for Kids and Teachers
A thousand years ago, a tribe of people called the Vikings lived in the north of Europe, in what would become Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Winters were cold, but there was a great deal of coastline, so there was an ample year around supply of fish, seafood, turtle eggs, and water fowl to eat.
Viking homes were simple log houses. Houses were usually one big room with a central open fire, and a hole in the roof to let out the smoke. Homes had very little furniture. Benches were used for sitting, and also for beds. Wealthy homes might also have a table or two. For warmth and softness, fur rugs covered the floor, the benches, and sometimes the walls. Windows were placed in roofs and covered with thin animal skin. Archaeologists have discovered some Viking homes that had partitions that could divide rooms as needed. