History Stories

Beginning around 800 A.D., seafaring warriors–known collectively as Vikings or Norsemen (“Northmen”)–left their Scandinavian homelands to seek their fortunes elsewhere. While the exact reasons for Vikings venturing out from their homeland are uncertain; some have suggested it was due to overpopulation, but the earliest Vikings were looking for riches, not land. Over the next three centuries, they would leave their mark as pirates, raiders, traders and settlers on Britain and the European continent, as well as parts of modern-day Russia, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland. This week, we are setting sail to explore the history of the Vikings.

The beginning of the Viking Age is marked by an attack in 793 A.D. on the Lindisfarne monastery off the coast of Northumberland in northeastern England. For several decades, they confined themselves to hit-and-run raids against coastal targets in the British Isles and Europe, but by the mid-ninth century, Ireland, Scotland and England had become major targets for Viking settlement as well as raids. Vikings soon began to colonize Iceland, an island in the North Atlantic where no one had yet settled in large numbers, and by the late 10th century, some Vikings had moved even further westward to Greenland. According to later Icelandic histories, some of the early Viking settlers in Greenland may have become the first Europeans to explore North America.

The Viking Age came to a close in 1066, when the king of England, Harold Godwinson, and his army were able to defeat an invasion by the last great Viking king, Harald Hardrada of Norway. Today, signs of their legacy can be found mostly in the Scandinavian origins of some phrases 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 past.

Plunder your way through the weapons, magnificent ships and towns in this week’s featured collection, Vikings. Here’s a look at some of this week’s episodes:

  • Search for evidence that Norsemen discovered the New World 500 years before Christopher Columbus, trace the explorations of Leif Ericson and examine clues about the Vikings’ travels in Vikings in North America.
  • Adorned with dragonheads and filled with some of the fiercest men on earth, Viking vessels inspired dread throughout the Dark Ages. The Viking Ships gives an on-board view of these ingenious raider crafts.
  • Dublin, Ireland is much more than a city of pubs and pints. Explore the pagan burial tombs, subterranean defense tunnels and mysterious underground burial crypts below the city’s rolling hills in Viking Underground.

Tune in to the new season of Vikings on HISTORY. New Episodes Wednesdays at 9/8c.

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