Vikings: Where did they come from? Where did they go?
Updated: Apr 18
Who Are the Vikings?
Vikings are traders, explorers and warriors from the 800s to the 1050s. Activities didn't begin or end precisely during those years, but historians have found it convenient to define this period as the beginning and end of The Viking Age.
Who Came From Where?
The Vikings originated from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, but they brought and delivered diversity during this Age. Vikings travelled as far west as Canada, as far east as Russia and Baghdad, and as far south as North Africa!
Vikings established trading centres in the Middle East at Kyiv and Novgorod. They reached Turkic Khazars, Belarus, Azerbaijan and northern Iran.
In these areas, trade was established between Arabs, Persians, and Greeks, according to Arab Chronicler Ibn Khurradadhbih in the 9th century. Tenth-century accounts come from three other chroniclers: Ibn Rustah, al-Mus’udi, al-Mukaddasi and others.
On their merchant travels, Vikings traded goods like honey, amber, wheat, wool, feathers, falcons, whalebones, walrus ivory, antlers, fur, tusks and seal fats for gold, silk, spices, wine, glassware, stones, pottery, enslaved people, weapons and Arab silver.
Not all settlements during the Viking Age were due to Viking expeditions. The Irish came to Norway looking for career opportunities, and as enslaved people/thralls and Mongolian tribes came seeking refuge from Russia. Scots and Dutchmen came as powerful and influential merchants bringing knowledge of business and bookkeeping to Norway. Some of these traders settled in Norway and assimilated into the Norwegian culture.
Other Norwegian settlers came from different parts of Scandinavia, Russia, Central Europe and the Middle East throughout the Viking era.
With foreigners came the knowledge that helped advance the land. Without writing, the only way to learn was to share a practice. Of course, travellers gain and spread knowledge on their voyages.
Practitioners coming into Norway included:
Political and religious refugees
Enslaved people and thralls (a norm amongst many societies at the time)
Timeline of Expeditions & Settlements:
(Find details below the picture)
750: Pre-Viking Age settlements were established in the northwestern Russian town of Staraya Ladoga (modern-day Finland)
793: The first recorded Viking raid in Lindisfarne, a small island off the northeast coast of England
795-807: Vikings begin raiding Skye and Iona (in the Hebrides) and areas of Ireland, including Rathlin, Lambay, Brega, and the coast of Connacht
799: The first continental Viking raid in Noirmoutier, France
804: Vikings establish a settlement in Sliasthorp (northern Germany) near the Danish border. The military town served as the center of power for Viking King Godfred
830: Frequent raiding occurs on the British Isles and Europe (particularly Ireland and the Dorestad trading centre)
830: Naddodd the Viking discovers Iceland after getting blown off-course en route to the Faeroe Islands
840: Viking fleets are hired as mercenaries by Lothar of France for battle against brothers
842: Vikings attack Nantes on the French coast, which led to raids along the river and as far inland as Paris, Limoges, Orleans, Tours and Nimes
844: Vikings take over Seville (Spain), which the Arabs then controlled
851: Danish Vikings conquer East Anglia and Northumberland and dismantled Mercia
859: Vikings raid Pisa, Italy
870: Vikings begin settlements in Iceland
871: King Alfred of England defeats Danish Vikings. Vikings began settlement north of Northumbria and called it Danelaw. York became established as a trading centre
873: Ivar dies with the official title of 'king of the Norsemen of all Ireland and Britain
882: Vikings established rule over Slavic tribes in Kievan Rus. They are called “Varangians” or “Rus.”
902: All Heathens were chased out of Dublin, Ireland. Saxons allow these Norse and Irish Viking refugees to settle in Wirral (northwest of England)
911: Treaty made between West Frankish king and Viking chief Rollo. Rollo is given Rouen and the surrounding territory (Normandy), but he has to deny passage to the Seine to other raiders
913: Vikings raid Gorgan region, Mazandaran and Gilan (Iran). They destroy destroyed the Khazar state in 965 and took control
914-922: New Viking Age began in Ireland, being led by the Ivar Dynasty. Intensive Viking settlements become established in Waterford, Cork, Dublin, Wexford and Limerick
952: English armies reconquer Scandinavian settlements after defeating the last king of Scandinavia, King Eric Bloodaxe. England became united under one Kingdom
958: Viking Harold Bluetooth becomes King of (newly Christianized) Denmark marking the second Viking Age
985: Vikings voyage to Greenland and build a settlement
991: King Harold Bluetooth's son, Sven Forkbeard, leads Viking raids on England
1000: Irish came to Norway looking for career opportunities and as enslaved people/thralls
1013: Sven Forkbeard conquers all of England, sending King Ethelred into exile
1014: Sven dies. His son Knut rules the Scandinavian empire (England, Denmark, and Norway) on the North Sea
1014-1021: Vikings in Greenland travelled to the next land over (Canada) and established settlements in Helluland (Baffin Island), Markland (Labrador) and "Vinland" (Newfoundland)
1040: Vikings arrive in Serkland as merchants and traders (Greater Iran, which later expands to North Africa)
1042: Knut's sons had taken over and died. Edward the Confessor, son of the previous non-Danish king, returned from exile and took back the English throne from the Danes. He doesn't have any successors
1066: Harold Godwinesson was the son of King Edward's most powerful noble. He claimed the throne and defeated the last great Viking king – Harald Hardrada of Norway. This took place at Stamford Bridge, near York
1066: A week after King Hard Godwinesson won the battle of Stamford Bridge, he fell to William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy - a descendant of Scandinavian settlers in northern France
1066: William the Conqueror was crowned King of England on Christmas Day and retained the crown against further Viking attacks
1250: Mongolian tribes came to Norway as refugees from Russia
Although Viking activity continued after 1066, the reign of William the Conqueror became a convenient marker for historians to transition from the Viking Age to the Middle Ages. Although most of Scandinavia converted to Christianity under the rule of William I, Norse belief persisted until the 12th century (1101-1200).
