Vikings History. Legendary Norse Mythology and The 9 Worlds

253
Vikings

Viking Civilization

Vikings

The Vikings were seafaring warriors In the 9th century. They came from Scandinavia—what is now Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The Vikings are also called Norsemen or Northmen. Their language is called Norse. They also colonized wide parts of Europe. 

The Vikings traveled over the sea in longships, which are long, narrow wooden boats that could be sailed in both deep and shallow water. The tribes in England were the first to refer to the invaders as Vikings. Vikings were farmers, traders, travelers, hunters, trappers, fishers, and artisans.

The Vikings left their homeland because they were looking for better places to farm than the kind of terrain that Scandinavia had. They sent armies to Britain about the year 700 AD to take over some of the land, and they lived there until around 1050. 

Who Were The Vikings?

The Viking age in European history was from about AD700 to 1100. The Vikings were raiders, pirates, traders, explorers, and colonizers during the 9th to 11th century. During this period many Vikings left their homelands in Scandinavia and traveled by longboat to other countries, like Britain and Ireland.

The Vikings were fierce warriors. They were most powerful during the year 700  to 1100 CE. The name ‘Viking’ means ‘a pirate raid’ in the Old Norse language. They attacked many countries and took away much treasure. They would kill anyone who fought them. They were the most skilled and daring sailors of their day.

The Vikings were good sailors. They used the position of the Sun and the stars to find their way at sea. They sailed the seas trading goods to buy silver, silks, spices, wine, jewelry, glass and pottery to bring back to their homes.

Vikings were trained from childhood to be powerful and reliable. They trained in running, jumping, and wrestling. They also managed skiing, snowshoeing, swimming, rowing, and riding horseback. Once boys were ready, they were taught how to  carry a weapon and how to swing a battle-axe.

Children’s life was somehow harsh. children in the Viking age were very easy to get infected by diseases, to which there was little to no treatment. If the kids had unmarried parents, they would live in poverty or die out of hunger unless the man accepted them at his home.

The average life expectancy in the Viking age was around 40-45 years. The boy was considered an adult when he became 16. The girl was considered an adult when she got married. There was a kind of equality in the viking society more than the other societies. 

Children followed the footsteps of their fathers. They had the same job as their fathers. Jobs weren’t only limited to worriers and traders. They were also helping with the animals, working in the fields, gathering wood, or fruit and berries from the forest. 

Some families would send their children to be raised in a different house with other families. They could learn different crafts from what their parents did. This could have been a good way to tie close ties to other families, or create a bigger network. Some children managed to read and write in the Viking Age. They were taught reading and writing by their parents, friends or relatives.

Vikings didn’t fear death so  they took great chances. They had many experiences and discoveries. When boys became 16, they wanted to try their luck, and participate in battles. When they won a battle, they could gain a fortune. They sometimes gained noble ranks. 

The Vikings were given many names. They were sometimes called NorthMen, Danes, and even heathens. Some parts of Europe called the Vikings  ‘Rus,” which means ‘rowers’ or ‘crew of oarsmen.” The tribes in England were the first to call the invaders as Vikings.  

Some historians believe that the Vikings left their home because of the huge increase in population. They needed to look for a new land to settle. Other historians believe that they wanted fortunes so they decided to invade other lands. It could be for both reasons they left their land and started their journeys.

What Do You Know About Viking Houses?

Viking houses were built of wood, stones or blocks of turf according to the materials available around. They were long-box-shapes with sloping thatched or turf roofs. The walls were covered with construction materials, woven sticks covered with mud to keep out the wind and rain. 

The floor of the viking house was dug below the ground level to keep out the drought. Most houses had only one big room that all family members and the servants shared. There was a fireplace in the middle where food was prepared, with seating and sleeping benches along both sides of the main room.

Wealthy people’s farmhouses would have a small entrance hall, a large main room, a kitchen, a bedroom, and a store room. Rooms were furnished with rugs, pillows and furs. There would be openings high up in the gable ends to allow smoke from the hearth to escape.

A nobleman’s or wealthy trader’s house may have had richly decorated or carved doors, doorposts and the inside walls may have been hung with decorative tapestries. There was some outside storage for a craftsman’s raw materials. They used simple oil lamps or candles for light. 

There would be metal or pottery cooking pots, a frame of metal or wood for hanging cooking vessels over the area in front of the fireplace. In the rich’s houses, perhaps a spit for roasting, baskets, buckets and pottery jars would be used for storing food stuff. 

Sometimes there would be a domed clay oven at one end of the house or perhaps outside. townhouses were likely to be closely-packed together with just a small yard surrounded by a fence made of materials to keep out the wind and rain. People living close together, cooking, fish-drying, salting, smoking, pickling and other food preserving.

The Mystery Behind the Viking Longship

One of the major characteristics of the culture of the Vikings is the longship. The Vikings developed a variety of vessels — from small fishing boats and big-bellied cargo vessels to the famous lightning-fast longships used for raiding.

The longship shaped the lives of the sea-faring Norse and changed the course of European history. Viking long-ships were lean, speedy, lightweight ships that could easily cut through the most violent waves that the ocean could throw at them. They ranged from about 45 to 75 feet (14 to 23 meters) in length.

The ships were so fast,so they were great for transportation of soldiers, or goods. That’s why the log ship was valuable and very important for the Vikings. One of the most remarkable features of a long-boat was the imposing bow.The Vikings would often decorate that part of the longship with an ornate snake or dragon head. 

Vikings were experts in sailing. They managed to use the sun and stars while travelling by the sea. If the skies were cloudy and they could not see the sun, they used to calculate the Sun’s summit. They knew when to expect high and low tides. 

The most developed longship craft was in the 7th century, when they invented the keel. The keel is a kind of steel structure along the base of the ship and supports the framework of the whole. This feature increased speed and stability of the ship. 

The Vikings needed around 20 great oaks to build a ship. They arranged the wood in an overlapping way like a fan. They usually started outside. Then, they put the frame inside it. The men rowed with a series of oars expanded with a large sail most probably made of wood. 

