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Vikings (Old Norse vikingr – pirate or pirate raid), were Scandinavian sea raiders, plunderers, traders and pirates.

Archaeological evidence of vikings is found in the Shetlands from 1200 years ago, and in North America 500 years before Columbus. Their maritime influence was at its height in a Golden Age that lasted from the 8th to the 11th centuries when their influence in the west extended to Newfoundland and the North American coast, to Iceland and the Arctic in the north, to Baghdad in the east, and to northern Africa in the south.

In Britain they settled mostly in the north. Their genetic signature is evident today as in the Orkney and Shetland Isles off Scotland where there are the highest levels of Norwegian (Viking) DNA outside of Scandinavia.



Following the retreat of the ice after the last Ice Age Scandinavia was one of the last places in Europe to be repopulated.

Most of the arable land in Scandinavia is found in Denmark and southern Sweden and this is the region of greatest settlement, its people worshipping the fertility and harvest god Frey. They carried out animal sacrifice, worshipped the boar, the Swedes burying their kings with horses, dogs, and other animals along with special treasures.


As the climate warmed, by the sixth millennium BCE the temperate broad leaved trees and mixed forests supported a wider range of animal life for the hunters: their game now including aurochs, moose, wisent, and red deer. Then, by the fifth millennium, the farming that began in the Fertile Crescent was established on the most arable soils which were in Denmark and southern Sweden.


Here, northern Germanic tribes lived in tepees and hunted the reindeer that browsed on the Arctic tundra.

By the 7th millennium BCE forest was established and small habitations could be found in all present-day countries except Finland.

Cultural history

The vikings did not write and so their history has been written by those they invaded. We know the Vikings as hard-drinking, hard-fighting, plundering bands of sea dogs with many wives and concubines. These were men who set out from their farming homeland where they were fishermen, farmers and craftsmen living in longhouses as family clans, enjoying feasting and poetry in a tradition first committed to writing in the 12th century. Decisions affecting the community were discussed at a general assembly called a ‘Thing’. The horned helmets did not exist but were a later Romantic embellishment.

In British history the Vikings are remembered as a culture that threatened the Anglo-Saxons and emerging Christianity: they were the rejects of Scandinavian society seeking a living away from home. Settling raiders took local brides and adopted the language and customs of their new homelands, and that included Christianity.[2]

In 2012 a cache of Viking jewellery adorning a horse bridle was recovered from a site at Fregersley.

Norse mythology

The written record of Viking beliefs was largely written after Viking times and mostly by Christians so it was an expurgated version of their times blended with Christian themes notably those of the Apocalypse. Historical information has relied heavily on translations of the sagas of Iceland.

Norse mythology and its gods have many connections with the pantheons of Greece and Rome and Indo-European traditions.[3] There were many gods and myths, spirits, giants, dwarfs, witches and animistic associations. The highest god was Odin and his son was Thor (hence Thursday). There are many references to plants, and their sacred spaces were usually places of natural beauty but they were flexible with their mythological beliefs and quickly adopted the myths of their occupied lands. Plants had a central place in Viking mythology. Probably the most powerful image is that of the giant ash tree Yggrasill serving as an axis to the cosmos, a theme found in major religions in both Europe and the East and probably originating deep in prehistory (for a more detailed account of plants in Norse mythology see Plant lore).


Perhaps their best known association with plants is with the oak trees (so important also to the Druids) needed to construct their remarkable clinker-built longboats which, it was believed, would accompany their warriors into the afterlife.

These sleek ships, which were operational in shallow estuarine water, had high prows and sterns, a single square sail, and could be over 24 m long with as many as 15 pairs of oarsmen. Their flat keels made them highly responsive, being quickly and easily converted from sail to oar.


Denmark’s Jutland peninsula on continental Europe, had been a hub of trade between East and West for over 2,000 years. By 550 CE Frankish luxury goods, including Coptic bowls, were appearing in Saxon graves in SE England, wool was probably traded in return. Carolingian trade passed along the great continental rivers into Britain, stimulating the construction of coastal ports that were connected to the deteriorating Roman roads. Trade in the Viking world centred around Hedeby where Jutland leaves the continental mainland, Birka on the east coast of Sweden, and Gotland, a small island just off the coast where much of the ill-gotten plunder was hoarded. In these the Vikings travelled the Atlantic, plundered Europe and set up maritime trade routes across northern Europe through the Baltic to the Arab world, which was the final destination of much of their plunder, including slaves. They founded trading towns in Russia, notably Kiev and Nordgrad, and in Russia they were known as Russ (hence Russia)

There were east and west trading blocs: Sweden’s attention was directed towards the Baltic while Denmark concentrated on the North Sea and Atlantic coastline and many of the spoils of Viking raids, which included slaves, were traded in the Arab world notably in Constantinople (there is Viking graffiti on the balcony in Hagia Sophia), although black slaves lost their appeal in the Arab world in the late 9th century.[1] In the 9th century Frankia, ruled by Charlemagne from his cultured Renaissance court, was attacked by the Vikings who took advantage of internal conflict to sail up the rivers, pillaging as they went, firstly the seat of Charlemagne’s power in Aachen in 882, and then Paris.

End of Rome

The region known in the Iron Age and Roman era as Gaul was, in the third century CE, occupied by a confederation of Germanic tribes called the Franks, their land in the Lower and Middle Rhine known as Francia (later France).

As the Roman empire declined, former territories were redrawn.

On continental Europe Charlemagne (Charles 1, King of the of the Franks) became the first Holy Roman Emperor in 768, four centuries after the fall of Rome, expanding his Frankish kingdom into an empire that covered much of central and western Europe. Here he imposed Christianity on the nations he conquered (including the Saxons) while at the same time creating a Carolingian Empire and trading bloc.

800-1066 – The Viking Age

By about 1050 Iceland (which had been discovered by Irish monks looking for remote shores and offshore islands where they could pursue a contemplative existence) had been colonized by Scandinavians.

Viking Erik the Red (c. 950–1003) had, in about 982, sailed from Iceland to establish a Nordic settlement in Greenland and, later, his son Leif Ericson, in 1001, had sailed to present-day Newfoundland (called Vinland). Only in 1960 were the remains of Viking settlement uncovered here at Point Rosie with evidence of metal smelting and indication that the place served as a trading hub. The Viking Age was drawing to a close not so much by military defeat as by a fusion with other peoples.

Viking longboat

Original recovered and restored Viking longboat built before 800 CE

Oslo Museum, Norway

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Viking Britain

The country named Britannia by the Romans had become occupied by in the east by Anglo-Saxons and by 650 CE this had become divided into several kingdoms: Wessex (West Saxons), Essex (East Saxons), East Anglia (Angles), Mercia (Mercians of the Midlands) and Northumbria (north of the Humber). Eastern Britannia was now Angle-land or England. Early Celtic Britons who fled from the invading Anglo-Saxons to northern France (Armoricia) had settled the area that now bears their name, Brittany.

Anglo-Saxon eastern England was now invaded again, this time by a new people sailing in from the north, the Northmen (Norsemen), whose language was sufficiently similar to the Anglo-Saxon tongue to allow limited communication.[4]

The British Viking era began with a Norwegian plundering raid in June, 793 CE, on the tiny monastic community of Lindisfarne, an island off the NE coast of England, and it ended with the death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, defeated by the Norman King William ‘The Conqueror’ who was also of Viking lineage.

Egbert (771/775–839) was King of Wessex from 802 until his death in 839 who maintain the independence of Wessex against the kingdom of Mercia, which at that time was dominated by southern kingdoms. In 825 Egbert defeated Mercia in battle, thus gaining the Mercian dependencies in southeastern England and in 829 temporarily ruled Mercia directly. With a submission from the Northumbrian king the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle now described Egbert as ‘Ruler of Britain’ although this was brief. For a while he could lead attacks against invading Vikings.

