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The Vikings came from Norway, Sweden and Denmark. These three countries are known collectively as Scandinavia.
The Vikings came to Britain and other countries for many different reasons but one of the main reasons was a lack of farmland in Scandinavia. There was a large population surge in Scandinavia and there was no longer enough land to go around, so they travelled to Britain where there was plenty of good farmland.
The Vikings first came to England from Norway in the 790s, but they didn’t come to farm to begin with. They raided the east coast of England looking for riches, attacking the towns and then returning to Scandinavia with their plunder.
The first recorded Viking raid was of Lindisfarne monastery on Holy Island, off the coast of north-east England, in 793. Lindisfarne was one of the most sacred Christian monasteries in England, and the people were shocked at the brutal attack. The Vikings, however, were not Christians and saw the unguarded monastery as easy prey.
Scandinavia has long coastlines so the Vikings used boats as the easiest way to get around. They were good at developing ships that were fast and safe. It is thought that Viking longboats were developed from the narrow boats used in prehistoric times, but they made many improvements to the shape and structure.
Longboats (also known as ‘drakkars’) were the perfect shape for invading coastal towns because they could sail all the way up to the sandy coast without the need for an anchor. This allowed them to sneak up on the towns, ready to attack before the townspeople had a chance to defend themselves.
Anglo-Saxons (from Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands) had been living in Britain since the beginning of the 5th century. The Anglo-Saxons came to Britain after the Romans left. The Anglo-Saxons and Vikings both lived in Britain until 1066 but they spent most of the best part of 300 years fighting each other.
The Vikings were pagans who believed in lots of different gods. They had lots of myths about the gods, as well as dragons and giants, that were passed down orally from generation to generation. The Vikings believed that the main gods lived in a world in the sky called Asgard.
Many Vikings converted to Christianity once they arrived in Britain, although many of them just added the Christian god to their existing belief system.
The Vikings, like us, had different house designs, but most people lived on farms in small huts made of wood. They often had turf or thatch roofs. Richer families lived in a large house that was a similar shape to a Viking ship. It was supported on the outside by poles.
Another popular design was the pit house. A hole was dug about a meter into the ground. The surrounding dirt was then used as a wall. This had the advantage of keeping in some of the warmth from the ground.
If you were a Viking, your clothes would depend on what you did and how rich you were. Generally, people dressed for warmth and comfort rather than fashion. Most clothes were made from wool and linen, and were dyed using vegetable dyes to make them colourful. Both men and women wore a lot of jewellery, especially brooches which were used not just as an accessory but to fasten clothes together.
Wealthy Vikings earned their living from the renting out the land they owned to tenants and from the produce that came from the land. Most Vikings were farmers and self-sufficient. They would grow their own crops and keep cattle for dairy products and meat. Lots of Vikings were also merchants and traders who sold their produce and traded their wares, such as jewellery. Some were skilled craftsmen who built boats or crafted weapons. At the very bottom of society were the slaves who worked in the fields and houses doing hard manual labour.
It was a woman’s job to look after the home, doing all the cooking, cleaning and household chores. They milked the cows and preserved the meat ready for the winter months. They also spun wool into thread to make cloth. They made all the clothes using a weaving loom and also made wall hangings. It was also the job of the women to weave the sails for Viking ships.
Children did not go to school because there weren’t any schools, but they helped their parents with jobs at home. Some boys, however, were taught to read and write the rune characters of the Viking alphabet.
Viking societies had a hierarchy system. Most Viking countries were ruled by a king. There were also chieftains and earls who were very important. Chieftains often had armies of their own and would have large households and own vast areas of land.
The Vikings had laws for free men and women, although these were not written down anywhere. These laws were passed down orally from generation to generation. Honour was a crucial part of Viking life and disobeying any of the laws brought disgrace to the whole family.