So-called Norse people (or people from the north) drifted into what we
know as Scandinavia some time after the last glacial (around 10 000 years
ago). Much later, they became known as Vikings. (The meaning of this
word is uncertain but it may be based on the Norse words for ‘voyagers’.)
The era of the Viking raids starts about 790 CE.
For the next two centuries, these sea voyagers
By the start of the second millennium, Vikings
were settling in many of the places they had
were commonly feared by peoples beyond their formerly raided. Most abandoned the worship
Scandinavian shores as fierce plunderers who of Odin and the other Norse gods and became
made lightning raids in warships. Monasteries Christians. Some cities and towns we know today
were common targets because of the large stores began as Viking settlements: York (England),
of money and precious metals found in them, Dublin (Ireland), Kiev (Ukraine) and Novgorod
as were coastal and river settlements in Europe. (Russia).
Many settlements were ransacked, and countless
innocents killed or taken prisoner.
Key inquiry questions
2.1 How are societies organised?
2.2 Why do societies change?
2.3 How do societies change?
Detail of a stone carving depicting a Viking ship (from the Isle of Gotland)
King Edward dies. Harald
Godwineson is appointed king.
Another contender, William of
Normandy, defeats Godwineson
at the Battle of Hastings (Hastings
The Vikings was known at the time as Senlac
Hill) and becomes King of England. 1042
The son of Aethelred,
Edward the Confessor,
Although the Viking Age lasted some 200 years—from the very late becomes King of England
Danish chief Cnut invades
700s CE to about 1000 CE—records left by the Vikings of this period, and England; he becomes King
earlier, are very limited. In fact, much of what we know relies on what of England (and later of
Denmark and Norway)
others said about them. 870
First Viking Artist’s impression of the Battle of Hastings, showing the Norman cavalry
advancing on Saxon Harald Godwineson, thought by many to have died when an
Most, though not all, remaining sources were recorded by Christian Ireland arrow pierced his eye, is depicted in the foreground.
monks in the lands Vikings invaded. They include the Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle. This 100 000-word document is thought to have been 930 King Cnut dies
First Althing (or Norse
started about 890 CE and added to for another 250 years. There are parliament) held in Iceland
also the writings of the 10th-century Arabic traveller Ibn Fadlan (among 867 c. 1001
Viking invaders (from Leif Eriksson, son of Erik the Red, sails east from Greenland to reach Labrador
others) and the Icelandic sagas (written after the Viking Age). today’s Denmark) in North America. A small settlement is set up there, but abandoned by 1015.
settle in northern 991
England (around York English king, Aethelred, pays
There are, however, many Viking burial mounds and runestones. There
Danish Vikings first of many
are also artefacts such as ornate wood carvings, jewellery and weapons, tax payments known as the
Danegeld (Danes’ gold) in a
and the remains of their boats and settlements. bid to stop them continuing
to invade England
King of France makes c. 985
a treaty with invading Erik the Red banished from
Vikings led by Rollo; Iceland for three years for
Vikings are given a tract
murder; he sails west and
of land which becomes discovers Greenland
n of Viking raiders arriving at coastal France in their the Duchy of Normandy
793 The longship called
Vikings raid St Cuthbert’s monastery at Lindisfarne, the Oseberg buried
in Britain; two years later, raids begin in Ireland as part of a Viking
funeral in today’s c. 950
Norway Christian missionaries
move into Denmark; the
862 king, Harald Bluetooth, is
Viking named Ulrich becomes converted 10 years later
ruler of Novgorod (in Russia); it
was later the capital of the Rus 878
Vikings (who had sailed there Alfred the Great (King of Wessex)
from today’s Sweden via the makes a treaty with Danish
major Russian rivers) Vikings; they are given control
of an area of eastern Britain in
which to settle and trade (known
as the Danelaw)
The remains of the monastery at Lindisfarne, in Raids begin
north England in France Source 2.1 Timeline of some key events in the Modern statue of the explorer Leif Erikkson, in Greenland
history of the Vikings
4 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 5
Social Members Comments
class evidence: dress styles
focus on …
Jarls Powerful noblemen Wealthy; wore fine Social divisions were evident in the way people dressed.
(the heads of influential clothes and elaborate Peasant men wore belted knee-length tunics over long
families, often interlinked jewellery; lived in
trousers. While chieftains and nobles had clothes of a similar
through marriage) large, well-appointed
longhouses style, they were more finely made, and more colourful.
Karls Farmers, artisans such ‘Free’ people who Women typically wore a buttonless, floor-length tunic
as silversmiths, boat made up most of the (perhaps with a belt) covered by a calf-length apron.
builders, merchants population; loyal to, and The apron was fixed with two large brooches near each
(many karls became paid taxes to, either a shoulder. The writing of the 10th century Arab traveller Ibn
warriors for a raid) jarl or to the king directly Fadlan provides evidence of different metals being used
Thralls Slaves (prisoners of war); Did most of the hard by Rus Vikings (from Sweden) for these brooches (such as
criminals; the poorest of work (e.g. farm labour, gold, silver and bronze). His view was that the kind of metal
the poor cutting wood and stone); used reflected a woman’s wealth.
had no rights under
the law, but most were
Women and children
As a result of their repeated raids, Vikings secured a base
camp in many foreign lands. Some men took their families
Source 2.2 These longhouses were home to the Vikings. Sometimes earth was piled along walls and
over the roof. Viewed from the front, such longhouses wo k like a grassy hill with a door built into it. to live in these places as they continued to fight. But women
who were left behind when their men went raiding or trading
had to manage on their own. This might mean taking
on farm chores, tending to and butchering animals and
As a result, Viking women were quite self-reliant. Their
How are societies organised? social and economic independence was unique among
women in Europe at the time. Women could, for example,
Many factors were responsible for the organisation of Viking society and pick a husband, start divorce action, buy land or finance the
building of a bridge.
lifestyle. Social divisions, for instance, determined who had the wealth
A woman’s main role (whether their men were at home
and power. These divisions also determined who did the hard work!
or not) was to look after children and manage the home.
Social roles even determined what people did from day to day. Most
While a man’s world lay outside the home, the women were
men, for instance, were farmers (when not on raids!). But there were in charge inside the home; the door threshold marked the
also merchants, boat builders, weavers and blacksmiths, to name some. boundary.
Other factors that shaped the way Vikings lived included their law, their Common tasks for all but the wealthiest (who might have Source 2.4 Reconstruction of clothing found in a chief’s grave in
today’s Denmark provides evidence of the use of embroidery, fur
economic system and their beliefs and values. the help of slaves) included spinning and weaving, collecting trims and ornate metal belt ends.
firewood, and preparing food stores for the winter. Daughters
helped their mothers in the home, just as sons helped their Source 2.5
Social divisions fathers on the farm or in workshops.
Each woman wears on either breast a box of iron, silver,
At the start of the so-called ‘Viking Age’, the society was made up of a number of What little education there was took place in the home copper or gold; the value of the box indicates the wealth of the
independent tribes. Each was typically ruled by a konungr (king), though not a king (perhaps with the help of educated slaves) for there were no husband. Each box has a ring from which depends a knife. The
as we understand it. Some were just warrior chieftains. Within each community schools. For boys, learning to stay fit, to skate, to wrestle, to women wear neck rings of gold and silver, one for each 10 000
were the social groups listed in Source 2.3. Rulers depended on the support of the use swords and to ride horses was more important, especially dirhems which her husband is worth; some women have many.
during the Viking Age. Their most prized ornaments are beads of green glass of the
same make as ceramic objects one finds on their ships.
Source 2.3 The social divisions in Viking society Translated extract from the writing of Ibn Fadlan
6 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 7
Social roles I’m Olaf the Tall. I’m heading off now in a longboat for I’m Gudrun, Hrodgeir’s wife. I’m often on my own, as you
a raid; should be back in time to harvest my rye crop. would expect. When not looking after the children, cooking,
More glory and loot for me! I have here my prized or chopping wood, I’m spinning and weaving, mostly wool.
sword and shield, and my iron-headed axe. I want Sometimes Hrodgeir brings me back a piece of silk. I use it to
these buried with me when I die. See the metal boss make my underwear. I also make dresses, aprons, jackets and
on my wooden shield? It protects my hand, which hats, sometimes with animal fur. My sister, Solveig, spends
is holding a handle on the other side. We Vikings her spare time helping her husband make silver jewellery.
don’t wear uniforms. I have a chain mail tunic and Beautiful work they do!
iron helmet because I am wealthier than some of my
E D I’m a boat builder—have been all my life. Ingvar the Old, that’s
me! My sons help me when they’re not raiding. We use iron axes
and adzes to make keels from a single tree trunk. The oak planks
of the hull (which we join with iron rivets) are green wood. (For you
landlubbers, that means freshly cut—the wood’s easier to bend.)
