Vikings - also called 'Norsemen' or 'Northmen', member of the Scandinavian seafaring warriors who raided and colonized wide areas of Europe from the 9th to the 11th century and whose disruptive influence profoundly affected European history.

These pagan Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish warriors were probably prompted to undertake their raids by a combination of factors ranging from overpopulation at home to the relative helplessness of victims abroad.

The Vikings were made up of landowning chieftains and clan heads, their retainers, freemen, and any energetic young clan members who sought adventure and booty overseas.

At home these Scandinavians were independent farmers, but at sea they were raiders and pillagers. During the Viking period the Scandinavian countries seem to have possessed a practically inexhaustible surplus of manpower, and leaders of ability, who could organize groups of warriors into conquering bands and armies, were seldom lacking.

These bands would negotiate the seas in their longships and mount hit-and-run raids at cities and towns along the coasts of Europe. Their burning, plundering, and killing earned them the name vikingr, meaning "pirate" in the early Scandinavian languages.

The exact ethnic composition of the Viking armies is unknown in particular cases, but the Vikings' expansion in the Baltic lands and in Russia can reasonably be attributed to the Swedes.

On the other hand, the nonmilitary colonization of the Orkneys, Faroes, and Iceland was clearly due to the Norwegians.

The Vikings' everyday life was influenced not only by their view of the physical world around them, but also by their religion. They knew the gods lived in Asgard. They knew the gods could help them against evil forces, but they needed to treat their gods well.

To sacrifice a valuable animal (blota) to the gods put them in a good mood. To worship the gods was an important part of Viking life. Christianity changed the Vikings' religion, but many of the old customs continued unchanged for hundreds of years.


In England desultory raiding occurred in the late 8th century but began more earnestly in 865, when a force led by the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok - Healfdene, Inwaer, and perhaps Hubba - conquered the ancient kingdoms of East Anglia and Northumbria and reduced Mercia to a fraction of its former size.

Yet it was unable to subdue the Wessex of Alfred the Great, with whom in 878 a truce was made, which became the basis of a treaty in or soon after 886.

This recognized that much of England was in Danish hands. Although hard pressed by fresh armies of Vikings from 892 to 899, Alfred was finally victorious over them, and the spirit of Wessex was so little broken that his son Edward the Elder was able to commence the reconquest of Danish England.

Before his death in 924 the small Danish states on old Mercian and East Anglian territory had fallen before him.

The more remote Northumbria resisted longer, largely under Viking leaders from Ireland, but the Scandinavian power there was finally liquidated by Edred in 954.

Viking raids on England began again in 980, and the country ultimately became part of the empire of Canute. Nevertheless, the native house was peacefully restored in 1042, and the Viking threat ended with the ineffective passes made by Canute II in the reign of William I.

The Scandinavian conquests in England left deep marks on the areas affected, in social structure, dialect, place-names, and personal names.


In the western seas, Scandinavian expansion touched practically every possible point.

Settlers poured into Iceland from at least about 900, and from Iceland colonies were founded in Greenland and attempted in North America.

The same period saw settlements arise in the Orkneys, the Faroes, the Shetlands, the Hebrides, and the Isle of Man.

The Isle of Man

Man, Isle of, also spelled MANN, Manx-Gaelic Ellan Vannin, or Mannin, Latin Mona, or Monapia, one of the British Isles, located in the Irish Sea off the northwest coast of England. The island lies roughly equidistant between England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

The Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom but rather is a crown possession (since 1828) that is self-governing in its internal affairs under the supervision of the British Home Office.

The Isle of Man is about 30 miles (48 km) long by 10 miles (16 km) wide, its main axis being southwest to northeast. It has an area of 221 square miles (572 square km).

The island consists of a central mountain mass culminating in Snaefell (2,036 feet [621 m]) and extending north and south in low-lying agricultural land. Man's coastline is rocky and has fine cliff scenery.

The grass-covered slate peaks of the central massif are smooth and rounded as a result of action during various glacial periods. The island's landscape is treeless except in sheltered places.

To the southwest lies an islet, the Calf of Man, with precipitous cliffs, which is administered by the Manx National Heritage as a bird sanctuary.

The climate is maritime temperate, with cool summers and mild winters. The average mean temperature in February is 41 F (4.9 C) and is 58 F (14.3 C) in August. The average annual rainfall is 45 inches (1,140 mm). The native flora and fauna are of little interest, but the domestic Manx cat, a distinctive tailless breed (see photograph), is traditionally believed to have originated on the island.

