People ran and hid when they saw Viking ships coming. “From the fury of the Northmen, good Lord deliver us!” they prayed. The Vikings were daring, skillful sailors and frightening warriors. For 300 years, from ad 800 to 1100, they terrorized much of northern Europe.
The Vikings came from Scandinavia, an area in northern Europe that now includes the countries of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. The climate there is harsh, with bitter winters and short summers. Viking families struggled to survive. They grew oats and barley during the short growing season. They also hunted deer, bear, and wolves in the woods and caught fish, seals, and whales from the ocean.
RAIDERS AND SETTLERS
Viking warriors sailed in fast, sleek drakkar (dragon ships). They had a single sail but the warriors also rowed them with oars.
The Vikings sailed south to attack villages and churches around the coasts of Europe. They seized valuables and kidnapped men, women, and children to sell as slaves. The Vikings demanded danegeld (money for protection) from towns and threatened to attack again if they weren’t paid. Boatloads of Vikings landed in Scotland, Ireland, England, and France. They killed local rulers and set up their own kingdoms. Vikings also took control of parts of Russia and the Ukraine.
Brave Viking adventurers headed west across the Atlantic to settle in Iceland and Greenland. About ad 1000, they became the first Europeans to land in North America. They called the new land Vinland and built a settlement there, but the settlement did not survive.
SKILLED AND CIVILIZED
Wherever they traveled, the Vikings brought violence. But they also brought their own rich culture. They were expert craftspeople, carving wood, stone, bone, and antlers into useful everyday objects. They forged sharp iron axes, swords, and spears. They made the best ships in Europe, and the best jewelry. They were also shrewd traders. They traveled long distances to sell amber, furs, and slaves in such cities as Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) and Baghdad (in Iraq).
Viking people were proud of their highly developed society. They held community meetings, called things, to punish criminals and make laws. They set up carved memorial stones to honor respected leaders. Viking poets memorized stories and histories of brave deeds.
Viking traditions survive throughout northern Europe, and Viking tales of gods, heroes, and monsters still inspire stirring works of art.
Source: Microsoft ® Encarta