We use curved branches or roots to carve curved sections. For
waterproofing, we use wool soaked in tree sap. A carved figurehead
I’m Skardi the Weary, and, like most Viking men, I’m a farmer when I’m
at the bow and stern, often of a dragon, is the finishing touch. Our
not raiding. Farming is not an easy life. Winters are long and bitterly cold.
boats can be rowed or sailed.
We lose stock—some animals starve, others freeze to death. There’s not
much good land either: too many mountains, fjords and bogs! I grow a
kind of wheat we call spelt, and have cattle and a few pigs and goats. My Source 2.6 Some social roles of the Vikings
neighbour is a sheep farmer. Our farm animals give us with meat, skins
and milk. My wife uses some of the milk to make cheese and buttermilk.
We sometimes drink the whey, sweetening it with honey.
Check your learning
1 Draw a labelled diagram to explain the way Viking society was divided.
2 Explain why Viking women were typically independent people during the Viking Age.
3 To which social division did captured prisoners of war belong? Why?
I’m Hrodgeir the Lucky—a merchant. I’ve spent my life trading, as
my father did. I have sailed many times across what you call the 4 Name two ways in which social divisions were reflected in what people wore.
Mediterranean and Baltic seas, and down many rivers in Europe. Once 5 o Click here in your obook to access the link to a web page about Viking clothing. Use
I sailed the entire length of the mighty Volga River to Constantinople the information to design a ‘very best’ outfit for either a Viking man or woman.
(you know it as Istanbul). My ships carry out goods to trade, such as
jewellery, combs made from deer antlers, decorated swords, furs, and 6 Select any 3 characters profiled on these pages. With 2 classmates, write a short
sometimes slaves. What I bring back includes wheat, salt, silver and dialogue they might have on meeting in the marketplace. Your dialogue will reflect their
gold and spices. different social roles and lifestyles. Your teacher may ask you to perform it for the class.
8 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 9
In the centre, underneath the roof opening, was back door
a fireplace (sometimes more than one). It provided
warmth and some light as well as a means to cook. A
benches for sleeping
big cauldron typically hung above it, hooked over a
stalls for animals
The longhouses of all but the wealthiest Vikings cooking
fireplace table and
were sparsely furnished, perhaps with no more than
a roughly hewn table and benches. Low platforms,
built along the sides, doubled as beds and places
to sit for those who chose not to squat. These were
typically covered in skins, furs or cloth ‘bags’ filled
with feathers or down. (The word ‘doona’ comes
benches for sleeping
from the Norse word meaning feather down: dunn.)
Source 2.9 Plan view of a typical longhouse
Check your learning
1 Explain why a Viking longhouse might potentially be each of the following: cosy, smelly, noisy.
2 What link does the feather doona you might have on your bed have to a Viking longhouse?
3 Make a labelled sketch showing a modification you would make to the longhouse shown in
Source 2.7 to make its interior more suitable as the hall of a local Viking ruler.
Source 2.7 The interior of a reconstructed longhouse
Home, smelly home
Viking villages were often located near water—on a coastline or beside a river, making
it easier to load and unload ships. Among the cluster of pitched-roof longhouses (see
Source 2.2) might be a barn to smoke fish, the workshops of village artisans, perhaps a
sauna, and an open area where markets were held.
The ruler’s home (or hall) was the biggest of all longhouses and the most elaborately
decorated. There might be an array of carved furniture, silver utensils, oil lamps and
colourful tapestries inside. Noisy feasts were held here after a successful raid, with men
getting drunk for days on mead or ale. Entertainment might include music (using animal
horns and a type of fiddle) and dancing. As a special event, a poet might recite his latest
Longhouses were generally dark, smelly places. There was a dirt floor and no windows.
The only opening, besides doors, was a small hole in the roof. Mixed with the smell of
smoke, newly baked bread, sweat, sour whey, and the aroma of cooked onions, cabbages,
fish, horsemeat and mutton was the stink of animal manure. (An animal pen was often
Source 2.8 The simple and typical diet built at one end.) Toilets were holes in the ground outside. But in the case of very bad
of Vikings weather, human waste might temporarily add to the stench inside. Source 2.10 Viking homes were ideally near the water, such as shown in this reconstruction of a Viking village in Denmark
10 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 11
Mention the word ‘Viking’ to most
people and they will imagine
O O Ships
The Oseberg was nearly 22 metres long, and had 30 oar holes
hordes of fierce, bloodied warriors,
(15 on each side). It was built as a burial vessel (rather than
wreaking havoc wherever they go
for sailing) about 1000 years ago. Yet, even as a ceremonial
and striking fear into the hearts of
craft, its design shows evidence of the great skill of Viking boat
innocent villagers unlucky enough
builders. Note its shallow draft, curved hull of evenly bent planks
to be in their ruthless path.
and its carved prow and stern. The discovery of the Oseberg
This was certainly true on occasion,
provided even more evidence of Viking burial practices: it held
and there is no doubt they were
the remains of two women (one probably a noble’s wife), two
great warriors. But there was
oxen and many horses.
another side to the Vikings. They Source 2.11 A Viking helmet. Viking helmets Source 2.13 A silver armlet, featuring a spiral
were also accomplished craftsmen, did not have horns or wings, as is commonly design common in Viking work
depicted in movies, comics and art (see p. 27).
fashioning not only items necessary
for war (such as the helmet seen
in Source 2.11 and the various
weaponry they would have required A helmet such as this was worn by a Jewellery was another way by which
in their raids) but also fine jewellery Viking warrior chieftain or wealthy noble. It Vikings demonstrated their social standing
(see Source 2.12) and other luxury is evidence that the Vikings knew how to and wealth. Sometimes the silver coins
items. work with iron. Poorer fighters wore leather and candlesticks seized when plundering
Vikings were also skilled shipbuilders caps, or hats rimmed with fur. Neither were melted down to make jewellery such
(see Source 2.14), which allowed offered much protection against a savage as this. This piece, among a great many
them to travel far and discover chop from an axe or sword. A wealthy others, is evidence of the artistic flair
foreign lands. Their encounters Viking might also wear a chain mail tunic; and skilled workmanship of many Viking
with other cultures ensured their poorer warriors wore leather vests or silversmiths.
development as skilled traders, padded jackets.
exchanging many of their own well-
made goods (such as leathers, furs
and woollens) for foreign foodstuffs The Runestone of Rök was carved with Check your learning
and luxurious items. runes (the letters of the Norse alphabet)
1 Explain how social divisions were evident among a band of raiding Vikings.
in the 9th century CE. It is the longest
inscription of runes so far found. Many 2 Study Source 2.11 carefully with a partner. Discuss how you think it was made.
regard it as the earliest example of 3 Think about some of the silver bracelets made today. Rate the jewellery
literature in Sweden. Scholars contest its shown as Source 2.12 against modern jewellery in terms of its design and
precise translation. They also contest why Source 2.14 A copy of a Viking boat, called the workmanship. What do you conclude?
it was created. Was it a tombstone for a Oseberg, which was found in a burial mound in
1903 4 Consider what you have found out about the Oseberg.
dead son, or a ‘call to arms’ to avenge
a Why do you think it was necessary to make a copy of the Oseberg?
his death? Or was it to record bits of local
myths and events? Some say its purpose b What evidence did the discovery of this vessel provide about each of the
may have been to honour the man who following: Viking shipbuilding skills, Viking burial practices?
had it built. There is no clear answer. What 5 Look at Source 2.13.
is clear is that this runestone is evidence a What are runes?
that the Vikings had a written language. b Why is the Runestone of Rök significant?
Source 2.12 The Runestone of Rök c Explain why its discovery has been contentious.
