The Vikings were Norse sailors and merchants during the Middle Ages who developed a well-earned reputation as looters and raiders. They are from Scandinavia – the area that is now Norway, Finland, and Sweden – an area that lacks the natural resources that Medieval farming communities needed. The soil can be difficult to farm, especially when permafrost makes the ground impenetrable, and long, bitterly cold winters make the growing season unusually short. Growing populations exacerbated these problems, as the land could not provide for all of the people who lived there when they had only primitive farming techniques.
To help resolve their problems of scarcity in Scandinavia, the Vikings developed longboats that could sail on both the open seas and down rivers and began a series of explorations that included the pillaging and plundering for which they are remembered today. The first of the Viking raids occurred at the English monastery at Lindisfarne in 794. Because monasteries housed so many treasures that could make the raiders extremely rich, coupled with the fact that the monks who lived there were not well-armed and prepared for an attack, monasteries were particularly susceptible to Viking raids. They mainly targeted monasteries in what is now England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland during the first few hundred years of their voyages.
Because the Viking longboats enabled them to travel on both the open seas and down rivers, the raiders were able to explore from Canada to Russia. Leif Erikson took his crews to Iceland, Greenland, and then North America, where they established the first European colony in the Americas at Newfoundland, Canada – 500 years before Columbus! Today, the inhabitants of Greenland and Iceland are the descendants of the Vikings who initially settled the islands, which were unpopulated at the time.
Today, the area of France known as Normandy is named for the Norse men – the Vikings – who invaded and eventually settled down there. However, they did not stop in France, because the rivers that flow through Europe allowed them to penetrate Europe’s interior and travel to Russia. They settled down and established trading posts, where they utilized their skills to become wealthy merchants. Modern genetic studies show that many of today’s white Europeans descend from the Vikings who invaded in the Middle Ages. They did help create the contemporary world.
Evidence suggests that the Vikings went as far as the Middle East, though they did not establish any permanent outposts there. However, the influence of their trading reached all across the known world.