Nowadays, our lives are so consumed by technology, TV shows, and what we’re going to have for dinner (pizza, obvs) that we often forget that there was a world before we were born. Although it makes us pretty upset that the world didn’t start as soon as we entered it (it should have), it is easy to forget that humans have been on this planet for around six million years. Sure, some of our ancestors liked rocks a little too much, and stumbled around on all fours, and some of them didn’t even know what fire was, but we’re still related – and just as we have to sometimes pinch ourselves that we’re related to our brother or sister (eugh), we were also related to those guys.However, it is important to understand what has happened in this world, and how much the Earth, the animals and the humans on it have changed so much in that time.
When we think of the history of the Earth, we often categorize the years into eras. You who are reading this right now (hi!) were probably born in the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s, which are eras in themselves. But when we talk about historical eras, we look towards the bigger picture. We’re talking about the Ice Age, where dinosaurs roamed the planet and sloths, woolly mammoths and saber-tooth tigers team up to save the world (oh, wait). We’re talking about The Victorian Era, where Queen Victoria reigned supreme in England, and Alice ventured down the Rabbit Hole to Wonderland. We’re talking about Ancient Greece, where every day was a toga party. However, there was so much more to it than that. These iconic eras were the catalysts of change. The Stone Age led the way towards the Bronze Age. The Renaissance Age led the way towards The Enlightenment Era, and the First World War led the way towards the Roaring Twenties. Of course, there’s a heck load of stuff that went on in between, but you catch our drift. Wonder where we’re going next?
Nevertheless, one of the most prominent eras in our history was the Viking era. The almighty Vikings ruled the roost from the late 800 AD until the middle of the 11th-Century – so it’s fair to say that they have had an impressive impact on our world (for better and for worse). Unfortunately, some people have the wrong impression of Vikings. Sure, they were big, bulky, and bearded men (sounds like the Hipsters of today), but they were also revolutionary. So we have to give credit where credit is due. Check out the facts and secrets you didn’t know about the Vikings…
The Viking age
When we think of Vikings, an image of a redheaded, beardy guy brandishing a battle hammer probably pops into your head. Although this was kinda what they look like, the men, women, and children who reigned supreme from 800 AD – 1066 AD had a profound effect on the world we now know and (kinda), love. But what else do you know about Vikings? Well, it’s time to test your knowledge, ladies, and gents. P.S you might wanna prepare yourself because your mind will soon be blown…
What’s in a name?
However, the men who did paddle over to England for a spot of tea didn’t actually call themselves Vikings. This is a name that has been associated with them for thousands of years but didn’t make an appearance in the history books until the middle of their reign during the 10th Century. It’s believed that the Norse origins of the word ‘Viking’ either stem from the feminine variation of their Old Norse ‘vik,’ which means ‘small bay.’ Alternatively, the name could stem from a region of Norway called ‘Viken’ – where many of the subsequent Vikings originally lived. Well, there ya go.
Where it all began
The Viking Age is one of the most prolific in history, but very few people know when it actually started. Luckily, we have the answer. It all began on June 8, 793, when Viking warriors got in their boats, traveled from Norway and descended upon the shores of Lindisfarne, in Northern England. Although the residents of this little island were ready to welcome their visitors, the Vikings weren’t there to chat. Instead, they destroyed their beloved Abbey, destroyed most of the people on the island, and took the land for their own. This led the way for hundreds of raids later on in their reign.
You do you, Vikings
You might be wondering why the Vikings decided to unleash their wrath on a small island in Northern England – but so is the rest of the world. Although historians and researchers have tried to determine why these warriors descended on the country with such brutal force, they have still not come to any conclusion. However, there are a few theories. Many people believe the Vikings were escaping the poverty and famine in their Scandinavian countries, whereas others believe they simply raided these isles because they wanted to. You do you, Vikings.
The horned helmet
We’ve all heard of Vikings before, and we’ve probably all watched movies with Vikings in them (including the aptly named movie, Viking, released in 2016. Creative). Most of the time, the Vikings in these movies are depicted as long-haired warriors, who wear uncomfortable looking helmets with horns on the top. In fact, you’ve probably been to a fancy dress party with one of those bad boys on your head. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the real Vikings wore these helmets. They would have been hugely detrimental in battle and were only linked to these Scandinavian warriors in the 19th Century.