12 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 13
Influence of the law on society Disputes were resolved, Influence on society of the economy Viking homeland
Viking trading route
some through fights
By about the mid 11th century, what we know as Denmark, Sweden New laws were Traditionally, the Viking economy was based on agriculture. But
(even to the death) to
and Norway were each ruled by one king. Until then, political made (or old good farming land was in limited supply, as much of the landscape Atlantic
assemblies known as things played an important role in the governing laws changed) of Scandinavia is mountainous or thickly forested, and winters can Ocean
of Viking communities. The thing was held once a year in each be harsh. Trade helped to met people’s needs (such as for grain), North
community on a stretch of land called a hundred. All ‘free men and particularly as the population grew.
women’ could attend and speak. Its main purposes were to make and Viking merchants plied their trade in boats across seas and down
change laws, and to judge when they had been broken. Rulings were rivers. Stashes of foreign coins found in Sweden are evidence that
made on an
Until the 12th century, Viking laws were not written down. TYPICAL ACTIVITIES Swedish Vikings (known as the Rus) were trading in today’s Russia S
Instead, they were preserved in the memory of a law speaker. He and central Asia. In fact, they reached as far east as Constantinople
Bl a ck S ea
not a law had N
recited them loudly at each thing. and Jerusalem, in order to meet up with traders who had travelled the
The Vikings respected their law. This is partly because an Silk Road. (Some Rus were later paid to set up an elite squad, known Mediterranean 0 800 km
individual’s reputation was important to them. It was also partly Existing laws as the Varangian Guard, to protect the Byzantine emperor.) Viking a
were recited merchants sometimes carried their boats between rivers or rolled them Source 2.17 Main Viking trade routes [extend on art brief from
because some punishments were very harsh. If, for example, an
by the law York west towards Dublin, down to Lincoln, Nottingham and Derby.
individual was found guilty of wrongdoing by the thing, and did not on logs. Once they reached their destination, they might travel on
speaker so all Social events, such
pay the required fine (or mulct) to the injured party, the punishment as marriages and horseback or camel, dragging goods in carts.
was death. Another harsh punishment was to be made a full outlaw. divorces, were
This meant being banished for life, with a large bounty on one’s head. Trade goods
I have never before seen such perfect
Even the konungr (see p. xx) ruled only with the agreement of the thing. Source 2.15 Some typical activities at things Items the Vikings carried for trade included timber, leather shoes and bags, smoked
bodies; they were tall like palm trees,
herring, amber, fur, artefacts carved from walrus tusks and whale bones, jewellery and
blond, with a few of them red … every
slaves (particularly once the their raids started). These were exchanged for goods such one of them brings with him an axe,
change and continuity: the Althing as wheat, iron, silverware, wine, spices, silks, salt, weapons and glassware. At first, the a sword and a knife. They never leave
trade was conducted through barter; later, it was for coins. Many centres the Vikings later
focus on …
Iceland was the only Viking these things …
colonised—such as York (England), Kiev (Ukraine) and Dublin (Ireland)—became busy Translated extract about the Rus from
community to have a national
centres of trade. the writings of the 10th century Arab
thing: the Althing. It was the first
traveller Ibn Fadlan
parliament in the world. It met Viking men, who on average were taller than other Europeans, groomed, bathed
for the first time on the Plains of and washed their clothes regularly. The abbot John of Wallingford noted this in his
Thingvellir in 930 CE. Like things, chronicles, stating that when they moved into Anglo-Saxon territory the women there
it was held once a year, in June.
People from different communities
found them more appealing than the grubbier, smellier Anglo-Saxon men. Check your learning
travelled long distances to get 1 What were the thing and
there, setting up temporary camps. the Althing? Give examples
Source 2.19 Artist’s impression of a Rus trader
Its format was similar to that of selling a female slave to Persian merchants of how each affected Viking
things, even if the reality was that it society.
was dominated by a small number 2 List three goods the Vikings
of powerful families. typically exported and three
Its focal point was the Lögberg their merchants imported.
(Rock of the Law). Here the law 3 Use Source 2.17 and an atlas
speaker stood to proclaim the to list five modern countries
laws. Today, it is a grassy mound, with which the Vikings traded.
changed over time by natural
Source 2.16 The Oxara River, with the plains of Thingvellir 4 Find out what amber is. Write
forces. The Icelandic flag flies there now to mark the spot. beyond. This area, rich in natural resources, including fresh a paragraph on your findings.
Since that first meeting there have been changes to the Althing; it was water, was an ideal location for a gathering of a large number
of people. 5 Based on information in this
even abandoned for a time. But even now, 1000 years later, it continues section (including sources),
to be the name of Iceland’s Parliament. Icelanders continue to gather at suggest why the Byzantine
the Lögberg on 17 June each year to commemorate the Althing decision Emperor might have chosen
(in 1944) to create the Republic of Iceland. to pay the Rus Vikings to be
his personal bodyguards.
14 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 15
Influence of beliefs and values on society Asgard: home of the Norse gods, full of halls and palaces. The most splendid
Source 2.23 The three levels and nine realms of the Viking cosmos,
interconnected by the tree Yggdrasil. These are described in two medieval
was Valhalla, the hall of slain battle heroes. They were taken there by beautiful texts: the Prose Edda (by the Icelander Snorri Sturluson), written in the
The Vikings believed that, at the start of time, a fiery world called Muspelheim and an icy women on horseback: the Valkaries, Odin’s messengers. The appearance of early 13th century and the Poetric Edda (a collection of myths and stories)
world called Niflheim (see Source 2.23) moved closer together. Soon ice began to melt the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in the sky was a sign they were riding compiled around the late 13th century
over a ‘nothing’ region between them called Ginnungagap. Two forms appeared: a large the skies. The warriors of Valhalla are in training for Ragnarok.
cow and a frosty giant called Ymir. After Ymir drank the cow’s milk, he began to perspire.
From the sweat of his armpits, more frosty giants were ‘born’. More appeared from the ice
the cow was licking. Alfheim: home of the Light Elves, where the god Freyr
Two of these giants married, producing the Viking gods Odin, Vili and Ve. These three lived (see page xx)
gods later killed Ymir, using the giant’s remains to form the nine parallel realms of the
cosmos. They were interconnected by a huge tree called Yggdrasil. In and below it lived a
number of mythical creatures, including the giant worm Nidhogg. In between sucking change and continuity:
on dead bodies, it chewed at the roots of Yggdrasil. Ragnarok, the battle that would Vanaheim: home of the Vanir gods, an older group of days of the week
focus on …
end the cosmos and bring about a new era of peace, would start when it finally chewed gods who, for a time, battled the gods of Asgard
Source 2.20 Odin traded an eye for The days of the week in English have their roots in older
wisdom. His spear never missed. He through one root.
European cultures. Sunday, as you may already know, is
watched over the cosmos (helped by the
named for the Sun, and Monday for our Moon. Saturday
sharp eyes of two ravens), while travelling
on an eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. Source 2.22 Some key Viking deities is frequently the same in many cultures as well—Saturn’s
Midgard: the Earth, the world of humans. A rainbow day—which points to its roots in ancient Roman culture.
Viking deity Role/relationships Comments ‘bridge’ linked it to Asgard.
The days Tuesday through Friday, however, have different
Odin (also known Main god; god of war, wisdom, and Declared cremation to be Viking law names depending on the culture of the region and the
as Woden) death; husband of Frigg (goddess of (according to the Ynglinga saga); language in use. (In France, for example, Tuesday is called
women and the home) created the runes; from his name we
get ‘Wednesday’ (Woden’s day)
mardi, which means ‘Mars’ day’, and was named for Mars,
Svartalheim: home of the Dark Elves, who live the Roman god of war.)
Thor God of thunder and lightning; Fought giants; guarded people and underground
eldest son of Odin; husband of Siv gods against evil; from his name we In English culture, many of the names of the days of the
(goddess of cornfields) get ‘Thursday’ (Thor’s day) week have their roots in Norse and Old English culture
(see Source 2.24. Tuesday, for example, is like named for
Freya Goddess of war, love and sun, rain Travelled in a chariot pulled by
and harvests; sister of Freyr (god of cats; from her name we get ‘Friday’ the god of war Tiwes, and his day was Tiwesdæg—our
Nidavellir: home of the Dwarfs, who also live Tueday. Similarly, Wednesday was named for Odin (or
prosperity, fertility and crops) (Freya’s day)
underground, and were talented artisans and Wodin), which gave us Wodnesdaeg (and now you know
Balder God of light, joy and the summer Loved by all gods except the craftspeople
why Wednesday is spelt the way it is!). Thursday was
sun; the noblest of all gods and prankster (evil) god Loki, who tricked
Odin’s most handsome son a blind archer into killing Balder named for the god Thor, and Friday was named for Freya,
Jotunheimr: home of the rock giants, who threatened
Source 2.24 The names of the days of the week have roots in Viking
both humans and the Asgard gods; their king was
Thrym, a frost giant
Source 2.21 Thunder was the sound of
English Norse Meaning
Thor’s chariot rumbling across the sky, Check your learning
pulled by two goats. Lightning was the Sunday Sunnandæg Sun’s day
path his hammer took when he tossed it. 1 Write down three points that interest you about Odin and three points that interest you
His belt gave him the strength of ten. Monday Monandæg Moon’s day
about Thor. Muspelheim: home of the fire giants. Its ruler Sutr, who
2 Why might Viking people have been reassured by the sound of thunder? will set Yggdrasil on fire at Ragnarok and kill Freyr. Tuesday Tiwesdæg Tiw’s day
3 J. R. R. Tolkien was inspired by Norse mythology when he wrote The Lord of the Rings. Wednesday Wodnesdæg Woden’s day
In small groups, be inspired by what you read here (and perhaps some further research)
Thursday Ðunresdæg Thor’s day
to design a board game based on Norse mythology. Decide who will do what and by Niflheim: the cold, misty underworld, later called Hel, Friday Frigedæg Freya’s day
when, and use ICT programs and processes where appropriate. Swap your game with where everyone except ‘heroes’ went after death. For
that of another group. most it was a ‘nothing’ place, but for wrongdoers such Saturday Sæterdæg Saturn’s day
4 How do Norse Viking myths compare with any other creation stories that you have as oath breakers it was a place of punishment.