By the middle of the 9th century, The Vikings gathered from different villages to build ships. They wanted to improve their lives through the business of raiding. They worked very hard to get the mission of building the longships. 

Here is a diagram for the Viking Longship:

Here is a model for the Viking Longship:

Types of Viking Longships

The earliest discovered longship built from planks went back to 350 BC  in southern Denmark. It was called the Hjortspring boat. The Viking designed longship could cross an ocean or could row up a shallow river. There were many different types of longships built for different uses. Longships were classified based on how many oars they used.

Karvi

The Karvi class longship was the smallest longship. It consisted of 13 rowing benches. This type of ship had various uses. They were used for fishing, trade and as a means of  transportation. The Karvi ships would have had a varying range of oars, from 12 to 32 pairs of oars. 

The most famous karvi vessel discovered so far is the Gokstad ship. It was excavated in 1880 and dated sometime around the 9th century. It was around 23 metres (75 feet) long and 17½ (5.3 meters) wide. It had a keel and was made of oak. The mast stood about 40 feet (12 meters) tall.

Snekkja

Snekkja is one of the most common Viking longships. The name ‘Snekkja’ was translated as ‘snake’ in English. It is the second smallest ship used in warfare. It had at least 20 rowing benches. It could carry 44 men and 2 horses. They were used for battle or raid purposes. 

Snekkja was about 17 metres long. There were up to 20 pairs of oars. It is said that it could have carried a crew of around 40 Vikings. It managed to sail in deeper waters because it was light and had a gentle bow. It was also able to handle stormy weather and rough, open seas. 

Skeid

Skied is one of the larger Viking vessels. It had 30 or more rowing benches. It had a size of up to 30 metres, around 100 feet in length. It could carry a crew of 70-80 men on the ship. It was used primarily as a warship. It had both sales and oars. It was first discovered in the mid 1990s in Denmark. 

Drakkar

It was the largest warship of that time. It was also called the dragon ship derived from its meaning ‘dragon’. It contained many carvings, from dragons to snakes. Many kings had ships with that design.  For example King Olaf I of Norway had a ship with the same design named Visunden.

Busse

The Busse was the most prestigious Viking warship. The Busse was big. Its size was up to 50 metres. It was around 160 feet long. It had both sails and oars. It could have up to 35 pairs of oars. It was able to carry a large cargo. It could carry a crew of around 80 Vikings.

How Did the Vikings Navigate Their Longships?

Vikings did not use maps. They had a lot of different ways to know where they were and which direction to travel in. They  relied on birds, whales, celestial bodies, chants and rhymes to navigate the seas and discover new land. They looked at the position of the sun and the stars. 

But in fog and cloudy weather these celestial bodies are not visible, so they kept an eye on objects on land when they sailed along the coasts. They looked at the colour of the sea, the way the waves were moving and the way the wind was blowing. 

The Vikings also used wildlife as landmarks. Birds were helpful because some birds only flew a certain distance away from land. They used migrating whales as well to know where they were. They even used their senses to navigate. They can keep an ear out for the sound of the waves with the shore. They can smell the land.

First Viking attack in Britain 789

The first Viking attack occurred in Britain in Dorset, which is part of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex. In 789 three Viking ships arrived on Britain’s Wessex shore and killed the king’s reeve who came to take them to the king. 

The first recorded Viking raid came in 793. The first place the Vikings raided in Britain was the monastery at Lindisfarne. The Vikings attacked  the sacred heart of the Northumbrian kingdom. It was the centre of Christianity in the kingdom of Northumbria. 

The Vikings destroyed God’s church on Lindisfarne. Some of the monks were drowned in the sea, others killed or taken away as slaves along with many treasures of the church. continued to make regular raids around the coasts of England, stole the goods and shed the blood and captured people as slaves.

Soon They attacked villages and towns in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and England. Gradually, the Viking raiders began to stay, first in winter camps, then settling in land they had seized, mainly in the east and north of England. 

King Egbert of Wessex, the most powerful English King, fights the Vikings in Britain after they attack in the southwest. At first, he was defeated, but finally won against the Vikings in 838 at the Battle of Hingston Down, which took place in Cornwall.

To the west of Britain, the Isle of Man became a Viking kingdom. In 866 they captured modern York and made it the second biggest city in the country after London. They continued their rids south and west. The kings of Mercia and Wessex resisted as best they could, but with little success until the time of Alfred of Wessex, the only king of England to be called ‘the Great’.

King Alfred the Great

The Vikings tried to conquer Wessex under the rule of Alfred’s brother Aethelred who died in a battle against the Vikings. Then, Alfred was crowned king. King Alfred ruled from 871-899. He resisted the Vikings as much as he could. After many battles, he thought they had finally achieved some kind of peace.

In 878, the Danish King Guthrum led a surprise attack against Alfred and his army. King Alfred managed to escape to Athelney with a few men. King Alfred was a smart organizer so he managed to gather his troops and  forces. Finally, He defeats the Vikings at the Battle of Eddington. 

King Alfred also defeated King Guthrum and took back his fort at Chippenham. It was mentioned that Alfred required the Vikings to convert to Christianity. King Gurthrum converted to Christianity. King Alfred established a peace treaty where the Vikings would remain on the eastern side of Britain. The Vikings land was called the Danelaw.

After establishing peace with the Vikings. Alfred went about rebuilding his kingdom. He was a wise ruler who tried to protect the weak from bad judges. He also gave his people better laws. He also built forts throughout the country, established a strong navy, and braught talented European scholars and craftsmen across the channel to England. 

Alfred is the only English ruler to be called “the Great”. was called “King of the English” on his coins. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a record of England’s early history, was begun in his reign. Alfred died in 899 and was succeeded by his son Edward. Alfred’s grandson, Athelstan, became the first true King of England. 

After Alfred The Great’s death,English Kings fought and regained lands from the Danelaw territories. The English defeated the forces of the Vikings, Irish and Scottish kings in 926 and in 927. The English managed to take East Anglia.

