What do we think when we hear the word “Viking?”
We here in North America really don’t understand the terror that the Vikings inspired in the consciousness of Europe. But Europe wasn’t the only place blessed by these rude neighbors. Let’s make it clear, Vikings were not nice people. They didn’t ask politely, they didn’t play fair, they didn’t wear horned helmets and they didn’t train dragons…but if they did, they’d train the dragons to kill people. These were, in no uncertain terms, scary, terrifying, mean people.
However, the vikings did more than hang around their longhouses and kill each other, they (comparatively) got along well with other vikings. So, to kill and loot other people, they had to travel long distances. In order to kill people far away they became outstanding sailors in boats shaped like dragons. Imagine you’re a medieval peasant mending your net before a day of fishing. All of a sudden you see dozens of dragon ships coming out of the fog, each one loaded to the brim like a clown car from hell with scary men in armor, axes and very intimidating beards. What does your village have to fend these raiders off? A sharp stick? An ill-mannered cow? Maybe the priest can call for divine protection?
Good against peasants is one thing, good against actual fighters? Let’s take a look at the history of England before the Norman conquest. The Vikings had moved in and took almost the whole island. They defeated every British army they came across and evicted every king except one. They ruled the joint for years until they grew tired. They were great fighters but not good settlers…or were they? The vikings, venturing further and further away, came to a pleasant little place called Russia. They invaded that as well and took it over. But, how long did they stay. Pretty much forever. They shaved their heads but kept their beards like bad A bikers and ruled Russia and eventually blended in with them. Russia didn’t mind and in fact wanted the Vikings there. At that time, Russia was so crazy anarchic like something from road warriors, that it made the Vikings look like calm, civilized peacekeepers. That’s like asking China to serve on the human rights comittee…oh wait, they did.
Okay, so they managed to take over Russia, not a small feat. I mean, the Germans, Napoleon and Hitler all failed miserably.
So, where to next for our fearless adventurers?
The vikings, sitting on their piles of gold, heard of a great city far to the south that was paved with gold. They called this city Miklagrad. We know it as Constantinople. Constantinople had some of the most impressive land fortifications in Europe…or anywhere else for that matter. The vikings show up, look at the tallest walls they had ever seen and that the city was as large as their entire country.
Now, Vikings may not have been the most elegant, sophisticated or literate people in the world, but they weren’t stupid. They knew that their 12 ships had no chance of taking the city full of almost a million. So, instead, they offered their service to the emperor. The Byzantine emperor saw the benefit of having highly loyal insane killers working for them and the vikings became the “Varangians” the personal bodyguard of the emperor.
From there, the Vikings went down to Saudi Arabia, north Africa, Spain and anywhere else they could find, but then they ran out of places. (they didn’t feel like crossing the Sahara or Himalayas.) So, they started looking for more places to loot and pillage. So, they ventured out into the Atlantic. Sure, they found Iceland and Greenland, but that wasn’t enough for them. No, they went and discovered North America just to find more places to beat up and take their lunch money.
They were busy dudes. Busy, scary dudes.
So, what happened to these viking settlements? Why do we have Columbus Day, but no Viking Day? (we should have a viking day, a day where we gather around, drink mead, sing dirty songs and eat whole legs of ham.) No one really knows. Did the Native Americans drive them off because they were tired of their late night parties? Did they get bored and leave because there wasn’t anything to loot?