V is for Viking

V is for Viking. What else?

That was when Scandinavia first made its mark on history, as wave after wave of seaborn warriors plundered Europe from Ireland to the shores of the Mediterranean.

The name comes from “vik” the word for bay, presumably that’s where they launched their terrible long ships from.

The first recorded Viking raid was on the monastery on the British island of Lindisfarne in 793. In the following decades, Vikings raided, and then began to settle, parts of both England and Ireland. Their attacks in northern France were so devastating that the King of France invited a Viking leader known as Hrolf, who’s gone down in French history as Rollo, to settle the area as a defence force against their kin.

These Northmen became known as Normans, and not only did they found the Duchy of Normandy, the Normans went on in later centuries to carve out kingdoms in southern Italy and Sicily, as well as playing a major role in the Crusades.

But the Vikings were more than pirates. They discovered and settled Iceland and Greenland, and briefly part of North America, before contact with the natives drove them off.

Swedish Vikings travelled east as traders, following the rivers of Russia to the south, to the great bazaars of Baghdad and the splendours of ancient Byzantium, where they served as the bodyguard of the Eastern Roman Emperors. They also founded the first Russian state, at Kiev, and the word Russia is believed to come from Roslagen, the area north of Stockholm where those Vikings came from.

And no, they didn’t have horns on their helmets. That little touch was invented by Wagner for his operas.

The Viking Age is officially said to have ended in 1066, after Scandinavia became Christian, with the defeat of the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England, setting back the English King Harold enough so that a few weeks later he in turn fell to the Normans of William the Conqueror at Hastings. But that’s another story.

Above all, the Vikings were great sailors, with their long ships majestically crossing seas like no one before them.