The Viking age has long been associated with unbridled piracy, when freebooters swarmed out of the northlands in their
longships to burn and pillage their way across civilized Europe. Modern scholarship
provides evidence this is a gross simplification, and that during this period much progress was achieved in terms of
Scandinavian art and craftsmanship, marine technology, exploration, and the development of
commerce. It seems the Vikings did as much trading as they did raiding.
The title "Viking" encompasses a wide designation of Nordic people; Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians, who lived during a
period of brisk Scandinavian expansion in the middle ages, from approximately 800 to 1100 AD. This name may be derived
from the old Norse vik(bay or
creek). These people came from what is now Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and had a self-sustaining, agricultural society,
where farming and cattle breeding were supplemented by hunting, fishing, the
extraction of iron and the quarrying of rock to make whetstones and cooking utensils; some goods, however, had to be traded;
salt, for instance, which is a necessity for man and cattle alike, is an
everyday item and thus would not have been imported from a greater distance than necessary, while luxury items could be
brought in from farther south in Europe. Their chief export products were, iron,
whetstones, and soapstone cooking pots, these were an essential contribution to a trade growth in the Viking age.
The contemporary references we have about the Vikings stem mainly from sources in western Europe who had bitter
experiences with the invaders, so we\'re most likely presented with the worst side of
the Vikings. Archaeological excavations have shown evidence of homesteads, farms, and marketplaces, where discarded or
lost articles tell of a common everyday life. As the Viking period progressed,
society changed; leading Chieftain families accumulated sufficient land and power to form the basis for kingdoms, and the first
towns were founded.
These market places and towns were based on craftsmanship and trade. Even though the town dwelling Vikings kept cattle,
farmed, and fished to meet their household needs, the towns probably depended on agricultural supplies from outlying areas.
They also unfortunately did not pay as much attention to renovation and waste disposal as they did to town planning, as
evidenced by the thick layers of waste around settlements. In contemporary times the stench must have been nauseating.
Trade, however, was still plentiful, even in periods when Viking raids abounded, trade was conducted between Western
Europe and the Viking homeland; an example of this being the North Norwegian chieftain, Ottar, and King Alfred of Wessex.
Ottar visited King Alfred as a peaceful trader at the same time as Alfred was waging war with other Viking chieftains. The
expansion of the Vikings was probably triggered by a population growth out stepping the capacities of domestic resources.
Archaeological evidence shows that new farms were cleared in sparsely populated forests at the time of their expansion. The
abundance of iron in their region and their ability to forge it into weapons and arm everyone setting off on raids helped give the
Vikings the upper hand in most battles.
The first recorded Viking raid occurred in 793 AD, the holy island of the Lindisfarne monastery just off the Northeast shoulder
of England was pillaged, around the same time, there are recorded reports of raids elsewhere in Europe. There are narratives
of raids in the Mediterranean, and as far as the Caspian Sea. Norsemen from Kiev even attempted an attack on
Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Unfortunately, in the picture handed down to us in written accounts, the
Vikings are portrayed as terrible robbers and bandits, this is strictly a single sided view; and, while the above statement is
probably true, they had other traits as well. Some of their leaders were very skillful organizers, as evidenced by the fact that
they were able to establish kingdoms in already-conquered territories. Some of these, such as the ones established in Dublin
and York did not survive the Viking period; Iceland, however, is still
a thriving nation. The Viking Kingdom in Kiev formed the basis of the Russian Empire.
The remains of fortresses dated to the end of the Viking period, have been found in Denmark; the fortresses are circular and
are divided into quadrants, with square buildings in each of the four
sections. The precision with which these castles were placed indicates an advanced sense of order, and a knowledge of
surveying techniques and geometry in the Danish