The reign of the Vikings started when Norwegian Vikings went westwards and southwards in Europe in the search for gold and rich goods to be plundered. So did the Danish Vikings too. The Swedish Vikings went eastwards.
The Norwegian Viking ravaging started in 793 when the Lindisfarne monastery in the north of England was plundered and wrecked. After that the Vikings annually in spring or summer or early autumn sailed off to England, Ireland, northern France, and even further south, and to Russia. In this way they carried on for approx 250 years.
Why did they start their organized plundering expeditions? Norway was in 793 rather a lot of small kingdoms. Warfare existed between them. Slaves were the ones doing houshold work, farming, etc., while free people of the upper classes trained in fighting exercises, trained to be warriors.
The Vikings’ great advantage compared to the rest of Europe was their ships, which were very well developed. They could sail across open seas covering long distances. Leiv Eiriksson in the year 1000 sailed to America (New Foundland). He was the first to discover America. The Viking-ship had a square sail that could be handled so that sailing on side winds was quite possible, not only on the tail winds. No other sailing ship type could do so at that time. And the ship was manned with 30 to 40 men, who rowed the ship if necessary. Of course they also were warriors.
The kingdoms in Europe had no fleets. So their coasts were open for the Vikings in their swift and easy manoeuvrable Viking-ships. Already before 793 Norwegians and Danes had been to England, Ireland, France, and kingdoms further south in Europe, being tradesmen. There they had seen the tresures and riches of the people there. Historians think that they also saw the weakness of the kingdoms they visited. And as the fighting men they were, they started their plundering expeditions. The European kindoms were weak at this time. Split in kingdoms and duchies, with quarrelling and warfare between them. And they had no fleets, nor well organized armies to defend their lands.
In this way the Vikings were rather free to do what they wanted. They started raiding the shores of Europe, bringing home all the rich goods they robbed on their ravaging expeditions. And others at home in Norway, in Denmark, in Sweden were trigged to sail to rob goods and gold and silver, etc, etc. The result was Viking fleets , well organized and well led. Vikings settled too, in England, in Ireland, in Normandy, in Russia, even on the Sicily. The realms there lasted for 100 to 200 years.
The Viking era lasted for 250 years. What brought it to an end in approx the years 1030–1066?
- Very important: The states in Europe became far stronger and organized. They could repel the Vikings.
- The Vikings that set up Viking colonies, by and by mingled with the native population, married natives and so on. They were mixed with the native population socially and familiarly.
- The Vikings from year 1000 and onwards became christinized. This led by and by to that the honour and status they got at home for their plundering and ravaging was not like before. The Church preached against all this brutality, that in the Viking society was so honoured before.
- The culture of Scandinavian coutries became in many ways – not in all ways – like the rest of Europe.