Viking Longships: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Viking longships.

  • The Vikings were seafaring warriors from Scandinavia. They explored and settled in areas of Europe, North America and even Asia, by means of their longships.
  • The first longships (or longboats) were built as far back as the stone age, although most were built between the 9th and 13th centuries. The methods of construction are still used all over the world today.

  • There were several different types of Viking longship, based on their size and importance. They ranged from 23 to 30 metres long and could carry up to 80 people.
  • Although oak was commonly used to make longships, elm, pine, spruce and ash were also used. During construction, unfinished ships were buried in mud to stop the wood from drying out.

Viking longboat

  • The Vikings invented the ship’s keel, and the design of their ships meant they were sturdy, yet could be easily steered and turned. The ships could reach speeds of 15 knots.
  • Several different methods of navigation were used by the Vikings. They navigated by the stars, the sun and a primitive form of sundial, as well as using birds to indicate the location of the nearest land.
  • The prows of the ships often featured a carved dragon or other creature. Its purpose was to protect the sailors from sea monsters, and to frighten their enemies.
  • The longboat played an important role in Viking funerals. In some cases, dead person’s body was dressed in fine clothing, placed on the ship, and it was set on fire. Some times, Vikings were buried with their ships. (Click the link to learn more about Viking funerals.)
  • In 1997, archaeologists discovered a Viking longship buried in the mud near Copenhagen, Denmark. At 36 metres long, it is the longest one ever found.
  • Several working replicas of Viking longships have been made since the first ship was found. One of the most famous replica ships was made in 1893 in Norway and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean.

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Leif Ericson: Facts About The Viking Explorer

Here are some facts about Leif Ericson.

  • Leif Ericson was born in Iceland in about 970 and died around 1020. He is widely believed to have landed in North America several centuries before Christopher Columbus.

  • Ericson supposedly founded a Viking settlement at Vinland on what is now the Canadian island of Newfoundland. In 1960, archaeologists discovered evidence of a Viking settlement there.
  • Vinland may have been named after the grapes that were found growing there. Although Vinland may have been in Newfoundland, other places in the eastern US and Canada have been suggested as a possible location of the Viking settlement.
  • Some historians claim that Ericson sailed as far south as what is now Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Others say that early Norse explorers made it to Minnesota and the Midwest.
  • There are several statues of Leif Ericson, including one in Iceland, and one in Norway. In the US, there are statues of the explorer in Seattle, Boston, Cleveland and Minnesota.

Leif Ericson

  • Leif Ericson was the son of a Norse chief Erik the Red, named for his red beard. Erik the Red discovered Greenland,  naming it so in an effort to attract settlers.
  • Many of the details of Ericson’s voyages are known from the books called the Norse Sagas. Some of the information suggests he found North America accidentally when his ship was blown off course.
  • Very little is known of Ericson’s personal life. He is known to have had two sons, one of whom was banished from Norway for manslaughter.
  • At one point, Leif Ericson was given the nickname ‘Lucky’ as he rescued a ship on one of his trips, and obtained various valuables and items that could be traded.
  • In 1930, Wisconsin was the first US state to celebrate Leif Ericson Day, on October 9th. In 1964, Congress decided the day would be a nationwide US holiday.
  • His name is sometimes written as Leif Erikson.

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Norse Gods and Goddesses, Myths and Beliefs: Facts and Information

The Norse Myths were stories passed on by word of mouth (usually told by storytellers called bards). The tales featured the Viking gods and goddesses, and they formed part of the Viking religion.

The Vikings worshipped a large number of gods. These gods were divided into two types: Aesir (warrior gods) and Vanir (fertility gods).

The gods and goddesses of the Vikings were not immortal (they could be killed) and they could also express human emotions such as love, hatred and jealousy.

The Vikings or Norsemen also believed that elves lived in the woodlands and streams, dwarfs lived in underground halls, and trolls and giants lived in the mountains.

