Table of Contents
- The Vikings raided, explored, traded with other people, and colonized during the 9th to 11th centuries.
- Vikings often traveled by boat and took control of places around the world.
- Vikings raided Europe. They changed the language of the countries they conquered.
A thousand years ago, Vikings that sailed in the ocean lived in northwest Europe. They made their homes in the land now called Scandinavia.
Vikings were skilled builders. They made longships moved by rowers that seemed to fly through the water.
The Vikings were also fierce warriors. They would sometimes steal things from towns and take them by force.
The Viking Jarl
The Norse were known for their looting expeditions. The king or chief of a Viking clan was called the jarl. His men sailed to attack settlements, villages, and churches near coastlines and rivers.
The Vikings raided these places with their swift ships. They took everything they could, burned buildings, took captives, and pillaged the villages.
The Vikings demanded that the families of the captives pay a ransom. If they refused, the Vikings turned the captives into slaves.
The Vikings killed anyone who tried to stop them. Everyone feared the Viking raiders.
Viking ships were made to sail into the open ocean. There might be icebergs in the sea. The waves could be very high.
On Viking ships, there were no cabins to protect people from bad weather. The sailors were often cold and wet. But when the Viking ship was at anchor, a tent-like shelter could be used to protect from the rain.
Vikings also used their ship to move to new places. The Vikings’ homeland was crowded, and not enough of the land was suitable for farming. Many Viking families had to move to find new places to live.
The berserkers of the Vikings were an example to other warriors. The term derives from the Viking words for “bear shirt.”
They fought in bearskins for defensive purposes, with no armor, because they felt they could not be hurt. As a result, Viking berserkers went into battle without any protection except for bearskin shirts.
The berserkers were famous for howling as they charged their enemies. The berserkers looked like animals and were the bravest people in the Vikings.
When Viking warriors went on raids, they brought home things like silver coins, silver goblets, jewellery, glass, silk, and barrels of wine.
Some of the cargo was obtained by trading in faraway lands, but most was stolen when warriors attacked other people’s ships or towns.
Runes are the letters of the Viking alphabet. They used them to record information about important events and people.
In Norse culture, rune stones were rarely used to record stories. Runes had magical and divinatory powers for the Vikings.
Each rune has a sound. They are related to letters in the English alphabet we use today.
The first six letters of the runes spell out the word Futhark, which means alphabet.
Some runes were used for two different sounds. For example, one rune had the same sound as letters “t” and “d.”
Another rune was used for a sound in English that we don’t have. It is the sound “zir” or “z/R”.
Children in Viking times did not go to school. They helped their family by farming and doing chores.
Viking children grew up and learned more skills. Boys were taught how to fight with weapons.
A Viking storyteller told stories and recited poems. He also brought news from faraway places.
Eric the Red
Eric the Red was a Viking who lived in Iceland. Life there was challenging because of the lack of good farmland, so many families had to hunt and fish to live.
Eric learned to hunt seals and walruses on the frozen sea when he was a boy. He was courageous, but he had a bad temper.
When young, Eric had killed two men. He broke the law and was banished from Iceland.
Eric heard about a new land to the west of Iceland. He needed a place to live, so he had to go there for three years.
When he discovered the new region, it was covered in ice. Because the sea was frozen, he could not explore the area during the winter.
He didn’t find the perfect place to live until summer, when he might travel on a ship and explore the area.
He decided to stick around. He discovered some excellent land.
After three years, Eric went back to Iceland. He told the Vikings that he had found new land. They called the place Greenland.
Eric returned to Greenland after three years with twenty-five ships full of people wanting to live in Greenland.
Some ships left Iceland on a gentle wind, but they had terrible storms. Some of the ships went back because of this.
In the end, 400 people reached Greenland in 14 ships. They settled with Eric as their leader.
The Vikings soon found out that there was not much good farmland in Greenland. And they didn’t have any forests for timber.
The settlers hunted and fished because there was fish, seals, walruses, and whales off the coast. They traded things like sealskins for what they could not grow or make.
