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Transcript of The Vikings
Who Were the Vikings?
Where Did the Vikings Come From?
The Vikings came from three countries of Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The name 'Viking' comes from a language called 'Old Norse' and means 'a pirate raid'. People who went off raiding in ships were said to be 'going Viking'.
The Viking Age in European history was about AD 700 to 1100. During this period many Vikings left Scandinavia and traveled to other countries, such as Britain and Ireland. Some went to fight and steal treasure. Other settled in the new lands as farmers, craftsmen, or traders
The Vikings in Britain
Southern Britain, or England, had been settled by the Anglo-Saxons, the name given to the people settled in Great Britain. In AD 787 three Viking longships landed in southern England. The Vikings fought the local people, then sailed away. This first raid is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It was the start of a fierce struggle between England and Vikings. The English called the Viking invaders 'Danes' but they came from Norway as well as Denmark.
Norwegian Vikings or 'Norse' sailed to Scotland, where they made settlements in the north and on the Orkney and Shetland islands. Vikings also settled on the Isle of Man. Vikings raided Wales, but few made homes there.
Why Did Vikings Attack Monasteries?
In 793 Vikings attacked the Christian monastery at Lindisfarne in Northumbria. A monastery is a place where monks lived.They were pagans, not Christians like most people in Britain. A Viking robber did not think twice about robbing a Christian church. Christian monasteries in Britain were easy to attack, because the monks in the monasteries kept valuable treasures, such as gold, jewels and books. There were food, drink, cattle, clothes, and tools too - tempting for greedy Vikings.
These are ancient ruins of the attack at Lindisfarne.
Where did Vikings Settle?
Some Viking ships brought families to Britain looking for land to farm. Good farmland was scare in the Vikings' own countries. The parts of Britain where most Vikings settled were northern Scotland and eastern England. For 500 years, from about AD 900, Vikings ruled the north of Scotland, the Orkney and Shetland isles and the Hebrides islands off the west coast. In Ireland, Vikings founded the city of Dublin.
Viking areas in east and northern England became known as the Danelaw. Viking settlements brought new words into the English language, and new ideas about government too. For a short time England had Danish kings (King Cnut and his sons, from 1016 to 1042).
How Far Did the Vikings Roam?
Norwegian Vikings sailed west across the Atlantic Ocean to Iceland and Greenland. About AD 1000, Vikings sailed to North America and started a settlement, though it did not last long. Danish Vikings went to France and founded Normandy, or 'Land of the Northmen'. Danish Vikings also sailed south around Spain, and into the Mediterranean Sea. Swedish Vikings roamed along rivers into Russia. Viking traders could be found as far east as Constantinople, present day Turkey, where they met people from Africa, Arabia, and Asia.
Men & Women
Most Viking men were all-around handymen, but some had special skills. There were boat-builders, for example and potters, leather-workers and smiths. Most Viking men knew how to handle a boat. And most could fight if they had to, to protect the family or to support their chieftain.
Women baked bread. They did spinning and weaving to turn sheep wool into cloth. They looked after the children, made the family's clothes and cooked the two meals a day most families ate. On the farm, women milked the cows and made the cheese.
These are fragments of Viking cloth and weaving tools. The tools include needles and shears. The textiles still have traces of colored dyes.
Viking women spent a lot of time weaving wool, to make clothes and blankets. This reconstruction at Jorvik shows the kind of loom (weaving machine) they used.
Babies were given little Thor's-hammer charms, to protect them from evil spirits and sickness. A boy usually took his father's name too - so Eric, son of Karl, became Eric Karlsson. Girls often took the same name as their mother or grandmother.
Viking children did not go to school. They helped their parents at work, and learned Viking history, religion and law from spoken stories and songs, not from books. By 15 or 16 they were adult. It was common for a girl's father to choose her husband.
Roving and Trading
A young Viking man might go off on a trading voyage, or become a raider. He hoped to come home rich so he could buy a farm. Vikings met at markets, like the markets at Hedeby in Denmark and Jorvik in England. They traded by exchanging goods, a wolf skin for a pair of shoes, perhaps, but also used gold and silver coins. Traders valued coins by weight, and carried small folding scales to weigh a customer's coins.
