The Vikings traveled extensively. Below you will find a European map, which shows their most frequently used travel routes. In addition to sailing at open sea and along the coastlines, the Vikings traveled along the rivers in Europe and made overland journeys. The Vikings were, in short, very mobile.

Map of the Vikings travling routs
Map of the Vikings travling routs
The unbroken line on the map indicates more common routes, while the dot-and-dash lines indicate lesser-used routs.

The Norsemen were well known in northwestern Europe as peaceful and respectable traders, at least for several hundred years prior to 800AD. But in the late 700's this peaceful activity evolved into plundering raids instead. The Vikings started to attack and plunder monasteries, towns and areas along coastlines. In the year 793 they attacked the Lindisfarne monastery and in the following year the Jarrow monastery.

Many theories have been launched concerning why the Vikings started with the plundering raids. Since the 1930's, recommended books studying this question have maintained that over population was responsible for this activity. Later, this theory was supplemented with an explanation to the effect that there was also a spirit of adventure and a need for discovery.

Torgrim Titlestad, while discussing the issue in a recent book (Titlestad, Kampen om Nordvegen, 1996) , has suggested an alternative explanation. He has maintained that the Vikings were not beset by vulgarity, brutality or voracity; thereby becoming brutal murderers and rapists - so called "galloping coarseness". First, he shows that The Vikings did not surpass their contemporaries in Europe in vulgarity and brutality. If anything, it was to the contrary. For example, The French king, Charlamange (Karl the Greate) (747 - 814 AD), cut off the heads of 4500 Saxons in one day. He first had them baptized, so their souls could find salvation before being decapitated. (These Saxons were executed because they didn't accept the Christian faith).

Secondly, Titlestad maintains it was no coincidence that the Vikings first started to plunder monasteries. The reason for this was initially a reaction against the combined threat of the French, as well as the Christian Church. Their combined expansion was threatening the defenses (Danevirke) that the Danes had built in southern Denmark. In other words, the attacks the Vikings visited upon the monasteries were not to terrorize defenseless monks, but to fight back a constant threat from the more barbarian Christian Church.

The two systems had values, religious beliefs, legal systems and power bases which were inconsistent with each another. The Vikings defended their system of small kingdoms for a long time against the centralized power of the Church in the south. However, in the latter part of the 700's the balance of power changed. The rule of the Franco king, Charlamange (Karl the Greate) , was in decline, while the Scandinavian chieftains had prospered sufficiently to take up arms and fight back. Also, the Vikings had developed the Viking ships. At the time, these ships were a supreme weapon, which they knew how to use to full advantage.

In the beginning, the Viking raiding groups were small. The first raid we know about involved only three ships crossing the sea. In the year 836 the number of ships rose to 25, and in the years 850 - 851 there were 350 ships reported on the river Thames near London. According to written records, the first time the Vikings spent the winter abroad was during the years 840 -841 in Ireland. In the year 843 the also spent the winter in France.

The Vikings had a good nose for tactics. They struck where their effort would be most profitable, such as during times of political disharmony. For example when the son of Charlamange (Karl the Greate) ascended to the throne of France the Vikings used the opportunity to attack. Then, when the emperor managed to raise an army against the Vikings in the 830's, the Vikings left France and began to plunder England again.

Later, when a period of political turmoil beset France, the Vikings returned and continued to ravage the area for another twenty years. In the year 865 they left France and went to England, attacking East Anglo and taking custody of the dominion of York. On the other hand, the attack made upon Wessex was struck down, whereupon King Alfred secured a treaty forcing the Vikings to make an annual payment while also prohibiting them from making further attacks.

However, it is difficult to make a clear distinction between a traditional Viking raid, a plundering tour, a trading tour, an act of defense against Christianity or the desire to acquire new land. These acts often had overlapping motives. But the typical aim of the Vikings in preying upon others was to capture prisoners for a ransom. It also appears that they favored kidnapping members of the upper class in order to be able to bargain for more goods. If the ransom was not paid, the prisoner was taken away and sold as a slave in another area. The Viking usually established a base on island in the area they had decided to raid. They would bring their booty to this base - most often only prisoners of war. From this island base they would bargain over the prisoner's head. Slave trading was a big business in the areas the Vikings visited.