The Isle of Man has been inhabited by humans since the Mesolithic Period. It became the home of many Irish missionaries in the centuries following the teaching of St. Patrick (5th century AD).

Among its earliest inhabitants were Celts, and their language, Manx, which is closely related to Gaelic, remained the everyday speech of the people until the first half of the 19th century.

The number of Manx speakers is now negligible, however. Norse (Viking) invasions began about AD 800, and the isle was a dependency of Norway until 1266.

During this period Man came under a Scandinavian system of government that has remained practically unchanged ever since.

In 1266 the king of Norway sold his suzerainty over Man to Scotland, and the island came under the control of England in 1341.

From this time on, the island's successive feudal lords, who styled themselves "kings of Mann," were all English. In 1406 the English crown granted the island to Sir John Stanley, and his family ruled it almost uninterruptedly until 1736.

(The Stanleys refused to be called "kings" and instead adopted the title "lord of Mann," which still holds.)

The lordship of Man passed to the dukes of Atholl in 1736, but in the decades that followed, the island became a major centre for the contraband trade, thus depriving the British government of valuable customs revenues.

In response, the British Parliament purchased sovereignty over the island in 1765 and acquired the Atholl family's remaining prerogatives on the island in 1828.

The government consists of an elected president; a Legislative Council, or upper house; and a popularly elected House of Keys, or lower house.

The two houses function as separate legislative bodies but come together to form what is known as the Tynwald Court to transact legislative business.

The House of Keys constitutes one of the most ancient legislative assemblies in the world.

The Isle of Man levies its own taxes.

Though fishing, agriculture, and smuggling were formerly important, offshore financial services, high-technology manufacturing, and tourism from Britain are now the mainstays of the island's economy.

The island's annual Tourist Trophy motorcycle races (in June) attract many visitors.

The island's farms produce oats, wheat, barley, turnips, and potatoes, and cattle and sheep graze on the pastures of the central massif.

The principal towns are Douglas, the capital; Peel; Castletown; and Ramsey.

There is an airport near Castletown, and packet boats connect Man with the British mainland. Pop. (1995 est.) 69,600.

Scandinavian invasions of Ireland are recorded from 795, when Rechru, an island not identified, was ravaged.

Thenceforth fighting was incessant, and although the natives often more than held their own, Scandinavian kingdoms arose at Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford.

The kings of Dublin for a time felt strong enough for foreign adventure, and in the early 10th century several of them ruled in both Dublin and Northumberland.

The likelihood that Ireland would be unified under Scandinavian leadership passed with the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, when the Irish Scandinavians, supported by the Earl of Orkney and some native Irish, suffered disastrous defeat.

Yet in the 12th century the English invaders of Ireland found the Scandinavians still dominant (though Christianized) at Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, Wexford, and Cork.


Viking settlement was never achieved in the well-defended empire on the scale evidenced in the British Isles, and Scandinavian influence on continental languages and institutions is, outside Normandy, very slight.

Sporadic raiding did occur, however, until the end of the Viking period; and, in the 10th century, settlements on the Seine River became the germ of the duchy of Normandy, the only permanent Viking achievement in what had been the empire of Charlemagne (see Norman).

Farther south than France - in the Iberian peninsula and the Mediterranean coasts--the Vikings raided from time to time but accomplished little of permanence.


The eastern Viking expansion was probably a less violent process than that on the Atlantic coasts.

Although there was, no doubt, plenty of sporadic raiding in the Baltic and although to go on the "east-Viking" was an expression meaning to indulge in such activity, no Viking kingdom was founded with the sword in that area.

The greatest eastern movement of the Scandinavians was that which carried them into the heart of Russia.

The extent of this penetration is difficult to assess; for, although the Scandinavians were at one time dominant at Novgorod, Kiev, and other centres, they were rapidly absorbed by the Slavonic population, to which, however, they gave their name of Rus, "Russians."

The Rus were clearly in the main traders, and two of their commercial treaties with the Greeks are preserved in the Primary Chronicle under 912 and 945; the Rus signatories have indubitably Scandinavian names. Occasionally, however, the Rus attempted voyages of plunder like their kinsmen in the West.

Their existence as a separate people did not continue past 1050 at the latest.

