Who were The Vikings?
The word Viking refers to the inhabitants who, in the years from 750–1100 AD, lived in the Scandinavian countries or in the areas where these people of the north settled down. The era was known for its brutality and the Vikings as raiders – but they were in fact no better or worse than other communities of that time.
“The Vikings reconnected humanity and made the world a smaller place by traveling huge distances … We look back to the Vikings as the origin of this kind of human endeavor to find new horizons, use new technology, meet new people, and think new thoughts.”
William Fitzhugh, director of the Arctic Studies Center at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Popular, modern conceptions of the Vikings as violent, piratical heathens who plundered and colonized are complicated by the fact that they were also, as stated in the quote above, known for their innovative and entrepreneurial exploration of the world. They were sailors, craftsmen, merchants and settlers.
They sailed the transatlantic route we are planning to sail, in an era only known through archaeology – and hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus and his expeditionary fleet. Expedition America 2016 will sail in the wake of the Vikings over the North Atlantic Ocean and explore the world in a modern Viking way.
Perspectives on history
The image of barbaric savages associated with the Vikings in popular culture is a distorted picture of reality. At the dawn of the Viking Age, Christianity had spread throughout Europe and most Vikings were still pagans. When monasteries were looted by Vikings it was mainly literate Christian monks who wrote about them. It seems as if the monks looked upon them as some kind of retribution from God. It may be fair to say, therefore, that the Vikings were described as being more brutal than perhaps they really were.
Viking women had a relatively free status compared to women elsewhere in Europe at this time. The lady of the house was responsible for all the wealth of the farm and the household. Viking women were also active as rune masters, poets, priestesses, oracles, merchants and warriors.
The myth of the horned helmet
One of the most widespread myths in history is the one about the Vikings wearing horned helmets. Their helmets had no horns. The popular image dates back to the 1800s, when Scandinavian artists like Sweden’s Gustav Malmström included the headgear in their portrayals of the raiders. When Wagner staged his Der Ring des Nibelungen, commonly referred to as the “Ring cycle” in the 1870s, costume designer Carl Emil Doepler created horned helmets for the Viking characters, and an enduring stereotype was born.