The Vikings came from Norway, Denmark and Sweden. It was somewhere in the 8th century that their culture had evolved into raiding parties, a powerful combination of fierce warriors and 'go anywhere' long-ships. Sometimes they would fight each other in sea battles, or another time join together to form formidable raiding parties. But mostly each country went its separate way. For instance in later years the Danish Vikings would conquer and settle in southern England while the Norwegian Vikings would conquer and settle in Scotland.
They were in effect pirates, raiding coastal settlements, stealing gold, silver and women. The Vikings were well armed and when they attacked they would kill, rape, loot, burn and destroy. The very mention of a Viking long-ship would send the local population running into the woods to hide. Local warlords lived in well fortified castles and by the time they organised an armed force to repel any attack, the Vikings would be gone, back out to sea on the next tide. One popular target for the Vikings was the Christian churches and monasteries, it was here that silver and gold would to be found. Many of the records of the Viking are about raids on monasteries. The most well known being Lindisfarne, a small island off the coast of Northumberland
The 'modus operandi' of the Viking was surprise. Their narrow longboats had a shallow draft and were capable of sailing up small rivers. They would sail up the river on an early morning tide and attack before anyone realised what was going on.
Only the strongest, fittest fighting men were allowed to go 'A Viking' To build and equip a long-ship cost money. No Viking warlord would gamble with such high stakes. A long-ship crewed by his fiercest fighting men could reap vast rewards from the easy targets across the north sea. To be chosen to sail on a Viking long-ship meant great honour and brought with it the chance of great riches.
The Viking long-ship was the vessel which enabled them to sail the oceans and settle in foreign lands. Also called dragon ships because they would have a carved dragons head mounted at the front of the ship. These long and narrow boats were made from planked timbers with a single main mast and sail. These longboat varied in size from 25 metres (80 feet) to 40 metres (140 feet) in length. And from 1.5 to 4 metres (6 to 14 feet) width. With between twenty and thirty oars on each side these craft were built for speed. This design enabled the long-ships to ride out the fiercest storms of the Atlantic oceans, easily navigate shallow rivers and to beach easily on a sandy shore. They were light and strong, and the crew of a Viking long-ship could quite easily take down the mast, upturn the craft, and carry it over land. The Viking long-ship was the 'stealth bomber' of its day.
The Vikings were well armed and feared for their strength and skill in battle. They used an array of weapons and armour including swords, spears, battle axes, bows and dagger's. They wore leather and chain mail for protection and helmet and shield.
The first Viking attacks on English soil started around 780 AD, the attacks being sporadic but over the next 40 years the attacks increased. Despite organising armed militia and policing the coast with armed men the country continued to be attacked, and in 865 a great Viking army invaded the eastern side of the country. Up until then Viking attacks had been about stealing gold and silver, glory in battle and honour. Over the next twenty years between battles and periods of peace they gradually settled the land. Much trading went on and people prospered.
In 871 Alfred the Great became king of Wessex (South west England) In May878 Alfred beat the Vikings in the battle of Edington. Afterwards a peace treaty was signed between the English and the Vikings. But was Alfreds grandson, Æthelstan's who, with the help of Welsh and Scottish Kings finally defeated the Viking armies at the battle of Brunanburh, somewhere in the north of England.
It was to be beginning of the Anglo Viking Wars. But these Wars were also to be, the foundation of a combined English effort, to stop and finally re-conquer the English lands taken by the Norsemen, but it would also lead to England becoming one Nation, one Country, and the first Nation State in the world under one King.
For a time of peace finally settled over the country. But in 1016 the Danish King Cnut attacked and conquered England. He was a powerful yet fair minded king, and brought the English and Vikings to live together. It was his grandson Edward 11, who died childless in that fateful year of 1066. With no king on the throne their were two contenders. Harold son of Godwin and Duke William of Normandy. Unfortunately, Harald Hardrada the king of Norway decided he wanted to be king of England as well.
The King of Norway landed his army on the northern coast of England but was beaten in battle by Harold and his men. Harolds army then had to make a forced march to Hastings on the south coast to repel Duke William of Normandy. It was a close fought battle and history tell us that Harold was shot and killed by an arrow in the eye. William, now known as 'William the Conqueror' Became king of England.
But the Vikings didn't just attack and settle in England. Viking traders travelled around the coast of Europe to trade. By sailing south along the lakes and rivers of Russia and Germany they were able to meet up with traders from Arab and Eastern countries. Much longer ocean voyages were made by Vikings seeking lands where they could settle. These Vikings travelled to Iceland, Greenland, even as far as Canada and North America.
Their seafaring capabilities were amazing. Some bands of marauding Vikings sailed southwards from Sweden, and not only reached Constantinople, but left behind it a potent memory which across the centuries made their mark upon European Russia. The word ‘Rus’ as in Russia, is another term for Viking or ‘sea pirate. They would sail down the great northern rivers and the march with their long-ships on their shoulders across land to the next waterway.
Other Vikings sailed in their long boats from Norway to the Mediterranean, harried all the shores of the inland sea, including the Arab kingdoms of Spain and the north coast of Africa. They attacked Majorca and Menorca.
Around the 11 century the Vikings seemed to fade away. But they did leave their mark in the world. Despite being brutal and violent the Viking were also outstanding seafarers and state builders with high organizational skills. They founded Russia and discovered America. They were undoubtedly the greatest explorers and discoverers of their day and, given changing circumstances down the centuries, have never been surpassed. They founded states and towns and were some of the keenest and best traders the world has ever known.