The beautiful Viking
In today’s day and age, you probably associate Vikings to Chris Hemsworth as Thor in the Marvel Universe – and we have to admit, Marvel has kinda got it spot on. With their long blonde locks, big muscles and beards, Vikings were all about appearances. In fact, the Nordic beauty standards were pretty easy to follow. If you had brunette hair during this time, you were expected to dye your hair and beard with a special form of soap that had lye in it. This soap not only transformed them into a blonde bombshell, but it also killed any lice that lived in their hair. Bonus.
The Blood Eagle
Vikings are known for their brutal ways, their harsh warrior tactics and their love for bloodshed. Much of this is true, but it is believed that some of these stories are false. Many stories claim that Vikings would punish their criminals and felons by inflicting The Blood Eagle upon them. To do this, they would open up the back of their victims, and crack their ribs…one at a time. The Vikings would then supposedly pour salt into the victim (ouch) and let nature take its course. However, there is no real evidence to suggest this really happened. Thank goodness.
All about the women
In our lifetimes, women have come on leaps and bounds in terms of women’s rights. Sure, we still have a long way to go, but at least we have the vote now, ey? Because of this, it’s hard to imagine that women in the Viking era were any better off than we were – but it seems that they were! In a society largely dominated with big, burly men, the women in the Viking era were given almost as much freedom as they were. They were allowed to go on cross-country explorations in the long-boats, they were able to divorce their husbands, and they were even able to buy and manage their own land. You go, girls.
When you think of Vikings, you might think of drunken, bearded men pillaging families, taking over land, and ridding places of loads of people – and you’d be totally right. You’d think that getting totally bamboozled with mead and taking over the British Isles would be messy work, but the Vikings kept themselves incredibly clean and fresh. In fact, they took their personal hygiene ridiculously seriously (probably even more seriously than our two showers a week). It’s believed that Vikings would use the likes of makeshift razors, tweezers, hair combs, and even ear cleaners!
Although the Vikings liked to dominate new lands and do away with whoever was in their path (gulp), they were largely a fair and generous society that was ahead of its time. However, three were a few aspects of the livelihoods that were pretty backward – including their thriving slave trade. Yuh-huh, the Vikings would take the lower classes of men, women, and children from the European isles they conquered and sell them on as capital. Yet, the slaves weren’t randomly sold on the street. Instead, they would be taken to humongous slave markets throughout Europe and the Middle East.
We’ve all heard what Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore have to say about Global Warming, and it’s easy to think that these increasing temperatures have only affected the last few generations. However, this isn’t the case. From 950 to around 1250, the world was suffering from the Medieval Warm period – and the Vikings took full advantage of this. Although we’d love to believe that these guys sunbathed on the grassy plains of Ireland and got a tan, the truth of the matter is that this Global Warming allowed the Vikings to capture and travel to new countries that would normally have been covered in ice and snow, like Newfoundland.
Around the world
Through our history lessons at school, we know that the Vikings were pretty keen on their longboats. In fact, they loved nothing more than getting in their boats, getting their oars out, and traveling across the seas to new lands. Most people believe that these Vikings only traveled across the British Isles and other European sites. However, they actually traveled much further afield. Researchers have found evidence that these burly Vikings actually traveled as far as North Africa, Palestine, and even Baghdad. They didn’t discriminate against the Southern Hemisphere after all, y’all.
Vikings and Russia
When we think of the Vikings, we normally think of Nordic countries, and Scandinavian people taking over England and France (because they were nice like that). However, few people realize that the Vikings actually had a mahoosive impact on Russia and the Russian people. In fact, the Vikings are often dubbed as the first people to settle on the land we now know as Russia. It’s believed that these Nordic settlers took over the land for many years before the Rus’ people transformed into a Slavic community – and the Nordic ways were lost.
The Great Heathen Army
It’s no secret that the Vikings just loved a good raid, but most of the time, they raided a part of England, Ireland or Scotland – and then left to go home. Because what else do you do when you’re bored, ey? Nevertheless, there was a time when these Vikings took one step further and actually settled in these Isles. In 865, a whole army of Vikings (who were dubbed the ‘Great Heathen Army’) sailed their longboats across the seas to the North of England and then walked to the city of York. They overpowered the residents of the city and lived there as farmers for 13 years…until they were overpowered themselves.