The first half of the 11th century appears to have seen a new Viking movement toward the East.

A number of Swedish runic stones record the names of men who went with Yngvarr on his journeys. These journeys were to the East, but only legendary accounts of their precise direction and intention survive.

A further activity of the Scandinavians in the East was service as mercenaries in Constantinople (now Istanbul), where they formed the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperor.

After the 11th century the Viking chief became a figure of the past.

Norway and Sweden had no more force for external adventure, and Denmark became a conquering power, able to absorb the more unruly elements of its population into its own royal armies.

Olaf II Haraldsson of Norway, before he became king in 1015, was practically the last Viking chief in the old independent tradition.


'Longship', also called VIKING SHIP, type of sail and oar vessel that predominated in northern European waters for more than 1,500 years and played an important role in history.

Ranging from 45 to 75 feet (14 to 23 metres) in length, and clinker-built (with overlapped planks), the longship carried a single square sail and was exceptionally sturdy in heavy seas.

Its ancestor was, doubtless, the dugout, and the longship remained double-ended; fully developed examples have been found dating from 300 BC.

It carried the Vikings on their piratical raids of the 9th century and bore Leif Eriksson to America in 1000; it was also used by Dutch, French, English, and German merchants and warriors.

Some of the 11th-century versions shown in the Bayeux tapestry have their masts supported by shrouds, implying that their square sails could be manipulated enough to sail with the wind abeam.

The introduction of the stern rudder in about 1200 led to the differentiation of bow and stern and the transformation of the longship.


Leif Eriksson The Lucky, fl. 11th century Eriksson also spelled ERICSON, OR ERIKSON, Norwegian LEIV ERIKSSON DEN HEPNE, Norse explorer widely held to have been the first European to reach the shores of North America.

Leif Erikson was probably the first European to set foot in the New World, opening a new land rich with resources for the Vikings to explore. But for some unknown reason, the Vikings only made a few voyages to the New World after Leif. Unfortunately, this caused his discovery to remain unknown to nearly all of Europe, which was in the midst of the Crusades.

Leif was born in Iceland in about 960 AD, son of Eric the Red. As was tradition with the Vikings, Leif did not grow up with his family. Instead, when he was eight he moved in with a man named Thyrker. Thyrker was from Germany where Eric the Red had captured him, had taken him to Iceland, but had not enslaved him. Thyrker taught Leif everything he needed to know, including reading and writing runes, the Celtic and Russian tongue, and the ways of trade. Leif was also taught the old sagas, plant studies, and the use of weapons. When Leif was not learning he and his friends would watch the ships come into the harbor; then he would listen to the tales of the sailors.

At 12, Leif was considered a man and traveled back to his father's house. Eric's house had grown since Leif had left. The herds had multiplied and there were new houses and more slaves. The spring after Leif arrived, Eric was summoned to Reykjavik or lawmaking assembly. Eric took Leif along with him to the Thing. The next day, among the crowds, Eric met a man with whom he was feuding. They started to fight and Eric killed the other man. Because of this, the Thing council banished Eric from Iceland for three years.

Eric, not being able to go to Norway (he had previously banished from there too) decided to investigate rumors of lands to the west. So, Eric took his wife and kids, some slaves, and ample supplies and traveled west. A few days later they landed on a new land, which he named Greenland and started to build a camp. It was on this voyage that Leif is believed to have learned how to be a good deep-sea sailor.

For the years Eric spent on Greenland during his banishment, he explored the new land and taught Leif many things. After three years, Eric traveled back to Iceland and told the people about Greenland. Many people decided to return to Greenland with Eric and his family because times had not been good in Iceland. There had been a famine, the lands were overgrazed, and there were almost no trees left.

Leif was probably 15 to 17 when he was out and saw a young polar bear on an ice flow. He decided to capture the bear but there was a strong current between the ice flow and land. So using his knowledge of the sea, he went "upstream" from the polar bear and let the current carry his boat into the ice flow. After capturing the bear he used the same tactic to get back to land, impressing the people on shore.

One day, when Leif was watching the boats, he saw an old tattered ship rowing very slowly. Leif became very exited because he recognized this ship as belonging to Bjarni Hergelfson, who had been gone over a year. After the ship landed, Leif followed Bjarni into a hall where Bjarni told the story of how mist had covered the North Star so they couldn't navigate. They sailed for many days and finally spotted land, but it wasn't Greenland, where they had been heading. Glaciers did not cover the coast they had seen, but instead it was green with trees.