Establishment of Normandy and the Viking rule

In 911 Charles III of France established a peace treaty with the Vikings, the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte. Charles III gave land in northern France to the Viking leader Rollo to stop Viking raids on France. The Viking leader Rollo agreed to stop his invasion of France and to protect the land. 

The Viking leader Rollo also converted to Christianity, took the name Robert, and promised loyalty to king Charles III. Rollo was given the title Count of Rouen. It became known as Northmannia, the land of the Northmen. The Vikings who settled there were called Normans.Their new home was called Normandy. 

After Rollo’s death, his successors continued expanding the land. They became so powerful to the extent that they became independent from the French crown. Richard the Fearless, one of Rollo’s successors, established a treaty of peace with Ethelred the Unready of England. 

In 1042,Edward the Confessor, a descendant of Rollo, became King of England. William Duke of Normandy visited England and spent time with Edward the Confessor who had stayed in Normandy as a child. William claimed that Edward promised him the throne of England on his death.

In 1066, Edward the Confessor died. The English crowned Harold Godwinson King of England. William Duke of Normandy invaded England to take the English crown beginning the Norman Conquest. He defeated Harold II at the Battle of Hastings. On 1066, 25th December, William Duke of Normandy was crowned King of England.

In 1069, William started a series of harsh attacks known as the Harrying of the North. They burnt Houses, crops, cattle and land. More than 100,000 people died out of starvation and cold. William managed to put down many resistances. 

William made large areas of woodland subject to Forest Law which meant that  any specified area, including trees, leaves, birds and animals, belonged to the King. This made life difficult for the common people who relied on the woodland for wood and food. 

William I died. He left England to his son William who was crowned King William II, while his elder son, Robert became Duke of Normandy. William II invaded Normandy at the head of a large army. Robert and William agreed to a treaty of mutual assistance. 

Robert Duke of Normandy rented Normandy to his brother William II of England for 10,000 marks because he wanted to raise money for a crusade to take back the Holy Land. 

Henry I of England defeated Robert Duke of Normandy in the Battle of Tinchebrai. Robert was imprisoned. Henry took the title Duke of Normandy but this was claimed by Robert’s son William Clito. Henry defended Normandy against the King of France.

After a successful summit meeting with King Louis VI of France, William Atheling, the son of Louis VI, was created Duke of Normandy. Henry I died in Normandy and his daughter Matilda claimed Normandy as hers. During 1204.  King John of England, a descendant of Henry I, lost control of Normandy to King Philip Augustus of France.

The Vikings in York City

The Vikings attacked York on 1 November 866, and seem to have taken it without difficulty. They probably chose York as their first target because at that time there was a civil war in Northumbria and they thought that this would make invasion easier. 

March 867 Alle, King of York, and Osbert, The previous king of York that was driven out by force,  joined forces to try to take York back from the Vikings but they were defeated. The vikings killed them both. In 868 the Viking army left York, heading for the Midlands.

The Vikings allowed an Anglo-Saxon, Egbert, to rule in their name. In 873, Egbert and the Archbishop of York Wulfhere were driven out by a rebellion so the Vikings came back to York. The Vikings managed to put down the rebellion and Wulfhere was restored to his cathedral.

The Vikings replaced Egbert, who died, by another puppet ruler Ricsige. In 877. The Viking leader Halfdan “shared out the land of the Northumbrians, and they proceeded to plough and to support themselves.” Since then, The viking kings ruled York and the Vikings settled there.

Viking invasion of London -994

London was founded by the Romans. They gave London its first bridge across the Thames. They also fortified the town with a ring wall. London was generally associated with the Romans, Saxons and Normans. London became  subject to increasingly frequent and savage raids by the Vikings by the ninth century.  

London became subject to increasingly regular and rough raids by the Vikings by the ninth century.  According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, there was a harsh massacre in London in 839. For the following few years, there was a series of raids on London by the Vikings. Then, in or around 867, the city was actually captured and occupied by the Norsemen under Halfder.

Anglo-Saxon wanted to take London back because of its strategic significance. It was essential to them. They wanted to regain control of the Thames and its crossing points. They finally did under the rule of Alfred  the Great in 886, the king of England. 

Alfred the Great defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Ethandun and forced a peace agreement. The Vikings were forced to withdraw to the east of the River Lea. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Alfred The Great rebuilt London and made it suitable for living.

By the 9th century London was yet again a powerful and wealthy town attracting the attention of the Danish Vikings. Coins were minted at eight different places in the town, trade flourished and cloth and jewelry were produced. It also became an important political center; where the king held his counsel and laws were issued. 

During the reign of Ethelred the Unready, King of England, London was the capital. At that time, the Vikings wanted to invade London and to take control over it again. The Viking leader, Svein Forkbeard, attacked London twice in 994 and 1013 still he failed. Ethelred was forced to pay taxes several times and had finally to flee the country. After Svein’s death in 1014,his son, Cnut the Great, took over leadership of the army and attacked London.

When Edward the Confessor became the English king in AD 1042 he made London one out of only three places of assembly for the Royal Council. After his death, Harold Godwinson was chosen at the Royal Council’s meeting in London. He was crowned in London which made it the most important town in England. 

Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings against Duke William (the Conqueror) of Normandy. William avoided control of London by Force. He wanted the town to agree on him as a king. The town soon agreed on him and had some special privileges. During his reign William founded the Tower of London on the western outskirts of London.

King Cnut’s reign 1016

King Canute The Great was the only man to be King of England, Denmark and Norway. He also ruled part of Sweden. He attacked England with a Danish army of perhaps 10,000 in 200 longships.  He drove  the English king Æthelred into exile. .He ruled over England between 1016 and 1035. 

After the battle of Assandun on 18 October, Cnut and Edmund, King of England,  agreed to make peace and divide the kingdom between them. When Edmund died on 30 November, Cnut was accepted as king of all England. He strengthened his control over England by exiling or killing his political opponents.

King Canute established very good relations with the church and promoted clergy. In 1027, He invaded Scotland with the loyalty of three Scottish kings. In 1028, he sailed off with fifty vessels to invade Norway. King of Norway, Olaf Haraldson was defeated against such a huge army. Canute became the King of Norway as well.

