Who were the Vikings?

Who were the Vikings?You have probably seen pictures or films of Vikings – that is, actor who were pretending to be Vikings. These are huge men, wearing horned helmets and burning and pillaging churches and homes with no thought for their victims. These tales were written down by the only people who could write at that time – the monks of the monasteries which were robbed and burnt down, and so history has left us with a picture of savages almost unrivalled anyone else. But who were the real Vikings, and what were they like?

They were Danes and Norwegians, who began to come to Britain in the year 789, when local wars in their own countries drove them out. They were not Christians. Instead they worshipped old Norse (Northern) gods like Thor, Freya and Balder, and regarded Christian churches as fair game when they saw the rich gold treasures inside and realized that here was a way of becoming rich themselves. Of course, the monks who had cared for the treasures were horrified, ad wrote down their own, rather exaggerated versions of what happened, which were bound to show the Vikings as worse than they really were. The kings of England at the time did all they could do halt the rising tide of Vikings who were coming in ever greater numbers to their shores; they gave battle, and when they were beaten, the English kings had to make large gifts to the invaders, which was called tribute, and which was supposed to make sure that the invaders did not return. Of course, with the prospect of such easy money, they did return, and gradually took over almost half a England, including Yorkshire, East Anglia and a large part of the midlands. The English have had Vikings kings – king Canute was a Viking, who became a very devout Christian, and was a strong king. Gradually the Vikings settled down in England and became English themselves, and we still use many words that they brought to our language. The last Viking invasion was in 1066, when the king of Norway, Harald Hardrada, attacked the north of England. The English king Harold defeated him at the battle of Stamford Bridge, and was then himself beaten and killed at battle of Hastings, only a few weeks later, by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, who was himself descended from Vikings.

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