viking longship

What Is a Viking?

From 793 to 1066 A.D., Vikings ruled the seas and expanded their knowledge of the known world through exploration. According to accounts by those they attacked, Vikings were ferocious fighters; they included berserkers, who would go into battle naked and might be seen to chew on their shields. When the battle was over, Vikings often enslaved the survivors of successful attacks. Vikings used their longships to reach North America nearly 500 years before the Columbus expedition did. They traveled east to Russia and sailed the Mediterranean. Vikings were well-known (and feared) as both conquerors and explorers.

The Word ‘Viking’

No one knows the origins of the word “Viking.” When it first appears in historic writings, it refers to Scandinavian pirates, raiders, explorers and seafarers from a specific time period – the 8th Century to the 11th Century A.D. An early version of the word in Norse was “víkingr.” Colloquially, the word has come to identify all Scandinavians from that era, whether they sailed the seas or not. They may also be known as “Northmen” and “Norsemen.”

Viking Religion and Calendar

Vikings revered many gods and were pagans. Paganism is a term used by Christians in the 4th century to describe people who hold religious beliefs that do not conform to the principles of Judaism, Islam, or Christianity. Pagans frequently practiced polytheism and recognized or worshipped many different gods and goddesses. Odin, Loki, Frigga, and Thor are all deities from Norse mythology. Viking pagans began their conversion to Christianity with Harald the Good. Their months and holidays were based on a lunar calendar.

Vikings at Home

Viking longhouse in the mountains
Viking longhouse in the Viking village at Vestrahorn in east Iceland

When on land, many Vikings were independent farmers. Their compounds usually included a longhouse which was home to many families or to many generations of the same family. When the men were away, women ran the farms. Women also had property rights and could divorce their husbands when needed. Not all Vikings were men; there were Viking women, who spent time on the seas, pillaging and raiding.

At Asgard Alaska, we want to help people learn more about the Viking era. Our living museum will present a Viking village with a longship and activities, like archery and axe throwing. Join us in exploring the amazing history of Vikings; sign up for our newsletter below.

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