The Rise And Fall Of The Vikings
The Viking civilisation rose because of weak neighbours, environmental factors, and an increase of wealth. It fell due to a military defeat, environmental factors, and the acceptance of a new religion.
The Vikings began their territory expansion in the 8th century. They ransacked the monasteries and small villages of their neighbouring countries. Before these raids, Vikings had been known as fair traders. What was even worse for Western and Eastern Europe was that the Vikings continued trading during their raids, so citizens had no way of telling if the Vikings were coming to trade with them or attack. Factors influencing raids were climate, local knowledge, weak neighbours, and a desire for quick and easy wealth. The prospect of adventure and glory, and possibly even revenge were also reasons why the Vikings may have chosen to raid.
Necessity played an integral role in raiding. As Vikings came from Scandinavia, the climate was harsh and cold, and there was only a minuscule amount of coastal land that was suitable for agriculture. As the population grew, the pressure on this land would have increased severely. The warmer climate and more fertile soil in neighbouring countries would have held an agricultural appeal to the Vikings that was needed for their survival.
Vikings had also built up a lot of local knowledge about their surrounding regions through years of trade. Local experience and reports passed on by traders helped the Vikings to have an accurate image of their neighbouring countries- especially of their riches. By the 8th century, Viking navigational skills were highly advanced, making raids a viable option to trading. Vikings also took advantage of weak and divided rule in Europe to expand outwards from their homeland.
Wealth also played a large role in Viking raids. As the farming land in Scandinavia grew scarce, Vikings were forced to rely more on trade to support their economy. Raiding was a more convenient alternative to trade, so karls (people of the Viking middle class) often relied on raiding to gain quick and easy wealth. Vikings often raided monasteries, but this was to do with convenience than any religious hatred, as the sacred areas that first fell to the Vikings were located on the coast. Going further inland when there were such easy targets within range of the sea would have been unnecessary. Monasteries held fine metalwork, reliquaries, and stored treasure, which was easily transportable. Religious artefacts that the Vikings pillaged did not have a high metal value, but as they held significant meaning to Christians, they could be ransomed off for good prices. The wealth earned from these raids could be used by jarls or kings to reward their men and build their support base in their community.
The desire for adventure and glory also played a part in Viking raids. This is because reputation played a big role in Biking culture. Dishonoured Vikings would have thought of raids as a way for them to redeem themselves. The Norse religion also glorified warfare and raiding through two key beliefs; 1) that there was no existence after death, except for the legendary warriors that would serve Odin, and 2) that the time of one’s death was determined by fate, and was chosen by the Norns at the time of one’s birth. These beliefs imply that the Vikings believed recklessness and bravery in battle was good, and that you should make the most of your life. These beliefs made them not fear death in battle, as such fears were irrational as the time of one’s death had already been determined at birth, and there was nothing you could do that would change that time. The prospect of serving Odin as a legendary warrior in the afterlife would have also played a role in the Vikings’ lust for battle.
Revenge could have possibly been another reason the raids begun. Charlemagne, the king of the Franks, fought for a long time to bring western and central Europe under his rule. As a part of his military efforts to achieve this, he forced people he regarded as pagans to convert to Christianity. Any who refused to partake in this religious conversion were killed. Early Viking raids in Europe took place during the later period of Charlemagne’s rule, so Viking raiders may have had a desire to get back at Christians.
The raids ceased by the year 1066. Vikings settled in parts of Europe, Scotland and Ireland. Factors that led to the Vikings stopping raiding were; environmental factors, the acceptance of a new religion and a military defeat.
The Vikings settled in parts of Europe, Scotland and Ireland because of the warmer climate and better agricultural potential. As Vikings made their living from agriculture and trade, this was an integral factor in their gradual settling in regions with a better climates and more fertile soil.
The Viking conversion to Christianity was quite slow, with both the pagan religion and Christianity co-existing for centuries before Christianity became dominant. In the early Viking Age, Vikings used their ability to practice both Christianity and the Norse religion (if they weren’t baptised) to secure better business and trade deals with Christians. This is because Christians tended to give better deals and business to other Christians, disliking other religions. However, Vikings only converted to Christianity during trading for convenience, inwardly favouring the Norse religion. At first, the Vikings didn’t willingly convert to Christianity. They loved their own faith and were content with it. English and Frankish Christian priests and monks started missionary tours to Scandinavia from the 700s to 800s. However, the religious conversion to Christianity took centuries to complete. Even when a Danish or Swedish ruler claimed his people were Christian, many of them still practiced their pagan ways in secrecy. However, by the end of the Viking Age, most Vikings had become Christian and were baptised and buried in that faith.
The last major Viking incursion into Europe was the Battle of Stamford bridge, where the Norwegian king Harald Hadrada was killed as he tried to reclaim a part of England. This event signified the end of the Viking raids. Raiding also became harder as monasteries were fortified or moderated, which made them less susceptible to Viking forces. By the end of the Viking Age, most places in Europe had strong central authorities, including trained armies capable of effective defences against Viking attacks. As the Viking raiders were usually not as organised, their shock strategies were inefficient against soldiers supported by the king. The number of Vikings available to raid also decreased over time, which made the raiding forces weaker and less successful. Because there were fewer and fewer raids, to the rest of Europe Vikings eventually became known as Danes, Swedes and Norwegians.
In conclusion, the Viking Civilisation rose and fell because of social, political and environmental factors.