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Scandinavian warriors who raided the coasts of Europe and the British Isles from the 9th cent. to the 11th cent. In their language, the word "viking" originally meant a journey, as for trading or raiding; it was not until the 19th cent. that it was used to mean the people themselves. During the Neolithic period the Scandinavians had lived in small autonomous communities as farmers, fishermen, and hunters. At the beginning of the Viking Age they were the best shipbuilders and sailors in the world; they later ventured as far as Greenland and North America (see VinlandVinland
or Wineland,
section of North America discovered by Leif Ericsson in the 11th cent. The sources for the knowledge of Leif Ericsson's exploration differ as to whether it was planned or accidental, but it is definitely known that he found a land containing grapes
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). At the height of the Viking Age, the typical Viking warship, the "long ship," had a high prow, adorned with the figure of an animal, and a high stern (see shipship,
large craft in which persons and goods may be conveyed on water. In the U.S. Navy the term boat refers to any vessel that is small enough to be hoisted aboard a ship, and ship
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). It seated up to 30 oarsmen and had an average crew of 90. Its square sails were perpendicularly striped in many colors, and the entire ship was vividly painted and elaborately carved. On both sides of the ship hung a row of painted round shields. This is the most familiar Viking ship; the many other types varied according to purpose and period. Among the causes that drove the Vikings from their lands were overpopulation, internal dissension, quest for trade, and thirst for adventure. Many local kingdoms came into existence in Scandinavia, and from them stemmed the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. The Vikings' religion was paganism of the Germanic type; their mythological and heroic legends form the content of Old Norse literatureOld Norse literature,
the literature of the Northmen, or Norsemen, c.850–c.1350. It survives mainly in Icelandic writings, for little medieval vernacular literature remains from Norway, Sweden, or Denmark.

The Norwegians who settled Iceland late in the 9th cent.
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. The Viking Age ended with the introduction of Christianity into Scandinavia, with the emergence of the three great Scandinavian kingdoms, and with the rise of European states capable of defending themselves against further invasions. Many Vikings settled where they had raided. The Scandinavian raiders in Russia were known as VarangiansVarangians
, name given by Slavs and Byzantine Greeks to Scandinavians who began to raid the eastern shores of the Baltic and penetrate Eastern Europe by the 9th cent. Their leader, Rurik, established himself at Novgorod in 862, thus laying the traditional foundation for Kievan
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; their leader Rurik founded the first Russian state. Elsewhere the Vikings came to be known as Danes, Northmen, NorsemenNorsemen,
name given to the Scandinavian Vikings who raided and settled on the coasts of the European continent in the 9th and 10th cent. They are also referred to as Northmen or Normans.
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, or NormansNormans,
designation for the Northmen, or Norsemen, who conquered Normandy in the 10th cent. and adopted Christianity and the customs and language of France. Abandoning piracy and raiding, they adopted regular commerce and gave much impetus to European trade.
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See T. D. Kendrick, A History of the Vikings (1930, repr. 1968); J. B. Brondsted, The Vikings (new tr. 1965); G. Jones, A History of the Vikings (1968, repr. 1973); P. Foote and D. M. Wilson, The Viking Achievement (1970); O. Klindt-Jensen, The World of the Vikings (tr. 1971); P. H. Sawyer, The Age of the Vikings (2d ed. 1972) and Kings and Vikings (1982); W. W. Fitzhugh and E. I. Ward, ed., Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga (2000); R. Ferguson, The Vikings (2009); G. Williams, The Viking Ship (2014); G. Williams et al., ed., Vikings: Life and Legend (museum catalog, 2014); A. Winroth, The Age of the Vikings (2014).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



ancient Scandinavian participants in naval campaigns in the period of the late eighth century to the middle of the 11th century. (They were called Vikings in the Scandinavian countries; in Rus’ they were called Variagi, or Varangians; and in Western Europe they were called Normans.) This expansion assumed many different forms (the search for new lands and settlements, pillaging raids, piracy and large-scale military campaigns, and trading voyages closely related to piracy and pillaging), and the causes of the expansion were quite varied. The disintegration of the communal-clan structure of the Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians was accompanied by the strengthening of the nobility, for whom military plunder was a very important source of wealth. Many ordinary communal dwellers (bonders) deserted their homeland because of the relative overpopulation of the coastal regions of the Scandinavian Peninsula and the shortage of arable land. Progress in shipbuilding among the Scandinavians— who had long been skilled seafarers—made possible voyages not only on the Baltic Sea but also on the waters of the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

The first period of Viking expansion (late eighth to ninth century) was characterized by uncoordinated Danish expeditions against the Frankish kingdom and Norwegian attacks on the shores of England, Scotland, and Ireland and the settlement of the Orkney, Faeroe, Hebrides, and Shetland is-lands and later, Iceland. Varangian fighting bands and settlers appeared in Rus’. From the late ninth century stronger Viking detachments attacked France and England, and there was a transition from pillaging and the collection of tribute to the settlement of conquered territories. In northern France they founded the Duchy of Normandy (911) and conquered northeastern England. In the late tenth century Icelanders discovered Greenland and settled in various regions, from which they made long naval voyages, reaching North America (so-called Vinland, Markland, Helluland). The process of the formation of royal power in the Scandinavian countries began in this period. In the early 11th century, Danish kings subdued all of England. Viking campaigns ceased about the middle of the llth century. Descendants of the Vikings from Normandy conquered England in the second half of the llth century, as well as southern Italy and Sicily, founding their own kingdom there around 1130.


Gurevich, A. la. Pokhody vikingov. Moscow, 1966.
Sawyer, P. H. The Age of the Vikings. London, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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