Not everyone was free to come and go as he or she liked. Some people were slaves or 'thralls'. Slaves did the hardest, dirtiest jobs. People could be born slaves; the child of a slave mother and father was a slave too, but the child of a slave mother and a free father was free. Many slaves were people captured in a Viking raid. Viking traders sold slaves in markets, but slave-trading in England was stopped in 1102.
Games & Pastimes
Viking men enjoyed swimming, wrestling and horse racing. In winter, people skated on frozen rivers, and used skis over the snow. A favorite board game was hnefaafi, or 'king's table'. Players moved pieces around a board, like in draughts or chess. There were lots of versions of this game.
Most children's toys were home-made whistles made from leg bones of geese, for instance. Children had wooden dolls, played football, and sailed model boats. Pig bones found at Viking sites might be toy 'hummers' the bones were threaded on a twisted cord which you pulled to make a humming noise.
Vikings at Sea
How Ships Were Built
Sails and Oars
Finding the Way
Ships in a Museum
The Vikings built fast ships for raiding and war. These ships were 'dragonships' or 'longships'. The Vikings also had slower passenger and cargo ships called knorrs. They built small boats for fishing or short trips.
Viking longships could sail in shallow water. So they could travel up rivers as well as across the sea. In a raid, a ship could be hailed up on a beach. The Vikings could jump out and start fighting, and then make a quick getaway if they were chased.
A viking ship was built beside a river or an inlet of the sea. A tall oak tree was cut to make the keel. The builders cut long planks of wood for the sides and shorter pieces for supporting ribs and cross-beams. They used wooden pegs and iron rivets to fasten the wooden pieces together. Overlapping the side planks, known as 'clinker-building', made the ship very strong. People stuffed animal wool and sticky tar from pine trees into every joint and crack to keep out the water. To launch the ship, the Vikings pushed it into the water. They slid it over log rollers to make the pushing easier.
A Viking ship had one big square sail made of woven wool. In some ships, he mast for the sail could be folded down. When there was not enough wind for the sail, the men rowed with long wooden oars. To steer the ship, one man worked a big steering oar at the back end, or stern. At the curved front end of the ship was a carved wooden figure-head.
A dragon-ship had room for between 40 and 60 men. The men slept and ate on deck. There was some space below deck for stores, but no cabins.
Vikings sailed close to the coast whenever possible, watching for landmarks. Out of sight of land, they looked for the sun: west, towards sunset, meant they were headed for England; east, towards the sunrise, meant home to Denmark or Norway. The Vikings invented a kind of sun compass to help find their way. As night they watched the stars. Seamen knew a lot about winds and currents. By watching birds or even the color of the water, an experienced sailor could tell when land was close.
Two Viking ships were found by archeologists in Norway. The Gokstad ship was dug up on a farm in 1880. The Oseberg ship was found on another farm in 1904. Both ships were buried in Viking funerals between AD 800 and 900. The Gokstad ship is 76 feet long. It was big enough to have 32 oarsmen - 16 oars on each side.
Viking ship in a museum in Norway
Three silver coins dating from early 9th Century, thought to have been made at Hedeby in Denmark and found at a Viking marketplace in Sweden. Longboats can be seen on two of the coins. Two of these Viking silver coins have pictures of ships stamped on them.
Figureheads on ships were meant to scare enemies. This one is from the Oseberg ship-burial in Norway. It shows what the "dragon-head" on a Viking ship probably looked like.
A Raid on England
In 793, 'Northmen', as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle calls them, attacked the Christian monastery at Lindisfarne in Northumbria, in north-east England. Northumbria was an English kingdom, and its monasteries were famous for books, art and treasures. On a January day, the longships arrived and the Vikings attacked. They burned buildings, stole treasures, murdered monks, and terrified everyone. Some Christian Church leaders said the Vikings were sent by God to punish people in England for doing wrong.
