Vikings Unveiled: Warriors, Explorers, and Seafarers

what are vikings

What are Vikings? The Vikings were a seafaring people from the late eighth to early 11th century, originating from Scandinavia. They were skilled warriors, traders, and explorers. The Viking Age was a significant period in European history, characterized by remarkable voyages, military conquests, and cultural achievements.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Vikings were a seafaring people from Scandinavia during the late eighth to early 11th century.
  • They were skilled warriors, traders, and explorers.
  • The Viking Age was a significant period in European history, known for remarkable voyages, military conquests, and cultural achievements.

Origins and Lifestyle of Vikings

Vikings, also known as Norsemen or Northmen, originated from Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. Historians believe that their seafaring lifestyle was influenced by their rugged and mountainous homeland, where it was easier to travel by water than by land.

Viking society was structured around the family, with strong familial ties that extended to the community. Despite their reputation as barbarians, Vikings were farmers, fishermen, and traders who valued law and order. They had a complex legal system and a social hierarchy that included jarls (nobles), karls (free farmers), and thralls (slaves).

Most Vikings lived in small villages and subsisted on farming and fishing, with some engaged in specialized crafts like blacksmithing and woodworking. They also had a passion for storytelling, poetry, and music, with many famous Viking sagas and myths still captivating audiences today.

Their unique way of life is reflected in their fascinating cultural practices, such as the use of runes (an ancient alphabet) for inscriptions on objects and monuments. They even had a unique way of marking time, dividing it into weeks comprised of seven days, with each day named after a specific deity.

Viking Women

Viking women, although not given the same opportunities and privileges as men, still played important roles in society. They managed the household, raised children, and tended to the farm while their husbands were away on voyages. Some women even became skilled craftswomen, traders, and warriors. In fact, recent archaeological discoveries have revealed that women were buried with weapons and other valuables, suggesting that they held high status in Viking society.

In summary, Viking lifestyle was a unique blend of farming, fishing, trading, storytelling, music, and art, with a strong emphasis on family and community ties. Their society was structured around a complex legal system and a social hierarchy that included women, who played important roles in Viking culture.

Viking Age: Timeline and Expansion

The Viking Age is traditionally defined as the period between the late 8th century and the mid-11th century. During this time, the Vikings expanded their influence across Europe, Asia, and even North America via their explorations and settlements.

The Viking expansion began with raiding parties targeting coastal communities in England, Ireland, and Scotland. From there, the Vikings established settlements, including Dublin, Cork, and Waterford in Ireland, as well as York in England.

The Vikings also established a presence in Normandy, France, and the Mediterranean, where they raided and traded. They even ventured as far east as Constantinople, where they served as the elite Varangian Guard for the Byzantine Empire.

Viking Voyages

The Vikings were master navigators, traveling long distances in their iconic longships. They crossed the North Atlantic and established settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and even as far west as Vinland in North America. The discovery of North America by Vikings is supported by archaeological evidence, including the settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada.

The Impact of Viking Raids and Settlements

The Viking raids and settlements had a significant impact on the regions they targeted. They disrupted established political and economic structures, leaving a lasting impact on the societies of the time. Their conquests resulted in the formation of new political entities such as the Danelaw in England and the Norse-Gaels in Ireland.

Their impact was felt beyond their immediate territories. Viking raiders sparked a wave of defensive construction in European coastal communities, including the building of fortified cities such as Aalborg, Denmark, and Pskov, Russia.

The Vikings’ expansion and influence played a significant role in shaping the medieval world. Their legacy can still be seen today in place names, language, and culture across the regions they once occupied.

Viking Warriors: Fearless Fighters

The Vikings were renowned for their military prowess and feared by many. As self-sufficient farmers, Vikings had a strong and independent spirit, which translated well on the battlefield. While there is much to learn about the Viking Age, it is essential to examine the crucial role that Viking warriors played in shaping their culture.

The Vikings went to great lengths to hone their skills in battle, and their warriors were often the product of years of training and discipline. Armor and weapons played an essential role, and Vikings were known for their iconic helmets and chainmail shirts, as well as their swords, axes, and spears.