Although the Vikings weren’t picky with their European conquests, they did have a real soft spot for England (they probably really liked the crumpets). Because of this, England was hugely affected by the Viking reign. After Viking conquests, the Danish people and the English society signed a treaty that united parts of England through the Danelaw. Before too long, King Cnut of Denmark created the North Sea Empire, and became the King of Denmark, Norway, and England (greedy, much?) Well, he was the king until all of the shenanigans happened in 1066 – but that story would need a whole other article.
The Land of the Northmen
However, the Vikings didn’t discriminate against their European countries – and they didn’t want to leave France out of the mix. During their reign, the Vikings found themselves on the northern coast of France in a place they named the ‘Land of the Northmen.’ Today, we know this region as Normandy. As the years went by, the Vikings in Normandy slowly transitioned into the Normans, that later went on to invade the likes of Belgium and other areas of France. Even later on, the Normans would take a trip to over the English Channel to invade and conquer England in a bloody battle that would dominate the history books (yep, you know the one).
Settling in Iceland
Most of the time, the Vikings had a pretty clear picture of what they wanted to do and where they wanted to invade. Yuh-huh, these guys were the masters of to-do lists and map-reading (they were like the ultimate scouts) – but just like the rest of us, these bearded Vikings did make a few mistakes. However, because the Vikings had luck on their sides, their mistakes didn’t result in missing the bus or getting a tattoo they regret. Instead, these guys found Iceland when they made a mistake! The island of Iceland was found in 830 when a few Vikings took a wrong turning while they were traveling to the Faroe Islands. They then took a few more Vikings over and eventually settled in the country.
The Vikings and America
It’s a well-known fact that Christopher Columbus was the first guy to truly discover the continent of North America – but is that really the case? Well, some researchers think not. It’s believed that around four decades before Columbus set sail for the Free World, the Vikings had already been and gone. These bearded explorers had already made their way through Newfoundland and other areas of America and Canada and had even lived there for a few years until they realized that the Native Americans were no match for their weapons. Take that, Columbus.
The Maine Penny
It’s hard to imagine the Vikings getting on well with other people – because let’s be honest, those guys were massive. However, there is evidence to suggest that there was a time where the Vikings, the Native Americans and the Inuits would often engage in communication and trade in North America and Iceland. This evidence is linked to the Maine Penny, a silver coin that is dated back to Norway in the 1000s. However, this coin was not found in Norway…it was found in Maine. Although this points towards trade between the groups, it’s believed all trade communications were lost when they all got on each others’ nerves. Fair enough.
The Viking classes
Nowadays, we live in a society where we’re all divided by class. You’ve got the working-class, the middle-class and the upper-class – y’know, the ones who can afford a new Ferrari every week. Although this class system may seem like a relatively new addition to the world, the Vikings also had their own class systems back in the 9th Century. At the top of the Viking, food chain were the Jarls (the priests, the nobles, and the wealthy merchants with connections to the King). Then, there were the Karls (the farmers, builders and average-joe’s). At the bottom of the food chain were the Thralls (the slaves).
When we think of Vikings today, many of us think of Norse mythology. Even though the Viking era ended centuries ago, this Norse culture still resonates today – especially if you’re a fan of Chris Hemsworth. The Viking culture was rich in heroes, goddesses, and gods. The legends of Thor, Loki, Odin, Freyja and more made their way from Norse Germanic people and later made their way into the folklore of today. Their stories have since been transformed into popular culture, and it seems we can’t get enough of them!
If you’ve ever been to Scandinavia, you’ll know that the food is a little different to your typical burger and fries meal – and you’ll be lucky if you can find a McDonald’s milkshake anywhere. During the Viking era, the Warriors needed as much energy as they could muster, which meant that they would eat delicious meals. The typical Viking delicacies included meat (and LOTS of it), bread, seafood and fresh fruits and vegetables. They were also experts at preserving their food, and would often hang up their fish for months on end to get the perfect taste (although we’ve heard it’s gross).