King Canute was a dominant king; he connected English and Danish Kingdoms and this benefited both. He exerted great efforts to maintain the English economy which in return brought prosperity to the country. He died in Shaftesbury on 12 November and is buried in the Old Minster, Winchester. 

The 1066 Viking and Norman Invasion

Edward The Confessor, the son of Aethelred the Unready, became  the king of England after the death of his stepbrother Harthacnut in 1042. Edward died on January 5, 1066 and since he had no heirs, three potential kings battled for the throne. The three men were Harold Godwinson, Harald Hardrada, and William of Normandy.

An Anglo-Saxon named Harold crowned himself king. William of Normandy invaded England because he believed he had the right to be King of England. William of Normandy led his army across the English Channel. He gathered about 5,000 knights on the coast of Normandy. His army landed in England on September 28.

Duke William fought at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066. Harold’s men were no match for William’s knights on horseback. King Harold was killed in the battle and his army left. On December 25 1066 William was crowned the new King of England. 

The Norman conquest had a great impact on English history. It created one of the most powerful monarchies in Europe. The conquest changed the English language. People used mainly Latin and Norman French for writing for about 200 years afterward

Viking Mythology

Norse Mythology refers to a collection of stories that Vikings used to explain their world. It was a version of the older Germanic mythology and was later replaced by Christianity for the most part.The mythology was passed on from one generation to the next in the form of poetry.

The Vikings believed  the world was like a kind of round plate or disc, at the middle of which stood an enormous tree called Yggdrasil, the tree of life. Next to the tree there was the miraculous Well of Urd. In Norse mythology, the universe was thought to have 9 “worlds”. 

Yggdrasil stretches from the underworld, through the world of the living and all the way up to the heavens. The tree’s branches reached out all over the world and its roots stretched to different parts. One went to Midgard where mankind lives. The second went to Utgard where the giants live. The third root lies Niflhel where Hel, the goddess of the underworld, lives.

There are various animals that lived off and on in Yggdrasil. One of the roots is gnawed at by the serpent or dragon Nidhogg. There was  the squirrel Ratatosk running along the trunk. The mighty eagle Hraesvelg sat right at the top. A goat by the name of Heidrun fed on its leaves. Four deer chewed on the new buds in the crown of the tree.

Asgard

Asgard was located  high up in the crown of Yggdrasil. The gods lived there in their own homes, for example, Thor lived in Thrudvang. The gods descended to Midgard via the Bifrost which was the rainbow bridge. The gods met in the Well of Urd for decisions. 

There was a large plain, Ithavoll, where the gods met to decide the fate of mankind, and to craft, forge and work wood. The gods built a large wall around the whole of Asgard to protect themselves from attack by the giants. 

Midgard

Midgard is also spelled Midgarth. It literally means “middle enclosure. It was the world of human beings, the realm in the “middle”. It was located between the world of heaven and hell.  It lay around Yggdrasil. To go from Midgard to Asgard one had to cross Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge.

According to the mythology, Midgard was made from the body of the first created being, Ymir.  Odin and his brothers used Yamir’s body to create the world of mankind. The sky was his skull, the mountains and rocks his bones.  

Odin and his brothers used his flesh to create the earth. Trees and grass were his hair.  His blood was all the water in the seas and lakes. They used his brain for  the clouds. So he must have been quite a large giant! 

Midgard was surrounded by an ocean which no one could pass through. The great sea serpent Jormungand, lived in the ocean. It was a massive snake descended from giants. In the mythology, Odin cast Jormungand down in the sea when it was little. The serpent grew bigger that could cause an earthquake.

Utgard

Utgard Was the place for the giants. It lay at the end of the world. It meant out-yard. The giants were the true enemies of the gods. Sometimes, gods were married to giantesses. Sometimes the gods and giants even feasted together. 

The home of the giants was also the place of Mimir’s Well, the well of wisdom, where Odin sacrificed his eye. The giants had a ship called Naglfar. It  was made from dead men’s nails and it was the largest ship in the world!

Niflhel

Niflhel was  the underworld of forever winter. It was considered a foggy world. The dragon Nidhogg lay in Niflhel gnawing at Yggdrasil’s root,  by the well Hvergelmir. The world of the dead guarded by Hel was located in Niflhel. 

There was a shore called Nastrand in the far north where a large and terrible hall stood, woven out of the bodies of snakes that spit out deadly venom. There were also creatures called “death wolves” moving through the rivers of poisonous venom.

Niflhel was surrounded by a wall and the entrance, Helgrind. It was guarded by a giant hound. Down in the realm of Hel there was also a black and red cockerel who crowed for the dead. The bridge over to the realm of the dead was called Gjallarbru. 

Alfheim

Alfheim meant Land of the Light  Elves. It existed in the heavens, not far from Asgard. It was controlled by the god Freyr. The light elves are magical beautiful creatures. They are considered the “guardian angels”. They were minor gods of nature and fertility. They would help humans by their magical powers.

Vanaheim

Vanaheim was the home of the Vanir gods, the other family of Norse gods. They were related to fertility, wisdom, and the ability to see the future. There was not much information about Vanaheim except being a fertile and pleasant realm of magic and light. 

There was a war between  the Æsir and Vanir War. IT was not known the reason for the war. It was concluded by a peace treaty. They exchanged hostages. The Vanir sea god Njord and his two children Freyr and Frejya went to live in Asgar as per the peace treaty. 

Nidavellir/Svartalfheim

Svartalfheim was the home of the dwarfs. It was located below Midgard, deep in the earth. It meant “Dark fields”.  It was a dark, smoky place lit only by the fires from the forge and the torches on the walls. Hreidmar was the king of Svartalfheim until he was killed.

The dwarfs were concerned with craftsmanship and magic. The gods of Asgard have received many powerful gifts. They created Thor’s hammer Mjolnir and Odin’s spear. They also created the god Frey’s magic ship which can be folded up and carried in his pocket.

Muspelheim

Muspelheim is a world of fire. It was a burning hot place, filled with lava, flames, sparks. It was ruled by Surtr, a jötunn giant. Sutrtr would play a major role during the events of Ragnarök, the end of the world. He would bring flames that would end Midgard.