16 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 17
brutal barbarians … or not? Think, pair, share
focus on …
The Vikings were a more complex people than you
might have read about in comics, or seen in films.
Certainly, primary text sources indicate that they
could be fierce and merciless warriors. (It has to be
remembered that these accounts were recorded Being the fastest in the class to answer a 3 After about a minute (your teacher view that strongly agrees or disagrees
mostly by Christian monks, who were typical victims question is not always a good thing. You will decide), spend a few minutes with the statement because you each
of Viking attacks.) Other accounts describe their may speak before you think. Unless the discussing the points you have noted feel the same way. Or it may be one
coarse behaviour and unhygienic habits. question is very simple, it is better to take with your partner. This will help you to that partly agrees or disagrees, with
the time to consider your answer. There sort out what’s important among your qualifications. This is more likely if you
But other primary sources demonstrate that they
will often be a number of issues that you thoughts, and what’s not. Take turns have different viewpoints.) Identify
were also skilled silversmiths, poets, wood and
need to consider. to speak. Listen to what your partner which points helped to most sway your
ivory carvers, jewellery makers, weavers and
Here’s one way to practise this thinking has to say, and then he/she will listen agreed response.
musicians—not qualities normally associated with
behaviour: to you. There will probably be some 5 When asked, one of you will share your
‘brutal barbarians’. As with any historical analysis,
things you agree on, and others you response with the rest of the class.
the ‘reality’ of who the Vikings were as a people lies 1 Pair off with another classmate.
don’t. Identify any major points of
among a range of different perspectives revealed 2 Each jot down thoughts about the Try this thinking approach for the following
Source 2.27 An exact copy of a carefully carved metal container made by a Viking agreement and disagreement.
through available sources. Consider these sources, question you are given on a piece of question: ‘Living in a Viking society in
artisan. The heads of birds and animals decorate the lid.
for instance. What different perspectives do they 4 With this discussion in mind, decide Scandinavia during the Viking Age would
paper. Brainstorm as many thoughts
on a response to the question you
provide about the Vikings? as you can, even if only loosely have been a very harsh and miserable
can both ‘live’ with. (This may be a existence for most people.’
Source 2.25 Perspective on a Viking named Svein
Asleifarson, who lived on one of the Orkney Islands around the
time of the Viking raids. Note the matter-of-fact tone of
Winter he would spend at home on Gairsay, where he
entertained some 80 men at his own expense … In the
spring he had … a great deal of seed to sow … Then
when that job was done he would go off plundering
in the Hebrides and in Ireland … then back home
just after mid summer, where he stayed until the
cornfields had been reaped and the grain was safely
in. After that he would go off raiding again, and never
came back till the first month of winter was ended.
Translated extract from the Orkneyinga Saga, an Icelandic
saga written in the 1100s
[The Vikings] … came to the church of Lindisfarne
[in north-eastern England], laid everything to waste
with grievous plundering, trampled the holy places
with polluted steps, dug up the altars and seized all
the treasures of the holy church. They killed some of
the brothers [monks], took some away with them in
chains, many they drove out naked and loaded with
insults, some they drowned in the sea …
Translated extract from Historia Regum by the
12th century English monk Simeon of Durham. It was
said to be a careful copy of a lost version of the Source 2.28 A wooden playing board thought to have been used by the Vikings to
Anglo-Saxon Chronicles play the strategic game hneftafl (a bit like chess; it involved protecting the king)
Source 2.29 Artist’s impression of a Viking fleet at sea
18 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 19
2.1 How are societies organised?
Remember 9 Explain how people’s beliefs would have influenced the way Evaluate 14 o Click here in your obook to access the video entitled
Viking people reacted to each of the following: a thunder ‘Amazing Northern Lights Time Lapse’. Use what you know
1 Explain the difference between a thrall, jarl and karl in Viking storm, a very good harvest, a rainbow, the Northern Lights. 12 Decide on what you consider are the five things (in order
about Viking beliefs to inspire a story you might tell little
society. of importance) you think a time traveller from 21st century
Viking children about what you see. (Remember to think like
2 Viking children did not go to school as you do. Apply Australia would need to know and do to blend into the
traditional Viking society during the Viking Age (assume they
a What did their education involve? 10 In small groups, use Sources 2.2 and 2.7 to build a diorama
could speak the language). Justify the point you selected as
b Who might teach a privileged few (in reading the runes, of a longhouse interior. Present it to the class, sharing the
for instance)? task of explaining its key features.
3 What were things? What could you compare these to
13 Source 2.31 matches rune characters with letters in our
4 Why were Viking women usually so independent? 11 Source 2.30 is an extract from a translation of the Saga of
alphabet. Use this to create a tombstone message. Ask a
Grettir the Strong. Grettir was an outlaw. Read the extract
partner to translate it.
Understand and then answer the following questions:
5 Refer to Source 2.6. With a partner, create and role play a a What was the punishment for those outlawed in Viking
conversation between either Olaf the Tall and Ingvar the Old,
or Hrodgeir the Lucky and his wife. Your script will clearly b What did Grettir do to survive?
distinguish between their different social roles. c What did he fear most? Given Viking beliefs, can you
6 Copy a larger version of the following Y chart in your
workbook. Complete it with as many entries as you can d What had Grim been promised for killing Grettir?
e Why might this have been a strong motivation for Grim? f u th a r k g s
think of. Use this information to sum up your opinion on
what it would be like to live in a Viking longhouse. One entry f What was the outcome of Grim’s attempt to murder
has been added in each segment to get you started. Grettir?
g What did Grettir learn from this experience?
Looks like: h Explain why such incidents would have added to the
• dark hardships of an outlaw’s life.
h n i j ae p z st
Grettir went up to the Arnarvatn Heath and built himself a hut
… he got himself a net and a boat and went out fishing to support
Smells like: Feels like:
himself. It was a weary time for him in the mountains because of
• manure • cold his fear of the dark …
There was an outlaw from the North named Grim. This man
was bribed by those of Hrutafjord to kill Grettir. They promised
him pardon and money if he succeeded. He went to visit Grettir …
[who] took him in. Grim … watched Grettir closely, but it seemed
no easy matter to attack him, for Grettir was suspicious … t b e m l ng d o
7 Explain why the Althing is an example of change and One morning Grim came home from fishing … Grettir lay still
continuity. … [Grim] … took [the sword hanging above Grettir’s head] and
8 Breaking an oath (or a promise) was a very bad thing to do
raised it to strike … Grettir sprang up … and killed him. He
in Viking society. What does this suggest about their values? learned from this what it was to take in a forest-man.
From Saga of Grettir the Strong, Section LV
20 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 21
There was only limited coastal farming land in the Viking homeland (see
Source 2.32). As the population grew, the pressure on such land would have
increased. Winters can also be severe in this part of the world, especially towards
the north. Summer in these parts brings long hours of daylight, and winters are
mostly dark and bleak.
Awareness through trade
Through their sea trade and the reports
brought home by their merchants,
O O Living according
to set principles
Never breaking a
many Vikings would have been aware promise, especially to
friends who had
of the landscape of some surrounding
regions. They would have known, too,
of the riches held by some settlements
in these places (and their defences).
Being patient and
By the 8th century, their navigational Accepting that life cool-headed in
skills (and shipbuilding abilities) were and death were CHARACTERISTICS
Desire for wealth
Providing Facing death
hospitality with courage
Source 2.32 A common landscape in many part of Scandinavia. Note the relatively small area of
Others reasons given by scholars for
the change in Viking behaviour was
that raids offered men the chance for
quick and easy wealth. A leader could Never forgetting that
an enemy is always
use plundered goods to reward (and
therefore keep or increase) his support
Source 2.34 Characteristics of a Viking man of honour
Why do societies change? base. This would then strengthen his
influence and power at home.
As already mentioned, Viking society changed significantly in the late Some argue that the desire for
glory and adventure was also a factor.
