Vikings in the news

Vikings are in the news in Europe right now- 4 men were just sentenced for finding a Viking hoard and selling it versus reporting as is required by law in the United Kingdom.

See "Metal detectorists who stole £3m Viking hoard told they have 'cheated the public' as they are jailed"

So I've been working my way through several books about Swedish history just trying to get a better handle on this part of the world. More on later history, well, later...

For now, some things I've learned (particularly from a book called "The Vikings" by Else Roesdahl).

No one really knows why the Vikings started raiding other places- overcrowding? Not enough food? Easy riches? Imbalance in the number of men vs. women? The spread of Christianity and a rebellion against it? A fight between kings over power & prestige?

Their boats had capacity for both sailing & rowing. A shallow draft meant they could go up and down rivers and rowing meant they could propel themselves.

Image result for Oseberg Ship

The Oseberg Ship from the Viking Museum, Norway. See Photo to the right by Peulle (Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Viking raids started in 793 with a raid on Lindisfarne, on an island off the coast of England. Outside this large abbey, someone mistook the raiders for merchants and invited them in... not a good idea. 

Viking raiders came from the area which is now Denmark, Norway, and Sweden and traveled as far south as Constantinople. 

After several sets of raids starting in the late 700s, the Vikings laid siege to Paris in 845. The low bridges on the Seine River stopped them from going up river for a while, though they eventually succeeded in burning the wooden bridge down. The king paid a ransom, they went up river and plundered further, but then had to drag their boats overland to leave the area (at least temporarily). 

Fast forward a few centuries of raiding during which raiding in the "east" became harder and raiding across the North Sea easier. They also traded and settled. Vikings even made it to North America, apparently settling on the tip of Newfoundland. They took payments to not raid, and collected and traded coins, jewelry, and more. 

The latest valuable collection of buried treasure was discovered by lifelong friends Mark Hambleton and Joe Kania near Lichfield, the site of the 2009 discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard.

It is a collection of jewellery which could be the oldest Iron Age gold ever discovered in Britain.

The collection, which has been named the Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs, was found in December 2016 on farmland in the parish of Leekfrith, in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

The four torcs, three necklaces and one bracelet, were found separately about one metre apart and buried just beneath the surface.

Experts believe they were made in the third or fourth century BC, making them approximately 2,500 years old.

Example bracelet found in England- for other pictures, see

In 1016, Cnut the Great (son of  Sweyn Forkbeard) became the first viking king of England. He eventually was the "King of all England and Denmark and the Norwegians and of some of the Swedes" and lasted in this role until 1035. 

Viking names are something. "The great personalities of the Viking Age" included Sigrid the Ambitious, Harald Finehair, Ivar the Boneless, Ragnar Hairy Breeches, Harald Bluetooth. My book on vikings notes that they would not have been called this when they were alive... leaving me to wonder where these names came from and just what they might have been called. 

Apparently there was a rich tradition of poetry (see the epic skaldic or scaldic poems, particularly from Iceland) which provide much of what is known. My book on vikings notes: "the main steps in unification of Norway can be deduced from scaldic poems in honor of kings and earls and from kings' sagas. It was a lengthy and complicated process, leaving many dead."

My short summary of Scandinavian history is summarized by that last phrase: if you were a king, you died young. 

History is often written by the victors, but in this case, history of Vikings seems to be written by those impacted by the Vikings- could be why they are depicted as violent and bloodthirsty. However, their raids were happening at the same time as the spread of Christianity. Roesdahl notes that conversion to Christianity in Saxony happened under Charlemagne- an "exceptionally brutal forced conversion." Conversion was also used to "strengthen royal power." It's been a bit since I've studied European history in high school, but being here is definitely sending us back to the books... 

In Sweden, the Viking base was around Uppsala. Today, one can take the train to Uppsala (as I do quite frequently), but not easily a boat (especially not a big boat). The landmass under Sweden and Norway is rising, rebounding after the last glacial ice age. More on that in a different post. As the land has risen, the water has dropped, thus cutting off a lot of ways of navigating.

Today, there are Viking burial mounds outside of Uppsala, complete with boats and other goods needed for the afterlife buried in them. Haven't made it there yet but hope to go see them, along with the nearby Viking museum. 

Back to the story at the beginning. While much is known about Vikings, a heck of a lot is not known. Vikings buried their treasure, leaving hoards to return to. If you didn't return, well, then no one knew where you'd left your treasure. Today, such hoards when fond can give more clues to what was going on- including alliances, trading connections, and more. The UK apparently has a number of hoards found over time. The hoard in question was found in 2015, with the people finding it selling off the coins and goods rather than turning them in for a reward; at this point, the hoard has been scattered and can't be re-assembled for study. Violation of law = prison time issued this past week. The past and present meet in real time.