In the late 860s a substantial fleet had landed in East Anglia, sailing north to establish a footing in Northumbria north of the Humber River. Here, in 876, Yorkveld (York) was established as their capital for a trading empire that included goods from Russia and Uzbekistan. Alfred (c. 849-899) was the son of Ethelwulf, king of Sussex, and he assumed the throne in 871 avoiding Viking invasion with payments until 878 when they returned. Defeating the Viking force at the Batle of Edington he ensured the survival of England before establishing a navy, army, and system of settlements or burghs. Alfred rebuilt his capital at Winchester which became a cultural and religious centre. Here he commissined the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the first history of any country in Europe in its own language. He also combined Saxon, Roman and Christian law to establish the foundations of what we now call common law.

With a secure hold on eastern England, a treaty was established in 878 partitioning the country into Saxon and Viking territories. This was the Danelaw (which refers to both the set of treaties and a geographic area comprising northern and eastern England), an eastern region where Danish laws and customs took precedence over those of the Anglo-Saxons. A protection tax called Danegeld was imposed in 991 and lasted for 20 years. Danegeld helped maintain a defense force and bought protection from Viking raids.

Erik the Red (c. 950-1003) was a Norse explorer with red hair who, exiled from his own country, in 982 established a settlement in Greenland that would last for 500 years. His son was the well-known Icelandic explorer Leif Erikson.

For a brief period in 1016 the disparate peoples England, Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden were united under King Cnut (Canute) but this Britto-Scandinavian empire disintegrated on his death in 1035. Cnut delegated authority to several of his trusted followers including Godwin Earl of Wessex who restored England’s Saxon line of kings and ensured that his son-in-law Edward was crowned king in 1042.

When King Edward the Confessor died in January 1066 there was no obvious Saxon successor. Harold, who was Edward’s brother-in-law and half Danish, was appointed King. Within a year he was killed by an arrow at the Battle of Hastings by the Norman (Nor(d)mann) William ‘The Conqueror’ whose ancestry was also Viking. Normans made an ‘aristocratic land grab’ as about 4,500 Anglo-Saxon and Danish estates were transferred to about 144 Norman barons.[5] Vikings enjoyed a Golden Age of about 200 years before being absorbed into the cultures of the lands they had influenced and settled. Viking traditions and customs would remain part of the British culture.

Plant commentary & sustainability analysis

Viking interests included a rich mythology that has persisted. Their origins lay in farming and many that settled new areas not just by plundering and pillaging but by becoming successful farmers.


It is difficult to estimate the population change over the period of Viking influx but it ‘was probably greater than any other incursion at any time in the previous history of the islands and was not matched until the late twentieth century”’[6]


In the Viking Age, no less than any other, the climate and ecology played its part in the path of history. This has been summarised by historian Jonathan Clements as follows:

‘Take the Viking out of the longship, turn him into a farmer, and suddenly he worries about crops, disease, trade and family’ . . . ‘In the Viking Age and the centuries that preceded it, northern Europe’s unpredictable climate periodically forced barbarian tribes to go in search of new resources.’ Nowadays . . . ‘the search for such resources has been sublimated, corporatized, sanitized perhaps, but it has not receded’ . . . ‘Ours is still a world with famines, floods and incidents of overpopulation. Our battles over resources are fought by proxy in distant lands, but they are still fought’ . . . ‘It takes only the tiniest turn of fate, the slightest lapse of law, to make Vikings of us all’

Clements, pp.80, 229

Timeline of the Middle Ages

Of special importance to the Middle Ages, and beyond, was the unlikely establishment of a new religion, Christianity. This originated in the Middle East with Jesus of Nazareth whose teachings were later compiled into a sacred text, the Bible.

Christianity – like Judaism, Islam, and some other lesser religions (the Abrahamic religions) – was a monotheistic semitic faith that claimed descent from the Judaism of ancient Israelites and worship of the God of Abraham.

Christianity arose out of Judaism, the bible recording oppressed and marginalized people on the fringes of powerful empires, the early Old Testament being about nomadic tribes persecuted by the polytheistic Babylon, and the New Testament an account of similar people, now Christians, under the persecution of Rome with Jesus crucified for his beliefs. The Christian mission was continued by Jesus’s followers (disciples), the most influential being the apostle Paul, who was a Greek-educated orthodox Jew and one-time Roman soldier. Paul travelled widely but was eventually arrested by the Roman authorities. Much of the New Testament consists of fourteen epistles (letters) attributed to Paul, and it is the ideas discussed in Paul’s epistles that have had the greatest influence on the West.