How Vikings Attacked
The Vikings did not send many ships on their first raids. They made surprise attacks on lonely places, like Lindisfarne. They knew they would not have to fight a big English army. English kings were too busy fighting one another to join forces against the Vikings. There was no English navy to guard the coasts, so it was easy for Vikings to land on a beach or sail up a river after raiding a monastery, the ships sailed home loaded with treasures and captives.
The Vikings fought using long swords and axes. A good sword was handed down from father to son, but Vikings also buried weapons with their owner when he died. Wood rots and metal rusts away after a thousand years or more in the ground, but some remains so what the weapons were like. Viking did not wear much armour, though some chieftans wore mail coats. Most relied on a round wooden shield for protection. On their heads, they wore helmets made of leather or iron. A Viking saying was
"Never leave your weapons behind when you go to work in the fields - you may need them."
In C.E. 865, a 'Great Army' of Vikings invaded England. The army stayed in England for 14 years, fighting the English kings. In C.E. 866 Vikings captured York. They captured King Edmund of East Anglia and shot him dead with arrows.
In C.E. 892, three hundred Viking ships invaded to fight King Alfred of Wessex. No one knows how big the Viking armies were. If there were 20 men in each ship, the army of C.E. 892 numbered six thousand! That was a huge army for the time. Most Viking armies were probably smaller, perhaps one to two thousand men.
This is a modern re-enactment of a Viking battle. Notice the men's helmets and round shields.
Lindisfarne today. The Viking raid on the Christian monastery at Lindisfarne in C.E. 793 shocked and frightened the people in England.
A gravestone depicting Viking marauders, outside the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory, attacked in C.E. 793. The men shown on this grave marker are Viking raiders. The Vikings look fierce and threatening.
A Viking sword. Only a rich Viking could afford a fine sword. Sword-making was a great skill, and a good sword was kept as a family treasure.
Viking weapons (the wooden handles are modern). These axes and spears were found in the River Thames in London. They were probably thrown in the river during the battle or in celebration afterward.
Vikings at Home
Most people lived on farms. Farmers used iron tools, such as sickles and hoes. They grew oats, barley, and wheat, and ground the grain to make flour, porridge and ale. Vikings grew vegetables such as onions, beans, and cabbages. Their farm animals included pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, geese, and chickens. They used manure from the animals to keep the soil fertile. In autumn, farmers killed some of the animals because there was not enough food to feed them all through winter.
Viking houses were built of wood, stone, or blocks of turf - depending on local materials. The houses were long box-shapes with sloping thatched or turf roofs. The walls were made of wattle (woven sticks, covered with mud to keep out the wind and rain). The floor of a Viking house was often dug below ground level; perhaps this helped keep out draughts. Most houses had just one room for a family to share. Rich people's farmhouses might have a small entrance hall, a large main room, a kitchen, a bedroom and a store room. In a Viking town, houses were crowded close together along narrow streets.
Vikings wore clothes similar to those of people in England, Scotland, and Wales at this time. Men wore tunics and trousers. Women wore long dresses, with a kind of long apron. Clothes were made from wool, linen, and animal skins. Most people dressed to keep warm!
Food & Drink
From bones, seeds, and other food remains at Viking sites, we know they ate meat from farm animals and from wild animals they hunted, and collected foods such as berries and nuts. They cooked meat in a big stew pot over the fire, or roasted on an iron spit. Fish and meat were smoked or dried to preserve it. Viking bread was made from rye or barley flour. They used milk mostly to make cheese and butter, then drank the buttermilk left over.
At a feast, guests would drink ale and mead (a strong drink made from honey). People drank out of wooden cups or drinking horns, made from cow horns. Feasts were held to mark funerals and seasonal festivals, such as midwinter. Some feasts lasted over a week.
