The Voyages Of The Norsemen During The Viking Age And Their Legacy
During the Viking Age of Discoveries (which took place from the 8th century to the mid-late 11th century), the Vikings explored, traded and established colonies throughout many locations in both mainland Europe and overseas.
The major event which most historians agree to have officially documented the start of the Viking Age was the raid that took place in 793 at the Catholic abbey of Lindisfarne, located on an island less than one mile off the north-eastern coast of the then medieval Kingdom of Northumbria (now north-eastern England). The Vikings who attacked Lindisfarne were most likely of Norwegian origin (although there are some scholars who argue that they might have been either Danish or Saxon pirates instead).
However, it has been suggested that there have likely been previous Viking raids that took place in southern Britain prior to the raid at Lindisfarne, and as such the Viking Age might have unofficially started earlier on. In this respect, the Anglo-Saxon chronicle clearly mentions an earlier Viking raid at Portland bay, Dorset in about 789. The crew which was responsible for this attack undoubtedly consisted of Norwegian Vikings from Hordaland.
The areas subject to Norse colonisation are documented in various sagas and skaldic poems, as well as in several other chronicles dating back to the High Middle Ages (such as the ‘Anglo-Saxon chronicle’ or ‘Gesta Danorum’ by Saxo Grammaticus).
So it is that the Norsemen traded and built settlements throughout many places in the British Isles (the Danish Vikings most notably in eastern England where they established the Danelaw, and the Norwegian Vikings in Ireland and Scotland as well as in the Hebrides, Isle of Man or the the islands of Firth of Clyde where they established the Kingdom of the Isles) as well as in present-day Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Ukraine, and Russia, reaching even the eastern shores of the North American continent at the round of the 11th century.
The main reasons for the Norsemen’s exodus towards new territories were probably the lack of available farming land in Scandinavia, overpopulation, the climate conditions, and the viable prospects of trade in other lands. The expansion of the Frankish Empire in the south of present day Denmark might have also pushed the Norsemen to cross the North Sea and North Atlantic Ocean as well as to start raiding northern Frankia and modern day Low Countries.
The Vikings who invaded the British Isles and colonised Greenland, Iceland or the Faroe Islands stemmed from modern day Denmark and Norway. The Swedish Vikings would usually go raiding and trading in the east, through the course of the river Volga down into modern Ukraine and Russia, eventually establishing the Kievan Rus’ and becoming the elite warriors in the personal guard of the Byzantine emperor — henceforth known as Varangians.
They were all speakers of Old Norse which had two main dialects, namely East Old Norse and West Old Norse. Old Norse was the language from which all modern North Germanic languages are derived (i.e. Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic and Faroese).
While in the Jutland peninsula (as well as the nearby islands that together form Denmark) the lowlands were the most common landform, in Norway or Sweden the situation was rather different from this point of view. Given the predominant mountainous landscape, Norway was relatively isolated in the east and the only means of trade and communication towards other lands was the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean in the west.
Sweden on the other hand, thanks to its geographic location, wasn’t quite in the same state of relative isolation as neighbouring Norway. While the Danish and Norwegian Vikings would usually set sail in their quests for new lands in the west, the Swedish Vikings would raid and trade in the east, in modern Baltic states (i.e. Lithuania, Estonia or Latvia), as well as in present-day Poland, Russia, Ukraine and in other parts of Eastern Europe. Norwegian and Danish Vikings subsequently settled in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, England, Scotland, Ireland, Normandy, the Hebrides, the Orkneys, the Shetlands as well as Greenland.
The Norsemen even reached the eastern coastlines of North America at the round of the 11th century, settling for a brief period of time in Vinland (Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada). Nowadays, it should be mentioned that Leif Erikson (the son of Erik the Red who discovered Greenland; also known as ‘Leif the Lucky’) overtook Christopher Columbus in the race for the discovery of the New World by a margin of roughly 500 years.
Furthermore, the cultural heritage of the Norsemen is still present among the British, especially when it comes to linguistics. Linguists claim that there are roughly 5,000 words of Old Norse origin present in the lexis of the English language.
Additionally, genetics are in particular important on the matter as well, given the fact that one in 33 men in Britain can claim Norse ancestry. The Norse cultural heritage is evident in Ireland as well, where initial Norse settlements went to be modern day Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, or Cork.
Documentation sources and external links:
- New North America Viking Voyage Discovered on www.livescience.com
- Viking voyages on www.visithaugesund.no
- Analysing the Vinland Map on www.webexhibits.com
- Vikings: The North American saga on www.naturalhistory.si.edu
- Vinland (historical area) on www.britannica.com
- The Saga of Erik the Red on www.sagadb.org
- Vinland Sagas – Viking Colonisation of North America on www.archaeology.about.com
- History of Iceland on www.naturalhistory.si.edu
- Grœnlendinga saga – The Saga of the Greenlanders on www.notendur.hi.is
- The Anglo-Saxon chronicle on www.avalon.law.yale.edu
- Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus on www.wikipedia.org (in English)