A Brief History Of The Norwegian Vikings

During the Viking Age, the Norwegian Vikings were renowned sailors, explorers, warriors, and conquerors. In stark contrast to the their Scandinavian neighbours in terms of navigation, more specifically the Danish Vikings and the Swedish Vikings respectively, the Norwegian Vikings mostly set sail westward and northward towards north-eastern present-day England, Scotland, Ireland, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland (the latter two being colonised primarily by Norwegian Vikings along with their Gaelic-speaking thralls or slaves taken from Scotland and Ireland).

By comparison, the Danish Vikings went mostly to contemporary England and France (Normandy, more specifically) and to a lesser extent in Ireland whereas the Swedish Vikings mainly sailed southward towards the Byzantine Empire on a series of rivers as well as deep within contemporary Ukraine and Russia. However, Norwegian Vikings were also present in Normandy, France, along with the Danish Vikings, giving the name of this region in the process (i.e. stemming from the Normans, the men from the north). Their adventures and achievements throughout this tumultuous period of time are recorded in the Icelandic sagas.

Image source: www.pixabay.com

The Norwegian Vikings were skilled traders and colonisers overseas, managing to go as far west as Greenland and Vinland (i.e. Newfoundland in contemporary Canada), establishing a colony on North American soil there for a brief period of time. But, above all, the legacy of the Norwegian Vikings is clearly visible in the local culture and history of Scotland (especially in the small archipelagos of the Orkneys and Shetlands), north-eastern England, Ireland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands.

A Viking Age ship replica at Lofotr Viking Museum in Vikingveien, Bøstad, Norway. Image source: www.pixabay.com

The Norwegian Vikings excelled at travelling far and wide geographic distances over the turbulent waters of the North Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean in search for new lands to settle. As previously mentioned, one of these lands was Iceland, a country which has a long-standing connection with the Kingdom of Norway.

The first Norse colonisers of Iceland were Norwegian Vikings from south-western Norway and their Gaelic-speaking thralls of both Irish and Scottish descent. Over the passing of time, Iceland was successively settled by other groups of Vikings but the dominant Norse origin of the inhabitants stemmed from Norway. The social status of the Norse settlers to Iceland stemming from south-western Norway varied, but they were mostly impoverished or exiled Norwegians.

As tales about a bountiful land situated in the North Atlantic Ocean became more and more popular in early medieval Norway after the discovery of Iceland by Naddodd and Hrafna (i.e. Raven)-Flóki Vilgerðarson, successive waves of Norwegian settlers came to this country and subsequently traded timber, fish, and ivory, the natural resources that it had to offer.

Below you can take a look at a detailed animated history of Iceland by Suibhne, including, most notably its early history and Norse settlement:

But before reaching Iceland, many Norwegian Vikings settled midway in the North Atlantic, establishing colonies in the Faroe Islands, the Shetlands, and the Orkneys (as well as in the early medieval British Isles).

The settlement of the Faroe Islands during the early Middle Ages follows the same pattern as that in Iceland. While it is possible that Irish monks known as Papar inhabited these islands before the arrival of the Norsemen, it was later on with the arrival of the Norwegian Vikings and their Gaelic-speaking slaves from Ireland and Scotland that they became certainly populated.

Below you can take a closer look at a short historical documentary on the Faroese Vikings by History With Hilbert on YouTube:

The Faroe Islands represented a commercial and navigational hub for the Norwegian Vikings on their way from south-western Norway to Iceland and beyond to other locations. Ultimately, the Norwegian Vikings kept on voyaging westward across the cold and turbulent waters of the North Atlantic to reach southern Greenland and, from there, the shares of North America in Vinland (or Newfoundland, on the present-day east coast of Canada). Key explorers and colonisers from Norway (or of Norwegian descent) during the Viking Age to these overseas colonies and territories include Erik the Red, Leif Erikson, Freydís Eiríksdóttir, Naddodd, or Ingólfr Arnarson (the first permanent settler of Iceland in Reykjavík).

To this day, Norway still has a strong and important connection to its Viking Age heritage and numerous Viking Age-themed festivals as well as historical reenactments are annually held all over the Scandinavian country.

Viking Age saga-based historical reenactment in Norway (2005). Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Documentation sources and external links:

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8 Responses to A Brief History Of The Norwegian Vikings

  1. Great stuff! Truly fascinating people! I remember seeing Viking “markers” where we vacationed in Newport, Rhode Island. There was a book, “Vikings in New England,”or something or other. Wish I still had that.

    • Victor Rouă says:

      Thank you very much for time, readership, and attention here on The Dockyards! Thank you so much for your comment as well! Indeed, the Norwegians are a very fascinating and beautiful people. I am a big fan of Norway and have been as such for a long time. I also had the privilege of meeting and even living with some Norwegians while I was an international student in Aalborg, Denmark (they were students as well). All I have to say in a nutshell is that I had very good experiences with them. They are a people of renowned explorers, seafaring conquerors, poets, writers, and artists (both visual artists and musicians). I love traditional Norwegian folk music very much as well. All the best, take care, and stay safe!

