11:49 PM

Bold seafarers swept out of Scandinavia a millennium ago and terrorized and explored Europe, western Asia, and eastern Canada. They left us amazing artifacts.

From some 250 years most of the world fell prey to raiders called Vikings. Sailing from Scandinavia they terrorized and left their testimony in Europe, Asia and even North America. They dominated Russia and gave it its name, they crossed Atlantic 5 centuries before Columbus. They visited Constantinople, Greece, they sailed Volga. Even the names of the days came from Viking age gods - Thursday ( Thor's day) or Friday (Frigg)

In the Precopernican age everyone in Europe knew that the North Atlantic  led only to a turmoil of monsters at the end of the world. Only the crazy could cross this barrier. The Vikings. They colonized Iceland and Greenland (remains of their settlement on the left). At the end of first millenium ad the Greenland caprtain Bjarni Herjulfsson caosted a land with "well-wodden and with low hills" - America.

Four times the Viking fleet sailed the Black See and raided Constantinople (they called it Miklagard, the big city). They carved their runes in famous Hagia Sophia. Impressed, the Byzantine emperors recruited warriors as a part of their guard - Varagian Guard. They served Byzantium for 200 years. There is a suggestion that the Vikings were the dominant class of eastern countries. Some historians think that the first polish king - Mieszko was a viking. We know for sure that Norsemen assimilated into local population and then, they became Slavic. The Volga river was a rich trade road. And for the Norsemen it was also a source a trading exchange. The small buddha figure was found in Viking's grave at Helgo, Sweden with some Coptic (Egyptian) landle and irish cozier.

In 859 two chieftains Bjorn and Hasteinn with 62 ship made an amazing voyage. Following the bay of Biscay (France), they looted the Iberian coast, paused near the rock of Gibraltar (and plundered Moroccan city of Algerciras). Then, first time in history they sailed Mediterranean following North Africa coast. They captured their first ever dark-skinned slaves (they called them blue-men). Left: 9th century Swedish engraved silver ring shows evidence of close contacts between Viking Age Scandinavians and the Islamic world. The ring is set with a piece of imported coloured glass that is inscribed with Arabic writing that reads "For/To Allah" 

Inching the north Atlantic Norse settlers reached Greenland around the end of 10th century. The first Viking that landed in North America was Leif the Lucky. He came to a mass of mountains and glaciers which he named Vinland. Further south he came to a flat land with a lot of trees and grassland. Leif built a house and wintered there. We do not know for sure where did he landed but it is probably Labrador. Another Viking explored the new continent even further. His party came upon "three sin boats and three men under each". He probably met Eskimos or Indians. The Norse planned to colonize new lands. Early in 11th century Thorfinn prepared three ships loaded with 65 people and sailed to the west. His colony stood for two years. In the meantime his wife gave birth to a boy called Snorri - he was the first white child born in the America.

With all these battle that they fought there is only one Viking helmet that survived - from Gjermundbu mound burial. This helmet was made of iron and was in the shape of a rounded or peaked cap made from four plates after the spangenhelm pattern. The helmet has a rounded cap and has a "spectacle" guard around the eyes and nose which formed a sort of mask. So no horns.

When not fighting or travelling they set aside time for fests and games. Board games and dice games were played as a popular pastime, at all levels of society. Preserved gaming pieces and boards show game boards made of easily available materials like wood, with game pieces manufactured from stone, wood or bone, while other finds include elaborately carved boards and game pieces of glass, amber, antler or walrus tusk, together with materials of foreign origin, such as ivory. The Vikings played several types of tafl games; hnefatafl, nitavl (Nine Men's Morris) and the less common kvatrutafl. Chess also appeared at the end of the Viking Age. Hnefatafl is a war game, in which the object is to capture the king piece – a large hostile army threatens and the king's men have to protect the king. It was played on a board with squares using black and white pieces, with moves made according to dice rolls. The Ockelbo Runestone shows two men engaged in Hnefatafl, and the sagas suggest that money or valuables could have been involved in some dice games. Left: Glass board game pieces.

During the Viking Age, Scandinavian men and women travelled to many parts of Europe and beyond, in a cultural diaspora that left its traces from Newfoundland to Byzantium. This period of energetic activity also had a pronounced effect in the Scandinavian homelands, which were subject to a variety of new influences. In the 300 years from the late 8th century, when contemporary chroniclers first commented on the appearance of Viking raiders, to the end of the 11th century, Scandinavia underwent profound cultural changes. By the late 11th century, royal dynasties legitimised by the Catholic Church (which had had little influence in Scandinavia 300 years earlier) were asserting their power with increasing authority and ambition, and the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden had taken shape. Towns appeared that functioned as secular and ecclesiastical administrative centres and market sites, and monetary economies began to emerge based on English and German models. That was the end of Viking era.

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