They did not go ashore though, because they wanted to get to Greenland. They kept sailing and found another land. This one was flat and forest covered, but they did not land there either. They had to get back to Greenland.

At the age of 24, Leif was asked to captain his first voyage. This was to bring gifts to King Olaf in Norway. Many preparations were made and Leif was very excited. Leif took along a crew of 14 and Thyrker.

The wind Leif was sailing on was fair at the beginning, but after their first day it slowed only to a gentle breeze. It was five days before they sighted Iceland. Most voyages make it in two. The crew wanted to go ashore but Leif would not let them, so they kept sailing. They sailed for many days and Leif thought they would run out of food. Finally they sighted some small islands, the Hebrides, they realized they had sailed farther south than they had intended.

The day they arrived, a storm came in and didn't allow them to leave for a month. During this time Leif stayed in the house of the lord of the island. There lived the lord's daughter who was named Thorgunna. She was known to embroider tapestries and was believed to be learned in witchcraft.

Before Leif left for Norway, Thorgunna told him she was going to have his baby and she foresaw that it would be a boy. She had her child and named him Thorgils. Later he traveled to Greenland and Leif accepted him as his son. This is the only child known to be Leif's.

When the storm had cleared, Leif set off for Norway. The wind was good and they got there in a few days.

The king was so impressed with Leif that he invited Leif to stay in Norway. Leif decided there was no reason to rush back home to Greenland, so he accepted the offer. While in Norway, he marveled at all the wonderful things and rested in the lap of luxury

One day, while playing chess with Leif, King Olaf told him of how he used to also worship the gods Leif did. He also told him of how a plague had struck Norway and how many people had died. Then he told Leif of how he turned away from those gods and began to worship the living Christ. He was baptized along with thousands of Norwegians, and then the plague stopped.

Leif, not being very faithful to the Viking gods, became very interested in Christianity. He finally agreed to be baptized and accept this new faith. On his return voyage, he brought along a priest to spread the Christian faith to Greenland.

Sometime after Leif had returned to Greenland, he became restless. He decided to find the lands to the west of which Bjarni had spoke. So he bought Bjarni's boat and set off with Thyrker and some men towards the north, following Bjarni's course. After sailing up the western coast of Greenland, he sailed west for 600 miles and found a land with high glaciers and rock.

They landed, but were disappointed because the land seemed to be one huge slab of rock. Because of this he named it Helluland (Slab Land or Flat Rock Land), which is now believed to be Baffin Island. Leif then sailed south and found another land. When he went ashore he found it to be flat with white beaches and some trees. He named this land Markland (Woodland) which today is believed to be the eastern coast of Canada.

Then Leif sailed southeast for two days and came to an island with a mainland behind it. On this land the dew on the grasses seemed as sweet as honey. Here Leif had some booths or temporary shelters built. But, the land here was so rich that he decided to build at least one large house for the winter. On this land there were salmon bigger than any the Vikings had ever seen before, there were also very rich pastures there for their cattle (they had brought a few), and there were rich forests covering this land.

After the houses were built, Leif sent out an exploration group to explore the land. After one of these expeditions, Thyrker didn't return. The men searched for him all day and finally found him the next morning. When they found him he was very excited and blabbering in German. After he calmed down he explained to the men that he had found grapes on this land.

Leif ordered his men to load grapes and timber onto the boat, and then they settled in for the winter. But the winter here was very peculiar. No frost came to the grasses. They also noticed that the days and nights were of more equal length here.

When spring came and the men were ready to go, Leif gave this land a name, Vinland, which either means Wineland or Pastureland. We now know Leif's Vinland to be L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.

Surprisingly, few people ever returned to Vinland, only Leif's sister and a small group of settlers who were killed by Indians. Because of this, Europe remained almost totally in the dark about the discovery of this new world. The only references to it are in the Norse sagas where most of the information concerning Leif Erikson is recorded.

- Encyclopedia Britannica


Just north of the most northerly Orkney Island, there is an eddy or whirlpool called the Swelki (from Old Norse svelgr or sea-mill). At the bottom of the sea floor in this spot is a magic mill, and with it are two giantesses, Grotti-Fenni and Grotti-Menni, who grind and grind and grind.