Jobs such as collecting wood for fire, weaving cloth, and baking bread took up a lot of time. Vikings did not have much furniture - perhaps a wooden table and benches for sitting on and sleeping on. There were no bathrooms in Viking homes. Most people probably washed in a wooden bucket, or at the nearest stream. Instead of toilets, people used cess-pits, or holes outside dug for toilet waste. The pit was usually screened by a fence. Slimy muddy cess-pits have been found by archeologists studying the remains of the Viking town of Jorvik, modern-day York.
Beliefs and Stories
The Norse Myths
When the Vikings came to Britain, they had their own pagan religion. They worshipped many gods. The old stories they told about gods, giants and monsters are known as Norse myths. In one story, Thor, the god of thunder, tries to prove his strength to the Giant King by attempting to lift a giant cat, but he could only lift one of its paws!
Norse Gods & Goddesses
Odin was the ruler of the gods, and the god of magic, poetry and war. His wife was the motherly Frigg, and their son was Balder, who was kind and gentle. Freyja was goddess of love and fertility, and wept golden tears when she was unhappy. She had a twin brother, Freyr, and their sacred animal was the boar. Red-headed Thor ruled the skies, storms and thunder. He had iron gloves, a magic belt and a hammer. People loved Thor but did not trust Loki, the mischievious 'trickster god'. By a trick, Loki caused the death of Balder.
The Dead & Valhalla
A dead person was buried or cremated (burned) with some of their belongings, to take into the next world. Some Viking chiefs were given ship-burials, with treasure, weapons, and favorite dogs and horses buried with them. Vikings believed that a warrior killed in battle went to Valhalla, a great hall where dead heroes feasted at long tables. Odin sent his warrior-maidens, the Valkyries, riding through the skies to bring dead warriors to Valhalla
Magic & Monsters
Viking stories told how people lived in Midgard or Middle Earth, along with giant elves and dwarfs. The gods and goddesses lived in a sky world called Asgard. Linking Midgard with Asgard was a rainbow bridge. The Vikings told many tales of monsters such as trolls, dragons, sea serpents, and the fierce wolf, Fenrir, which the gods tried to keep chained up. Odin rode a magical horse named Sleipnir, which had eight legs.
Not much is known about how the Vikings worshipped their old gods. Its thought they had 'magic trees' and perhaps wooden temples. Some Vikings may have killed captives as human sacrifices. These old pagan customs died out after the Vikings became Christians. People in Britain had been Christians long before Vikings settled here in the 900s. Soon most Vikings too became Christians. Viking leaders founded churches and put up painted stone crosses. However, some Vikings continued to follow their old religion at the same time.
The Vikings & Christianity
This picture illustrates Thor trying to lift the giant cat.
The Vikings believed that the afterlife, Valhalla, was a gigantic feast where heroes lives were celebrated.
A Viking funeral was a very important ritual in their culture. For a Viking warrior, they would often lay the dead warrior on a Viking ship, filled with jewels and riches, and then set the boat on fire, floating it out to sea. Often times Viking servant women would also go with the warrior into the afterlife, sacrificing her life to serve her master in the afterlife in Valhalla.
A sketch of a Viking warrior's funeral
- Thor's father. Odin was the god of war and also king of the gods. He rode an eight legged horse and often doubted himself and would spend too much time trying to decide whether or not to do things.
- god of thunder and the most popular god. He was hot tempered, a little stupid, but very good hearted. He had the qualities Vikings thought most important: strength and determination.
- started off as a fearless Germanic God of Warm and became Odin's left hand man when the Vikings came along.
- the goddess of love and war. She could turn herself into a bird by putting on a magic falcon-skin. She was the sister of Frey who made sure that the sun shone, rain fell and the crops grew.
- a half god, half fire spirit, he was the god of mischief.
- a wolf monster son of Loki who was violent and aggressive. He had to be tied up with a magic chain that kept him peaceful.
- God of peace. A champion of goodness, innocence, and forgiveness, he was loved by everybody.
The Viking Gods & Goddesses
The Viking gods were responsible for a different things such as war, travel, or home. Valhalla was the Viking idea of Heaven for Viking warriors only. The Viking gods were used to explain human emotion and interactions.