Helheim

Helheim was a dark, gloomy world where all the dishonorable dead, thieves, murderers and those gods and goddesses felt not brave enough to go to Valhall. It was controlled by the giantess Hel. Helheim was surrounded by a wall with only one gate and could only be reached by travelling downhill on a long path, Helveg,  and crossing a dangerous river of weapons.

Vikings Religion

Like ancient Greece or Rome, the Vikings worshipped many different Gods and Goddesses. There was not much information about how the Vikings worshipped their gods. Perhaps the Vikings built wooden shrines or temples. Their religion was an important part of everyday life.

There was a place in Norse myth called Valhalla. Valhalla was in the palace of the greatest god of all, the mighty Odin. Dead heroes were honored with banquets and feasts in Valhalla. There were no religious leaders or set rituals. They were called the Norse gods, or gods of the north.

 The Norse gods were not immortal, but they lived very long lives and had magical powers. They made their home high in the sky, in a place called Asgard. Their palaces were made of gold and silver. The Norse gods belong to two major clans: Æsir and Vanir.

There was another place called Midgard or Middle Earth. Giants, elves, dwarfs, goblins, monsters, and humans were settled there. The Vikings believed that the inhabitants of Midgard were invisible to humans. There was a rainbow bridge, named Bifrost, connected Asgard to Middle Earth.

Here are the most famous gods and goddesses:

Odin

Odin was the King of the Æsir clan and known as ‘the father of all gods’. He was the remarkable ruler of Asgard. He was the god of poetry, wine, knowledge, and war, as well as ruler of the gods. Odin was sometimes called the Raven God because he had two ravens who sat on him, one on each shoulder, named Hugin (Thought) and Munin (Mind).

Odin, also called Wodan, Woden, or Wotan. He was often described as a one-eyed, bearded old man wearing a hat and a cloak, who rode a flying eight-legged horse called Sleipnir. Sleipnir had teeth inscribed with runes, and the ability to gallop through the air and over the sea.

He was famous for sacrificing one of his eyes in order to be able to see the universe more clearly. This explained how he was the god of knowledge. He also exists in Germanic mythology as Woden. It was mentioned that The modern English weekday name Wednesday went back  to “day of Woden”.

Odin had a lot of sons, for example, Thor. He was married to Frigg, the goddess of fertility; however his sons were from different mothers. Odin was is eventually killed by the wolf Fenrir in the Ragnarök, the doom of the gods in which the world is destroyed.

Although Odin has a horrifying look, he was never described as a warrior. They depend on him while preparing for wars to give them advice. He had a supernatural warrior, a woman, who brought him the killed warriors in battles to paradise Valhalla. 

Odin was mentioned in the Viking stories. Before the creation of the world, Búri, the forefather of the gods, appeared out of the ice, and his son Borr and the giant-daughter Bestla. Bestla produced Odin and his brothers (usually named Vili and Vé)

The brothers then killed Ymir, the earlier giant, and used his flesh to create the earth, his skull to form the sky, his bones for the mountains, and his blood to make the sea. 

Thor

Thor was the eldest son of Odin and husband of the fertility goddess Sif. He was one of the most important gods in Norse, or Viking, mythology. Thor, also spelled Thorr, Thunor, Thonar, Donar, Donner, Thur, Thunar, or Thunaer.  He was second only to Odin in importance and was probably the most popular god of the Norse gods. 

Thor was the god of strength, thunder, storms, and big muscles. He had a magical belt, a magic hammer, iron gloves, and a chariot pulled by two goats named Toothnasher and Toothgrinder. The hammer was the most powerful weapon in all the Nine Worlds, capable of crushing even mountains. He was the defender of Asgard, kingdom of the gods.

Thor was a great warrior described as a red-bearded, middle-aged man of gigantic strength, a stubborn enemy to the harmful race of giants but kind toward mankind. He was the chief protector of humans in Midgard against giants, trolls, and other evil beings.

Thor was also mentioned in the Viking myths with his magical items. One of these stories had to do with the Castle of the giant Utgarda-Loki and the three tricks played on Thor. Thor was accompanied by his two servants. 

They met a giant named Skrýmir in the forest. He offered to carry the food bag. The giant tied the bag so tightly that Thor cannot open it. Thor attacked Skrýmir three separate times with his hammer while the giant was sleeping but in vain. 

Another story was that  Thor hooked Jormungand and with his enormous strength was able to pull the monster up out of the ocean. He failed to kill the serpent. Thor was about to crack its skull with his hammer, but the serpent sank back into the depths. Both were destined to kill each other at the end of the world. 

Loki

Loki, in Norse mythology, a cunning trickster who had the ability to change his shape and sex. He is the son of the giant Fárbauti. He is also considered a god of fire. He is one of the most well-known gods of Norse mythology. He is at least half-giant; but some report him as being a full-grown giant.

Loki had the power to change himself into different things. He turned into a salmon, horse, seal, fly, and elderly woman. Loki helped the gods when they were building Asgard. Loki suggested that  the giant should finish the job for them in exchange for the Sun, the Moon, and the goddess Freya, the goddess of love, as payment if he completed the job on time. 

Loki was mentioned in the Viking myths. Loki was responsible for The Death of Baldur, one of the most beloved gods. Frigga secured Baldur by a spell not to be hurt from anything except a mistletoe but she didn’t tell anyone about it. Loki heard the news so he disguised into an old woman and went to Frigga to ask her.

Loki complemented Frigga on her spell, confirming that there was nothing that could hurt Baldur. Frigga told him that the only thing that could hurt is the mistletoe. Upon discovering the secret, Loki placed a branch into the hands of the blind god, Hod, and tricked him into throwing it at Balder, killing him.

Thor punished Loki for killing Balder. The gods tied him in a deep cave. They brought his two sons Vali and Nari. The gods turned Vali into a wolf, and he immediately tore his brother to pieces. Then, the gods took the internal organs of Nari to tie Loki to three stones in different parts of his body. 

