The first viking raids were not led by their kings. Some guess there was a lack of food. The first raids were not about settling and taking over a new land. They looted and they returned home. These raidings took place over the summer and the they would stay home over the winter.
Later, raids were led by kings and they did settle in areas they conquered.
You can see their long swords in this photo. They also had long axes. They had wooden shields. They did not have full body armor. And they did not have horns on their helmets.
One famous kind of Viking warrior was the berserker. He went without armor. He’d dress in animal skins. We have an expression, “To go berserk.” It means to scream and go crazy. That’s what they did. They screamed and ran into battle without armor. They believed the god of war would protect them.
Raiding groups were not big. Small groups easily snuck up on coasts, sailed up rivers, got onto land, and could easily attack places like unprotected monasteries.
Here is a quote from a French monk:
The endless flood of Vikings is on the increase. Everywhere, Christ’s people are the victims of massacre, burning, and theft. The Vikings destroy everything. Towns are emptied and evil triumphs! Monks, townspeople, and everyone else have been slaughtered or taken prisoner. Monasteries along the river Seine have been destroyed. The Vikings have left the remaining people in a state of terror.
When the Vikings invaded Britain, they brought 300 Viking ships and about 6000 men, which was a huge army.
You can see that their ships were ideal for narrow waterways and shallow waterways as well as longer voyages across the sea. Their longboats allowed them to use their sails in the open waters and use oars when needed. They could also travel forward and backward. They were highly maneuverable, which made them great for warfare.
Read these excerpts from a Viking Saga:
When Thorald was about twenty years old he made up his mind to go on a Viking expedition, so his father gave him a longship. Evind and Obir joined him with another longship and a good number of men, and they spent the summer plundering. There was plenty of loot so each man got a good share.
That’s how things were for a number of years – every summer they’d go on Viking expeditions and every winter they would stay at home with their families and parents. Thorold brought his parents a lot of valuable things.
Bjorn was a man of outstanding talents and a great seafarer. He divided his time between Viking raids and trading voyages.
In the spring they started getting a big longship ready. Once it was manned they went plundering that summer in the Baltic. They captured a great amount of loot and fought many good battles.
One day they put in near a large estuary that lay beneath a vast area of forest. They decided to go ashore and divide into groups, each of them twelve strong. They went into the forest and it wasn’t long before they came to the settlements where they started pillaging and killing. Some people made a run for it and got away, but no one fought back. Late in the day Thorold sounded the horn to call his men back down to the ship.
- Why do you think they go on raids?
- Do you think their location have to do with why and when they raided? Explain.
- Why do you think they were divided into groups?
- Why do you think no one fought back? (not always the case)
Pictures are from public domain sources.