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Viking WarriorA Brief History

What is the difference between Norse and Viking?

"Norse" is the name we give to the Germanic tribes who emigrated and settled in Scandinavia around the year 1000 BC. In the 8th century AD, the Norse started building fine and very versatile ships that allowed them to travel long distances. This was the beginning of the Viking age.

The Norse society was composed by farmers, slaves and chieftains or aristocrats. Helped by the speed of their ships, some of the farmers and chieftains would become pirates during the summer and would go to raid and pillage foreign villages. These were the Vikings.

"Viking" was a verb used to describe a temporary lifestyle. Most Norsemen would stay in their villages for all their lives, but some young and adventurous farmers would go "viking" or raiding for some months or for some years to earn their living on piracy.

Therefore, all Vikings were Norse, but not all Norsemen were Vikings.

Cruel and bloodthirsty pirates or great traders and explorers?

With such magnificent ships, the Norse began travelling and trading first around the Baltic Sea and then on to southern Europe, Russia, the Caspian Sea, Africa, the Middle East, India and Asia. As they travelled around the world, some Norsemen found out that stealing was much easier than trading. The perfect targets to go viking were the wealthy and poorly defended monasteries of western Europe.

Viking ShipChristian documents of the time depict the Vikings as bloodthirsty savages who would destroy and pillage everything they could. This is true, but viking pirates were not particularly more cruel than any European army of that age.

The Vikings were the international tradesmen of their time. They traded silk and spices from Constantinople, amber from the Baltic, iron from Scandinavia, slaves from Russia and furs and walrus ivory from Iceland and Greenland. The Vikings kept open the trade route between East and West Europe at a time when trade routes through the Mediterranean were unsafe.

As they travelled around the world, they began to explore and settle in foreign lands. They populated Iceland and Greenland, they temporarily settled in north America, controlled the Duchy of Normandy in France, founded the city of Dublin in Ireland, and made the English city of York the most important town outside of London. The places ruled by the Norse were politically stable and flourishing by medieval standards. The Norse created the first modern parliament in the world in Thingvellir, Iceland, at a time when Europe was still living in the feudal ages.

Norsemen have never worn horns in their helmets!

The idea of horned-helmets has its roots in the 19th century, when a romanticized image of the bloodthirsty Vikings was created. Romantic authors did not know what sort of equipment the heroes of the sagas had used and archaeology as a science did not really exist yet. German composer Richard Wagner made them look fearsome by putting horns on helmets in his opera "Die Walkre" (The Valkyries) and the myth has been further popularized since by Hollywood movies and comics such as Hagar the Horrible.

Viking WarriorMany Norsemen were indeed blonde with blue eyes, as you can see today in many Scandinavian people. However, dark haired and dark eyed Norsemen were not uncommon. Moreover, many people in the Norse camps were foreigners taken as slaves or as wives from southern Europe or from Russia.

The Vikings did not speak a mysterious language that is now disappeared. The Norsemen spoke a language very similar to the language spoken in Germany and in Anglo-Saxon Britain at the time. If you want to know how the language of the Vikings was like, you can learn Icelandic or Faroese language. Unlike Danish or Swedish, Icelandic has not evolved since the 12th century and is very much similar to old Norse.

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