Initial Roman indifference to Christianity was followed by antagonism but took an unusual turn several centuries after Jesus’s death when Emperor Constantine I (c. 272–337 CE) adopted the new religion. With the Edict of Milan in 313 CE Christians were to be treated with respect, and by 325 CE Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman empire. In 330 CE Constantine created an eastern or Byzantine Roman Empire by transferring the capital from Rome to Byzantium (renamed Constantinople after himself). Constantine also instigated the provision of a doctrinal statement of correct belief or orthodoxy, the Nicene Creed, first written in 325 CE and amended in 381 CE.Though, by 476 CE, the western Roman Empire had fallen, the legacy of Christianity flourished, spreading through Latin Europe (Christendom).

Christianity and other monotheistic religions cleared away the complexities and confusion resulting from polytheism and animistic beliefs. Romans had, for example, absorbed the gods of conquered peoples into a vast pantheon. Monotheism identified a single god and, through a holy book, revealed god’s teachings on the Creation, human conduct, the spiritual world, life after death, and the future of humanity. Religion was the medium for social rites of passage, and it underpinned the education system. Collectively these were powerful forces in daily life that had a profound influence on the Middle Ages and beyond not least of which was the Christian calendar which places the origin of Judaism to a covenant between god and Abraham in 1812 BCE, Christianity to the birth of Jesus in the year 0, and Islam to the prophet Mohammed’s teachings in the Quran beginning around 610 CE.

410 – Alaric I, first king of the Visigoths from 395–410 sacks Rome. Roman garrisons leave Britain
476 – Soldier statesman and former barbarian Flavius Odoacer (c. 433 – 493 CE) deposes child emperor Romulus Augustulus to become King of Italy from 476 to 493 CE, though he deferred to emperor Zeno in Constantinople. This date is often regarded by historians as marking the end of the Western Roman Empire
c. 900 – establishment of Danelaw
1016 – Cnut unites England, Denmark and Norway into a trading bloc
1054 – The Great Schism (East–West Schism) was the break between the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches resulting from both theological and political differences that had developed during the preceding centuries.
1066 – Norman invasion
c. 1300 to c. 1850 – The Little Ice Age lasts for about 550 years
1314 – England defeated by Scotland at the Battle of Bannockburn
1378-1417 – The Western Schism was a split within the Catholic Church when two men claiming to be the true pope ruled (by 1410 this was three) each excommunicating the another. The schism was ended by the Council of Constance (1414–1418).
1400-> -Italian Renaissance from the 15th (Quattrocento) and 16th (Cinquecento) centuries, spreading across Europe and marking the transition from the Middle Ages to Modernity
1419 –Portuguese discovery of Madeira
1427 – Portuguese discovery of the Azores
1434 –> – exploration of coast of west Africa
1440 – Advent of the Gutenberg printing press. Western European lists of medicinal plants appeared for the first time, not in copied manuscript form, but as printed herbals. From Spain and Portugal came the herbals of de Orta (1490-1570), Monardes (1493-1588), and Hernandez (1514-1580) and mention of plants from the New World and Asia. From Germany the works of Brunfels (1489-1534), Bock (1498-1554), and Fuchs (1501-1566), from the Low Countries Dodoens (1517-1585) appointed Professor of Medicine in Leiden in 1582, Lobel (1538-1616), and Clusius (1526-1609). From Italy Mattioli (1501-1577) who studied at the University of Padua in 1523 and Alpino (1553-1617) who assisted the establishment of the Botanic garden at this university in 1545. From England of this period came the herbals of Turner (c.1508-1568) and Gerard (1545–1612),
1453 – Seljuk Turks captured Constantinople with many artists, intellectuals and merchants fleeing to the major cities of northern Italy that would become the epicentre of a Renaissance revival in ancient learning, art and trade
1485 – The accession of Tudor Henry VII with the defeat of the Plantagenet Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field has been used by historians as a convenient marker for the commencement of both Renaissance England and the early modern period
1488 – Diaz rounds the Cape
1498 – Vasco da Gama finds sea route to India’s Calicut
1492–1502 – Christopher Columbus’s trans-Atlantic voyages to the Americas
1512 – Antonio de Abreu lands on the Spice Islands
1519-1522 – Ferdinand Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the globe between 1519–1522, completed by Juan Sebastián Elcano and Enrique of Malacca

