Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Viking Age is the name of the period between 793 A.D and 1066 A.D in Scandinavia. This corresponds to the latter half of the early Iron Age. During this period, the Vikings, Scandinavian warriors and traders, raided, and explored large parts of Europe, the Middle East, northern Africa, and even reached North America.
The beginning of the Viking Age is commonly given as 793, when Vikings attacked the important British island monastary of Lindisfarne, and its end is marked by the failed invasion of England attempted by Harald Hårdråde in 1066.
The clinker-built longships used by the Scandinavians were uniquely suited to both deep and shallow waters, and thus extended the reach of Norse raiders, traders and settlers not only along coastlines, but also along the major river valleys of north-western Europe. Rurik founded the first Russian state with a capital at Novgorod. Other Norse people, particularly those from the area that is now modern-day Sweden, continued south on rivers to the Black Sea and then on to Constantinople.
France was particularly hard-hit by these raiders, who could sail down the Seine with near impunity. The region now known as Normandy, after its Norse raiders, was profoundly disrupted during this period.
In 911, the French king, Charles the Simple, was able to make an agreement with the viking warleader Hrolf Ganger, later called Rollo. Charles gave Hrolf the title of Duke and granted him and his followers possession of Normandy. In return, Hrolf swore fealty to Charles, converted to Christianity, and undertook to defend the northern region of France against the incursions of other Viking groups. The results were, in a historical sense, rather ironic: several generations later, the Norman descendants of these Viking settlers not only identified themselves as French, but carried the French language and culture into England in 1066, after the Norman Conquest of England.
There are various theories concerning the causes of the Viking invasions. For people living along the coast, it would seem natural to seek new land by the sea. Another reason was that during this period England, Wales and Ireland, which were divided into many different warring kingdoms, were in internal disarray and easy prey. The Franks, however, had well-defended coasts and heavily fortified ports and harbours. Pure thirst for adventure may also have been a factor. A reason for the raids is believed by some to be overpopulation caused by technological advances, such as the use of iron. Although another cause could well be pressure caused by the Frankish expansion to the south of Scandinavia.
One important center of trade was at Hedeby. Close to the border with the Franks, it was effectively a crossroads between the cultures until its eventual destruction by the Norwegians in an internecine dispute around the year 1050. York was the center of the kingdom of Jorvik from 866, and discoveries there show that Scandinavian trade connections in the 10th century reached beyond Byzantium (e. g. a silk cap, a counterfeit of a coin from Samarkand and a cowry shell from the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf), although they could be Byzantine imports, and there is no reason to assume that the Varangians themselves travelled significantly beyond Byzantium and the Caspian Sea.
The Norwegians travelled to the north-west and west, to the Faroe Islands, Shetland, Orkney, Iceland, Ireland and the northern parts of England. Apart from Britain and Ireland, Norwegians mostly found largely uninhabited land and established settlements.
The Viking Age settlements in Greenland were established in the sheltered fjords of the southern and western coast. They settled in three separate areas along approximately 650 kilometers of the western coast.
- The Eastern Settlement (61°N 45°W). The remains of ca. 450 farms have been found here. Eric the Red settled at Brattahlid on Ericsfjord.
- The Middle Settlement (62°N 48°W) near modern Ivigtut , consisting of ca. 20 farms.
- The Western Settlement, at modern Godthabsfjord (64°N 51°W), established before the 12th century. It has been extensively excavated by archaeologists.
In about the year 986 A.D, North America was discovered by Bjarni Herjólfsson. Leifur Eiríksson (Leif Ericsson) and Þórfinnur Karlsefni from Greenland attempted to settle the land which they dubbed Vinland about the year 1000 A.D. A small settlement was placed on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland, near L'Anse aux Meadows, but previous inhabitants and a cold climate brought it to an end within a few years (see Freydís Eiríksdóttir). The archaeological remains are now a UN World Heritage Site. It has now been scientifically established that at the height of the scandinavian expansion, the northern hemisphere entered into a period of unusual and long-lasting cold which continued for several hundred years. This miniature ice age decimated the Greenland colonies, hampered the Scandinavian homelands and stopped further westward expansion.
The Vikings were equipped with the then technologically superior longships; for purposes of conducting trade, however, another type of ship, the knarr, wider and deeper in draught were customarily used. They were competent sailors, adept in land warfare as well as at sea, and they often struck at accessible and poorly defended targets, usually with impunity. It is the effectiveness of these tactics that earned them their formidable reputation as raiders and pirates, and the chroniclers paid little attention to other aspects of medieval Scandinavian culture. This is further accentuated by the absence of contemporary primary source documentation from within the Viking Age communities themselves, and little documentary evidence is available until later, when Christian sources begin to contribute. It is only over time, as historians and archaeologists have begun to challenge the one-sided descriptions of the chroniclers, that a more balanced picture of the Norsemen has begun to become apparent.
Besides allowing the Vikings to travel far distances, their longships gave them tactical advantages in battles. They could perform very efficient hit-and-run attacks, in which they attacked quickly and unexpectedly and left before a counter-offensive could be launched. Longships because of their negligible draught could sail in shallow waters, allowing the Vikings to travel far inland along the rivers. Their speed was prodigious for the time, achieving speeds estimated to be up to 14 or 15 knots.
The use of the longships ended when technology changed and ships began to be constructed using saws instead of axes. This led to a lesser quality of ships and together with an increasing centralisation of government in the Scandinavian countries, the old system of Leidang---a fleet mobilization system, where every Skipen (ship community) had to deliver one ship and crew---was discontinued. Shipbuilding in the rest of Europe also led to the demise of the longship for military purposes. By the 11th and 12th centuries fighting ships began to be built with raised platforms fore and aft, from which archers could shoot down into the relatively low longships.
There is an archeological find in Sweden of a bone fraction that has been fixated with in-operated material, and it is dated to ????. These bones might possible be the remains of a trader from the Middle East.
The nautical achievements of the Vikings were quite exceptional. For instance they made distance tables for sea voyages that were so exact that they only differ 2-4% from modern satellite measurements, even on long distances such as across the Atlantic Ocean.
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