In medieval Norway the basis for agriculture was poor. Many people lived on the coast and boat building skills were easily the best in Europe. The result was voyages of discovery, trade and brutal raids. The voyages began in the latter part of the eighth century and stretched from Greenland in the west to the Caspian Sea in the east.
The Vikings built longships with broad, flat-bottomed hulls. These ships were perfect for use in shallow coastal waters and up rivers. The Vikings could easily reach far into foreign lands.
To begin with only a few made the voyages, but the fleet gradually grew until there were hundreds of longships sailing to England, Scotland, France and Ireland.
The Vikings came as pirates to plunder and kill. Their reputation spread terror along most of Europe’s coasts. But their posthumous reputation is not quite fair. They were not just ruthless warriors but also skilled traders and administrators.
The Vikings founded a number of cities and colonies, including Dublin and Normandy. Between the years 879 and 920 they colonised Iceland, which in turn became the springboard for the colonisation of Greenland.
By the 1100s the Vikings were weakened by domestic unrest. At the same time many other European countries were becoming stronger and more difficult targets.
We date the end of the Viking age from the fall of Harald Hardråde, when he unsuccessfully tried to conquer England in 1066.
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