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End of Rome


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SAXON   -   802-1066

DANE (Viking) = D

Egbert        -    802-839 - Wessex
Æthelwulf   -   839-856
Æthelbald   -   856-860
Æthelbert    -   860-866
Æthelred I   -   866-871
Alfred-the-Great - 871-899
Edward the Elder - 899-924
Athelstan    -    924-939
Ælfweard    -    924
Edmund I the Elder - 939-946
Eadred        -    946-955
Eadwig the All Fair - 955-959
Edgar I - the Peaceful - 959-975
Edward the Martyr - 975-978
Æthelred II - Unready - 978-1013
Sweyn I Forkbeard - 1013-1014D
Æthelred II Unready - 1014-1016
Edmund Ironside - 1016
Canute the Great 1016-1035 - D
Harold Harefoot - 1035-1040 - D
Harthacanute - 1040-1042 - D
Edward t'e Confessor 1042-1066
Harold II    -    1066
Edgar Ætheling - 1066

NORMAN  -  1066-1154

William I    -   1066-1087
William II   -   1087-1100
Henry I      –   1100-1135
Stephen of Blois – 1135-1154

PLANTAGENET  -  1154-1485

Henry II     –   1154-1189
Richard I Lionheart – 1189-1199
John Lackland – 1199-1216
Henry III    –   1216-1272
Edw' I Longshanks – 1272-1307
Edw' II of Carnarvon - 1307-1327
Edward III  –   1327-1377
Richard II   –   1377-1399
Henry IV     –   1399-1413
Henry V      –   1413-1422
Henry VI     –   1422-1461
Edward IV   -   1461-1483
Edward V    -   1483
Richard III   -   1483-1485

TUDOR  -  1485-1603

Henry VII    –   1485-1505
Henry VIII   –   1509-1547
Edward VI   –   1547-1553
Lady Jane Grey/Dudley – 1553
Mary I/Mary Tudor – 1553-1558
Elizabeth I   –   1558-1603

STUART  -  1603-1714

James I       –    1603-1625
Charles I     -    1625-1649
Civil War     –    1642-1651
Commonwealth - 1649-1653
Protectorate  – 1653-1659
Charles II    –    1660-1685
James II (VII Scotl'd) -1685-1688
Mary & William - 1688-1694
William of Orange – 1694-1702
Anne          –      1702-1714

HANOVER  -  1714-1901

George 1   –  1714-1727
George II   –  1727-1760
George III  –  1760-1820
George IV  –  1820-1830
William IV  –  1830-1837
Victoria      –  1837-1901

SAXE-COB' GOTHA 1901-1910 

Edward VII  -  1901-1910

WINDSOR  –  1910->

George V     –  1910-1936
Edward VIII  –  1936
George VI     –  1936-1952
Elizabeth II   –  1953->


Rashidun     -     632-661  
Umayyad     -     661-750  
Abbasid     -       750-1258  
 Ottoman     -     1517-1924  

Media Gallery

The Vikings!

CrashCourse – 2015 – 11:17

1000 AD: A Tour of the Viking World

History Time – 2019 – 57:00

First published on the internet – 1 March 2019


Viking expeditions (blue line): depicting voyages through most of Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, Northern Africa, Asia Minor, the Arctic, and North America. Lower Normandy, depicted as a ″Viking territory in 911″, was not part of the lands granted by the king of the Franks to Rollo in 911, but Upper Normandy.
Earth map by NASA – Adapted Bogdangiusca
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Accessed 9 – November 2020

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