8th century. Once known only as traders outside their homeland, the
For example, a man’s reputation (or
Vikings became a source of great fear. For almost two centuries, they ‘word fame’) was very important to a
terrorised villages, towns and monasteries in surrounding lands with Viking. To lose honour or respect was
their ‘lightning raids’. a disgrace. Raids may have been the
way for some dishonoured Vikings
Raids were often timed so take victims by surprise (such as just before to redeem themselves, returning as
dawn). Part of the terror for victims was that Vikings continued to trade
warriors who had fought bravely. There
during this time. If approaching ships were spotted, those on shore was also the belief, for Viking warriors,
might not know for sure, until too late, whether the Vikings were coming that should they die fighting bravely,
they would go straight to Valhalla
as merchants or pirates.
(see p. xx).
Possible reasons for Viking raids
Historians contest why the Vikings changed as they did (that is, what motivated
them?). A range of reasons are offered. One of the most basic is that they were only
doing what they had to do to survive in a harsh land with an unforgiving climate.
In a region such as Scandinavia, day-to-day living was a huge challenge.
Source 2.33 Medieval churches and
monasteries were attractive targets for plundering
Vikings. This interior, from the medieval Chapel of
St Sernin, in Toulouse, France, is an example of
why Vikings would have ranged far and wide in
search of such easy pickings.
22 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 23
Revenge or exploitation?
Another possible reason for the change was a desire for revenge.
Posts at prow (front) and stern (back)
Charlemagne (c. 742–814), King of the Franks and later the Holy
(see Source 2.36). The dragon heads
Roman Emperor (see p. xx), fought for some 40 years to bring most attached to these may have been
of western and central Europe under his control. As part of his removed when crossing rough seas.
military efforts, he ordered those he regarded as pagan (including
some Vikings) to become Christians. Any who refused were killed.
Boats also had a steering
Early Viking raids on Europe took place during the latter years of oar at the stern to help
Charlemagne’s reign, and the raiders may have been motivated by guide the ship
settling scores against Christians as well as by greed.
Other scholars have suggested that the Vikings were just taking
Hull (made from oak/ash planks,
advantage of what they saw as weak and divided rule in surrounding called strakes) were trimmed
regions at the time (for example, England and Charlemagne’s with an axe and an adze and then
European empire in the late 8th and early 9th centuries). waterproofed with horse hair or
wool soaked in boiled tree sap
Check your learning
1 You are a Viking who farms in the coastal region shown in
A G Central spine, carved
from a single tree trunk
Source 2.32. The population is increasing. Why you might be
Source 2.35 Detail from a 9th century bronze statue of tempted to leave your homeland?
Charlemagne, Holy Roman Emperor Crossbeams (overlaid
2 Why might tales merchants told of churches and monasteries similar
with a pine deck and
Ribs (which, with crossbeams,
to that shown in Source 2.33 have tempted some Viking tribal rulers benches to sit on)
strengthened the hull) tied in
to ‘get rich quickly’? How would such wealth benefit them as rulers? place with fibrous roots
3 Why might some historians take the view that early Viking raids on
Europe were revenge missions?
4 What evidence would you be looking for to help to confirm this Source 2.37 Remains of a Viking longship
E C Longships
Check your learning
The Vikings were expert shipbuilders, with ready access to the timber The longship was up to twice as long as a trade ship (up to about
37 metres in length), with a leaner hull. It might carry 100 warriors 1 Brainstorm the tasks facing Vikings in setting
of Scandinavia’s forests. They built trade ships (knarrs), ferries, rowing
up a settlement in, say, one of Scandinavia’s
boats called (faerings), fishing vessels and ceremonial boats such as the (up to 68 of whom might be oarsmen, 34 on each side). In a good wind,
mountainous forest regions. Share your thought
Oseberg (see p. xx). By the end of the 8th century, they had also been the sail provided for a fast sea or ocean crossing. Rowing was necessary
with a partner. Contrast this, in your discussion,
sailing as merchants for some time. They were skilled at navigating, if there was no breeze, or to navigate a river. Because of their shallow
with the tasks involved in simply ‘leaving home’.
using the sun and stars, weather patterns, bird flight trails and coastal draughts, longships could sail in very close to shore, allowing men to What do you conclude?
features as guides. In other words, they were well placed to be either wade in quickly for a surprise attack.
2 Draw a mind map to list some other factors
sea traders or sea pirates. The huge square sails (made from pieces of woollen or linen fabric, scholars suggest might have motivated Vikings to
Their strong navigational and shipbuilding skills gave them all stitched together) were commonly dyed blood red. Together with the start raiding.
the expertise they needed to make and sail efficient warships. These dragon heads at the prow and stern, this helped to heighten the terror
3 Explain why the Vikings’ established skills as
included the longships they used for lightning raids. The Vikings for raid victims. These dragon heads also (so Vikings believed) would shipbuilders and sailors made it easy for them to
called them drakkar (which means dragon). frighten away any evil spirits or monsters during the sea crossing. be effective sea pirates.
Source 2.36 A Norwegian shipbuilder carving a stern post in the
same way that his Viking forebears did
24 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 25
Weapons Check your learning
Weapons were very important to the Vikings. For a contestability: horned helmets
1 How did some Vikings
focus on …
start, they were essential for hunting game for food. Most people think that the helmets of Viking warriors had large horns.
There is no evidence at all that Vikings wore horned helmets into battle. display their wealth and
But they were also traditional symbols of a man’s
Our popular culture — movies, comics, book, games — perpetuates this social position through their
wealth and power. For example, a sword, usually
image of Vikings with horned helmets, which is historically inaccurate. weapons and armour?
double-edged, might have a decorated hilt of silver,
2 Be inspired by Source 2.38
copper or bronze. The sagas record that some Think about it. Horns on a helmet would have made it easier to knock off,
to give Norse names of your
weapons were so special (particularly swords) they leaving the head bare, and the Viking warrior defenceless against a blow
choice for the items displayed
from a sword or an axe.
were given pet names. They were typically buried in Source 2.39.
with a man when he died.
3 Why were many Viking
So when the Viking Age began, Viking warriors swords such lethal weapons?
were well equipped to arm themselves heavily. As
4 o Click here in your obook
raids became more a part of the Viking lifestyle, to access a Bayeux Tapestry
weapon makers were kept busy forging arrow, spear site. Start at the beginning
and axe heads for iron, and sharpening the steel of the tapestry and click
edges of iron swords. (Steel was formed by mixing through, scene by scene.
carbon with molten iron.) As is also evident in their Locate the section where
jewellery (see p. 12), the Vikings were highly skilled William the Conqueror’s
metalworkers. warriors are loading up their
ships to invade England.
Source 2.38 Some weapon names recorded in Viking sagas Study it carefully. How do
they transport the chain mail
Weapon and Norse name Translation
armour? (Hint: Two men are
Sword — Fótbítr Foot biter needed.)
Sword – Gunnlogi Battle flame
Sword – Leggbítr Leg biter
Sword – Saetarspillar Peace breaker
Axe – Himintelgja Heaven scraper
Axe – Rimmugýgr Battle hag
Coat of chain mail – Full-trúi Old faithful
Wealthy Vikings could afford metal armour,
including helmets with nose bridges (see p. xx)
and chain mail armour. By the time William the
Conqueror (whose forebears were Vikings) invaded
England in 1066, chain-mail armour was being
more commonly worn by soldiers.
Source 2.39 Some Viking weapons and a stirrup
Source 2.41 An image of a Viking in
Source 2.40 Viking armour at a reconstructed battle in Finland
26 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 27
empathy: Viking berserkers
focus on …
As raiders, the Vikings were feared by the people in Source 2.43
the villages they attacked. Most feared of all were Men saw that a great bear [berserker] went before
the berserkers (which means ‘bear coats’), who were King Hrolf’s men [King Hrolf (known as Kraki) was 2.2 Why do societies change?
what could be considered the Viking ‘shock troops’. a warrior chieftain in today’s Denmark around the
Berserkers fought with a frenzy, clad in the skin of a Remember Create
6th century CE], keeping always near the king. He slew
bear or wolf. They seemed not to fear death, injury or more man with his forepaws than any five of the king’s
1 What major change happened during the ‘Viking Age’? 9 The discussion to this point has been on why Viking society
pain. Today, one legacy of the Viking past is the word champions. Blades and weapons glanced off him and he
2 What type of weapon was (a) a ‘foot biter’ and (b) a ‘heaven changed during the Viking Age. Building on this, draw a
of the word ‘berserk’ in modern English to describe brought down both men and horses in King Hjorvard’s
scraper’. Suggest why each might have been so called. concept map that records why you think societies that
violent rage. forces, and everything which came in his path, he
came in contact with the Vikings during this time might have
crushed to death with his teeth …
Source 2.42 is a translation of the 12th century
From Erik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas,
Understand changed. Compare your finished concept map with that of a
Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus. Scholars today partner.
