The Vikings are a captivating historical people, with a mystique that seems to be woven into the culture of their northern homeland. Legends and history books often tell of a fierce people who terrorized the seas and the lands they raided. But the truth is that the Viking legacy is much deeper than that – they were a complex, vibrant culture which left its mark on Europe, and the world beyond, in countless ways. From their innovative achievements in shipbuilding, navigation, and settlement, to their art, literature, and laws, the legacy of the Vikings is undeniable.
The Culture of the Vikings
The culture of the Vikings was a unique mix of Scandinavian and Germanic influences, and their society was best understood as an extension of the geography of their homeland. Living in a cold and unpredictable environment and relying on sea travel to raid, trade and explore, the Vikings had developed a culture and social structure which allowed them to survive, thrive, and evolve.
One of the key aspects of Viking culture was their belief in the Norse Gods, who were venerated in religious practices and artwork across the Viking lands. Norse mythology and shamanic beliefs were passed down orally, through written works such as the Elder Edda and the Younger Edda, and through their incredible visual artwork. These works were often ornately carved rune stones and sculptures depicting Odin, Thor, and other gods from the Norse pantheon.
The Vikings also had a strong oral tradition of telling stories, which were often passed down through families. Many of their tales can still be found in modern storytelling, such as the legend of Beowulf, and famous figures such as Helgi, Harald Hardrada, and Erik the Red.
The Vikings are well known for their navigational and seafaring prowess. Their ships were well constructed, fast, and highly maneuverable, and could travel in both shallow and deep waters. They relied on the stars and the sun to navigate and explored waters as far as the Mediterranean, West Africa, and the North Atlantic.
The Vikings also developed effective methods of warfare, creating a fearsome reputation for themselves by raiding settlements and plundering resources. Their armies were well equipped with swords, axes and spears and were also highly organized, making them a dangerous force to be reckoned with on land and sea.
In addition, the Vikings were highly skilled craftspeople and artisans. As well as producing weapons, armor, and tools, they were also adept at carving intricate sculptures from stone and wood. Some of their most iconic artwork is the Oseberg ship, which was a masterpiece of ancient shipbuilding, and their expertly wrought ironwork, including ornate brooches and ingots.
Overseas Exploration and Settlement
The Vikings were also known for their incredible exploratory achievements. They settled in Iceland and Greenland and even crossed the Arctic Circle to explore North America, establishing trading colonies in what is now Canada and Massachusetts.
In Ireland and Britain they founded many settlements, some of which are still in existence today. Notable Viking settlements include Dublin, York and Oxford. These settlements often adopted Viking laws and customs, pioneering the establishment of trading towns and new modes of commerce.
The legacy of the Viking legacy can also be seen in their settlements and land usage, with many islands, bays, and rivers being named after them. The Isle of Man, in Britain, is one of the most distinctly Viking settlements, with the Manx language being a modern version of the languages spoken by Viking settlers.
The legacy of the Vikings is one that should not be forgotten. Their culture, achievements and exploration have had a profound and lasting influence on Europe and the Western world, and their legacy and influence can still be felt today. From their incredible craftsmanship to their seafaring knowhow, the legacy of the Vikings has left its mark on history, inspiring future generations through their stories, art and inventions.