    • Victor Rouă says:

      By the way, a great book on the Vikings is Vikings in History by F. Donald Logan: https://www.amazon.com/Vikings-History-F-Donald-Logan/dp/0415327563. I have it myself and I should read it as soon as possible. At the moment though, I’m still stuck at the Arhurian cycle (i.e. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green, a very underrated Inkling member in my humble opinion). Once I’m done reading this and Kjersti Egerdahl’s finely illustrated The Viking Hondbok, I really need to see what F. Donald Logan’s book is all about. I am certain it’s a great read. All the best once again!

    • Victor Rouă says:

      P.S.: Needless to mention the fact that of all Scandinavian countries, Norway is the first in terms of the total number of unique visitors/readers on The Dockyards for quite a while and for this I am extremely grateful to this very day, of course!

  2. Paul Fitzgibbons says:

    Thanks much! I’ll have to check this out. Enjoy your reading.

  3. HÍ Victor. Mostly correct from Icelandic eyes, but not the assertion that the settlers from south-western Norway were mostly paupers. On the contrary. Every one of them had to be able to buy his/ her fare, and have enough provisions to be able to settle. This was not achievable on a paupers pay, not now and not then. Read up on the history of Harald the Fair-haired and the fate off the smaller, earlier kings, hersirs and large landholders in south western Norway of that time. It was contrary to your assertion, the rich and powerful that became refugees and ended up settling the Faroese islands and Iceland. The riches also expande how it was possible for a tiny north-Atlantic outpost to finance the creation and issuing of the bulk of Medieval European literature, each book costing in the order of 300 cows worth to make. The cause for this to happen in Iceland and not in Norway, Sweden or Denmark was likely the admixture with Gaelic mothers mostly, but also Gaelic males. Again some of them were slaves, but not nearly all. Most of the immigrants from the Norse settlements in Scotland and Ireland had there for one, two and even three generations. They made a point of marrying local women in order to integrate with the local population, much like what you see among the offspring of immigrants in Australia today. By the time these people came to Iceland they were Scottish and Irish in culture and outlook beside being half or more Gaelic ethnically. They came from a culture rich in literature written in the local language, Ireland even had compulsory schooling in the 7th century. Iceland was also the first Nordic country to establish schools, the first one in 1056 (still functioning today), and the second one approximately 4 years later ( not in existence anymore). Another point I want to make: almost all west-Norwegian settlers left before Norway was established and some straight after Norway was established. The Icelandic commonwealth was established in Thingwellir in 930 (still the oldest parliament in the world albeit a corrupt one). I don’t think that you would get consensus in Iceland for Icelandic people being Norwegian vikings. Those that sailed westward from Iceland were farmers and traders, looking for resources to settle and trade. Most likely Walrus based economy due to the demand for ropes made of pleated walrus skins and walrus fat to manufacture tar, both essential for the biggest industry of the time, shipbuilding and maintenance. Due to the high rank of many Norwegian settlers in Ireland and Scotland, who made it a point to marry into local families of the same status, there was also a fair representation of Irish and Scottish nobility among settlers in Iceland, with associated wealth upon settlement.

    • Victor Rouă says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, dear Magnus, as always very interesting and knowledgeable points made here (one of them is quite sad with respect to the Icelandic parliament though, but that’s also not a singular case in the world we live, even more sadly). Please correct me if I am wrong, but I also think that the Faroese parliament (i.e. the Løgting) is one of the oldest in the world. And the Danish one as well, right?

      As for King Harald Fairhair (or Finehair as he is also sometimes known), he was perceived as a tax tyrant, so to put it, that’s why a lot of Norwegian Vikings had to go abroad and colonise Iceland. But he wasn’t entirely bad. Those loyal to him back in the day were rewarded. That’s the history I know. And, indeed, those who left the coasts of Norway back during his reign were not poor people, on the contrary, they were quite economically well off, so to put it. Otherwise they couldn’t have left, naturally.

      Your economic knowledge with respect to the Viking Age is very valuable and very treasured and respected as a positive contribution here on in the comments’ section of The Dockyards. I am always grateful for your consideration, support, and well documented comments! By the way, by impoverished there, I meant impoverished by the additional taxes of King Harald Fairhair (not poor per se).

      P.S.: I think some Icelanders still perceive themselves by descent as partly Norwegian and, at least, I hope I would get as much consensus regarding the fact that there is a lot of Norwegian ancestry and culture in Iceland, coupled with very beautiful Gaelic/Celtic heritage. A perfect combination, if you’d ask me, frankly speaking. That’s why Iceland is such a great and strong nation before my eyes (and before other people in the world as well).

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