and a big hat. He is often accompanied by animal companions like wolves or ravens. A lot of the violence of the Vikings was motivated by their belief in Odin and another god, Thor, who was the god of strength, thunder, lightning, and other things.

The Vikings were skilled at raiding and looting. The axe was the weapon of choice, used for throwing and fighting; also used swords, and bows and arrows. You can see some of their swords in the picture. Their ships sometimes had shields on the sides. Berserkers were the scariest Vikings, fighting furiously as if in a trance. We get our word “berserk,” meaning “going crazy,” from their name. They were the first ones off the boat during a raid and their goal was to shock and terrify the victims of the raid. The people they didn’t kill they would sometimes kidnap, and keep the women as wives or sell the men as slaves to Arab traders.

Picture credits: Map: Pinpin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (] Runes: Photographer Roberto Fortuna, commisioned by the Danish National Museum [CC BY-SA 3.0 (] Swords: Own work [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]