Facts and Myths of Vikings, History and Norse Mythology

We all know about the Vikings and their stories of looting and the horned helmets in Nordic mythology. But how much is fact and how much is the myth? Here you will find a small overview to refresh your knowledge about the Vikings! The Vikings are imagined as tall armed men with beards, blond hair and names like Thure and Björn.

At the beginning of the Viking era, there were no states in the north. The people lived in the different regions of Scandinavia in villages and settlements. The family or clan was very important to them. It was regarded as sacred, and without them the individual was nothing. The family members protected each other. There was a definite ranking, at the head of which was the Jarl, a leader.

The Viking Age

The Viking age ranged from the first maelstrom Viking to the monastery of Lindisfarne in North England in 793 to the decisive battle of Hastings in 1066. The Viking age was of great importance for the medieval history of Scandinavia, Great Britain, Ireland and many other countries and regions in Europe.

Who were the Vikings?

The Viking or Vikingr in Old Norse is the collective term used to describe the Scandinavian explorers, traders, and warriors who have attacked, traded and explored many parts of Europe, Asia, and the North Atlantic Islands until the middle of the eleventh century. They did not call themselves Viking. Where the expression comes, however, is not clear. They came from different parts of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Most of these were Germanic people of the north and east seas.

At the end of the 8th century, the word Viking was used in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for martial activities. Thereafter, it occurs three times in the records for the years 885, 921 and 1098. It was therefore not a common expression, even during the period of Danish rule over parts of Britain. The origin of the word is thus controversial. Víkingr was used for noble people and ruling kings.

A main reason for the Viking voyages was the hard life in Scandinavia. Most people lived and worked there as simple settlers and peasants and had to fight for their survival in the barren landscape. Traders learned about treasures and riches in Central Europe.

They established a dense trading network between the coastal regions and islands of Europe. They exchanged honey, wax, furs, animal skins, or amber for objects they needed, such as armor, weapons, spices, precious metals, and fabrics.

The duties and duties of men and women were divided in the Viking society. The women took care of the family, house, and animals. The men, on the other hand, provided for the livelihood and protection of the family. Even if the men as a whole had the say, women were respected.

The religion of the Vikings

The Vikings had their own religion before Christianization. This is known in the Nordic mythology. In their center are gods like Odin, Thor, Loki and Frey with some regional variations. Fighting to die was considered to be the most prestigious way of giving life, for a seat in Walhalla was safe, the enormous hall ruled by Odin.

There were fantastic feasts every night and preparations were made to help Odin in the apocalyptic battle that precedes the end of the world of Ragnarok. Up until the tenth or eleventh century, most, if not all, of the northern men were converted to Christianity, but they still clung to many pagan ideas far into the Middle Ages.

Since there are no independent sources for this event, and much has been written about the Vikings only centuries later, some historians read these documents as propaganda texts. As a result, the image of the Vikings began to resemble as terrible northern men against a kind friendly occupier.

The Vikings as discoverers

The Vikings were feared for their famous long-haul ships, which were seaworthy vehicles with a flat ground that allowed them to travel across the world and also navigate through shallow waters and land on the beach. The Viking ships were far ahead of their time and made the Vikings dangerous for their enemies. No European country had seaworthy ships as the men from the north.

The Viking boats, which are also referred to as kite boats because of their elaborate carvings, were ready for any situation. Thus they could sail the seas and penetrate deep into the mainland. If it did not go any further, the Vikings could carry the light boats on their shoulders.

The Swedish Viking Gardar Svavarsson discovered Iceland on one of his seas, causing Iceland to be populated by Scandinavian settlers in the late 9th and 10th century. The Vikings are also regarded as the real explorers of America.

During the Viking Age, the northern men traveled across the world. In contrast to general convictions, the Vikings were capable traders and have established many successful branches in England, Scotland, Ireland, Normandy and Iceland.

In 845 they rowed the Seine for the first time and laid siege at Paris. The northern men attacked the city several times until a final attack in 886 ended the reign of Viking terror in the city. In addition to the entire North Atlantic coastline, the Vikings also moved southwards, to North Africa and east to Russia, Constantinople and the Middle East.

After the famous Viking Erik the Red discovered Greenland, Bjarne Herjolfsson encounters an unknown country in the southwest on the way from Iceland to Greenland. Inspired by these tales, Leif Eriksson, the son of Erik the Red, one day set out to find this country. He was successful and was the first European to put a foot on North American soil half a century before Christopher Columbus, who is called the discoverer of America in most of the history books.

The discovery by the Vikings had fallen into oblivion because they tried to settle the new country but failed. In fact, the first Europeans who landed in North America were the Vikings. They established a short-lived settlement in today's Canada under the rule of Leif Eriksen.


The Dane money was a tax that the Vikings had levied on the lands they invaded. By paying the Dane money, the rulers could be sure that their regions would not be attacked by the Vikings. English, French and other European rulers paid huge sums of silver and valuables as Dane money from the 9th to the 11th century.


The Vikings had their own alphabet based on the Germanic Runescript, known as Futhark. The Vikings have engraved historical events with runes in stones. The runes described the heroic deeds of a certain leader and his men or successful campaigns abroad. Much of what is known today about the Vikings comes from the rune inscriptions of stones from Scandinavia, the British Isles, and places as far away as the Black Sea.

Examples of famous runes can be visited at the site of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in Jelling.

Viking myths

Vikings worn horny helmets in some ritual ceremonies. In fact, the Viking helmets were conical, made from hard leather with wood and metal reinforcements, or they were made of iron with a mask and armor. The Vikings were not wild creatures. The idea of wild-looking looters with an irrational look is nothing more than a myth.

In fact, the parts of Great Britain, which were occupied by the Angels of Denmark, were described as clean by their Anglo-Saxon neighbors, as they insisted on bathing at least once a week and always keeping their hair well-dressed. The Vikings played the lure and were buried in dolmens.

On the other hand, the reports of the Scandinavian invasions on the North Franconian coasts at the time of the Merovingian period are sea kings, sea gullies, and naval warriors, but never Vikings. In the Gunnlaugr Ormstungas saga, the hero visits Nidaros, then King Æthelred, then travels from there to Ireland, to the Orkneys and to Skara in West Gotland, where he stays at Jarl Sigurd, lastly to Sweden to King Olof Skötkonung.