The Nine Worlds

The Vikings believed that there were nine worlds or realms. All of these worlds were supported by a massive ash tree called Yggdrasil. The nine worlds were:

  1. Asgard – home of the Aesir gods (the warrior gods)
  2. Vanaheim – home of the Vanir (the fertility gods)
  3. Alfheim – home of the Light Elves
  4. Midgard – Earth – the world of the humans, connected to Asgard by a rainbow
  5. Jotunheim – home of the Giants mountain stronghold (Utgard)
  6. Nidavellir -home of the Dwarfs
  7. Svartalfheim -home of the Dark Elves
  8. Niflheim – the Land of the Dead – a dark place ruled by Hel, Queen of the Dead.
  9. Muspell – a fiery place guarded by Surt and his blazing sword.

Gods, Goddesses and Other Characters from Norse Mythology

Follow the links below to find out facts and information about some of the important Viking gods and mythological characters.

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Norse Gods and Goddesses: Facts About Thor

Here are some facts about the famous hammer-weilding god from Norse mythology.

  • Thor’s name is linked to the word ‘thunder’. It also gave rise to the day of the week Thursday.

  • Thor is an Aesir god (a warrior god) and he is the son of the ruler of the gods, Odin.
  • Thor is associated with many things. He is well-known for being linked to thunder, lightning, storms and strength, but he was also known as the protector of mankind and partly responsible for healing, fertility and law and order.
  • Thor has over ten different names in Norse mythology.
  • He was married to goddess Sif.
  • Thor is often described as having fierce eyes and red hair.
  • Thor loved fighting – using his war hammer, Mjollnir, a magical belt that made him twice as strong, and iron gauntlets (gloves).
  • He also enjoyed feasting and drinking.
  • Thor had many adventures. He was the greatest enemy of the Giants, and he overcame the mighty serpent, Jormungand.
  • Thor rode a huge chariot pulled by two massive goats.
  • Many Vikings wore hammer-shaped amulet and pendants. These were to show that the wearer was a follower of the Norse pagan faith and rejected the coming of Christianity.
  • One of the Marvel superheroes is called Thor. He’s one of The Avengers and is modelled, to a certain extent, on the Norse god of the same name.

Norse Gods and Goddesses: Facts About Odin

Here are some facts about Odin, the father of the Norse gods.

  • Odin was one of the warrior gods (Aesir).
  • He was the father of all of the other Norse gods and the first god to exist.

  • The Vikings believed that Odin made the Erth and the sky, created humans and all of the other living creatures.
  • Odin was an incredibly powerful ruler, and he could be be both stern and angry.
  • Odin was the god of battle and he could cause wars on Earth simply by throwing his spear. Odin decided who won battles and this is why he was worshipped so much by the Vikings.
  • The Vikings believed that those who fought bravely and died in battle would feast with Odin and the other fallen heroes in the halls of Valhalla (or Valholl) located in Asgard, the realm of the gods.
  • Odin sat upon a great throne called Hlidskjalf and watched over the nine worlds.
  • He kept two ravens, Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory). The birds flew across the worlds gathering infoamtion and news for Odin.
  • As well as being the god of war, Odin was also the god of poetry and wisdom.
  • Odin often visited the other worlds in search of wisdom. He travelled in disguise – usually wearing a blue cloak and wide-brimmed hat.
  • Odin rode an eight-legged horse called Sleipnir.
  • He carried a magical spear called Gungnir.
  • Odin had one eye.
  • Odin kept two pet wolves, Geri and Freki.
  • Odin was married to the goddess Frigg – although he believed to have had other wives too.
  • His sons were Thor, Balder, Hodr and Vali.
  • Odin could tell what the future held for an human being.

Facts About Viking Food, Farming and Feasts

The Vikings are best known as brave and fearsome invaders and warriors, but they were also able farmers and fishermen. Here are some facts about the types of farming and fishing the Vikings relied upon, the foods they would have eaten and their meal time practices and customs.

What did the Vikings farm?

  • The Vikings both grew crops and kept animals.
  • The best farmland in the Viking world was located in Denmark and parts of Sweden. On the fertile land in these areas, the Vikings grew: wheat, barley, rye and oats.
  • Flax was also grown and this was turned into linen.
  • The Vikings used a range of farming tools constructed from wood and iron. These included: shovels, picks, hoes, sickles and scythes.
  • Vikings farmers raised sheep, pigs, poultry, goats and cattle. Wool from sheep was the main material used to make Viking clothes.
  • Some of the Viking lands had very harsh climates and soils unfit for most crops. In these areas the Vikings kept poultry and pigs in farmyards.