Gwyn Jones (ed.), Oxford, 1961, p. 313. 3 List some the goods Viking merchants imported through
regard his view of berserkers as perhaps more reliant
trade. Select 3 of these. With a partner, discuss how you
on imagination than fact. Source 2.43 tells us who the berserkers were and what think each might have changed Viking society.
they did. Empathy requires us to be more interested in
Source 2.42 4 Think about what you now know about berserkers.
their motives: why did they do this? For, without such
When Hardbeen heard this, a demonical frenzy
a Where does the English expression ‘going berserk’
understanding, it would be very easy to judge such
suddenly took him; he furiously bit and devoured figures as lunatics.
the edges of his shield; he kept gulping down fiery b How does knowing there was a link between berserkers
Different opinions have been expressed about and Odin help us to better understand the motives for
coals; he snatched live embers in his mouth and let
them pass down into his entrails; he rushed through
berserkers, including that they worked themselves their behaviour?
the perils of crackling fires; and at last, when he had into a frenzy before a battle on hallucinogenic drugs or
5 Discuss this statement as a class: The Vikings may never
raved through every sort of madness, he turned his alcohol. If this is so, their motive may well have been
have become sea pirates had they not already developed
sword with raging hand against the hearts of six of his to put themselves beyond personal fear to, say, protect
such strong navigational and shipbuilding skills for their
champions. their king (as Source 2.43 suggests).
From 1905 translation of The Nine Books of the Danish Significantly, berserkers were often linked with the
History, by the 12th century Danish historian Viking god Odin. It was Odin who was believed to give Apply
them (through rituals such as drinking animal blood) the 6 In groups, discuss why you think Australian society has
power and fury of wild animals. changed during your lifetime. Identify key events and
A Viking king going into battle would no doubt be developments you believe helped to cause this. Predict how
reassured to have a few berserkers close by as he you think these and other factors may influence our society
would see it as Odin’s protection. The behaviour of over the next decade. A spokesman will report the group’s
berserkers on the battlefield—though to us that of out- conclusions to the class.
of-control madmen—would have been welcomed as a
sign that Odin was ‘with them’. Analyse
7 Source 2.45 is a photograph of a Viking cemetery. Look at
its elements carefully. What do you observe? How does this
compare and contrast with a typical Australian cemetery.
8 Consider what you have read, in general, about Vikings.
a Which two factors mentioned in this text do you think
most contributed to the changes to Viking society that
Source 2.44 A stone carving from 6th century Sweden, showing
took place during the Viking Age?
one man with a helmet adorned with the heads of birds. The
other shows the head of a wolf or bear (skins typically worn by a b Frame one research question for each factor that you
berserker). think would best help you to decide with more certainty. Source 2.45 A Viking cemetery
28 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter three ancient egypt 29
The loot was often gold, silver and jewelled
items (such as gold and silver candlesticks and
goblets, gold crucifixes, jewelled Bible covers)
The Vikings raiders killed innocent
people, raped women and
kidnapped many people (including
monks) as slaves—some to sell and
others to work hard on their farms To be a thief was a great dishonour to
and building projects. the Vikings. To them, plundering was not
stealing; rather, it was an honourable way
to get wealth and fame (both needed to
‘get ahead’ in Viking society).
One or more berserkers (see p. xx) might
be part of a raid; their appearance and
significance: the raid behaviour would be terrifying to innocent
focus on …
victims and opposing fighters alike.
Skilled fighters could catch and
On 6 January 793, a fleet of Viking return a flying spear, or throw
longships attacked the monastery two at once, one in each hand.
of St Cuthbert at Lindisfarne,
in north-eastern England. This
At first, Vikings raids were
significant event began almost hit-and-run events, timed
200 years of uncertainty and and designed to cause
terror for many monasteries and maximum panic. After a
Source 2.46 Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry showing the army of William, Duke of Normandy,
crossing the English Channel to attack the Saxon army of the English king. William was a descendant of
settlements in lands around the raid, Viking longships would
Viking settlers in northern France. Viking homeland. Some 70 years quickly disappear (with their
later, in 865, Britain was invaded
by a huge Viking (Danish) army.
By then, the Viking intent was
conquest, not just raid and
How do societies change? plunder.
The Viking Age meant frequent warfare for Viking men as they This year came dreadful
embarked on their plundering raids. The loot they brought back helped forewarnings over the land of
the Northumbrians [northern
to change political and economic systems in their homeland. In due
England], terrifying the people
course, many left to settle in some places they or their forebears had … there were immense sheets of
raided. Others left to discover new lands. light rushing through the air, and
whirlwinds, and fiery dragons
The societies that Vikings had come in contact with were also changed. flying across the heavens. These
Deals were struck between Viking leaders and the rulers of places they tremendous tokens [signs] were
soon followed by a great famine:
raided; some involved payments of money, others grants of land. In and not long after … the harrowing Viking warriors fought with spears,
time, the language, customs and beliefs of Viking settlers mixed with inroads [horrifying invasion] of razor-sharp battle axes and bows and
arrows. Swords, mostly double-edged,
those of locals, changing their societies. heathen men made lamentable
were especially valued and were the
havoc [caused widespread
weapons of the rich..
destruction] in the church of God
Changes caused by conflict in Holy-island [Lindisfarne], by
rapine [taking people hostage] and
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records 787 CE as the year of the first Viking attack. slaughter. Source 2.48 Artist’s impression of a Viking raid. Such raids saw changes not only in
Three ships (Danish Vikings) came ashore in southern England. An official of the Translated extract from the Anglo Saxon what until then had been the behaviours of a peaceful Viking people, but also in the
king met them, assuming they were merchants. He intended escorting them to the Chronicle for the year 793 CE societies they raided and later merged with as settlers.
town of the king to pay the needed taxes. Instead, they murdered him.
30 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 31
Danes having an area in England they could regard as their own:
contestability: the Blood Eagle the Danelaw (see Source 2.52). And so, over the next 100 or so years,
WALES Anglo-Saxon kingdoms
Viking traditions, beliefs and language took hold in the former Anglo-
focus on …
People’s views are influenced by their personal
Saxon community, influencing the unfolding history of England.
experience. A man who suffers greatly during a war,
for example, may hold a grudge against the people Viking raids continued, on and off, beyond Alfred’s rule. In 1016,
he fought, long after the war ends. That view may or the Witan (which appointed English kings) asked the then King of
may not be shared by others who did not have his Denmark, Cnut, to become England’s king. King Cnut ruled England
experience. It may not be a fact. wisely and well until his death in 1035. His reign largely ended the
Most records about the Vikings during the Viking era of Viking raids for England. They stopped altogether with William
Age were left by those they often attacked: Christian the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (see p. xx).
monks. To what extent these accounts were coloured English society would then be changed again, in a different way, when York
0 160 km
by the monks’ horror, fear and beliefs we will never he became King of England: he would introduce feudalism.
know. To them, the Vikings were vicious, cruel
barbarians. The sight of berserkers (see p. xx) would In Gaul
have only reinforced this perception. MERCIA
A similar situation happened in Gaul (part of today’s France). A Viking
One Viking practice was said to be the Blood Eagle. leader known as Rollo had repeatedly attacked settlements along the
This method of execution involved cutting a person’s Seine River (including Paris). In 911 CE he was at last defeated by the London
ribs and spreading them out at the back like army of the Frankish king, Charles the Simple. Till then, the Franks
an eagle’s wings, before WESSEX
had been paying heavily (in silver, produce and livestock) to stop
pulling out the lungs.
Viking attacks, to no avail. You will be aware that these payments
The wound was
also were made in England. There they were called the Danegeld
then said to be
(Dane gold). In 1007 CE alone, the English paid a Danegeld of nearly Source 2.52 The area of the Danelaw, 878 CE
13 500 kilograms of silver. The payments put a crushing load on the
But did it really Source 2.49 A Viking picture stone on Gotland
happen? Some economies of Gaul and England.
scholars claim it did. They point to This time, the king gave Rollo a grant of land—a fief (feudalism was
text references as evidence and to Stop the raids! then a part of Frankish lifestyle). Rollo became a vassal of the king,
carvings on Viking picture stones
The first Viking raids were on English coastal monasteries and
and a Christian. The land he was given was called Normandy. Some Check your learning
on Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea. 150 years later (in 1066), a Norman duke, William (see above), would
settlements. In time, their attacks pushed deeper into Europe and Asia, 1 What clues does the language used in
Some say it was a sacrifice to Odin.
along rivers. They also extended their plundering missions in today’s Source 2.47 provide about how the writer felt
Norse sagas (such as the Orkneyinga saga) and
Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Their attacks were swift, noisy and usually about the Viking invasion of the monastery at
poems—all written after the Viking Age—refer to
unexpected. By all accounts, they were sometimes brutal affairs. Lindisfarne?