If you’re fond of traveling (which is everyone, right?) you might have had the pleasure of visiting Europe. If you haven’t, you’ve probably got a whole list of European cities you want to explore. But what most people don’t realize is that these major European cities wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the bearded, burly and berserk Vikings. During the course of their travels, the Vikings discovered the likes of Cork, Reykjavik, Dublin, Limerick and more and expanded them into the major cities they are today. Cheers, guys.
There are many legends of Vikings and Norse warriors who change forms and transform into animals during battles. In fact, J.K Rowling based her notorious Fenrir Greyback after these stories within Norse mythology (#nerdlife). Most of the time, these warriors are called ‘The Berserkers’ – and although there’s no truth to the idea that they become werewolves or any other animals, there is some truth behind the name. In Norwegian, ‘Berserkers’ literally translates to ‘to change form’ and is named after the Viking warriors who would don their animal skins and do away with their enemies in battle. Oo-er.
The Runic Alphabet
Although we know a fair bit about the Viking era, we haven’t got much of this information from written inscriptions or bodies of work – because there are very few of them! Instead, researchers have pieced together artifacts and various other items to piece together the history. Nevertheless, the Vikings did leave a little bit of their culture behind in written form, including their Runic Alphabet. Although the Runic Alphabet is not used today, it has proven vital in learning even more about their incredible reign in Europe.
Nowadays, we do everything we can to try and save the world (we’re helping you out, Leo). We use solar panels, we use wind turbines, and we even have electric vehicles – gosh, we’re good. However, it seems this instinctive eco-friendly personality we all have is nothing new, as the Vikings were all about saving the planet long before us. Yep, Viking families would live in specially designed longhouses that were decorated with turf roofs. This grass would not only keep in the heat but also keep the ecosystem alive. Go, Vikings!
The Viking funeral
It’s no secret that the Vikings were pretty impressive human beings (and we definitely feel a little inferior), but not even Vikings could cheat death. Whether they died in battle or of old age, Vikings treated any death with intense respect and grace. Because of this, they didn’t have just any old funeral for their loved ones. Instead, they would bury their dead in a specially-made burial ship, and pile all of the person’s belongings, jewelry, riches, clothes, and animals in the boat with them. The boat would either be set alight or covered with a pile of soil and pushed out to sea. The perfect goodbye.
Leaving the stragglers behind
Throughout their reign, the Vikings proved that they were some of the strongest warriors in history – and they took that role very seriously. As soon as a child was born into the Viking world, they were inspected for their strength, their health, and their potential. The aim of the Viking world was to raise strong warriors who would improve their power and improve their livelihood. If the child did not fit their bill, they would leave them behind, abandon them, or even throw them into the sea (bit harsh). They would leave the stragglers behind, and pile ahead with those who had proven themselves worthy. We would definitely be thrown out to sea…
Why it ended
We’ve made no secret of the fact that the Vikings were incredibly successful in their reign. They were strong, they were powerful, and they made some epic connections with Europe. So why did it all end? Well, many people say that the Viking age ended because of religion. As the Catholic Church became more prominent in Europe, it suddenly became ‘rude’ and ‘horrible’ to burn down people’s houses and do away with their families (apparently). As the years went by, the Viking settlers adapted to the rules and regulations of new Kings and ideals, and the last Norse King took his final bow in 1066. You did well, guys.
It’s common knowledge that the Vikings helmed from Scandinavia. Yep, these guys were all born and bred on the shores of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway during the 800s – but they weren’t technically Vikings. In fact, the Scandinavian residents who stayed in their homes during this period were just chilling out watching the latest episode of ‘Whose Goat is This Anyway?’ If you’re talking about real Vikings, you’re talking about those who hopped in their boats and traveled over to other areas of Europe; primarily around the British Isles. In fact, they are largely defined as ‘Seafaring Raiders.’
Like many people around the world, we all have our preferences. Some people love brunettes, others like redheads, and many love blondes. However, the Vikings were pretty adamant about their likes and dislikes – and they really, really (really) loved blond hair. The men would use a really strong soap, filled with a chemical called lye that helped lighten their hair and prevent head lice. It was a win-win situation! Some Vikings didn’t just stop at dying their hair, however, as many also covered their beards in the lye chemical, for that beautiful, blond bearded look. Swoon!