It feels apt to close off Viking week with the end of the Viking era, or the Viking age.
This will be a relatively short post with a few snippets of info – mainly because the end of the Viking age is considered to coincide with Harald Hardrada’s defeat at Stamford Bridge in 1066. I have a full post on this battle coming up so I don’t want to touch on 1066 too much.
Although it’s been touched on several times so far, it’s useful to make clear the distinction between being a Viking and being Norse. The Vikings were just the Norsemen who went raiding – to “go a-viking” so although the Viking age ended – it simply means the Norsemen stopped raiding. They continued their day to day lives in Scandinavia and their settlements in Iceland and Greenland. They weren’t conquered or wiped out.
Why did they stop raiding?
The main reason is simply the changing political, military and societal aspects of Europe, including Scandinavia.
In the lands of the Vikings, society was becoming more unbalanced. With less chieftains and more kings with absolute power, divisions began and Scandinavia became more like Britain and France in this respect – a smaller amount of wealthy people who could afford to build longboats and own swords – the farmers could no longer afford to leave and go raiding.
The defences of the countries the Vikings traditionally raided became more adept and organised, and used to fending off their attacks. The riches of the church were moved inward or better protected with fortifications and an organised leadership helped quell the Viking tide. The unification of England for example, helped to create a more stable country, with skilled soldiers supported by the king, and easily mobilised.
Perhaps one of the main reasons was the influence of Christianity. Many of the descendants of the Vikings of the 8th, 9th, 10th century Vikings were now Christian, and it wasn’t in keeping with their faith both to go raiding and pillaging and to harm fellow Christians for the purpose of plunder.
There is a full post on this coming up this week, but in 1066 Harald Hardrada sent a large Viking force to Northern England to invade. They were soundly beaten, marking the last prominent Viking invasion of the British Isles and with it the end of the Viking era.
It didn’t make any sense to go ‘a-viking’ anymore – the risks outweighed the potential rewards. With the changing political climate away from chiefdoms and towards centralised powers with countries ruled by one king, these Scandinavian people were not known as Northmen or Vikings; they were Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic.
The end of the Viking age therefore was marked by the absence of Viking raids – as simple as that!