The Vikings, a people known for their seafaring conquests, were strongly influenced by their pagan religious beliefs. These Men of the North, as they were often described by their victims, touched nearly all cultures of the Earth, venturing far into the vast unknown and leaving remnants of their presence behind. The polytheistic religion of the Norse influenced everything from their political standing with the rest of the world, to the way their social classes were setup, and even how their economy was run.
Norse society was centered around their religion. The Norse worshipped many Gods, each with its own powers, responsibilities, and personality. The chief, and father, of the other Gods was named Odin. Viking warriors believed that when they died in battle, they would be carried to Valhalla, the domain of Odin, where they would fight and feast until Ragnarok, essentially the end of the world. In addition to these war geared beliefs, the Norse had to combat overpopulation by colonizing distant lands. With this mentality in mind, it is easy to understand how the Vikings came to be so feared among the surrounding nations, both near and far. The conquests of the Norse ranged from the sacking of European monasteries to the colonization of Greenland and other far-reaching places.
In many respects, Viking social classes reflected their pagan beliefs. At the top of the social hierarchy were the chieftains, Norsemen who had either proven themselves in battle or came from a line of respected warriors. The chieftain would head a clan of extended relatives, retainers, and freemen. Clans would organize into bands of warriors and set out on their longships for wealth, blood, glory, and, possibly, a trip to Valhalla.
The economy hinged greatly on the plunders captured on raids overseas. Monasteries, which were held sacred in the Christian world, often housed large amounts of treasures accumulated through donations and offerings. These holy sites often fell prey to Viking raids due to their rich bounties and relatively light defenses. It was raids of this kind that earned the Vikings their name which is derived from the early Scandinavian word “vikingr” meaning pirate. But the men of the North did not survive solely on such expeditions, many worked as independent farmers and skilled craftsmen. In fact, it was the women who did much of the farming as the men were often gone for long periods of time. Vikings were considered skilled tradesman in their time, although much of their merchandise was made up of slaves and stolen goods.
The Vikings were rightfully feared by the rest of the world. These religious zealots were comparable to the Templars of the Crusades in their beliefs that they would receive the same riches by dying in battle as they would by overcoming the opposition. Despite these war-like habits, or perhaps caused by them, the influence of the Vikings was felt far from their origin in Norway and Sweden and, in some cultures, can still be seen today.
“Viking”. Encyclopedia Brittanica. 18 August, 2010. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/628781/Viking>
“Vikings”. BBC. 18 August, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/vikings/>
“Vikings: The Nordic Countries”. Ranburg.com. 18 August, 2010. http://www.randburg.com/nordic/overview1.html>
The Viking Museum. 18 August, 2010.