The gods set a poisonous snake above Loki’s head so that its poison would drip onto his face. His wife tried to help him by putting a bowel to catch the venom drops. She had to empty the bowel so the poison fell onto him. He was twisting in pain.The gods left them there till the end of the world.

Sif

Sif is a goddess in Norse mythology. She was the goddess of the harvest, grain and fertility. She was Thor’s wife. She had long, blonde hair, which symbolized her link to the fertility of the land and the harvest of grain. She was known to be very proud of its beauty.

It was mentioned in the Viking mythology that Loki cut off Sif’s hair as a prank while she was sleeping. She was so sad. She cried tears so heavy with salt. Her tears fell on Middle Earth, and the crops could not grow. Thor was so angry that he forced Loki to replace Sif’s hair.

Loki had to visit the dwarfs in their home, Middle Earth. He asked them to make  her a wig from the finest gold. The dwarfs agreed and they crafted a wig even more beautiful than her original one.  It was made of the finest strands of gold.

Freya and Frey

Freya and Frey were sister and brother. Freya was the goddess of fertility, growth, love, and war. She is also spelled Frey, also called Yngvi, in Norse mythology. She had power over good fortune, happiness, and peace. She  had stunning beauty, and she loved to adorn herself with jewelry.

Freya cried golden tears when she was unhappy. Odin allowed Freya to treat only half of the fallen Viking warriors from their wounds. Her chariot was pulled by two wild cats. In the Norse mythology, she has a precious necklace which Loki stole for Odin. Freya had to create a war between two kings to get her necklace back from Odin and she did.

Frey was a god of fertility, vegetation, and sailing. He was responsible for the dwarfs and elves. He had a magical horse named Blodighofi. His chariot was pulled by a golden pig. It could travel over both air and sea, day and night. 

Frey had a ship that folded into his pocket, and a magic sword that could fight on its own. The ship is called Skidbladnir. He loved Gerðr, a beautiful giantess. She refused to marry him at first until she was threatened to have her father killed. She finally agreed to marry Frey.

                                                           

Idunn

Idunn, also spelled Idunn, or Iduna, was the goddess of youth, fertility, and death. She was the guard for the golden apples that all Norse gods had to eat regularly to stay young, healthy, and strong. The gods are not immortal,  but without Idunn’s golden apples, the gods would quickly age and become old. 

Idunn was mentioned in two stories in Norse mythology. It was mentioned that Idunn herself is the source of the power, not the apples. It is suggested that the fruit was just an example of her internal power to fight sickness and old age. 

Another story was that she was kidnapped by the giant Thiassi to take her golden apples. The gods suspected her disappearance until they found out that Loki knew about her kidnap.The gods asked Loki to get her back. Loki went to the place of Thiassi. He disguised into a falcon and changed Idunn into a nut. He took her back to Asgard. 

Hel

Hel was a goddess in Norse mythology. She was the goddess of the dead and ruler of the underworld. She was the daughter of Loki. She was described as being sad or depressed. She was half dead and half alive. One side of her face looked beautiful,while the other side looked ugly. 

Hel was thought to feed on the brains and marrow of humans.  Hel’s underworld is a world of rewards or punishment for each as earned in life. The English word hell comes from the name of this Norse goddess. She would leave the underworld and go around the Earth on a three-legged white horse, collecting those who died because of illness or hunger. .

Hel was mentioned in Norse mythology. It was mentioned that after the murder of  Balder, Hel felt sympathy towards the request of the gods, delivered by the god Hermod, that Balder be returned to heaven. She agreed to release Balder from the underworld, only if every creature in the world grieved for him.  

Every creature in the world wept for him except one giant, Thokk. It was suggested that Loki disguised in Thokk and refused to grieve for Balder in order not to return him to heaven. Accordingly, Hel refused to release Balder from the underworld to heaven, so he would remain there until the end of the world.

Tyr

Tyr is a god in Norse mythology. He was the god of war and of courage. He was also known as a bringer of justice and order. He was either the son of Odin or Hymir. It is believed that he was the oldest of the Northwest European gods. The English word Tuesday comes from the name Tyr.

Tyr was mentioned in the stories of Norse mythology. He was responsible for feeding the cub, a young fox, Fenrir. Fenrir grew so large so quickly that the gods realized that it could destroy them. The gods wanted to check Fenrir strength, so they tied it up with chains. However, each time it broke the chains. 

The gods decided to forge a stronger slender chain in the shape of a ribbon. Fenrir suspected the chain, so he told them in order to accept putting on the chain, one of the gods had to put his hand inside his mouth. None of the gods dared to do so except the courageous god Tyr. 

Tyr went silently and put his right hand inside the mouth of Fenrir. The gods approached Fenrir and bound it with the chain. Once, it felt that he couldn’t break the chain and it bit Tyr’s hand off. He sacrificed his hand for the good of the world. 

The Three Norns

The Three Norns were three beings of time, not considered as goddesses.  in Norse mythology. They were named “What has been”, “What is”, and “What must be”.  They were Goddesses of Fate. Some sources name them Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld, perhaps meaning “past,” “present,” and “future. The Vikings believed that each Viking was connected to their fate by an invisible thread.

It was believed that their jobs were one spun out the thread of each life, another measured its length, and the third decided when the thread should be snapped. One of the stories was that when a child was born they came upon birth to decide how long  the newborn would live. They measured the child’s lifespan, its fate, both good and bad, and wove it into a thread of life.

The Norns lived in a great hall in Asgard. They had an important task which was to keep the World Tree Yggdrasil green and healthy. Everyday they carry water from the well to the tree, clean around the tree in order not to rot. Yggdrasil’s roots and branches connected all the worlds and held the universe together. 

According to some stories in Norse mythology, Norns were from different origins; some were of divine origin, others originated with the elves and the dwarfs. Some of them were good who were believed to shape good lives. Others were bad who were believed to be responsible for misfortune.

What is The Viking Alphabet?

