R03d_The Vikings: A Synopsis
This text is meant to refresh your mind of key information discussed in class. It should augment your auxiliary notes On the topic of the Vikings.
I. Viking Expeditions
Starting in the 8th Century CE, the Vikings began making voyages south from their Scandinavian homelands. They travelled by boat to Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the North Atlantic, and the Mediterranean Sea. The reason behind their voyages seems to have been the inability to grow enough food to feed an expanding population. The Vikings lived close to the sea and had advanced naval technology that facilitated their sea voyages. Among the most famous Viking explorers were Eric the Red, who established the first colony in Greenland, and his son Leif Eriksson, who was the first European to travel to North America.
The Vikings developed a ship known as a longship, which was among the fastest and most maneuverable seaworthy vessels in the world at the time. The longship had both a sail and twelve to thirteen pairs of oars so that it could be powered effectively with or without wind. Evidence of the quality of Viking ships includes the successful voyages to as far as Newfoundland in North America. The ship’s shallow draft also allowed Vikings to deploy in shallow water making their coastal/ river raids highly effective.
Before overpopulation forced many people in Scandinavia to begin their voyages south, most Vikings were farmers. After the population crisis hit, many people turned to trading, exploration, and raiding coastal villages. Raiding is thought to have been a method Vikings used to get revenge on those who had dishonored them. Unlike other Germanic tribes, Vikings did not have much interaction with the Roman Empire. As a result they could not read, write, or speak the Latin language. Instead they spoke a language known as Norse and had a writing system known as runes, which mostly appeared on coffins, gravestones, and monuments. The Vikings also had not adopted Christianity most likely because of their lack of contact with the Romans. The raids they made on Western European villages and monasteries were responses to sometimes violent efforts by the Carolingian Dynasty to Christianize the Pagan Vikings.