The civilised side of the vikings

At the end of the 700s AD the Scandinavian people entered in a period of great expansion. The family groups of farmers and traders who comprised a large part of the people of the area began to feel the effects of over-population. With the expansion many other factors came into play: colonisation, trade and the individual search for new kingdoms to conquer.

The great period of the Vikings lasted from the 700s to 1050. The Scandinavians held dominance over large areas of northern Europe. Their exploration, trade and settlement reached from the Black Sea to Newfoundland. In this period the Vikings were very influential in Western Europe. The Scandinavians occupied large areas of Britain where they settled as farmers and merchants. They influenced the development of the English language, left many place names and even some surviving marks on the British social and political institutions today. They established a self-supporting community in Iceland which in later years gave posterity the long narrative poems called sagas.

In Europe the Vikings occupied large areas of Northern France and through the Norman invasion had a second impact on Britain. They traded to the Mediterranean from the west and down the great rivers of Russia to the Black Sea in the east.

In all these great movements Vikings were assisted by their development of efficient seagoing vessels. The ship was at the heart of the Viking civilisation — they were superb shipbuilders. But though ship may have represented the peak of Viking technical achievement they exelled in other ways. The Scandinavians developed an art of surface decoration expressed in wood carving, in tapestries, in jewellery and in stone carving.

The Viking contribution to European history, their cultural, aesthetical, commercial effects of their expansion were great. Tapestry, wood carvings, musical instruments, drinking horns, bronze statues, rune stones, and silver dishes convey the religious and cultural life of these remarkable people. The Vikings should be regarded not only as romanticised pirates, but as one of the important historical phenomena in the development of modern Europe.