The Vikings used letters called runes. Runes have been around since the 1st century AD. The writing system in the Viking age was called the Younger Futhark. It is named after its first six letters:

f – u – þ – a – r – k

The letter þ-rune is pronounced ‘th’. Runes developed in areas populated by Germanic tribes, probably inspired by the Latin alphabet of the Romans. Elder Futhark had 24 letters while Younger Futhark, developed at the beginning of the Viking Age, had only 16 letters.

Apart from being a literal alphabet used during the Viking ages, runes were believed to have power, represent natural qualities and values and be related to  magic. The Vikings believed that the prominent god, Odin, received the alphabet when he hung himself upside down from the world tree, Yggdrasil.

However, it is widely accepted that the origin of the Runes was the Latin alphabet. It was believed that the Germanic people who occupied Northern Europe around AD 100-200 created the letter by looking at the Latin alphabet. 

Elder Futhark inscriptions etched by craftsmen and owners have been found on coins, garment brooches, weapons and tools dating primarily from the era of the Iron Age princes. Runes were used alongside our present-day alphabet up until the 14th century.

It is mentioned in the Norse mythology that the runes were in the well where the Norns lived. The Norns used the runes to carve the destiny and fate of everyone from birth to death. The Vikings did not write on paper, but carved them into stone, wood or iron.

The Vikings believed each rune had magical powers. Warriors would carve a curve version of the runic alphabet on their weapons to give them power and guard. They believed that the warriors who could write and read the Fruthark, would be protected in the battles. 

There were at least three main varieties of runic script. The first one was Teutonic, Early or Common, Germanic that was used before about 800 AD in northern Europe. The second one was Anglo-Saxon used from the 5th or 6th century to about the 12th century AD in Britain. 

The third variety of the runic script was Nordic, or Scandinavian, used from the 8th to about the 12th or 13th century AD in Scandinavia and Iceland. The Viking alphabet did not have a set direction of writing. It meant the sounds could be read from left to right, right to left or even from top to bottom!

The Early Germanic script had 24 letters. They were divided into three groups, called ættir. Each group was made of 8 letters. The sounds of the first six letters were f, u, th, a, r, and k, in turn, which made the word futhark.

The -Saxon script added letters to the futhark to represent sounds of Old English. Anglo-Saxon had 28 letters, and after about 900 AD it had 33. The letters as well looked somehow different from the Early Germanic script. 

 The Scandinavian languages were even richer in sounds than Old English. Instead of adding new letters, they used one letter for more than one sound. For example, They used one letter for k and g. This caused the futhark to be reduced to 16 letters. 

Since runes have been around for a long time and used in different ways by different cultures and communities, some of their meanings and names may vary. Here is a list of some runes names and believed meanings:

  • A – Ansuz (ᚨ)
    ”God” – Odin, wisdom, truth, communication, inspiration, deity
  • B – Berkanan (ᛒ)
    ”Birch” – birth, fertility, growth, new beginnings
  • C – Kaunan/Cen (ᚲ)
    ”Torch” – revelation, creativity, fire, transformation, regeneration, illumination
  • D – Dagaz (ᛞ)
    ”Day” – dawn, awakening, awareness, breakthrough, new enterprises
  • E – Ehwaz (ᛖ)
    ”Horse” – fluidity, partnership, swiftness, trust, teamwork, harmonious relationships
  • F – Fehu (ᚠ)
    ”Cattle/Wealth” – money, abundance, luck
  • G – Gebo (ᚷ)
    ”Gift” – love, partnerships, generosity, exchanges, marriage
  • H – Hagalaz (ᚺ)
    ”Hail/Precipitation” – radical change, loss, transformation, uncontrollable force of nature
  • I – Isa/Isaz (ᛁ)
    ”Ice” – challenge, stillness, self-control, concentration
  • J – Jera (ᛃ)
    ”Year/Harvest” – peace, rewards, prosperity, fruitfulness
  • K/O – Kaun (ᚴ)
    Wound, transformation, regeneration, illumination, fire
  • L – Laguz (ᛚ)
    ”Water” – flow, sea, renewal, dreams, fantasies, intuition, sensitivity
  • M – Mannaz (ᛗ)
    ”Man” – friends, self, mankind, social order, intellect, mind, memory, learning
  • N – Naudiz (ᚾ)
    ”Need’ – necessity, hardship, endurance, survival, self-reliance
  • O – Othila/Opila/Opala (ᛟ)
    ”Heritage/Possession” – ancestral, home, plenty, inheritance, legacy
  • P – Peorth/Perþ- (ᛈ)
    Hearth, magic, mystery, secrets, divination, uncertain, hidden
  • R – Raido (ᚱ)
    ”Ride/Journey” – wheel, movement, travel, destiny
  • S – Sowilo (ᛋ)
    ”Sun” – health, energy, mastery, success, wholeness
  • T – Tiwaz (ᛏ)
    ”Tiwaz” (the god) – Victory, honour, justice, balance, leadership, authority
  • U/V – Uruz (ᚢ)
    ”Aurochs” (an extinct cattle) – power, strength, courage, creative force, endurance
  • W – Wunjo (ᚹ)
    ”Joy” – fellowship, hope, harmony, friendship, kinship, comfort
  • X/Z – Algiz (ᛉ)
    ”Elk/Protection/Defence” – self-defence, divine protection, courage, valkyrie energy
  • Y/æ – Eihwaz (ᛇ)
    ”Yew tree/Yggdrasil” – stability, reliability, strength, tree of life, eternity, resilience, longevity
  • TH/þ – Thuriaz/Purisaz (ᚦ)
    ”Giant/Thord” – strength, defence, protection, conflict, change, catharsis
  • ŋ -Ingwaz (ᛜ / ᛝ)
    ”Ing” (the god) – unity, harmony, agreement

Viking Warriors And Weapons

Vikings were fierce and strong warriors. They were famous for their longships and their weapons too.  Everyone in Viking society, men, women and children, knew how to carry weapons. They learnt how to fight. 

Warriors carried weapons with them whenever they went; they hung their weapons by their bed at night, within easy reach. They also had their weapons buried with them.

In war, all Viking warriors fought fiercely. They were all violent and harsh. There was a special class of warriors that was especially violent. They were called berserkers. Berserkers belonged to the group of vikings  that worshipped Odin.

