Skip to main content

The Rise of the Vikings

With a bachelor's degree in history, I enjoy researching and writing about events in history. Viking history is one of my favorites.


Rise of the Vikings

During the ninth century, Britain was faced with a terrifying threat known as the Northmen. The Northmen, or Vikings, were Germanic pagans who hailed from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. The Northmen were expert boat builders and craftsmen who travelled great distances from their homeland, by sea and river. These expeditions were called Vikings. This is where the modern term for the Northmen originates. Our knowledge of Vikings today has been learned through the writings of people in Europe and Asia whom they encountered. The Viking Age lasted from 800 to 1150 AD, and the Viking expansion during this time was due to warfare, exploration, settlement, and trade. While Vikings have typically been regarded as ruthless barbarians, the truth is that their expansion changed the world as we know it. Their involvement in the affairs of Britain brought together the kingdoms England and Scotland as unified territories.


The First Viking Raid

The first recorded Viking raid took place in 793 on a monastery in Lindisfarne. The Viking warriors continued to make regular raids targeting monasteries on the coasts of England, looting treasure and other goods, and capturing people as slaves. They often targeted monasteries for their silver or gold chalices, plates, bowls, and crucifixes. During this time, the prayer “Save us, O God, from the violence of the Northmen” became widespread.


Viking Migration

Over time, however, Viking raiders began to remain in England and other countries they had raided. First, they stayed in winter camps, then they began to settle in the lands that they had seized. Vikings took over and settled Iceland, the Faroes, and Orkney, where they became farmers and fishermen - traditional trades for Northmen. Sometimes they went on summer trading or raiding voyages. Viking ruled Orkney grew to be powerful and ruled most of Scotland. Furthermore, the Isle of Man also became a Viking kingdom. In Ireland, the Vikings founded the cities of Dublin, Cork, and Limerick as strongholds. Viking trade routes established strongholds and cities throughout Europe.

In England, the Vikings took over Northumbria, East Anglia and parts of Mercia. In 866 the Vikings captured the city of York and made it their capital. As Vikings continued to move south and west, the kings of Mercia and Wessex attempted to resist, but had little success. The Scots, however, took advantage of the Viking presence. Under King Cináed mac Alpín, the first king of the Scots, the Scots promoted themselves as the kings of all those in northern Britain. This is thanks to the intervention of the Vikings who helped to eradicate the former rulers – the Picts.


Peace Under Viking Rule

Under the Viking leader, Hálfdan, the Viking army conquered Mercia in 874 CE, and doled out land amongst the Vikings in Northumbria. In 878 CE, the army moved south and forced Wessex to submit, thus conquering almost all of England. However, their victory was short lived. Eight years later in 886 CE, King Alfred the Great of Wessex retook London. Later that same year he signed a treaty with Guthrum, King of the Vikings. For the first time, there was peace between the Vikings and the British.

Scroll to Continue

During the Viking Age, almost 200,000 people left Scandinavia and settled in other lands. While there was peace, there were still Viking raids on the English coast. Despite this, England would go on to have four Viking Kings between 1013-1042. Furthermore, just after the last Viking invasion in 1066 was repelled, England was faced with a new threat by the Normans at the Battle of Hastings. William of Normandy, who was of Viking decent, won the battle and became King of England. Once again, England was united under Viking rule.


History of world societies: to 1600. 10th ed. Vol. 1. Boston, MA: Bedford Bks St Martin'S, 2014

James, Edward, Prof. "BBC - History - Overview: The Vikings, 800 to 1066." BBC News. March 29, 2011. Accessed March 14, 2017.

"Vikings: a brief history." Historical Association. Jan. & feb., 2017. Accessed March 14, 2017.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Brandy R Williams


Jim Henderson from Hattiesburg, Mississippi on May 29, 2020:

Love to read about early English history and also about the Vikings! I think it's a shame we really don't teach History in public schools -instead of how to pass a history test; meanwhile the lessons of history are forgotten.

I think the average person thinks of the practical use of history to be of no more value than winning big on Jeopardy!

Once again, entertaining and informative!

Related Articles