The Vikings’ military tactics were unique, and they often employed surprise attacks to catch their enemies off guard. They were also skilled in naval warfare, using their longships for hit-and-run attacks and as a means of transport.

Viking Warriors and Society

Warriors held a position of high esteem in Viking society, and their exploits in battle were celebrated in song and story. Their bravery and skill were essential for the survival of the Viking people, and they were often rewarded with wealth and land for their service.

The Viking warrior ethos was grounded in a deep sense of honor and duty. To die in battle was the ultimate goal for a Viking warrior, as it ensured a place in Valhalla, the Viking afterlife.

While Vikings were often associated with raiding and pillaging, they were also employed as mercenaries and served as elite bodyguards for wealthy individuals. The Vikings were pragmatists, and they understood that their skills could be put to good use for profit or protection.

Viking Warfare and Legacy

The Viking Age was a time of rapid expansion, with Vikings regularly venturing beyond their Scandinavian homelands to raid and settle in new territories. Their impact on European history cannot be overstated, as they helped to shape the political, economic, and cultural landscape of the continent.

Viking warriors played a crucial role in this expansion, and their legacy lives on today in the form of Viking sagas, artwork, and other cultural artifacts.

While Viking warfare was often brutal and merciless, it is essential to remember that the Vikings were also highly skilled craftsmen, traders, and explorers. By examining their military tactics and warrior ethos, we can gain a better understanding of this fascinating and complex culture.

Viking Exploration: Discovering New Lands

The Vikings were known for their adventurous spirit and their remarkable voyages of exploration. Their reputation as fearless seafarers enabled them to discover new lands and establish trade networks far beyond their Scandinavian homeland.

At the heart of Viking exploration were their navigational skills. Despite not having modern-day technology, Vikings were expert navigators who relied on the position of stars, the motion of the sun, and the flight of birds to guide them. They also used landmarks and currents to navigate the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic.

One of the most famous Viking voyages was that of Leif Erikson, who led a voyage to Vinland (present-day Newfoundland, Canada) around the year 1000. This was the first recorded European exploration of North America, more than four centuries before Christopher Columbus’s famous journey in 1492.

The Vikings also discovered Iceland, a remote and rugged island that they settled in the late 9th century. Greenland, another Viking discovery, was also settled by the Norse in the 10th century. These new lands provided valuable resources such as timber, fish, and furs, which the Vikings traded for goods from Europe and beyond.

Viking exploration had a significant impact on the world of discovery and exploration. Their voyages and navigational techniques influenced future explorers, and their discoveries opened up new trade routes that connected Europe with other parts of the world. They were truly masters of the sea and left a lasting legacy in global exploration and human history.

Viking Ships: Masters of the Sea

The Vikings’ expeditions of exploration and raids would not have been possible without the innovation and mastery of their ships. The Vikings constructed several types of vessels, but the most iconic and versatile among them were the longships.

The longships were sleek and slender vessels with a shallow draft, allowing them to navigate through narrow rivers and shallow waters with ease. They were also built for speed, allowing the Vikings to travel quickly between ports and raiding targets. The ships were propelled by both oars and sails, providing the crew with flexibility in different weather conditions and allowing them to sail against the wind when necessary.

The longships’ unique design made them ideal for not only raiding but also for exploration and trade. They were capable of carrying a significant amount of cargo and could travel long distances without refueling. Viking ships were also built to be sturdy and seaworthy, able to withstand the harsh North Sea conditions and storms.

Specification Measurement
Length 24-36 meters
Width 3-4 meters
Draft maximum 1 meter
Speed up to 15 knots

Another unique aspect of the Viking ships was their construction. The Vikings used a “clinker” or “lapstrake” technique, in which overlapping planks were bolted or sewn together to create the hull. This approach made the ships more flexible and better able to withstand rough sea conditions. The Vikings also used tar and animal hair to seal the seams and make the ships watertight.

Viking ships were not only practical but also culturally significant. They were often decorated with intricate carvings and colorful shields, showcasing the Vikings’ craftsmanship and wealth. The ships were also used in important ceremonies and rituals, such as the funeral of a prominent Viking leader, in which the ship, along with the leader’s body and possessions, was set ablaze and sent out to sea.