An overview made by Pierre Barthélemy (Les Vikings, Paris, 1988 ) of attacks made by the Vikings in the period 795 - 1098 is as follows:

Ireland: 43 attacks
The British Islands: 51
The Germanic area: 11
The Netherlands: 10
Belgium: 12
Luxembourg: 1
France: 214
Spain: 9
Portugal: 1
Morocco: 1
Italy: 3
Turkey (Istanbul): 1
Total: 347 attacks

The Viking Age timeline A.D. 789-1085

  • 789 - The first Viking attack on England.
  • 793 - Vikings attacks the monastery at Lindisfarne.
  • 794 - Vikings attacks the monastery at Yarrow, but fails.
  • 795 - Vikings approaches the Irish sea and attacks on Ireland starts.
  • 797 - Vikings attacks Lambay, Ireland.
  • 798 - Vikings attacks Isle of Man (according to Ulster annals, but perhaps not correct).
  • 798 - Vikings attacks on France (before 800) begins.
  • 800 - Skiringsal and Birka trade centers are founded (approximately).
  • 802 - Vikings attacks the monastery at the holly Columbas on the isle Iona of the Hebrides.
  • 805 - Vikings attacks the monastery at the holly Columbas for the second time.
  • 813 - The magnificent Oseberg ship is built (dated by dendrochronology).
  • 820 - Vikings conquers the Isle of Man and establishes permanently.
  • 820 - Vikings attacks Flanders and approches the moth of river Seine.
  • 834 - The Oseberg ship is mounded (dated by dendrochronology).
  • 834 - Vikings approaches the river Thames, England.
  • 839 - Turgeis (Torgisl) and a big Viking fleet conquers Ireland and settles permanently.
  • 841 - Vikings under the leadership of Turgeis founds Dublin, Ireland.
  • 841 - Vikings burns Lillebonne, Caudebec and Rouen and destroys the abbeys of Jumieges and St Wandrille.
  • 843 - Vikings of Vestfold establishes a power base at the isle Noirmountier (Loire) and raids Nates.
  • 844 - A Viking raid on Seville is repulsed.
  • 844 - Turgeis is killed by the Irish, drowned in Loch Nair.
  • 845 - Viking chieftain Ragnar Lodbrok attacks Paris along a big fleet.
  • 853 - Olaf the White conquers Ireland along a big Viking fleet.
  • 857 - Vikings raids Paris again.
  • 858 - Vikings captures the abbot of St Denis and claims ransome.
  • 859 - Vikings raids in the Mediterranean for the first time.
  • 860 - Rus (Sweds) Vikings attacks Constantinople (Istanbul).
  • 861- The third big attack on Paris by Vikings.
  • 862 - Novgorod in Russia is founded by the Rus Viking, Ulrich.
  • 863 - Xanten demolished by Vikings.
  • 866 - Danish Vikings establishes the kingdom of York, England.
  • 870 - Harold Luva (Fairhair) starts his effort to gain full control in Norway.
  • 871 - Alfred the Great becomes king of Wessex; the Danish advance is halted in England.
  • 871 - Olaf the White returns to Norway, his brother Ivarr becoms ruler of Ireland.
  • 874 - Ivarr the Boneless dies, his sons continues attacks on north-eastern England.
  • 879 - Rurik establishes Kiev as power center of the Kievan Rus' domains.
  • 885 - A huge fleet of Viking ships attacks Paris, but fails in conquering the city.
  • 885 - Harald (Luva) Fairhair finally unites Norway as one kingdom, first in Scandinavia.
  • 886 - Alfred and the Danes splits England under the Danelaw pact.
  • 890 - The Gokstad ship is built (dated by dendrochronology).
  • 891 - The Vikings at Noirmountier (France) is finally beaten.
  • 894 - Turf-Einar, son of Rognwald and half brother of Rollo, becomes earl of Orkney.
  • 900 - Vikings raids in the Mediterranean again.
  • 902 - The Irish regains Dublin from the Vikings, and rules for fifteen years.
  • 911 - The Viking chieftain Rollo is granted land by the Frankish king and founds the Duchy of Normandy.
  • 917 - Vikings defeats Dublin by military power and regains the throne.
  • 928 - Kings Æthelstan and Harald Fairhair joins in a treaty to gain control of the Norse Vikings.
  • 930 - The first democracy (Alltinget) of the world is founded at Thingvellir, Iceland, by Vikings.
  • 940 - Harald Fairhair dies and his son Eirik Blood-axe struggle to gain full control of Norway, but fails.
  • 941 - Rus Vikings attacks Constantinople (Istanbul).
  • 947 - Eirik Blood-axe, son of Fairhair, gains control of York.
