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The Vikings

Imperialist Farmers of Scandinavia

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Viking Ship with Dragon Prow, 14th Century (Detail)

Viking Ship with Dragon Prow, 14th Century. Detail from a painting in a Danish church.

Ann Ronan Pictures / Print Collector / Getty Images

Who were the Vikings, Anyway?

The Vikings were Scandinavian farmers, fishers, herders and pirates whose raids and invasions from Russia to North America between roughly 800-1000 AD helped shape the medieval period of the region.

The word "viking" means something like "raid" in Old Norse; "vikingr" means something like "one who raids"; but there is no doubt that the word Viking came to mean the loosely-organized cultural groups in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and eventually Iceland who shared a common economy: hunting, fishing, and piracy. The Viking Age is traditionally marked with the first raid on England, in AD 793, and ends with the death of Harald Hardrada in 1066.

Possible reasons for the Viking expansion outside of Scandinavia include population pressure, political pressure, and personal enrichment, or a combination of all three. It is recognized that the Vikings could never have begun raiding or indeed settling beyond Scandinavia if they had not first developed (about 4 centuries earlier) highly effective boat building and navigation skills.

Sources

See Viking Timeline and the Guide to the Viking Age for further information.

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Guide to the Viking Age and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

A Viking Bibliography has been created for this project

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