Norse Religions – History

Norse History: Affecting the World Since 793 ce

By: Brianna Aspelund

Blood thirsty men of the north. Raiders. Pirates, Norsemen, Northmen, The Viking have a reputation that precedes them, yet they are a bit more complicated than that. Hailing from Scandinavia in the present day countries of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, the Vikings were agricultural and seafaring people. They acknowledged no single ruler or central government but were several different groups, each lead by their own chief. (Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 2015)

By: Sven Rosborn

Map of Viking towns of Scandinavia By: Sven Rosborn

They first made a name for themselves on June 8th, 793 CE when a group of them attacked monastery Lindisfarne off the coast of what is now north east England. (Whitelock, Dorothy, 1996) During the next two centuries, the Vikings spread through Europe, the North Atlantic, and more in what is known as the Viking Age. The Vikings were remarkable sailors of the day. Their long ships were lighter, faster, and more maneuverable than any other crafts of the time. The shallow bellies of the boats allowed the them to easily go up rivers and sail straight to the shore. They used their infamous long ships to skillfully navigate the seas and waterways of Europe where they would stage hit-and-run attacks on coastal towns and cities. (Hadingham, 2000)


Edinburgh Hogmanay Longship by Wangi via Wikimedia Commons

A replica Viking ship being burnt during Edinburgh’s annual Hogmanay celebrations by Wangi

Christian Europe hated the Vikings for their indifferent treatment, destruction of institutions, and objects with religious value. Many thought them to be violent, filthy, and uncivilized barbarians. Yet in reality they were more than that. (Williams, 2011)

Their effect branched father than the UK. Vikings were avid traders who peacefully exchanged Scandinavian furs, boat sealant, timber, and other goods with countries as far away as the Mediterranean and the Middle East. (Lovgren, 2004)  Their fierce nature preceded them and some of the countries even enlisted them as allies. In Eastern Europe, there is some speculation whether the Viking presence played a part in forming the first confederation of tribes called the Kievan Rus. Although some historians question their part in this, it is theorized that they formed an elite ruling class in the Kievan Rus, note it is the root of countries Russia and Belarus. (Stone, 2006)(National Museum of Denmark, 2015)

      A little south of there, the Byzantine emperors hired Swedish Vikings, known for their great strength, became the Varangian Guard, an elite group in the 11th century in Constantinople. Varangian meant something close to knights in medieval Europe. Specifically it translates “sword men” or “vow of fealty and faithfulness”. (National Museum of Denmark, 2015)

By: Μυρμηγκάκι, 2009 Public Domain

Varangian Guardsmen, an illumination from the Skylitzis Chronicle Uploaded By: Μυρμηγκάκι

Although they made a name for themselves in various countries, their influence is nowhere more evident than in Great Britain. The Vikings conquered nearly all of England by the end of the 9th century. The settlement in Dublin became one of the leading ports in all of Europe. (Farry, 2000) Two Vikings even ascended to the throne of England, with Sweyn Forkbeard claiming the English throne from 1013 – 1014 and his son Cnut the Great becoming king of England from 1016 – 1035. [9]

      Their influence remains in the area through personal names, place names, and on the English language itself. Words like tidings, sky, axle, and husband stem from Old Norse words. Even Thursday originated as Thor’s day. [10]

Leiv Eiriksson Discovers America by Christian Krohg (1893)

Leiv Eiriksson Discovers America by Christian Krohg (1893)

       The effects of the Viking Age reached outside of Europe too. In the late 10th century, Norse Viking Erik the Red founded a colony in Greenland that flourished for over 400 years. [11] Leif Ericson, his son, went farther and landed in present day Canada nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus sailed across the ocean blue. [12]

      Even though the Viking age lasted only 300 years, the impacts of these complex people left an important mark on western society and the world.

Next – Ecology



Lyrics: ( Old Norse and English ).
Ask veit ek standa,
heitir Yggdrasill
hár baðmr, ausinn
hvíta auri;
þaðan koma döggvar
þærs í dala falla;
stendr æ yfir grœnn
Urðar brunni.
Þaðan koma meyjar
margs vitandi
þrjár, ór þeim sal
er und þolli stendr;
Urð hétu eina,
aðra Verðandi,
skáru á skíði,
Skuld ina þriðju;
þær lög lögðu,
þær líf kuru
alda börnum,
örlög seggja.
An ash I know it stands-
It is named Yggdrasill.
High tree, sprinkled,
With white mud;
There from come the dews-
That fall on the dale!
It stands always green, above-
The source of Urdhr.
There from come the maids,
Much knowing;
Three, their dwelling,
Stands under the tree;
Urdh is named one,
The other Verdhandi,
– They notched (scored) wood –
Skuld is the third.
They set up the laws,
They decided on the lives,
Of the children of time (‘the children of man’).
They promulgate fate.



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