  • 949 - Olaf Crovan defeats Eirik Blood-axe, who flees.
  • 950 - Eirik Blood-axe regains control of York.
  • 954 - Eirik Blood-axe killed at the Battle of Stainmore in York, Vikings defeated by King Edmund.
  • 974 - Emperor Otto II of Germany attacks Denmark, but fails because of Norwegian help.
  • 976 - Maccus Haraldsson, first known king of Man, dies, his brother Gudrød approaches throne.
  • 976 - Angelsey (coast of Wales) is included to the Norse kingdom of Man.
  • 980 - Vikings starts regular attacks to gain control of England.
  • 984 - Viking leader Erik the Red discovers Greenland and starts settling.
  • 985 - The Jomsvikings attacks Norway, lead by Earl Sigvalde, but is firmly defeated at Hjørungavåg.
  • 986 - Viking ships sails in Newfoundland waters.
  • 991 - Viking chieftain Olaf Tryggvasson, along 93 ships, defeats Byrhtnoth at Maldon (August).
  • 991 - Æthelred II pays, the first Danegeld ransom, off £10,000 in silver to stop Viking attck on London.
  • 994 - Æthelred II pays off £16,000 in silver to stop Viking attcks on London.
  • 995 - Olaf Tryggvasson conquers Norway and proclaims a Christian kingdom.
  • 999 - Christianity reaches Greenland and Iceland by powers of Olaf Tryggvasson.
  • 1000 - Leif Eriksson, son of Erik the Red, explores the coast of North America.
  • 1000 - Olaf Tryggvasson dies in the Battle of Svolder (coast of Vendland); Norway ruled by Danes.
  • 1002 - Brian Boru defeats the Norse Vikings and becomes king of all Ireland.
  • 1009 - Viking chieftain Olaf Haraldsson (St. Olav) attacks London by river and destroys London Bridge.
  • 1010 - Viking explorer Thorfinn Karlsefni attempts to found a settlement in North America.
  • 1013 - Danes, helped by Olaf Haraldson, conquers England; Æthelred flees to Normandy.
  • 1014 - The Vikings of Ireland are finally defeated in the Battle of Clontarf, but Brian Boru is killed.
  • 1015 - Vikings abandons the Vinland settlements at the coast of North America.
  • 1016 - Olaf Haraldsson regains Norway from the Danes; Christianity approaches Norway.
  • 1016 - Danes, under Canute the Great, gains full control over England.
  • 1018 - The coronation of Canute the Great, as King of England.
  • 1026 - Kings Anund Jakob (Sweden) and Olaf Haraldsson (Norway) attacks Denmark, but fails.
  • 1028 - Knut (Canute), king of England and Denmark, conquers Norway and Olaf flees.
  • 1030 - Olaf Haraldsson returns to regain Norway, but is killed at Stiklestad.
  • 1031 - Olaf Haraldsson becomes officially proclaimed a Saint, by Bishop Grimkel (August 3rd).
  • 1035 - Canute the Great dies, Magnus, son of St Olaf, expels the Danes from Norway and regains the kingdom.
  • 1042 - Edward the Confessor rules England, supported by Danes.
  • 1042 - Magnus, king of Norway, becomes king of Denmark.
  • 1045 - Magnus grants Harald Hardraada half of Norway, as a co-king.
  • 1047 - Magnus, king of Norway & Denmark, dies; Hardraada sovereign king of Norway; Claims Denmark as well.
  • 1047 - Svend Estridsson gains control of the Danish throne, but Hardraada won't give up his claim.
  • 1049 - Hardraada founds Oslo, Norway.
  • 1050 - Hardraade raids Haithabu.
  • 1062 - Hardraada defeats Svend Estridsson at the Battle of Nissen, but fails to gain control of Denmark.
  • 1064 - Hardraada gives up Denmark and recognizes Svend Estridsson as legal heir to the throne.
  • 1066 - Harold Godwinson defeats Harald Hardraada, who dies in the Battle of Stamford Bridge (Sep 25th).
  • 1066 - William, Duke of Normandy, defeats Saxon king Harold in the Battle of Hastings (Oct 14th).
  • 1072 - Vikings conquers Palermo.
  • 1085 - Danish Vikings makes a final attempt to conquer England but fails.

    Direct links to the other pages:
    |.Index.| |.Norwegian.runes.| |.Swedish.runes.| |.Danish.runes.| |.Greenlandic.runes.| |.Germanic.runes.| |.Anglo-Saxon.runes.| |.Elder.Futhark.| |.Odin's.Galder.Songs.| |.Sigdrifumal.| |.Secret.runes.| |.History.of.the.runes.| |.Norwegian.runic.inscriptions.| |.Symbols.| || |.The.Thing.| |.Raids.| || |.Art.| || |.Download-links.|

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    Created by Arild Hauge © Denmark, Aarhus 2002

    Last updated 21.10.2002