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Life During the Age of the Vikings

Karen Gruber

Life During the Age of the Vikings

Karen Gruber

What was life like during the age of the Vikings? Karen Gruber takes a look at these master navigators as we celebrate the passage of one thousands years since the Vikings' great discoveries.

The past millennium has seen profound advancements in science, technology, and exploration. There seem to be very few frontiers left on our planet that we have not yet explored. But, what must have it been like during the age of the Vikings? Skilled craftsmen and navigators, the Vikings forged a path across the North Atlantic islands like stepping stones to a new world, discovering the Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland. Perhaps the most significant of all their discoveries will celebrate its 1,000-year anniversary in 2000: Leif Ericsson's landfall on the North American continent.

The Viking Age, from the 8th to the 11th centuries, is often associated with images of barbaric plundering and brutal colonization. This conception often loses sight of the great accomplishments of the Vikings, whose influence not only spread north, but east across the Baltic and south into the Mediterranean. They were pioneers of maritime adventure and their seafaring prowess helped them to establish trading links across Europe into Asia. The Vikings also instituted the world's first parliament, the Althing, when chieftains gathered in Thingvellir, northwest of Reykjavík, in 930. The Viking sagas, written in the late 1100's, document the tales of Norse discovery and are one of the most tangible legacies of the Viking Age.

According to the sagas, Leif Ericsson was the first to set foot in the New World, but a fellow Norseman actually caught sight of North America some years before. In 986, Bjarni Herjolfsson attempted to journey from Iceland to Greenland to visit his father when his ship was blown off course. He and his crew sailed west for days before they sighted land on three separate occasions. Herjolfsson refused to land, however, as the terrain of the sightings was clearly not that of Greenland. Eventually, he reversed his course and landed at his father's settlement. Herjolfsson was later criticized for his lack of curiosity; a more adventurous spirit would have made him the founder of what is now believed to be Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland.

Yet, the news of Herjolfsson's sightings traveled quickly and caught the attention of a young Leif Ericsson. Ericsson was living in Greenland, the country that his father, Eric the Red, had discovered. After purchasing Herjolfsson's ship, Ericsson set sail from Greenland and in 1000, five hundred years before Columbus; he landed and eventually created a settlement on the North American continent. Further attempts to colonize the area were abandoned after repeated altercations with North American natives.

Many historians have argued the validity of the Viking sagas. The tales were finally substantiated in 1960 when a Norwegian archeological team, led by Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered Viking ruins at L'Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland which date back 1,000 years.

To travel in the wake of Viking discovery is to see a land that has changed little during the past millennium. One can still experience the gentle moorlands of the Scottish Isles, with grazing sheep amid historic Viking archeological sites; the Faroes' rugged seascapes packed with nesting birds. Iceland, although colonized for over 1,000 years, still remains relatively undiscovered territory in terms of tourism. Perhaps the legacy of its name, coined by the early Norwegian settler Floki Vilgerðarson to discourage further settlement, has protected the island from mass over-development.

The endeavors of the Viking conquest marked the beginning of a millennium of discovery. It is exciting to wonder how far we will travel in the next 1,000 years.

To find out how you can voyage to the lands of the Viking Age, contact the experts at ExpeditionTrips.com.


Article provided by Zegrahm Expeditions
Photos: Waterfall: Shirley Metz; Viking ruins: Shirley Metz