If you have ever heard the word “Viking,” it is probably from a Hollywood drama serial by Michael Hirst, “Vikings,” which portrays the life of the legend Viking Chief Ragnar Lothbrok and the crew. Behind the captivating script of the series is the real-life glory of the ancient Viking Age, which, to this date, engages the modern audience in awe and amazement.
Vikings, as a people, were the Norsemen belonging to the Scandinavian lands, where today the countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden exist. Hence, when one talks about Vikings, one is usually referring to the inhabitants of the Norse homeland.
These people existed around the time period of 8th to 11th century, and during their time, they not only resided in European lands but also explored and ventured further westward towards areas where modern-day Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland exist. There are archeological pieces of evidence that prove the fact that these people also ventured on and lived in some Asian residencies as well.
These Vikings were notorious for their pirate plunder, for they mostly were seafarers and their raids and piracy were notoriously regular. In fact, there was a strong connection between these Vikings and piracy. It is evident from the fact that the very name of this kin is associated with piracy and sea bandits.
The word “Viking” is also said to be derived from the Scandinavian term “Vikingr,” meaning pirate. That is why, whenever the term Vikings is uttered, not only an intellectual historian but also a regular Joe imagines a pirate ship approaching amid the vastness of the deep sea.
However, apart from the practice of seafaring piracy, Vikings were also excellent traders and the trade regimes established by these folks can be regarded as the primitive form of the modern trading order.
The Vikings have a very exuberant ancestral history of conquest, looting and dynastic rulings. The story of Vikings began in the late 8th century when the clan began their streak of looting and attacks began; however, at that time, this plunder was sporadic and no specific timeline or prominent chief is recorded in history for that particular time frame.
The strategized and formal conquests by the Vikings began in the mid-9th century when according to the historians, they began attacking areas of modern-day Ireland, Scotland and England. Among the Viking conquerors, the most significant and rather famous chief was Erik Thorvaldsson, better known as “Eric the Red” who, after beginning his conquests from the Scottish, Irish and English lands, ventured west to conquer Greenland.
Erik Thorvaldsson earned the famous epithet “Eric the Red” due to the red color of his beard and hair. He was a Norse explorer who is said to be the founder of the first settlement in Greenland. Eric the Red is, by far, the most famous Norseman of the Vikings Clan.
After countless conquests and sporadic plunders, the legitimized establishment of Viking rule was undertaken by king Herald Bluetooth, a 10th Century Viking king of the formal estate of Denmark. Hence, Viking rule was legitimized in a newly unified and powerful Demark.
His son Sven Forkbeard followed his father’s footsteps and expanded the Viking Empire to such an extent that even the English were soon subdued. Forkbeard led Viking raids on England and conquered the entirety of England, sending England’s king into exile. After Forkbeard’s death, his son – Knut, then ruled over a Scandinavian empire comprising England, Norway and Denmark.
However, after Knut’s death, his two sons too died in rapid succession, placing the empire in disarray. Soon after, the English king returned from exile and retook the throne whilst resisting further attacks from the Danes.
The Norse culture established by Vikings was rich in tradition and values. They spoke the Old Norse language and made marvelous inscriptions in runes. They followed the Old Norse religion; however, with time, they shifted to the Christian religion. The uniqueness of their culture lay in their customized and culture-oriented laws, art and architecture.
Most Vikings adopted the profession of farmers, fishermen, craftsmen and traders. By the mid-11th century, the Viking age had reached its end. As all of the Scandinavian kingdoms were Christian, Viking culture was simply absorbed into the culture of Christian Europe.
A romanticized picture of Vikings as noble and “fanaticized” savages began to emerge in the 18th century and slowly and gradually, this conception developed and became widely propagated during the 19th-century age of Viking revival. Although it has been over 10 centuries since the Viking culture originated and prevailed in the European lands, however, till date, the culture and tradition of Viking history are alive and thriving in those lands. Today, signs of the Viking’s legacy can be found in the areas in which they lived, such as Northern England, Russia, Ireland, Scandinavia, and Scotland.
In Iceland, in particular, the Vikings left behind an extensive body of literature called the Icelandic sagas that celebrated the glorious victories of their great past. Through these literary masterpieces, the people of the 21st Century can peek into the lives of the Viking clans and the extravagant history of conquest and the diversity of rich culture that they have left behind.
The literary contributions left by the ancient historians have taken on new forms of visual display and articulation in the modern art of cinematography. In popular culture today, Norse Mythology has seen a revival as can be seen by the popularity of TV shows such as “Vikings”, books such as “Eaters of the Dead”, movies such as “How to Train Your Dragon” and characters such as superhero “Thor” in the famed Avengers series.
Very few viewers, even those who claim to be a die heart fan of the Marvel enterprise, know about the linkage that exists between the Viking culture and Thor. However, the world of motion pictures is slowly and gradually beginning to realize and acknowledge the richness of the Viking culture and history. With every new masterpiece on the Vikings, the viewer gets to observe and experience some novel aspect of their traditions, cultures and values.