Raiding and Warfare

Authored by: Gareth Williams

The Viking World

Print publication date:  October  2008
Online publication date:  October  2008

Print ISBN: 9780415333153
eBook ISBN: 9780203412770
Adobe ISBN: 9781134318261


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Raiding and warfare are central to our understanding of the Viking Age. For many years the only popular image of the Vikings was the Viking warrior, brutal and terrifying, raping and pillaging, burning monasteries, committing a variety of atrocities and demanding Danegeld. This image has been increasingly downplayed since the 1960s and 1970s, as scholars have rightly pointed out that there were many other important aspects to Scandinavian society in the Viking Age, and that only a small proportion of the population were warriors, while also noting that, since the surviving historical accounts were written by the Vikings’ Christian victims, they may give an exaggerated picture of both the impact and the barbarity of raids by the pagan Vikings. Nevertheless, although the term Viking has come to be used for the whole society of the period, it is raiding and warfare that define ‘Viking’ activity – a Viking (OE wicing, ON víkingr) was a raider or pirate, and although trading, crafts, seafaring and settlement and many other aspects of Viking society may be equally important, it is the raiding which gives us the concept of a Viking Age. It is increasingly clear from archaeological evidence that there was contact between Scandinavia and the rest of northern Europe before the late eighth century, and historical sources show the Scandinavian kingdoms increasingly becoming part of the European mainstream from the eleventh century, if not earlier. It is only the visible military expansion from the late eighth century to the eleventh that makes the Viking Age a meaningful concept.

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