Ellen Lloyd - AncientPages.com - The Vikings were feared, hated and admired and their rich history goes far back in time. Vikingschanged the history of Europe and their presence left a legacy in other parts of the world. How could they become so powerful and rich? How were they able to explore distant lands?
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We tend to associate Vikings with great names such as Ragnar Lodbrok, Ivar the Boneless, Erik the Red and mighty King Harald Hardrada, just to mention a few. However, before these men became famous and influential, there was the Bronze Age that shaped the Nordic civilization and laid the foundation for the Viking Age.
Historical Studies Show The First Viking Was A Bronze Age Man
The Bronze Age was a fascinating period in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe. During this period Norse people engaged in trade with foreign cultures and sailed to unknown lands. Influential leaders held a high status in the society and pagan gods who many believed controlled the fate of humanity were worshipped.
Nordic people traveled all the way to the Alps and Germany to acquire copper that they transported to England in exchange for other precious metals that could bring back to their countries.
Norse deities played a vital role in society. To the left Frigg with sword and bow. In the middle Tor (Thor) with crown and spire sitting on a throne. To the right Oden (Odin) heavily armed. All these deities are encountered in Norse mythology. Credit: Public Domain
The business was booming and valuable trade contacts were established. The Norwegians played a central role in this continental trade and Jutland, a large peninsula that contains the mainland regions of Denmark became the richest place in Europe. This sensational economic transformation occurred almost overnight because of trading with amber that was used to produced bronze.
“I don't think the raw materials came to the Nordic countries step by step, it had become too expensive. The Norwegians must have gone a long way to get the copper, some from Central Europe, some from Spain. There are rock carvings in Portugal that are very similar to the Scandivaioan ones,” says Professor Johan Ling, at the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Gothenburg, who surveyed tens of thousands of Swedish carvings.
Trade And Colonization During The Bronze Age
The high and respected Nordic culture was undoubtedly founded on trade, but proper agriculture was also very important.
During this period Norse people realized that investing in merchant's vessels, owning lands, trading and looting could make them rich. This is how the Viking Age started, a period characterized by trade and colonization.
However, being a farmer could be difficult if a person didn’t have enough land and livestock.
According to Professor Kristian Kristiansen at the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Gothenburg, Norse people created a “patrilineal society that the Indo-Europeans brought with them into Europe, where the eldest son inherits the farm. It is deeply embedded in Indo-European society and created a strong social dynamic. They also came up with a new shepherd and warrior culture, where there was the prestige of having a large herd of livestock.”
Kristiansen explained that “expansion of agriculture required unrestricted labor. If you didn't have much land, you couldn't afford to put fighters on boats. To manage agriculture and build boats for 20 people, 100 people were needed on an annual basis. This was probably not possible without slaves. During the Viking era, the vessels were considerably larger and the need for labor increased to perhaps 250 people.”
Professor Ling explained that those who didn’t inherit large areas of land gained power and wealth by becoming great warriors instead.
Boys were trained as warriors and were later sent to serve someone. In ancient Norse times, the gender roles for boys and girls were quite defined. It was most common that boys worked on farms and girls did housework.
Viking children at the age of 10 were considered adults and they were required to learn the jobs and tasks that their parents did. The boys mainly worked on farms and the girls worked inside like their mothers.
Viking boys were expected to learn how to take care of themselves. This meant they must not only be good farmers, but also skilled warriors.
“It is a system created in the Bronze Age, where the men on the boats formed a war chest. This meant that there were basically two ways of gaining wealth: of land or of commerce and looting.
Many women came from outside, according to analyzes of remains in, among other things, Danish graves. The DNA and strontium analyses do not reveal where only that they came from other regions. Boys were sent as foster children to an uncle's family, where they grew up with cousins and were trained in a continental network of warriors.
Gifts such as gold rings, positions of power and women are important for alliances. It is important to be famous and remembered. The exchange of gifts is central even during the Viking era, as is evident in the Havamal life rules, but the system is formed in the Bronze Age. You see it on the rock carvings, which depict an exclusive elite with travel, hunting, and ritual matches,” Professor Ling explained.
During the Viking era, there were different classes of ships. The longships were mainly used as warships and the ships called Knarrs (or knorrs in Old Norse) served as slower passenger and cargo ships.
One of the main reasons behind Vikings' success to reach distant lands lies in their remarkable longships. The Vikings’ ships were the greatest technical and artistic achievement of the European Dark Ages. Without these great ships, the Viking Age would never have happened.
In a study conducted together with Professor Kristiansen and American archaeologist Timothy Earle, Professor Ling draw a comprehensive picture of the Nordic Bronze Age economy, social structures, and war ideology. The results of the study showed ships gave Norwegians power and wealth. Constructions of long-distance boats continued and played a vital role in Vikings’ success abroad.