What we Know about Vikings?

When the word “Viking” is brought up in a picture of a group of people that are cruel comes to mind. Viking era existed between 780-1070 A.D, Vikings originated in Scandinavia and were given names such as Nordmenn or Norsemen (jones 2). Vikings also migrated to the British Isles, the Baltic Lands, Iceland, and Greenland (Jones 145). Vikings were successful in trade and commerce but were “greedy and cruel” (Jones 2). The idea of making as much profit as possible was the driving force behind many of their conquests, being a Viking was more of a “profession that led to a good life” (Jones 3). As a Viking you traded, were a pirate taking as much land as possible (Jones 3).

What we know about Vikings mostly is derived from archaeology, Vikings excelled at creating weaponry, tools, and a method of currency. Vikings were literate enough to understand the impact of their attacks and the destruction caused as a result (Kurrild-Klitgaard and Svendsen 259). Gordon argues that Vikings main objective was as “colonists and merchants” (Gordon 50), and not as looters. While Vikings were violent, their craftsmanship on their boats, armor, weapons, and jewelry were expert and challenges the idea that Vikings were inherently cruel (Gordon 53).

Vikings (defined as people from the coves) colonized Europe during the ninth and tenth centuries and by the end of the eleventh century the Vikings era has ended. There are plenty of evidence that speaks to the contrary of the statement: “The Vikings were nothing but pirates and destroyers who made no contribution to European art or civilization.”.

Vikings excelled in shipbuilding, a Viking ship would sail 200 miles in a day under good weather. The Vikings represented their ships as sea serpents aside from using them for exploring and trading they also used them for burials, one example is the Oseberg ship where the mastery of their craftsman was on display, “the rising prow of the ship spiraled into a serpent’s head, with bands of interlaced animals in low relief run along the edges” (Stokstad and Cothren 441).

The Vikings contributed to civilization in many ways, one example in architecture and construction, timber buildings architecture was done in two forms: logs stacked horizontally and notched at the end to form a building that is rectangular in shape, today this form is still popular and known as the log cabin. The other form of timber buildings was done by standing the wood on the end to form a wall set directly into the ground.

Vikings left signs wherever they settled one common structure was erected stones called (Rune Stone), the stones were covered with inscriptions, the stones covered with figures were called picture stones. A new stone art emerged in the tenth century that interlaced foliage and ribbons with animals. An image of Christ on one of the larger stones at jelling depicts Christ with arms outstretched as if crucified while the other side of the stone has runic inscriptions.

Previous examples support the fact that Vikings were skilled craftsman that built strong weapons and fast ships, additionally Vikings mastered metal works and they melted materials such as bronze or gold to create more precious items. Various styles of artistic decoration were developed. These styles were used for jewelry as well as a wide variety of other decorative items, such as the decorative mounts.

The reputation of the Vikings as killers and raiders usually dominates the perception of Vikings, but Vikings were great traders that contributed by advancing the ship making art

The first towns in Ireland were established by the Vikings in the mid-ninth century, mainly for exporting slaves, however, gradually developed into centers of trade and manufacture (Heckett 2003).

Viking artists created unique monuments and objects, the animal style was a perfect tool to accomplish such tasks, this allowed for the combining of myth and reality to tell a story.  

Many historians agree there is more to Vikings than cruelty and destruction, they also provided many new contributions to commerce and trade, resulting in negative impacts and positive impacts on history.


Heckett, E. W. (2003). Viking Age Headcoverings from Dublin. Series B, Volume 6. Dublin:

Royal Irish Academy for National Museum of Ireland and Royal Irish Academy.

Gordon, Kate. “The Vikings: A New Look.” Archaeology September/October 1980: LZ01. Print.

Jones, Gwyn. A History of the Vikings. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1984. Print.

Kurrild-Klitgaard, Peter and Tinggaard Svendsen, Gert. “Rational Bandits: Plunder, Public Goods,

Stokstad, Marilyn, and Michael W. Cothren. ‘Volume I Art History.’ (2014).

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