Who were the Vikings? - Articles - visitoslo.com

Who were the Vikings?

The Vikings' reputation as ruthless plunderers and colonizers is firmly established, but does not tell the whole story.

Vikings are among Norway’s most salient cultural icons, and Viking-themed museums and exhibitions are popular among the visitors of Oslo. But who were they really, the Vikings? We take you through some salient characteristics of these versatile warriors.

Conquerors at sea

Leiv Eriksson painted by Christian Krohg
Leiv Eriksson painted by Christian Krohg

The Viking Age in Scandinavia extended from around 800 to 1050 AD. The period takes its name from a group of the population, called Vikings, who traversed rivers and seas of Europe for warfare, trade and exploration. The Vikings’ destruction of the abbey on Lindisfarne, England in 793 is often mentioned as an interlude to this period, reflecting the fact that their conduct abroad was usually rather brutal. 

The Vikings' rampages made a long-lasting impression in other parts of Europe. In fact, more than 1,000 years passed before scholars and others outside of Scandinavia would even consider viewing the Vikings and their culture as anything more than savagery. In recent times a more complex picture has emerged: This unarguably violent stretch in Scandinavian history is simultaneously characterized by technological advancements, high-level crafts, and domestic prosperity. 

Naval geniuses, industrious craftsmen

The Vikings’ success at sea was powered by a then almost unprecedented insight into ship engineering and navigation. They built fast and highly seaworthy ships that brought them east into Russia, down to the magnificent Byzantium, and even all the way to America - 500 years ahead of Columbus.

As the creators of ships, armour and other equipment crucial to the Viking way of life, craftsmen enjoyed a high status in Viking Society. Their high level of craftsmanship have become another distinctive trait of the era. Woodworkers and blacksmiths made products of exceptional quality, often densely decorated with ornamentation. From a modern point of view, these meticulous decorations turned weapons, coins, carriages and ships into pieces of art, of a kind that remains unique to this period. 

The founders of Oslo

Significant societal changes took place during the Viking Age. Technological advancements occurred in agriculture and elsewhere, and better systems for trade were developed. Christianity entered as an alternative to traditional paganism, and the first kings of Norway claimed their thrones.

We also see the emergence of the first cities in Norway during this period, understood as permanent settlements being established which housed important functions in society (religious, administrative, military, etc.). Oslo is one of the cities claimed to hail from the Viking Age: Excavations have revealed a city structure here that dates back to 1000 AD.

Although the Vikings are long gone, it is an intriguing thought that they used to roam the very areas that make up Oslo today. In addition to the historic flare, there are several spots in and around Oslo that let you experience the Vikings and their culture. You can read more about these in our feature Visit the Vikings

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