When the Vikings converted to Christianity, they built wooden churches all over Scandinavia - this is a church standing today from Viking times.
Trade & Exploration
Discovering New Lands
From Iceland to Greenland
Vikings in America
The Vikings traded all over Europe, and as far east as Central Asia. They bought goods and materials such as silver, silk, spices, wine, jewelry, glass, and pottery. In return, they sold items such as honey, tin, wheat, wool, wood, iron, fur, leather, fish, and walrus ivory. Everywhere they went the Vikings bought and sold slaves. Traders carried folding scales for weighing coins to make sure they got a fair deal.
The Vikings were brave sailors and explorers. Families were ready to risk their lives on long, dangerous journeys to find new land to farm. Vikings settled in Britain, but also sailed out into the north Atlantic Ocean and south to the Mediterranean Sea. They sailed to the Faeroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland. A Viking ship was small - only about 20 tonnes compared with 100,000 tonnes or more for a big modern cargo ship. But bold Vikings sailed their ships far across the ocean. They found their way by looking for landmarks, such as islands and distant mountains.
Viking from Norway sailed to Iceland in he late 800s - about the same time as King Alfrad was fighting Danish Vikings in England. In 930, the Vikings living in Iceland set up what is often called the world's first parliament, the Althing. One of the Iceland Vikings was Eric the Red, and in C.E. 983 he sailed off west to Greenland. Greenland is much bigger than Iceland, and much colder too. It is not much good for farming. Eric hoped the name 'Greenland' would attract farmers, but not many Vikings went there.
A Viking called Bjarni Herjolfsson 'discovered' America by accident in the year 985. He saw an unknown land, after his ship was blown off course on the way from Iceland to Greenland. In 1001, Leif Ericsson, son of Eric the Red, sailed west to find this new land.
Leif and his men were the first Europeans known to have landed in America. They spent the winter in a place they named 'Vinland' or 'Wine-land'. It was in Newfoundland, Canada. Soon afterwards, Thorfinn Karlsefni led a small group of Viking families to settle in the new land. But after fights with the local Native American people, the Vikings gave up their settlement.
A reconstruction of a Viking house at L'Anse Aux Meadows in Canada. This is where Vikings settled in North America.
This map shows where the Vikings went on their travels.
This is a modern replica of the ship in which Leif Ericsson and his men sailed from Iceland to America.
A Viking church, now in ruins, in Greenland. When Vikings gave up their old gods most became Christians.
This is the kind of balance scales a Viking trader used. He or she put the little weights in one pan and the silver in the other.
This statue of Leif Ericsson is in Iceland's main city, Reykjavik.
Vikings used silver, in coins or small pieces, like we use money. These pieces of silver were buried by a Viking trader or settler on the Isle of Skye.
The Viking traders paid for their goods using silver coins, or pieces of silver or jewelry. The value of the silver depended on its weight, so many traders carried round a set of scales.
A Viking house, reconstructed in Iceland. People used local materials. Here they had to use turf and stones, as Iceland had very few trees.
Vikings & Alfred
Life in the Danelaw
The Danelaw covered an area roughly east of a line on a map joining London and Chester. There were three main areas where Vikings lived. These areas were Northumbria (which included modern Yorkshire), East Anglia, and the Five Boroughs (a borough was a town). The five towns were Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Lincoln. In the Danelaw people followed Viking laws, spoke Viking languages, and lived in much the same way as Vikings in Scandinavia. Most people were farmers.
The English king Alfred the Great beat the Viking army in battle in C.E. 878. Alfred then made a peace agreement with the Viking leader Guthrum, who agreed to become a Christian. Alfred allowed the Vikings to settle part of England, which became known as the Danelaw.
However, even after this agreement, fighting between English and Vikings went on for many years. More Vikings sailed across the North Sea from Norway to Denmark. The English built a navy to fight Viking ships at sea before they could land armies
In Viking society, the strongest leaders were 'jarls', or earls. The most powerful jarls became kings. Freemen met at the Thing, or Viking assembly. People (men and women) met in the open air to settle problems, such as deciding who owned land or farm animals, and to punish criminals. They met old friends, swapped news, and arranged marriages. Viking laws were passed from parents to children, by word of mouth. People who broke the law became 'outlaws', and anyone could kill them.