this practice. It was, some say, the death ordered
by the Viking leader Ivar the Boneless for the King of 2 Develop a concept map to explain how you think
Northumbria in 867. This king’s death is mentioned villagers living near Lindisfarne (who would have
in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, but not how he was The number of ships grows: the endless flood of Vikings never ceases to heard about the attack on the monastery) might
grow. Everywhere Christ’s people are the victims of massacres, burnings and have felt and acted. Think how this event might
killed. An Old Norse poem, written nearly 200 years
plunderings. The Vikings conquer all in their path and nothing resists them. have changed their lifestyle.
later, refers to an eagle cut in relation to this king’s
Translation from the writing of the Frankish monk
death, but no more. 3 What does Source 2.50 reveal about how some
Ermentarius of Noirmountier, 860 CE
Scholars who contest the reality of this execution felt about Viking attacks?
method argue that the sagas and poems In Britain 4 Based on what you know about feudalism (see
misinterpreted, or carelessly translated, Norse pp. xx–xx), explain why making Rollo a vassal
In 865, Britain was invaded by a huge Viking (Danish) army. This time
symbols in earlier texts. In Norse mythology the eagle was a clever move on the part of the Frankish
the motive was conquest, not plunder. Within a year they controlled king.
was a symbol of death. Tales may have been spread,
the Northumbrian city of Jorvik (York). By 1870, they had ended the
too, by the Christian community to represent the 5 o Click here in your obook to access information
Vikings as being more horrifying and repulsive than rule of every Anglo-Saxon kingdom except Wessex. The Wessex king
about ‘Erik Bloodaxe’.
they actually were. (from 871 to 899) was a man called Alfred (later Alfred the Great).
a Write down 5 facts about the life of this
King Alfred fiercely resisted Viking attacks. By 878, he had forced prominent Viking.
the Dane leader (Guthrum) to surrender—and to become a Christian. b Frame one question to guide your research
As part of the peace treaty the two men drew up, Alfred agreed to the Source 2.51 Artist’s impression of the Viking attack on Paris of 885 CE into what most interests you about this man.
32 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 33
Vikings were living in North America
some 500 years before Christopher
Leif’s early life Erik the Red), Leif visited Norway in 999 CE
with gifts for the king, Olaf I Trygvasson.
Leif bought Bjarni’s boat. In around 1000 ce, he set off (with a
crew that included Thyrker) to find the land Bjarni said he had
Columbus reached close to its Leif was born (most probably) in Iceland seen. Before he landed at a grassy place he named Vinland,
He stayed for a year, becoming a Christian
shores (he never actually landed around 970 CE, the second of Erik the he named two others: Helluland (Land of Flat Rocks, possibly
(as was the king). He returned with the
in what is now the United States). Red’s three sons. As a boy, he was Labrador or Baffin Island) and Markland (Land of Woods,
intent of carrying out the king’s request
The first explorers to actually land educated and taught life skills by Thyrker, a possibly Newfoundland). Leif set up camp at Vinland, returning
to convert Greenlanders to Christianity.
in North America were Leif Eriksson man Erik the Red had taken prisoner on an to Greenland after a year.
However, he was blown off course, ending
and his crew, who landed in what is earlier raid in Europe. For four years, until
up in today’s Newfoundland.
now Greenland and Canada. This he was 12, Leif lived in Thryker’s house.
The Groenlendinga saga (Greenlanders Where did Leif settle?
In around 985 CE, Erik the Red was
significant event was recognised
Saga) is generally considered to provide Historians contest the location of Leif’s settlement. Most
in 1964 when the US president banished from Iceland for killing a man. (He
the more reliable evidence. (Like the Saga think it was at a place now called L’Anse aux Meadows in
declared 9 October as ‘Leif Ericson had earlier been banished from Norway,
of Erik the Red, it was written 200 to Newfoundland. There archaeologists have located the remains
Day’ (note the different spelling; too.) So he set out in a boat with his family,
300 years after the events occurred.) It of dwellings with walls of thick turf. Also found was a device
there are many ways to spell the slaves and supplies, and headed west.
states that Leif’s discovery was far from
used to spin wool and a dress pin.
great Viking’s name). In Canada, He called the land he found Greenland.
accidental. In 986, Bjarni Herjólfsson, a
Leif Ericson Day is only recognised There he settled, later encouraging other
in the province of Saskatchewan, Icelanders to join him.
Norwegian explorer, arrived in Greenland, Later visits
looking for his father (who had shortly
although Eriksson actually landed in After Leif returned to Greenland, his brother and, later, another
before emigrated from Iceland with Erik
the province of Newfoundland! Finding North America the Red). Along the way, Bjarni got lost.
brother’s widow and her new husband made trips to the Source 2.56 Statue (created 1930) of Leif Eriksson in Hallgrimskirkja,
settlement he had established. Leif, though, never returned and
Historians contest how Leif found North He reported that he saw a wooded, hilly
died in 1020. The fledgling Viking settlement remained for a few
America. It depends which saga is used as place. But it was more than a decade
evidence. According to Eiríks saga (Saga of before Leif Eriksson acted on this news.
years, but faced increasingly hostile attacks by the indigenous Check your learning
people who were the ancestors of the modern Inuit. The Vikings
called them skraelings. Eventually these attacks forced the 1 Explain how and why Leif Eriksson ended up in Greenland.
Voyage of Erik the Red, c. 986 CE Vikings to abandon the settlement and return to Greenland. 2 Refer to the map and the sagas to complete the following:
Voyage of Leif Eriksson, 1000 CE a Draw two flow charts, each depicting how Leif
Viking settlements discovered North America according to two different
BAFFIN GREENLAND b Which version do most scholars think is most reliable?
ICELAND 3 Use Source 2.54, Google Earth and Internet photo libraries
such as Corbis and Getty (search for them on Google) to
create a travel diary of what Leif might have seen (in order)
on his journey from Greenland to Vinland.
4 Explain why some scholars think L’Anse aux Meadows is
probably the site of Leif’s settlement.
5 What eventually ended the Viking settlement in North
L’Anse aux Meadows America?
Source 2.53 Artist’s impression of 6 How do you think the ‘discovery’ of North America
Leif Eriksson and his crew landing in affected the Viking society in Greenland? Give reasons for
Newfoundland, Canada, in 1001 CE. (Also
Source 2.54 your opinion.
see Source 2.1 on p. xx to see a statue
Map showing the routes
erected in his honour.) 7 Create a timeline for Leif Eriksson’s life, using data from
of Erik and Red and, 0 800 km Source 2.55 The heritage-listed site of L’Anse aux Meadows in
later, his son, Leif Newfoundland (with its reconstructed dwellings) the Greenlanders Saga.
34 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 35
Political change in the Viking homeland
cause and effect:
Warriors returned ‘home’ from their raids with large stores of plundered loot (including Christianity and the Vikings
focus on …
prisoners taken as slaves). In time, these goods made some local Viking rulers very
One of the factors that changes societies is belief Source 2.58
wealthy. Some became so influential that they no longer needed the support of jarls.
systems. Viking society, for instance, changed The dead chieftain was put in a temporary grave
Local tribes began to group together, forming larger kingdoms. Within about 200 years,
significantly when it adopted Christianity. that was covered for ten days until new clothes were
there were three dominant kings (more like kings as we know them). These monarchs
The towns, villages and monasteries that Vikings prepared for him. They asked which of his thrall women
ruled areas we know today as Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
raided were usually Christian settlements. Many wanted to join him in the afterlife and one of the girls
volunteered. She was guarded day and night, and was
of the places in which they later settled were in
Economic change in the Viking homeland Christian lands (the people of the settlements given a great amount of intoxicating drinks. She sang
often encouraged the Vikings to stay in order all the time with happiness. When the time had arrived
After they began raiding, the Vikings developed a bullion economy—one where value for cremation, his longship was pulled ashore and put
to stop their raids). As well, towards the end
in a transaction is measured by the type of metal used, and its weight. Silver was most on a platform of wood. On the ship, a bed was made for
of the first millennium, Christian missionaries
commonly used, much of it obtained through plunder or forced payments. Silver items the dead chieftain. Soon after, an old woman named the
were travelling to parts of the Viking homeland.
would be broken into smaller pieces until ‘angel of death’ put cushions on the bed. She was an old
These factors, among others, eventually caused
they matched the weights needed to trade. witch, stocky and dark. She would be responsible for the
the Viking people to change their beliefs. This
ritual and would be the one to kill the thrall girl.
The Vikings also collected taxes (often affected many aspects of their social behaviour.