Bjarni Herjolfson was a famous Viking. One day, he saw a new land when his ship carried him past Greenland on a stormy day.
After the storm passed, Bjarni saw Canada. He wanted to go home, so he sailed back to Greenland.
Bjarni told what he had seen to Eric and his son Leif Eriksson. They wanted to know this new land.
Leif Eriksson bought Bjarni’s ship. Leif asked his friends to be the crew for this adventure.
Leif was like his father. His father loved adventure and was strong and brave. But Leif did not have the same temper as his dad, who had a hot temper.
The explorers sailed to the place that Bjarni had seen. They later called this place Vineland. They chose the name because wild grapes were growing there.
Vineland was a place with good pastures and forests. Leif and his crew stayed there during the winter. When spring came, they sailed back to Greenland.
Leif and his crew rescued some Vikings. They had been shipwrecked, so Leif got them on their boat. Since then, the people have called him “Leif the Lucky.”
We now know that what the Vikings called Vineland is Newfoundland in Canada.
Viking Gods and Myths
The Vikings told stories about their world. They wanted to explain things that they could not understand.
The Vikings thought that the gods were battling against the evil giants.
Odin was a god who killed an evil frost giant with help from his brothers. Odin and his brothers made the world. They took the frost giant’s body and made it into oceans, mountains, and trees. And they put a sky on top of his head.
In the Viking culture, they believed that a tree called Yggdrasill held up the universe. The top of the tree went into the sky. Yggdrasill’s three roots reached down to the underworld, the land of giants, and Asgard, where gods lived.
A terrible monster constantly chewed at the tree’s foundations. The serpent tried to rid the world of existence by making the tree fall and bringing everything down.
The gods live in Asgard. The twelve important gods each have their realm.
Odin was the king of the gods. Odin lived in a beautiful palace called Valhalla. He wanted to know everything that happened, even far away things. He sent his two ravens, Thought and Memory, to explore the globe each morning.
Odin prized wisdom so highly that he took one of his eyes to drink from the Well of Wisdom.
When Vikings died in battle, the Valkyries, the beautiful maidens who served Odin, picked them up. Then they carried him on their horse to Valhalla.
The Vikings believed that to live in Valhalla was the best thing that could happen to a warrior. That is because these warriors would live forever and fight and tell stories.
The most powerful of the gods was Thor’s son, Odin. He had a bad temper but he always cared for people. Thor was the god of thunder.
Thor rode a wagon pulled by goats. He hit his great hammer to make thunder and rain for the crops, fighting against evil giants. He protected the Norse people from those giants too.
Thor’s wife was called Sif. She watched over grain, so it turned to the same color as her golden hair.
Loki, the trickster god, cut Sif’s hair once. Thor was furious. He went everywhere looking for Loki. He knew the trickster had done it, so he searched everywhere for him.
Thor found Loki. He would break every bone in his body, but Loki promised to make up for what he did.
Loki went to the land of dwarves. He had them make new hair for Sif. Loki wanted this hair to be made out of gold to stay golden forever. He also asked them to make a magic hammer for Thor.
Thor could strike the hammer as hard as he wanted, but it would never be damaged. He could throw the hammer, and it would always hit his target. Also, when he threw the hammer, it would always return to him.
Loki, the Trickster
When Loki was first alive, the gods thought he was funny. But then his tricks became mean. Eventually, Loki had done so much wrong that the gods tied him up and put him in a dark cave.
Loki was stuck there until the end of the world that would happen as a fight between the gods and giants.
The Days of the Week
Four days of the week are named after Norse gods that Vikings worshipped.
Tuesday is named for a Viking god. Tyr was the one-handed god who lost his hand to a wolf named Fenrir.
Wednesday is named for Woden, who is also known as Odin. He could predict the future and change his shape to travel unnoticed.
Thursday is the day of Thor. Thor is the Norse god of thunder and lightning.
People call Friday “Frigg’s Day” because it is named after Frigg, the wife of Odin and mother of Balder, the god of goodness.
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