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Vikings refers to the activities of the Scandinavian raiding sea-faring bands who conquered large parts of Northern Europe, parts of Britain, France and parts of Russia to the East between the eight and eleventh century. Scandinavia refers to the countries inhabited by the descendants of Germanic Norsemen, that is, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Sometimes, Iceland and Finland are included in an enlarged categorisation of Scandinavian countries. The Vikings achieved much success as a band of traders who raided, conquered and succeeded in occupying parts of the British Isles, France and Northern Europe. Much of their successes have been attributed to the possession of advanced sea-faring skills, being skilled warriors and the use of a type of sea-faring vessel called the Longboat.

Several conflicting theories exist concerning the origin of the word Viking but the one that seems to be generally accepted by historians and academics is the one that says that it was derived from the same root word ON vika which was used to refer to ‘sea mile’.

The Viking Age

The age of the Vikings spanned the period from 790 AD to 1066 AD. This period defines the first raids to the conquest of England by the Normans. During this period, the Vikings raided coastal settlements passing through the Norwegian and the Baltic Seas to Southern regions. Broadly speaking, the Danes spread to England and France, the Norwegians to Iceland, Greenland, Ireland and Scotland while the Swedes moved to Russia.

Popular Myths about Vikings

In the medieval times, Vikings were regarded as barbaric raiders who went about plundering their more civilized neighbours and as such were not viewed in positive terms. In those days, the word Viking was almost synonymous with sea pirates of Scandinavian origin. However, with the passage of time and particularly as of the eighteenth century, the term acquired a more positive connotation and even became romanticized. Notwithstanding, with this gradual shift in perception came some popular misconceptions. Here are some of the misconceptions:

Vikings are popularly portrayed as wearing horned helmets. This however is untrue. Archaeological evident reveals that contrary to their popular portrayal as dirty and unkempt people, Vikings actually took time to ensure that they maintained personal hygiene. Unlike what is generally believed, Vikings do not spend all their time in sea-faring and raiding. They regularly returned home during the off-season to be with their families. The Vikings were not actually a unified army as most people believed but were divided by difficult geographical terrain and the influence of Christianity in their pagan domains. The Vikings were much smaller in stature and less muscular than popularly portrayed.

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