Originally the mill was supposed to grind out good things, but when the giantesses were enslaved and forced to turn the mill, they cursed it to grind nothing but salt. And while they still are enslaved to the mill, to this day it still grinds salt. The legend states that the whirlpool is caused by the waters of the sea, pouring through the grind-stone's center hole. The Norse called the great whirlpool maelstrom.




The most unpredictable and certainly the most dangerous god in the Northern pantheon was Loki. His activities ran from the merely mischievous to the blatantly malicious. Supremely clever, Loki ensnared everyone in complicated problems, to which he always supplied a remedy - through his solution often engendered even greater troubles.

Loki is an immensely powerful magician, and shares with Odin the ability to sex- and shape shift at will.  His parents were both giants (the perpetual enemies of the gods) and Loki had some unusual children, including the huge wolf borne from Loki's brief dalliance with a giantess.

Loki was fair of face, and took many lovers, despite his constant criticism of goddesses who did the same.  His wife was the faithful and hapless goddess Sigyn, whose fidelity surely he did not deserve.  After Loki had been bound in a cave with a venomous snake dripping poison upon him as punishment - Sigyn sat by her husband's side and held a bowl over him to catch the drops before they hit him.When the bowl filled, she had to rise and empty it, and then the stinging drops fell directly upon Loki. It was said his twisting to escape the pain was the cause of earthquakes.

It is Loki who begins the chain of events that leads to the destruction of the gods.  He does this by causing the death of the beautiful Baldr, Frigg's son, who in his goodness and perfection embodies the attainment of every desirable quality. Baldr's death plunges all of Asgard into mourning.

Yet Loki feels no remorse, and in fact relishes every opportunity to exert his contrary nature.  After Frigg had gone to great lengths to bring Baldr back to the land of the living by asking all beings to weep for his return, Loki (in the guise of an old female giant) steadfastly refused to shed a single tear for the slain god. Thus Baldr was consigned to the realms of the dead, under the governance of Lady Hel.

This loss of innocence represented by Baldr's death is the act that triggers Ragnarok, the end of all things.  Ragnarok begins with famine and darkness and bitter cold - a Winter lasting three entire years.  It ends with all creation becoming a flaming furnace. In the middle is staged the disastrous final battle in which the gods are arrayed against the powers of evil represented by the giants. Nearly everything and every body, in all realms, is destroyed. Loki fights against the gods, and is killed, as is Odin, Tyr, Freyr, and Thor.

Even the elfs, dwarfs, Sun and Moon are destroyed.  Out of this a new Earth arises, and a single man and woman, Lifthrasir and Lif, who had hidden themselves in Yggdrasil the World Tree, emerge. Baldr comes forth, and a few sons and daughters of the gods survive, and begin a fresh cycle of life.

This final lesson reminds us that nothing can remain static - even the gods need renewal.


Tyr, represented by the spear shaped runic letter´┐Ż and known as Tiw by the Anglo-Saxons, is the god of law and order commemorated in the day name Tuesday. (The Roman war god Mars is equivalent to Tyr in many ways, and so recalled in the modern Italian name for Tuesday, 'martedi'.).

A victory-giver to his followers, warriors marked their weapons with Tyr's runic sign. Though not as well known as Thor, Tyr performed a feat of courage that no other god could agree to: that of risking his right hand in the mouth of the giant wolf Fenrir (an offspring of the dangerous "trickster" god, Loki).

Fenrir ranged freely about Asgard, the land of the gods, and had special status despite his fearsomeness. Such was his courage that only Tyr was willing to feed this beast. Wearying of the treat of wolfish violence, Odin (Woden to the Anglo-Saxons) commissioned dwarfs to forge from magical materials a fetter with which Fenrir could be bound.

Only dwarfs could have wrought anything so cunningly, for it was made from the breath of a fish, the sinews of a bear, the spittle from a bird, the hairs of a women's beard, the roots of a mountain, and the noise made by cat as it walks. The resultant fetter was as light as a silken cord and yet completely unbreakable. Wily Fenrir refused to accept such an innocent looking thing about his neck without some form of surety: he demanded that one of the gods place his hand into the wolf's mouth. Only unflinching Tyr agreed to do so. When an enraged Fenrir realised all his mighty strength could not break the slender cord, he extracted from Tyr his payment - the huge jaws snapped shut and Tyr lost his hand.