Vikings

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Vikings

Vikings, Scandinavian warriors who raided the coasts of Europe and the British Isles from the 9th cent. to the 11th cent. In their language, the word "viking" originally meant a journey, as for trading or raiding; it was not until the 19th cent. that it was used to mean the people themselves. During the Neolithic period the Scandinavians had lived in small autonomous communities as farmers, fishermen, and hunters. At the beginning of the Viking Age they were the best shipbuilders and sailors in the world; they later ventured as far as Greenland and North America (see Vinland). At the height of the Viking Age, the typical Viking warship, the "long ship," had a high prow, adorned with the figure of an animal, and a high stern (see ship). It seated up to 30 oarsmen and had an average crew of 90. Its square sails were perpendicularly striped in many colors, and the entire ship was vividly painted and elaborately carved. On both sides of the ship hung a row of painted round shields. This is the most familiar Viking ship; the many other types varied according to purpose and period. Among the causes that drove the Vikings from their lands were overpopulation, internal dissension, quest for trade, and thirst for adventure. Many local kingdoms came into existence in Scandinavia, and from them stemmed the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. The Vikings' religion was paganism of the Germanic type; their mythological and heroic legends form the content of Old Norse literature. The Viking Age ended with the introduction of Christianity into Scandinavia, with the emergence of the three great Scandinavian kingdoms, and with the rise of European states capable of defending themselves against further invasions. Many Vikings settled where they had raided. The Scandinavian raiders in Russia were known as Varangians; their leader Rurik founded the first Russian state. Elsewhere the Vikings came to be known as Danes, Northmen, Norsemen, or Normans.

See T. D. Kendrick, A History of the Vikings (1930, repr. 1968); J. B. Brondsted, The Vikings (new tr. 1965); G. Jones, A History of the Vikings (1968, repr. 1973); P. Foote and D. M. Wilson, The Viking Achievement (1970); O. Klindt-Jensen, The World of the Vikings (tr. 1971); P. H. Sawyer, The Age of the Vikings (2d ed. 1972); W. W. Fitzhugh and E. I. Ward, ed., Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga (2000); R. Ferguson, The Vikings (2009); G. Williams, The Viking Ship (2014); G. Williams et al., ed., Vikings: Life and Legend (museum catalog, 2014); A. Winroth, The Age of the Vikings (2014).

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