Analyzes the legends and mischaracterizations of the Vikings, separating fact from fiction. Discusses the everyday life, settlements, history, religion, and culture of the Vikings. Includes a table of contents.
Over the centuries the West has become fascinated by the Vikings, one of the most mysterious and interesting European civilizations. In addition to being perceived as a remarkably unique culture among its European counterparts, what's known and not known about the Vikings' accomplishments has added an intriguing aura to the historical narrative. Were they fierce and fearsome warriors? Were they the first Europeans to visit North America? It seems some of the legends are true, and some are just that: legends.
The commonly used term, Viking, for the trading and raiding peoples of Scandinavia may have originated from Viken (the large bay leading to Oslo), or it may have come from the Old Scandinavian words vikingr (sea warrior) or viking (expedition over the sea). The people from the north were known in Western Europe at the time as Northmen or Danes, in England as Danes or pagans, and in Ireland as Finngall for those of Norwegian origin and Dubgall for those from Denmark. In the east, in Russia and in the Byzantine Empire, the Scandinavians were called Vaeringar or Varyags (Varangians) or Rus', the latter perhaps derived from the name Roslagen, a province in Uppland in Sweden.
The ubiquitous picture of the Vikings as horn-helmeted, brutish, hairy giants that mercilessly marauded among the settlements of Northern Europe is based on a smattering of fact combined with an abundance of prejudicial historical writing by those who were on the receiving end of Viking depredations.
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