Viking Empire Leaders: Ragnar Starting technologies: Fishing Hunting Unique unit: Berserker Unique building: Trading Post
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First colony: American Empire
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More properly known as Scandinavians or Norsemen, the Vikings were a group of people from northern Europe who became famous for carrying out a series of raids across the continent between roughly 800 - 1050 AD. The period is sometimes known as the "Viking Age," and it was an era of chaos and disruption for large parts of Europe. The Vikings can be classified into three main groups: the Danes largely attacked England the Norwegians visited Scotland, Ireland, and points further west while the Swedes invaded the river systems of what is now Russia. Although the Vikings usually employed hit and run tactics, many of them settled in new communities in the areas they had subjugated, eventually mixing with the local population. And while the Vikings are thought today to be bloodthirsty brigands, they probably acted more often as commercial traders than as warriors.
Historians debate the reason why the Vikings suddenly emerged from Scandinavia at the end of the eighth century AD and began preying upon other parts of Europe. Theories include: the Vikings were suffering overpopulation caused by better agricultural tools that the unification of Norway led to an excess of idle warriors the Vikings were reacting to attempts by the Franks to muscle them out of trade with the east or that the men went off to raid and pillage out of simple boredom. One particularly interesting theory is that the climate of Europe was warmer during the early Middle Ages, leading to an excess population in Scandinavia and the subsequent Viking colonization of places such as Iceland and Greenland.
Whatever the actual reason for their expansion, the Viking drive outward began with the sacking of the important island monastery of Lindisfarne, located off the coast of Britain, in 793 AD. England was regularly raided by the Danes in the following decade, and in 865 a major invasion landed in East Anglia. This force was led by several landless Viking kings in the battles that followed most of the English kingdoms were defeated, but the state of Wessex under Alfred the Great managed to hold the invaders off. The Vikings settled in Northumbria, and their territory became known as the "Danela" (most of these Vikings were Danes).
Another wave of Vikings landed in England in 947 under the command of Erik Bloodaxe, who managed to capture the city of York. Vikings would largely remain in control of England until the Norman invasion of 1066 - and the Normans were themselves the French descendents of Vikings. Scotland and Ireland also experienced a heavy Norwegian Viking presence at this time a number of important cities were founded by them - including Dublin. Eventually the Vikings settled down and intermarried with the native Irish.
The main target for Viking aggression, however, was France. All throughout the ninth century the Vikings sailed up and down the Seine River with impunity, sacking French towns and monasteries at their leisure. Finally the French king Charles the Simple made an agreement with the Viking leader Hrolf Ganger in 911, in which Hrolf was granted control over territory in northern France. In exchange, Hrolf and his men agreed to convert to Christianity and become vassals of the French king. Hrolf`s name was changed to Rollo and he became duke of the province of Normandy (named for the Norsemen who settled in it). The Normans retained their martial edge even after conversion to Christianity, and would go on to make a number of important conquests in England, the Mediterranean, and during the Crusades.
The exploits of the Viking sailors were the stuff of legend. Viking mariners found their way to Iceland, Greenland, and even Newfoundland in North America, setting up colonies in all of these locations. Viking longboats were both fast and seaworthy, and their shallow drafts allowed them to sail far up the river systems of Europe. The Vikings could strike from the sea and be gone again before the military forces of a kingdom could be marshaled to meet them. In the east, the Swedes traveled down the rivers of modern Russia and founded the state of Kievan Rus`, which grew rich off the river trade between the Baltic and the Byzantine Empire. These Vikings also found employment as mercenaries within the Byzantine domains, and their most elite warriors found employment in the Byzantine Varangian Guard. The Viking Age finally came to a close around 1050AD, as the Vikings were incorporated into Christian Europe and settled down to the less exciting but more stable pursuits of agriculture and fishing their reputation as fierce invaders from the sea has endured to this day.