THE FORERUNNERS OF THE VIKINGS
They came from the cold and hostile North. They pillaged monasteries, set the villages on fire or put them to the sword and profaned the churches. From the 8th century all English places of worship resounded with a new prayer: "Save us, oh Lord, from the fury of the Northmen!" In vain...
THE NORWEGIANS CONQUER THE WORLD
For more than three hundred years, from the 8th to the 11th centuries, the Vikings voyaged ceaselessly and invaded neighboring lands. It was they who pushed into the coastal and river towns of the north and left a permanent mark on the civilization which developed in Europe, including England and Russia. They were the Old Norse, the men of legend who roamed the Atlantic and the North Sea, finding their way to Iceland and the New World long before Columbus. Little by little they acquired distinct national identities and became the Swedes, the Danes and the Norwegians. Each took over its own theater of operations. The Swedes went east and the Danes sailed west, as did the Norwegians, who regularly indulged in piracy and in seizing unoccupied or sparsely peopled lands.
THE DANES ATTACK WESTERN CHRISTENDOM
The Danish Vikings were besieged on every side to the east by the Swedes, to the south by the powerful Slavs, to the west by the Carolingian empire. Instead of engaging in piratical raids like the Norwegians, the Danes preferred to launch themselves on Europe with real armies composed of trained men and elite troops led by great warlords.
THE SWEDES AND THE ROUTE TO THE EAST
While the Norwegians and Danes were pillaging western Europe, the Swedes turned east. The great Russian plain, covered with forest or grassland, provided for these marauders huge reservoirs of furs and slaves. In addition south flowing rivers opened up the Silk Road and the way to the rich markets of the East.
NAVIGATORS AND TRADERS
At the heart of Viking life lay the ship, the instrument and symbol of Viking expansion. "The Danes live on the sea" observed one of the medieval chroniclers and this remark could apply equally well to the Swedes and Norwegians. Thanks to the exceptional qualities of their ships, the Vikings were able to attempt the conquest of the world.
THE VIKINGS AT HOME
At home the Vikings were essentially peasants. Whereas in Denmark and Sweden they lived in villages, in Norway and Iceland they inhabited isolated farms. Their lives were regulated by the all important assembly, the laws of brotherhood and the daily rhythm of toil.
GODS AND HEROES
Viking gods, like the individuals who created them, were violent, ardent and passionate. They displayed the qualities the Viking valued in themselves brutality, anger, lust, humor, courage, strength and guile. The gods ruled over the Scandinavian world.
Text and illustrations taken from: The Vikings Lords of the Seas - Yves Cohat - Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers - New York, 1992. Illustration of the " stretching Vikings " taken from: The Far Side 1997 Desk Calendar by Gary Larson - Andrews and McMeel - A Universal Press Syndicate Company, Kansas City.