Extract from an account of a human sacrifice at a Viking
coins) in some places they colonised. The For example:
funeral, by the Arab traveller Ibn Fadlan
penalty for non-payment in Ireland during • attacks on Christian communities stopped
the 8th century was a slit nose! Some coins altogether (having already declined as Vikings
they obtained through trade from parts became established settlers in new lands)
of Europe, such as Afghanistan and some • burial practices changed from the rituals of
Arabian countries. a Viking cremation to simple burials; human
Eventually, the Vikings developed an sacrifices stopped as did driving a stake
economy based on money—one where through the heart of the dead person to ‘stop
them’ returning to take revenge
a particular coin had a particular value,
• a large number of Christian churches were
like our currency. (Most of the places the
Vikings raided had such economies.) In
• many Vikings gave former slaves their freedom
many cases, Viking copied the designs of
• some traditional values of Vikings were
coins used in the regions they colonised.
changed (e.g. that being disgraced required a
By the late 10th century, the kings of the
emerging kingdoms of Sweden, Norway
• new Christian festivals were celebrated; in
and Denmark were all issuing their own
some instances, though, the rituals were a mix
of Christian and pagan traditions.
Source 2.58 is an example of an older Viking
Source 2.57 Viking hoard found practice. It describes the burial of a chieftain in
in a field in Harrowgate (Yorkshire, which a female slave is drugged and has sex
England) in 2007, one of many hordes
with many men over several days, and is then
that have been uncovered. The stash,
strangled and stabbed. Horses were forced to
buried for over 1000 years, includes
Check your learning
617 silver coins. run until exhausted, before being cut to pieces.
1 How did raids change the status and influence of some Viking rulers? Their body parts were thrown into the boat, along
with sacrificed chickens. Source 2.59 Artist’s impression of a Viking cremation. A boat
2 Explain why Viking society changed from an agricultural economy to a bullion economy in would be filled with goods, slaughtered animals—even sacrificed
the 8th century. slaves—and then burned to ash. It was then covered with a
3 Suggest where the English expression ‘to pay through the nose for something’ came from. mound of earth. Runestones might be erected at the site.
4 Discuss as a class why the Vikings might have converted to a monetary economy.
5 Examine Source 2.57. Besides the coins, what do you think the other items in this stash
were used for?
36 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 37
2.3 How do societies change?
1 What was the Danegeld? 14 The Viking attacks on often defenceless communities Odin could make his enemies in battle blind, or deaf, armour, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their
2 Explain how Vikings raid helped to change the way people created great fear, perhaps even revulsion and hate among or terror-struck, and their weapons so blunt that they shields, and were strong as bears or wild bulls, and
those they attacked. Think now about the world today. could no more but than a willow wand; on the other killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron told
were ruled in the Viking homeland.
Discuss as a class how you think societies today react hand, his men rushed forwards without upon themselves. These were called Berserker.
3 What was the Danelaw? What broad influence did it have on
towards those they perceive as attacking them—either Translated extract from the Ynglinga Saga
societies in England?
directly through warfare, or by attacking their values and
4 Explain why Leif Eriksson is a significant individual in Viking way of life. What do you conclude?
15 Have you heard the term ‘urban myth’? It is a story that may
Understand have started with a grain of truth that gets passed around
by word of mouth, perhaps exaggerated along the way—
5 Draw a simple flow chart to explain how the economy of
always described as a ‘true story’. You may even know
Viking society changed during the Viking Age.
some. Suggest how the account of the Blood Eagle might
6 Read Source 2.47. have been helped along as an urban myth among Christian
a Do you think this is an exaggerated account? Explain. communities.
b What evidence does this account provide that English
communities greatly feared the Viking raids? Analyse
7 Explain why Vikings took many prisoners (including monks). 16 Study Sources 2.60 and 2.61, together with Source 2.48.
How did these captives benefit Viking society? Use the information provided to list as many points as
8 Explain why Christian monasteries and churches were you can identify why a Viking raid would have terrified an
common targets for Viking raiders. unsuspecting community.
9 Use a dictionary to find five words in the English language Evaluate
(besides ‘berserk’) that we have ‘inherited’ from the Vikings.
17 Organise a class debate on this topic: The Vikings were no
For example, ‘egg’ and ‘window’ are two. Look for entries
more than dishonourable thieves.
that end with: Origin – Old Norse.
10 Explain in a paragraph how conversion to Christianity Create
changed burial practices of the Vikings.
18 o Excavations in the English city of York have uncovered
11 Re-read Source 2.58. evidence of the Viking settlement of Jorvik. A reconstruction
a Suggest why the thrall woman Ibn Fadlan describes of this settlement has been built on the site that captures
might have been so happy about volunteering for such a not only what the settlement looked like in 975 CE, but even
horrible death. how it smelt. Click here in your obook to access the Jorvik
b What perspective do you think a Christian monk may settlement sites. Use these to empathise with life as a Jordik
have had on this? Viking. Write a diary entry of a typical day in this settlement,
12 Use an atlas to identify 5 English towns that were once part from a Viking viewpoint.
of the Danelaw.
13 English society was changed in 1066 by the introduction of
feudalism by its new king, King William I. Explain what link
this had to the Viking Age.
oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum
Source 2.61 Artist’s impression of a Viking raid
chapter two the vikings 39
sailors, probably the best of their time. They were skilled shipbuilders
For a relatively short time in their history (about 250 years), the Vikings and navigators and, by all accounts, not frightened to cross cold and
were best known to the rest of the world as fierce plunderers. Yet, as you often rough seas (such as the Arctic Ocean and the upper reaches of the
have seen, they were far more than this. Their legacy for the world today North Sea). This was particularly so for the Vikings from Norway who were
explorers in this part of the world and beyond.
is considerable. They promoted the idea among Europeans of a seagoing
1 What dangers do you think faced Vikings who might have been sailing in
ship, for instance. And their language and customs have affected those of conditions such as those depicted in Source 2.64?
many societies. 2 What advantages do you think the design of Viking boats provided when
travelling through rough seas? Can you suggest any disadvantages?
3 What qualities of character do you think people would need to sail through
rough and unknown seas? Display your response as a mind map.
Reputation was very important to the Vikings. A translated Norse text says:
‘Wealth dies, kinsmen die. Cattle die and the wheat too. But this thing never dies: Source 2.64 Modern yacht in Norway’s Habenichtbukta Bay
word fame.’ One way that a Viking preserved his ‘word fame’ after death was by Christmas, for many children in Australia, means the arrival of Father
having a runestone erected over his grave. The message carved on it in runes might
declare the person’s name, what they owned, or what they built or achieved.
1 Do you think reputation is valued in today’s Australian society? Give reasons for Christmas (or Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas). Christmas is a
your response. Christian festival that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. But
2 In what ways are people today remembered and respected after they die? many of its rituals and customs are non-Christian in origin.
3 Compare and contrast the tombstones shown here, in shape and purpose, with the For example, historically, St Nicholas was a Christian saint. The
runestone shown as Source 2.12 on page 12. ‘Yuletime’ or ‘Yule logs’ you will sometimes see on Christmas
cards are linked to a non-Christian fertility festival that celebrated
Source 2.62 Modern tombstones the end of winter and the return of the sun. It was held on 21
December (the winter solstice)—a day very close to Christmas Day.
1 Santa Claus is commonly shown being pulled in a sleigh by
A very popular book (and movie series) today is J. R. R. Tolkien’s reindeer. Why do you think this has become such a common
novel The Lord of the Rings. Many of his characters—dwarves, elves, symbol when the birthplace of Jesus Christ was Bethlehem, a
trolls, dragons and monsters—were inspired by his interest in Norse town in the arid region of today’s Middle East?
mythology. The final battle, with its hordes of non-human and
2 Why did pagan winter solstice rituals in the northern hemisphere Source 2.65 Artist’s impression of Santa
human participants, reminds one of Ragnarok. The turf-covered Claus in his sleigh
come to be linked so much with the Christian festival of
homes of Middle Earth are like the turf-insulated Viking longhouses. Christmas?
1 Why do you think fantasy writers today so often find mythology a 3 Can you think of another Christian festival that has become
source of inspiration? linked over time with non-Christian traditions?
2 Imagine you are a fantasy writer. Create a character inspired by
Viking mythology and history that you would feature in your story.
Either describe your character in a few detailed paragraphs or draw
Imagine that in about 500 years Australia as a nation ceased to exist, but parts of its culture remained. What legacies
a labelled sketch.
of Australia will be evident to people in the future? Using pictures and text found in books and on the Internet, create a
record of three cultural artefacts (such as a household item, a written account of a footy game, a photograph of a car) that
Source 2.63 Battle scene from the movie The Lord of the Rings
the mysterious and fascinating ‘Australians’ left for you, a historian in 2510, and the people of the future.
At the time of the Viking Age, the Vikings were extremely good
40 oxford big ideas history 8: australian curriculum chapter two the vikings 41