On the trail of the Vikings in Europe
The Vikings were conquerors and explorers, traders and artisans, both famed and feared. They came from Norway, Sweden and Denmark and left traces of their presence in many places in Europe.
In Denmark, one of the three countries where the Vikings originated, their legacy is abundantly represented. The rune stones found in Jelling are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They mention Denmark for the first time, which is why they are considered the country's birth certificate. The Vikings had their own alphabet based on the Germanic runic script.
30 years ago, archaeologists in the southern Swedish town of Trelleborg discovered the traces of a massive Viking castle: 125 metres in diameter, crossed by four roads and surrounded by high palisade walls. The circular fortress was built for the Viking king Sweyn Forkbeard, son of Harald Bluetooth.
The Vikingaliv Viking museum, which opened in Stockholm in 2017, presents the latest research findings. Among other things, it dispels the myth that Vikings had worn helmets with side horns. In fact, their helmets were conical, made of hard leather with wood and metal reinforcements or of iron with mask and chain mail. Horns would have been a nuisance in battle.
The Vikings were expert seafarers. Their longboats were narrow, light, fast and flat. So they were able to moor directly at the beach, which was very practical during a raid. In the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, well preserved examples can be seen. The ships date from the 9th century and were found in three large chieftain's graves.
London, Great Britain
The Viking era in England began in 793 AD with the violent raid on Lindisfarne monastery. It ended in 1066 with the Battle at Stamford Bridge, just weeks before the Normans invaded England and defeated the weakened English army at the Battle of Hastings. The British Museum in London owns one of the most valuable Viking hoards ever found on English soil. This gilt silver vessel is part of it.
The Vikings sailed as far as Iceland and settled the island between 870 and 930 AD. The Norwegian Viking Ingólfur Arnarson built his homestead in the southwest of the island. He gave the area the name that Iceland's capital still bears, Reykjavik (Smoky Bay). Nowadays there is a bronze statue of Ingólfur in Reykjavik. Another stands where he first set out from at Dalsfjord in Norway.
Ireland also became part of the large trading network of the Vikings. They founded the first towns on the Emerald Isle, including Limerick, Cork, Waterford and the capital Dublin. The Viking Age in Ireland ended in 1014 with the Battle of Clontarf, now a suburb of Dublin. These days the tourist buses in the shape of Viking longboats remind us of those rough ancestors.
In April 2018, a 13-year-old keen hobby explorer discovered a silver treasure dating from the time of the Viking and Danish king Harald Bluetooth in the middle of a field. Harald converted the Vikings to Christianity. Previously they had worshiped Nordic gods such as Odin and Thor in the belief that those who died bravely in battle would rest in Valhalla, a splendid hall of fame in Odin's castle.
Germany is also home to the largest landmark from the Viking era, the Danevirke. The main gateway through the ramparts once formed the border between central Europe and Scandinavia. The system of fortifications consisting of walls and ramparts also served to protect the Viking settlement of Haithabu.
Viking Museum Haithabu, Germany
How did people live a thousand years ago? In seven replicas of Viking houses, visitors can get a glimpse into the Vikings' daily lives. The museum in Schleswig-Holstein shows nearly 4,000 original finds, among them jewelry, clothing, tools and weapons. From Haithabu, which at times boasted as many as 2000 inhabitants, the Vikings traded with what was then the entire known world.