Who were the Vikings?

The word Viking may have come from 'vikingr' meaning pirate, or from 'Viken', the area around Oslo fjord in Norway. The same people were also called norsemen (men from the north) and even ashmen (from the wood they used to build their ships).

The word 'Viking' was used already during the Viking Age, sometimes with reference to things that people did: 'being out as a Viking' or 'acting like a Viking'. At other times it seems to have referred to a person, or rather a person’s surname. Many now define the Viking as a person from Scandinavia involved in plundering, trade or colonization. But at that time the word vikingr was used only for someone who went i viking - raiding and plundering. For some this was a way of life, but many Scandinavians never went. Others became vikingr only from time to time, to get money to establish themselves on their own land.

Ordinary people are referred to as norroenar or norroenir men, almost all of them being farmers or slaves. The Viking was commonly a man. Although there are a few examples, women, slaves (‘thralls’) and children were rarely Vikings. 

Think about:
A good way to start your studies of the time period the Viking Age and the people of that time is to think about your ideas and thoughts about Viking Age people.
Brainstorm your ideas.

- What did people living in the Viking age look like?
- How did they live their lives?
- Did you visualize a Viking as a male connected to violence? Why is that?
- Popular understandings of the Viking people do not include their skills at boat building, navigation and all the crafts they excelled in – just raiding and plundering. Why?

Watch the Video with Dr Stephen Gapps for an overview of people from the Viking age: