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Viking Settlements: Europe and Beyond
Meanwhile, Viking armies remained active on the European continent throughout the ninth century, brutally sacking Nantes (on the French coast) in 842 and attacking towns as far inland as Paris, Limoges, Orleans, Tours and Nimes. In 844, Vikings stormed Seville (then controlled by the Arabs); in 859, they plundered Pisa, though an Arab fleet battered them on the way back north. In 911, the West Frankish king granted Rouen and the surrounding territory by treaty to a Viking chief called Rollo in exchange for the latter's denying passage to the Seine to other raiders. This region of northern France is now known as Normandy, or "land of the Northmen."
To the east, Swedish Vikings known as Varangians had invaded eastern Europe and modern-day Russia (the name derived from "Rus," the name Slavic peoples used for the Scandinavian invaders) beginning in the eighth century, using similar methods to their Danish & Norwegian counterparts in the west. They pioneered new trade routes down the Volga and the Dniepr and founded city-states such as Kiev and Novgorod. These Vikings also had extensive contact with the Byzantine Empire based in Constantinople: Some Varangians even served as an elite guard for the Byzantine emperors.
In the ninth century, Scandinavians (mainly Norwegians) began to colonize Iceland, an island in the North Atlantic where no one had yet settled in large numbers. By the late 10th century, some Vikings (including the famous Erik the Red) moved even further westward, to Greenland. According to later Icelandic histories, some of the early Viking settlers in Greenland (supposedly led by the Norwegian Viking hero Leif Eriksson, son of Erik the Red) may have become the first Europeans to discover and explore North America. Calling their landing place Vinland (Wine-land), they built a temporary settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in modern-day Newfoundland. Beyond that, there is little evidence of Viking presence in the New World, and they didn't form permanent settlements.
The mid-10th-century reign of Harald Bluetooth as king of a newly unified, powerful and Christianized Denmark marked the beginning of a second Viking age. Large-scale raids, often organized by royal leaders, hit the coasts of Europe and especially England, where the line of kings descended from Alfred the Great was faltering. Harald's rebellious son, Sven Forkbeard, led Viking raids on England beginning in 991 and conquered the entire kingdom in 1013, sending King Ethelred into exile. Sven died the following year, leaving his son Knut (or Canute) to rule a Scandinavian empire (comprising England, Denmark, and Norway) on the North Sea.
After Knut's death, his two sons succeeded him, but both were dead by 1042 and Edward the Confessor, son of the previous (non-Danish) king, returned from exile and regained the English throne from the Danes. Upon his death (without heirs) in 1066, Harold Godwinesson, the son of Edward's most powerful noble, laid claim to the throne. Harold's army was able to defeat an invasion led by the last great Viking king--Harald Hardrada of Norway--at Stamford Bridge, near York, but fell to the forces of William, Duke of Normandy (himself a descendant of Scandinavian settlers in northern France) just weeks later. Crowned king of England on Christmas Day in 1066, William managed to retain the crown against further Danish challenges.
End of the Viking Age
The events of 1066 in England effectively marked the end of the Viking Age. By that time, all of the Scandinavian kingdoms were Christian, and what remained of Viking "culture" was being absorbed into the culture of Christian Europe. Today, signs of the Viking legacy can be found mostly in the Scandinavian origins of some vocabulary and place-names in the areas in which they settled, including northern England, Scotland and Russia. In Iceland, the Vikings left an extensive body of literature, the Icelandic sagas, in which they celebrated the greatest victories of their glorious past.
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