How did Viking Fishermen Catch Fish?

  • Viking fishermen used both nets and barbed hooks to catch fish.
  • They caught freshwater fish (such as trout and eels) in the lakes of Europe and herring and cod in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.
  • Fish formed a major part of a Viking’s diet.

What Types of Food Did the Vikings Eat?

  • Oats, rye and barley were made into bread or porridge – split peas were often added to the mixture.
  • Goat meat, horse meat and beef were all commonly eaten – often in stews.
  • The Vikings hunted to provide venison (the meat from a deer), wild boar, reindeer, hare and wildfowl.
  • Honey was used as a sweetener.
  • Honey was also used to make mead, a strong alcoholic drink.
  • Beer was made from barley and wine was made from berries and fruits.
  • Animals were often slaughtered and their meat smoked or dried to preserve it and provide the Vikings with food during the winter. Fishes were either salted and dried or pickled.
  • The most common vegetables in a Vikings diet were cabbages and peas.
  • The Vikings also picked cherries, apples and plums in the summer months.
  • Onions, garlic and dill were added to stews to give them more flavour.

How Did the Vikings Prepare and Eat Their Food?

  • Food was often prepared around a hearth located in the centre of the main living space, although some Viking dwellings had separate kitchen areas.
  • Huge iron cauldrons were used to cook meat and make stews.
  • Some animals and birds were roasted on spits.
  • The Vikings used bowls and plates made of wood or pottery.
  • They didn’t use forks. Instead they used their fingers and sharp knives to position and cut their meals into bite-size mouthfuls.
  • Viking families usually ate twice a day.
  • Viking feasts usually lasted a long time and were very drunken. Wedding celebrations could last for weeks!

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Viking Burials: Facts and Information

Here are some interesting facts about the Viking burial rituals. The customs vary slightly according to how wealthy the dead individual was and where they lived, but they all revolve around the Vikings belief in an afterlife.

  • Vikings were buried with everything they might need in the next world. The items (or grave goods) would vary according to the status and profession of the deceased individual. A warrior, for example, would be buried with his best weapons and armour, whereas a farmer’s wife might be buried with her wool spinning tools.

  • The wealthiest Vikings were buried with their ships under great burial mounds. The body was placed within the ship along with all of their best belongings, such as tapestries, furniture, clothes, weapons, kitchen utensils, jewellery and tools.
  • Although people often think that there is a ship under all of the Viking burial mounds, more often than not they house a burial chamber.
  • Sometimes the ships containing the body were set alight on funeral pyres to speed up the journey to the afterlife.
  • Ships were very expensive, so many Vikings marked their burial site with stones and boulders arranged in the outline of a ship.
  • Sometimes Vikings were buried with their horses, dogs, oxen and even their servants.
  • In the British Isles, the Vikings adopted the practice of using carved gravestones to mark the site of a burial. These often contained images of animals and were painted in bright colours.

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Facts about Viking Games and Sports

Here are some of the key facts about the sports and games played by the Vikings.

What games did Viking children play?

  • Viking boys spent much of their free time playing at war. They fought using wooden swords so they couldn’t hurt each other too badly.

  • Children played a bat and ball game called ‘Kingy Bats’, and they also played with dolls.

Did the Vikings play board games?

  • Yes they did! One of their favourite games was called hnefatafl. This was a game for two players. One player took charge of the red army, and the other player moved the white army. Hnefatafl was a bit like a cross between chess and draughts. A wide range of different types of boards and pieces have been found by archaeologists. Some were of exceptionally hight quality, with elaborate carving and decorations, whereas others were little more than grids scratched on a stones.
  • The Vikings took their board games very seriously and they often resulted in violence!

What sports did the Vikings play?

  • Viking men often proved their strength and toughness by taking part in wrestling matches.
  • They also enjoyed competing in rowing and swimming races.
  • In the winter, the Vikings went skiing, sledging and skating.

Other Viking Games and Sports

  • The Vikings set up fights between their best stallions. People would bet on the outcome of these horse-fights.