From sciforums_encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

A rugged man of the north.


The etymology of "Viking" is somewhat vague. One path might be from the Old Norse word, vík, meaning "bay," "creek," or "inlet," and the suffix -ing, meaning "coming from" or "belonging to." Thus, Viking would be a 'person of the bay', or "bayling" for lack of a better word. In Old Norse, this would be spelled víkingr. It may be noted that Viken was the old name of the region bordering on the Skagerrak, from where the first Norse merchant-warriors originated. Later on, the term, Viking, became synonymous with "naval expedition" or "naval raid", and a víkingr was a member of such expeditions. A second etymology suggested that the term is derived from Old English, wíc, ie. "trading city" (cognate to Latin vicus, "village").

The word Viking appears on several rune stones found in Scandinavia. In the Icelanders' sagas, víking refers to an overseas expedition (Old Norse farar i vikingr "to go on an expedition"), and víkingr, to a sea-man or warrior taking part in such an expedition.

In Old English, the word wicing appears first in the Anglo-Saxon poem, "Widsith", which probably dates from the 9th century. In Old English, and in the writings of Adam von Bremen, the term refers to a pirate, and is not a name for a people or a culture in general. Regardless of its possible origins, the word was used more as a verb than as a noun, and connotated an activity and not a distinct group of individuals. To "go Viking" was distinctly different from Norse seaborne missions of trade and commerce.

The word disappeared in Middle English, and was reintroduced as Viking during 18th century Romanticism (the "Viking revival"), with heroic overtones of "barbarian warrior" or noble savage. During the 20th century, the meaning of the term was expanded to refer not only to the raiders, but also to the entire period; it is now, somewhat confusingly, used as a noun both in the original meaning of raiders, warriors or navigators, and to refer to the Scandinavian population in general. As an adjective, the word is used in expressions like "Viking age," "Viking culture," "Viking colony," etc., generally referring to medieval Scandinavia.

The Viking Age

The time period from the earliest recorded raids in the 790s until the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 is commonly called the "Viking Age." The Normans, however, were descended from Danish Vikings that were given feudal overlordship of areas of Northern France in the 8th century. In that respect, the Vikings continued to have an influence in Northern Europe. Likewise, King Harold Godwinson had descended from Danish Vikings. Many of the medieval kings of Norway and Denmark were married to English and Scottish royalty and Viking forces were often a factor in dynastic disputes pre-1066.

Geographically, a "Viking Age" may be assigned not only to the Scandinavian lands (modern Denmark, Norway and Sweden), but also to territories under North Germanic dominance, mainly the Danelaw, which replaced the powerful English kingdom of Northumbria, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Russia and Ireland. Contemporary with the European Viking Age, the Byzantine Empire in the Balkans and Anatolia, heir to the Eastern Roman Empire, experienced the greatest period of stability (circa 800–1071) it would enjoy after the initial wave of Arab conquerors in the 7th century.

Viking navigators also opened the road to new lands to the north, to the west and to the east resulting in the foundation of independent kingdoms in the Shetland, Orkney, and Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and L'Anse aux Meadows, a short-lived settlement in Newfoundland, circa 1000 A.D. Many of these lands, specifically Greenland and Iceland, were likely discovered by sailors blown off course. Greenland was later abandoned because its few "green" spots disappeared due to climate change. Vikings also seized and destroyed many villages and territories in Slavic-dominated areas of Eastern Europe. Template:Disputed-section But their military expansion was stopped by people of Novgorod Republic in the early 800s, forcing them to switch their military intentions westwards, and restricting visits to the east only to trading. However, because of this history, in the Russian language Vikings are called "vorog", or varag, which means "an enemy".

During three centuries, Vikings appeared along the coasts and rivers of Europe, as traders generally, but also as raiders when opportunity allowed, and even like Turgesius, as settlers. From 839, Varangian mercenaries in Byzantine service, notably Harald Hardrada, campaigned in North Africa, Jerusalem, and other places in the Middle East. Important trading ports during the period include Birka, Hedeby, Kaupang, Jorvik, Staraya Ladoga, Novgorod and Kiev. Generally speaking, the Norwegians expanded to the north and west to places such as Scotland, Iceland, and Greenland, the Danes to England and France, settling in the Danelaw (NE England) and Normandy, and the Swedes to the east. These nations, although distinct, were similar in culture, especially language. The names of Scandinavian kings are known only for the later part of the Viking Age, and only after the end of the Viking Age did the separate kingdoms acquire a distinct identity as nations, which went hand in hand with their Roman Catholicization. Thus it may be noted that the end of the Viking Age (9th–11th century) for the Scandinavians also marks the start of their relatively brief Middle Ages.

There is archaeological evidence (coins) that the Vikings reached the city of Baghdad, the centre of the Islamic Empire and their considerable intellectual endeavours. In 921, Ibn Fadlan was sent as emissary on behalf of the Caliph of Baghdad to the iltäbär (vassal-king under the Khazars) of the Volga Bulgaria, Almış. The Bolgar King had petitioned to the Caliph to establish relations. He had asked to have someone come to teach him Arabic and the Qu'ran and pledge allegiance to Hanafi rite of the Sunni Muslims. The Caliph promised to send money to build a fort on the Volga, but the transaction never occurred. Separately, the Rus' sent a squad of fierce soldiers to Constantinople to protect the Byzantine emperor [citation needed]. The Norse regularly plied the Volga with their trade goods: furs, tusks, seal fat to seal boats and slaves (notably female slaves such that this was the one time in the history of the slave-trade when females were priced higher than males). However, they were far less successful in establishing settlements in the Middle East, due to the more centralized Islamic power, namely of the Umayyad and, later, Abbasid empires.


After trade and settlement, cultural impulses flowed from the rest of Europe. Christianity had had an early and growing presence in Scandinavia, and with the rise of centralized authority along with a stiffening of coastal defense in the areas the Vikings preyed upon, the Viking raids became more risky and less profitable. With the rise of kings and great nobles and a quasi-feudal system in Scandinavia, they ceased entirely – in the 11th century the Scandinavians are frequently chronicled as combating "Vikings" from the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, which would eventually lead to Danish and Swedish participation in the Baltic crusades (end of 12th and early 13th century) and contributed to the development of the Hanseatic League.