Oh lord, deliver us from the Northmen…
The first thing that seems to come up with “Vikings” is the name itself. One should note that the term Viking is actually a Nordic term for the act of going on a raid and was never used to name a particular people. It referred to all Scandinavians and what they did, not who they were. But regardless of what country they were from, if you were from England (one of the easiest places to get to for raiders) they were all called Danes. The fact that there was a rise of exploration and general unpleasantness by the Northern European tribes around 793-1066 by raiding (sometimes peaceably and other times bloody) the act became synonymous with the people and they’ve been stuck with that name ever since.
The Viking Order
The Vikings were extremely fierce in battle and considered by those they attacked as blood thirsty barbarians. Some of this reputation came from the Viking code of ethics that allowed for blood feuds to be common place. And in fulfilling this code nothing was deemed out of bounds. There’s even evidence of battles involving multiple men against another man. Maybe not fair by today’s standards, but back then justice could be enforced by anyone wronged and if it affected others well then… It did force you to do right more times than not and think of others before acting, because if you didn’t you could face a serious punishment that would most likely result in your death.
Who doesn’t think of a sword (500262) when talking about these brutal warriors? In fact it was so preferred and highly valued that a sword would be named and treated with reverence. Often it was passed down from father to son and then again until broken or buried with great honor with a chieftain.
In the cases where the sword did pass to the afterlife with its owner it was also ritually “killed”. The reason this was done is not entirely clear, but may symbolic honoring the warrior- it’s soul going with the warrior or simply a matter of practicality- so the sword would not pose as a tempting prize to tomb raiders or dug up to be used again, possibly against the same people it defended.
This “killing” was done by laying the blade across a fire until it softened enough to be bent over and over again. Thus forming an “S” shape ensuring the value was truly “killed”.
As much as the sword is thought of, it was not always the favorite weapon. It’s thought by many to be the spear (600050), not so much as a throwing weapon, but as a hand weapon giving lethal reach. The blades were long and designed for cutting and thrusting. The axe was also highly prized as a weapon from the small hand axe to the huge, long shafted two hand battle axe. With these showing up frequently in digs as well as the sagas, it is pretty clear that blunt trauma weapons like hammers, were of little interest.
Image link- https://www.museumreplicas.com/viking-spear
A warrior would have had a helmet (300386) and sometimes a mail shirt (300170), but always a large round shield (801108). This was most often slung on the back when fighting with a spear or two hand axes (600642). The form of fighting with a shield was very open and swift and anything was fair play. Thought of as a defensive tool, it was actually used as an offensive weapon with devastating effectiveness. When holding the sword and shield an individual, mobile style of fighting was employed with much in and out and side to side movement followed by swift blows being dealt.
Image link- https://www.museumreplicas.com/mail-armor-shirt
Image link- https://www.museumreplicas.com/danish-hand-axe
The Viking was a terror on land but maybe more known for the trouble caused from their now famous long ships (801300). Any coastal European town that could be reached in the high prowed, low draft ships was fair game. Even amongst themselves, wars were fought frequently from the decks of these large warships.
The Norse fearless nature may have arisen from their belief that a glorious death which involved battle with sword in hand would ensure their place in paradise. But this was not all the Norse went Viking for. They settled in the new lands they explored. More accurate they employed a raid & trade philosophy, for they settled many areas with little fighting and created great business relationships. In fact Dublin, Ireland was first established as a Norse settlement and the famed Normans of France sprang from Nordic heritage. Although bloodshed was what made their name, it was their ability to blend in to new cultures that ensured the Vikings would prosper.
Vikings Outside the North
The Viking warrior had no trouble finding work whether by proof on the battlefield or by reputation alone. They served as mercenaries as far as Constantinople. Their travels took them as far west as America, but the settlements in the America’s were not as successful.
Vikings and the Dark Ages
The period known as the Dark Ages was greatly due to the Norse and their pagan beliefs, even though this period was not as dark as its given credit for. It was also a time of great exploration and blending of cultures. Some feel the Vikings simply disappeared after 1066, but the fact is they were still strong in their native lands and successfully assimilated into the other nations they had contact with.