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Who Were the Vikings, Really?


March 14, 2014 by Jen Cudmore

map.blueMuch is misunderstood about the Viking people. They are typically viewed as greedy and violent pirates who only lived to pillage, rape and plunder. However, as my friend Heather Day Gilbert (author of a recent Viking novel) keeps saying, they were human just like you and I.

The basics of Viking history:

  • The Viking age is listed by most scholars as beginning in 793 with the first documented raid on the monastery at Lindisfarne, an island off the coast of northern England.
  • The end of the Viking era is generally believed to be 1066, when the Duke of Normandy conquered the Scandinavian countries and the Norman rule expanded to include all of Europe.
  • The Viking settlements originated in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Yet their influence reached far beyond Scandinavia, expanding into England, Scotland, and Ireland, as well along the coast of the mainland.

So were the Vikings really what we thought? Yes, they often settled arguments with violence, and they seemed to have no qualms about taking whatever they wanted by force. But not all settlements can be characterized this way. These people were farmers, tradesmen, shepherds, and sailors. The livelihood of family was important, and warriors often took their families with them to new lands, or started families, and settled down. In most cases, they seem to have intended to stay in one place.

There was much more to the Vikings than greed and violence. It’s important to remember that the Vikings didn’t write anything down in books or journals. So the literature we have on them was mostly written by victims of their attacks or second-hand stories from witnesses, both of which are biased.

Vikings did have a system of laws and justice. Honor was of utmost importance. Their shipbuilding techniques and ability to recite laws and poetry proves they were much more than mindless barbarians. They became less violent the more Christianity spread throughout the regions.

If you stick with me in the coming weeks, I’ll tell you much more detail!


Did you catch Heather and I discussing Vikings with Giovanni Gelati on Blog Talk Radio? Here’s the link, just in case!


Disclaimer: Please note that I don’t claim to be an expert on Vikings! I’ve done  a lot of research as a backdrop for my upcoming novels, and I simply wish to express my interpretation of the information I’ve learned. My goal is to dispel the myths and create a better understanding of the Viking people. If you feel I’ve misinterpreted any of the facts, please send me an email! 

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1 comment »

  1. Looking forward to these posts! That Viking display at the British museum is focusing more on the pillaging/plundering aspects, but I think it’s obvious they were family-oriented, as well. The Vikings were definitely a multi-faceted people–and an intelligent one!

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