Journey South In a different (yet similar) history lesson, the Old Norse people wrote of those south of the Caspian Sea (Iran), calling them the Serkir. This land was known as Serkland.
Serkland gradually expanded to include all Islamic lands and parts of North Africa. This information is in six sagas and various runestones, including Tillinge Runestone, raised in memory of a Varangian who did not return from Serkland. I do not have an approximate timeline for these activities, but we know they took place throughout the Viking Age because of the sagas and runestones; otherwise, they would have been listed in the timeline of expeditions and settlements. Conclusion So who were the Vikings? - Vikings were travellers, adventurers, conquerors, traders, and explorers who ultimately became settlers of many lands and kings. We can safely say Vikings travelled near and far from the timeline above. They laid roots, adopted and left their mark among the Norwegians, Scandinavians, British, Irish, Scottish, French, Spanish, Italians, Russians, Arabs, North Americans and even a touch of northern Africa. Conclusively, Vikings were a diverse group of people who travelled far and wide and created new genes in many areas. Their descendants travelled and settled even further than they could have imagined! Are you Viking? What adventures do you have planned?
Literature: A History of Immigration: The Case of Norway 900 - 2000. Grete Brochmann Knut Kjeldstadli Oslo: Universitetsforlaget 2008 ISBN/ISSN: 9788215013138 Viking Empires. Angelo Forte, Richard D. Oram, Richard Oram, Frederik Pedersen: Cambridge University Press, 2005
Íslendingabók (“Book of the Icelanders,” c. 12th century CE)
Grove, J. (2009). The Place of Greenland in Medieval Icelandic Saga Narrative. Journal of the North Atlantic, 30–51. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26686936
Mission to the Volga, in Two Arabic Travel Books, Ahmed Ibn Fadlan, (New York/London: New York University Press), 2014
Ireland and Scandinavia in the Early Viking Age, Howard B. Clarke, Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, Aidan Clarke, Raghnall Ó Floinn (Four Courts Press),1998
Evidence for European presence in the Americas in AD 1021. Nature, 601(7893), 388–391, Kuitems, M., Wallace, B. L., Lindsay, C., Scifo, A., Doeve, P., Jenkins, K., Lindauer, S., Erdil, P., Ledger, P. M., Forbes, V., Vermeeren, C., Friedrich, R., & Dee, M. W. (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03972-8
Skaldic Poetry from the Kings' Sagas 2 From c. 1035 to c. 1300, (Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages), K. E. Gade., (Brepols Publishers), 2009
Volumes 1 and 2 include a lot of important scripts of skaldic poetry preserved in sagas about the kings of Norway and other Scandinavian rulers.
Vol. 2 contains poetry composed during the period c. 1035-1300, from the beginning of the reign of Magnús Óláfsson to the reign of Magnús Hákonarson (1047-1280). The poetry commemorates events that took place/in Scandinavia, England, Ireland, Scotland, the Orkneys, Russia, Africa, and Byzantium.
Ynglinga saga, Sörla saga sterka, Sörla þáttr, Saga Sigurðar Jórsalafara, Jökulsþáttur Búasonar, and Hjálmþés saga ok Ölvis
Neil Ebdurb, Legendary Viking Town Unearthed (2012) ScienceNordic
Joshua J. Mark, The Vikings in Iceland (2019) WorldHistory.org
Jan Keulen, Vikings and Abbasids: Worlds apart but interconnected (2015) Middle East Eye
Vikings - History, Origins & Tactics (2022) History.com
Becky Little, When Viking Kings and Queens Ruled Medieval Russia (2019) History.com
Ryan Goodrich, Viking History: Facts & Myths (2018) LiveScience