The family was important to every Viking. An argument might end in a fight. If someone was killed, the dead man's family saw it as their right to take revenge. His relatives tried to punish the killer and the killer's family. This led to long and violent blood-feuds between families. These feuds could be ended by one side paying 'blood-money' to the other as compensation.
Women were important in Viking family life. A wife kept the keys to the chest holding the family valuables. She ran the home and farm while her husband was away trading or fighting.
The Danelaw covered an area roughly east of a line on a map joining London and Chester.
A 'thing' was an assembly, a 'thingstead' was the place people would meet.
What Happened to the Vikings?
Jorvik's Last King
The Norman Conquest
What the Vikings Left Behind
Throughout the Viking Age, there were many battles between the Vikings and the English. In the 9th century, the English king, Alfred the Great, stopped the Vikings taking over all of England. In the 10th century the English reconquered much of the land held by Vikings. In 954, they drove out Eric Bloodaxe, the last Viking king of Jorvik. After Eric was killed in battle, the Vikings in England agreed to be ruled by England's king.
In Viking times, a king had to be strong to fight and keep his land. In the early C.E. 1000s, England had a weak king, named Ethelred 'the Unready'. Ethelred gave Viking raiders gold to stop their attacks. This money was called 'Danegeld'. The Vikings took the gold, but still attacked anyway. So in 1002, Ethelred's soldiers killed Viking families in the Danelaw. This made King Sweyn of Denmark so angry he invaded England. Ethelred had to run away. In 1016 Sweyn's son Cnut became king of England. Cnut, also known as Canute, was a Christian and a strong ruler. For the next few years England was part of his Viking empire, along with Denmark and Norway.
In 1066 England was conquered by William, Duke of Normandy. The Normans were the descendants of Vikings who had settled in France. They took over all of England, including the Danelaw. In 1069 the Normans burned Danelaw. In 1069 the Normans burned Jorvik. This was the end of the Viking Age in England.
In Scotland, Viking earls went on ruling some islands for hundreds of years. They were driven from the mainland of Scotland by 1100, but remained 'lords of the isles' (the Western Isles) until the 1200s. The islands of Orkney and Shetland were more Norwegian than Scottish. They did not officially become part of Scotland until 1469.
Archaeologists find the remains of Viking houses, burial sites, treasure hoards, carvings on stones, and writing carved in runes. Vikings left their mark on Britain in other ways too, such as language. Lots of familiar English words originally came from the Vikings' Norse language. Examples are 'husband', 'egg', 'law', and 'knife'. Place names show where Vikings once lived. A place with a name ending in -by, -thorpe or -ay was almost certainly settled by Vikings. The Vikings also left behind many stories about real people, called 'sagas'. Scotland has its own saga from the Viking Age, called 'Orkneyinga Saga' or 'The history of the Earls of Orkney'.
The Runic alphabet was the Vikings form of written language. Visit the PBS site to learn more about the Runic Alphabet and to write your name in Rhunes!
[use the link on your question sheet to visit the PBS site]
Impact of the Vikings
While the Vikings have a reputation for being violent and destructive, they can also be credited for making important contributions to the Medieval World.
Helped develop cities and villages
While they brought the end to many villages and towns, they also helped settle a lot of cities, giving them goods, trade markets, and culture.
The Vikings were sailors and travelers, and by doing so, they brought ideas and cultures from place to place.
Developed new goods and technologies
The Vikings were best known for raiding and sacking villages and towns, and in doing so, they would take the riches and bring them to markets for trade. This brought new goods and technologies to different parts of Europe, encouraging people to create these technologies of their own.
United much of Western Europe
By conquering new lands and then traveling throughout Europe, they created alliances and trade routes. This brought much of the separate European kingdoms and civilizations together.