Berserkers killed men, women, horses, and children. Some berserkers wore skins of bears or wolves, to make themselves look more horrifying. Vikings believed that only by dying in battle could a Viking warrior enter Valhalla. They were not afraid of dying.

In times of war, the men left their farms, and joined together to defeat a common enemy, while the women and children stayed at home and defended the farms. In battle Vikings fought on foot. They wore iron helmets, chain mail armour, and carried swords, axes, spears and wooden shields. They were also skillful with bows and arrows. 

The weapons the vikings had depended on their financial situations. Swords were the most expensive weapons. Axes and lances were popular among most of the warriors. The quality of the weapons were also variable. Some weapons survived to the present time while others were rare. 

 

 

Viking Swords

Swords were The most expensive weapon. They were made of iron. Wealthy people only could afford having swords.  Swords were double-edged and about 35 inches long. They were easy to use, easy to carry in all situations and effective in combat.

The hilts of the swords had different shapes. They were made of bone or precious metals such as gold and silver. Swords were expensive so they were well decorated. The pommel could display patterns of precious metals. The blade itself often had “blood grooves” running along its middle.

Many Viking Swords had names such as Blood-hungry or Leg-biter. vikings carried their swords in scabbards. They wore them over the shoulder and were always easy to reach by the right hand. 

Viking swords were mentioned in Norse mythology, the story of Offa of Angel. The king’s son ,Offa, was in a fight with two Saxons and his swords broke. His father, the King, got his sword, named “Skræp”,  back from underground and gave it to his son. Offa killed the Saxons with his father’s sword. This showed the important role swords play in battles and fights. 

The best Viking swords had the name “ULFBERTH” curved on the blade. They were made of high quality steel. The name ULFBERTH could refer to the master or the workshop where they were made. The Vikings imported these swords from the Rhine area.

Viking Axe

Viking axes were used by many Viking men. Axes  were a multi purpose tool. They were used as tools for building ships, houses and carts, as well as other objects. They were also effective in battles. There were many different sizes and types of axes.

Battle axes had a variety of head shapes with a cutting edge from 3 to 6 inches. Later axe heads were much larger, from 9 to 18 inches long. Vikings gave names to their axes. The VIkings buried the axes as well next to their owners. 

Axes that were used as weapons were large in size but very thin, which means that they are relatively light to wield. They were known as “the Danish axe”, or “Dane axe”. They were used by Danish Vikings. The long handle allowed the warrior a longer reach in a fight. 

All the axes are made of iron. Axes were also decorated differently. Some axes  were decorated with inlaid silver. Other axes were decorated with silver and copper inlay in patterns that possibly form an animal figure.

The Axes from Mammen, a decoration style, were made of iron and decorated with silver inlay. On one side of the axe a tree was depicted which refer to the “Tree of Life”. The other side of the axe from Mammen displays a bird pattern. The bird referred to either the rooster Gullinkambi (Old Norse “golden comb”) or the Phoenix, the symbol of rebirth.

Viking Shields

Shields were the first piece of protection a viking warrior acquired. They consisted of thin planking, which formed a circular shape. There was a dome of iron to protect the shield bearer’s hand. This was called the shield boss and was often the only part remaining after 1000 years in the ground. 

There was an almost complete shield discovered at Trelleborg, near Slagelse, in 2008. It had a diameter of around 80 cm. It would probably be used at the end of the 900s. The shield was found in wet conditions and had a hole in the middle. 

64 round shields painted with yellow and blue paint were discovered at Gokstad. They were relatively thin and would split easily when struck with arrows, axes and swords. It was believed that they were originally covered with animal skin to make it stronger.

Viking Helmets and Chainmails

Viking helmets were typically fairly simple. They were a bowl with a prominent nose guard. Vikings didn’t didn’t wear helmets with horns as falsely depicted in the present time. The only helmet discovered from the Viking age was without horns in Denmark. Helmets were made from several pieces of iron joined together. 

A rich man might also own chainmail and an iron helmet. Chainmail was difficult to make and for sure quite expensive. Chainmails were T-shaped, with short sleeves and thigh length. They weighed about 12kg. Those who couldn’t afford chainmails, They would use smaller pieces of mail to protect certain parts of their bodies. 

Viking Clothes

Viking clothes were made from wool, linen and animal skins. Viking clothes were made from wool, linen and animal skins. Viking men wore a linen shirt and a woollen tunic, called a “kyrtill”. Viking trousers were made of wool without pockets and were held together by a belt.

Viking women wore a long under-dress made of linen or wool, with a dress or long tunic made of wool on top. Woollen cloaks and shawls were worn over the dress. They also wore linen head scarves or hats and belts made of fabric. Some of the colours women produced were beige, brown, red, yellow, gold and blue.

Viking clothing was handmade.The most common materials were Wool and linen. Vikings shoes were made of leather, with goat skin. Wealthy and powerful Vikings used imported silk. The shoes were flat and tied with strips of leather. 

Viking Art

Vikings art is called Norse Art. It had lovely patterns and seven different styles. Vikings were a very artistic people.

  • Oseberg (790AD to 850AD)
  • Borre (850AD to 950AD)
  • Jellinge (900AD to 980AD)
  • Mammen (970AD to 1020AD)
  • Ringerike (1000AD to 1070AD)
  • Urnes (1050AD to 1150AD)

Vikings used art to decorate their everyday objects and tools. They decorated almost everything helmets, shields, axes and their ships too. They used the dragon for carvings as it was a symbol for strength and courage. 

Conclusion

Vikings were fierce warriors who lived in the 9th century. They came from Scandinavia. They traveled over the sea in longships, which are long, narrow wooden boats that could be sailed in both deep and shallow water. The name ‘Viking’ means ‘a pirate raid’ in the Old Norse language. 

Vikings invaded many countries like Britain and settled there.They even explored new lands. They had their own language and alphabet. They worshipped many gods and goddesses. According to Norse mythology, There were nine different worlds and the Tree of Life. Each world has a ruler. Vikings were dreaded by all other countries.

LEAVE A REPLY