The mastery of Viking shipbuilding and navigation enabled the Vikings to travel long distances, establish new trade routes and settlements, and leave a lasting impact on the history of navigation and seafaring.

Viking Trade and Commerce

Trade was an essential aspect of Viking society, with the economy heavily relying on both local and long-distance commerce. The Vikings were known for their extensive trading networks, which they established through their seafaring expeditions, connecting Scandinavia with the rest of Europe and beyond.

Viking traders exchanged a wide range of goods, including furs, amber, iron, weapons, honey, and slaves. One of the most significant trade items was silver, which was used as currency and played a crucial role in Viking commerce and economy.

The Vikings’ trade expeditions were not always peaceful, with many raids and violent encounters occurring, especially during the early stages of Viking expansion. However, as trade routes developed and Viking settlements were established across Europe, trade became a more stable and regulated activity.

The Vikings also had a sophisticated system of weights and measures, which ensured fair trade and allowed merchants to accurately value and exchange goods. Additionally, Viking traders utilized a credit system, which enabled them to exchange goods without requiring direct payment, further facilitating trade.

The Vikings’ impact on European markets was significant. They played a crucial role in the development of medieval trade, and their trading networks extended from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean. The Vikings also established trading posts in many parts of Europe, including Ireland, England, and Russia, which transformed these regions’ economies.

Viking Mythology and Religion

The Vikings had a rich mythology and religious beliefs that played a significant role in their daily lives and worldview. They believed in a pantheon of gods and goddesses who were responsible for various aspects of life and death. The most famous of these gods were Odin, Thor, and Freya.

Odin was the god of war, wisdom, and magic. He was also the father of all the gods and the ruler of Valhalla, the afterlife for those who died in battle. Thor was the god of thunder and protector of humanity. He was known for his strength and his trusty hammer, Mjolnir. Freya was the goddess of love, fertility, and war. She taught magic to the gods and selected half of the warriors who died in battle to go to Valhalla.

The Vikings had many rituals and practices associated with their mythology and religion. They had complex funeral rites where they believed the deceased would go to Valhalla if they died in battle. They also had runes, a form of ancient writing that was used for divination and magic.

Christianity eventually replaced Viking paganism, but some of their beliefs and practices survived through folklore and literary works, such as the Icelandic sagas. Today, many people are still fascinated by Viking mythology and religion, and it continues to inspire art, literature, and popular culture.


Overall, the Vikings were a fascinating group of people who made significant contributions to history. As warriors, they were feared and respected, and their military strategies and weapons were unmatched in their time. As explorers and seafarers, they were adventurous and innovative, discovering new lands and creating advanced ships that made trade and commerce possible.

Despite their reputation for violence, the Vikings had a complex society with its own unique culture and religious beliefs. Their mythology and gods influenced many of their daily practices and rituals, and their extensive network of trade and commerce had a lasting impact on European markets.

Today, the legacy of the Vikings lives on through their many accomplishments and their impact on European history and culture. From their Scandinavian roots to their travels and discoveries, the Vikings will always be remembered as a remarkable group of people who left an indelible mark on the world.



What were Vikings known for?

Vikings were known for their roles as warriors, explorers, and seafarers during the Viking Age.

Where did Vikings originate from?

Vikings originated from Scandinavian countries, primarily Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

What was daily life like for Vikings?

Daily life for Vikings involved farming, trading, and engaging in various crafts and activities within their communities.

How did Vikings expand their influence?

Vikings expanded their influence through extensive raids, settlements, and trading networks across Europe and beyond.

What made Viking warriors formidable?

Viking warriors were known for their military strategies, skillful use of weapons, and their reputation as fearless fighters.

What lands did Vikings discover?

Vikings discovered and established settlements in lands such as Iceland, Greenland, and even North America.

What were Viking ships like?

Viking ships, especially the longships, were masterfully designed and built for expeditions and trade routes, featuring advanced construction techniques.

How did Vikings engage in trade?

Vikings engaged in extensive trade networks, exchanging goods such as furs, weapons, and luxury items across Europe and beyond.

What were the religious beliefs of Vikings?

Vikings had a rich mythology and followed a polytheistic religion, worshiping gods and goddesses such as Odin, Thor, and Freya.