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, Israel, 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.
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.’
The real reason for the horns
A lot of people think that the Vikings wore or at least owned battle helmets that had horns coming off of the sides. In fact, this is a very popular trope, so much so that the Minnesota Vikings football helmet even has “horns” coming off of the side. However, this was a mistake made by the first archaeologists who discovered Viking treasure troves. The horns are actually drinking horns which were ritually placed alongside the helmets after a Viking’s death.
Starting fires, with science!
One of the ways that Vikings were able to travel so far and for so long was because they were able to bring fire with them. How? The Vikings would take touchwood fungus and boil it in human liquid excrement for several days. The excrement, full of nitrates, burns at a very slow rate, enabling the fungus to smolder instead of burn. This enabled the firestarter to be carried around and start campfires whenever and wherever they were needed.
Most Vikings were farmers
A lot of people think of Vikings as pirates and raiders who were always at war with each other or with other civilizations. But it turns out that this could not have been further from the truth. Vikings were actually primarily farmers, with most growing wheat, barley, and various forms of oats. They would also grow livestock, from pigs and cattle to goats and sheep. Who would have known that they were so in touch with the land?
When one thinks of skiing, they typically think of it as being a modern sport. They think big name brand down jackets, drinking hot chocolate, and having to fly to an exotic locale to do it. But it turns out that the Vikings were masters of the slopes during their reign. With ancient skis found in Scandinavia dating back 6,000 years, there’s ample evidence to suggest that the Vikings used to ski to get from place to place as well as just for fun! They even had a god of skiing named Ullr
When we speak about the Vikings, we usually tend to think of them being this singular, monolithic ethnic group, all of whom were controlled by one king sitting somewhere in Sweden or Norway. However, the Vikings were quite varied in their tribes and kingdoms. There were groups everywhere in Scandinavia, with each group having its own chieftain and kings and even traditions. Vikings was just a slang term which loosely translated means “raiders.”
Language of the runes
The Vikings primarily spoke a form of Old Norse, a language which influenced the creation of the modern day Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic languages. In fact, the Icelandic language is the closest language to Old Norse that is still spoken. However, there’s one town in Sweden which still speaks actual Old Norse, and which used runes as their written language up until the 1950s! The town,of Alvdalen was almost cut off from the outside world until recently, thus enabling the Viking culture to survive.
It turns out that Bluetooth has its origins in Viking mythology. The man who invented Bluetooth at Intel, Jim Kardach, was reading a book about the Vikings and happened to learn about the Viking king of Denmark, Harald Bluetooth. Harald united all of the Viking tribes around him, and Kardach thought of Bluetooth as a uniting technology. In fact, the Bluetooth symbol is a combination of the runes for H and B, Harald Bluetooth’s initials.
The Vikings go to… Baghdad?
It is well known that the Vikings went all over Northern Europe, conquering what is now the United Kingdom as well as northern Germany and France. But it turns out that the Vikings also made it all the way down to Baghdad in what is now the country of Iraq! The Vikings were prolific traders and had trade links between themselves and the Arab peoples living in the Middle East. They were known to enforce business contracts by brute violence.
The Vikings actually had a name for the area where the Arabs and Persian peoples lived, and there are runes which commemorate those who fell in battle against these peoples across the Middle East and Central Asia. The Vikings called this area Serkland. In Old Norse, the word Serk means “gowns,” a comment on the style of clothing worn by the Arabs in these places. That means that in Old Norse, the word for Middle East translates into “land of the men who wear gowns”!
A Viking midnight in Paris
Back in 832 CE the Vikings set their sights on a big, walled city in Europe. They knew that behind the walls of these cities lay vast treasures (as evidenced by their pillaging of the modern United Kingdom). A Viking fleet of 120 ships containing thousands of men was led by Ragnar Lodbrok up the Seine River to Paris. The Vikings sacked the city and took everything they could. The head of the city, Charles the Bald, paid the Vikings over 5,600 pounds of gold and silver to leave.
Up in the northern arctic ocean swims a species of whale called a Narwhal. The Narwhals are smallish whales, but they are known for a very unique feature which grows out of their mouths – a giant, spiral tusk. The Vikings used to hunt these whales for their meat and for their oil, and would use their tusks as decorations. However, they soon learned that they could trick European mainlanders into buying the tusks for huge amounts of money by claiming that they were unicorn horns!
Fighting in Iberia
The Vikings were always looking for new conquests. This led them to sail through the Straits of Gibraltar and to the Iberian Peninsula. It was there that they simply wreaked havoc on the Muslim rulers there. They conquered and raided the Iberian Peninsula, looting and capturing cities such as Lisbon, Cadiz, Seville, Santiago de Compostela, the Balearic Islands, and even held the King of Navarre, García Íñiguez, hostage. The Vikings were eventually ousted by the Muslim Moors.
Peoples of trade
The Vikings’ primary goals was not to spread a religion or an ideology, but to increase their wealth. This made them fierce traders, willing to trade anything with anybody, even if they had just fought them in a war. One of the more interesting trading relationships they had was with the Muslim rulers in Andalusia and in what is now Morocco in North Africa. In fact, prolific Jewish-Moorish trader Abraham ben Jacob al-Tartushi even voyaged up to the Danish Viking capital to secure trade routes!
The beginnings of Russia
We like to think of Russia as this giant, monolithic culture which has always been there, but in fact, the entire Russian people were started by, you guessed it, the Vikings! While there were Slavic and Turkic tribes in the area, it was the Vikings, then called the Rus (Old Norse for “men who row”) who descended from the area of Roslagen in Sweden, and conquered what is today western Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
The sun stone
One of the ways that the Vikings were able to travel so much father and so much more efficiently than other peoples is due to their use of something called a “sun stone.” This stone, typically a crystal with refractive properties of some kind, was typically used in order to be able to judge the direction of the sun both when the skies were cloudy as well as just after sunset. At first thought to be just a myth, researchers have been able to replicate the effects of a sun stone using Icelandic Spar.
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!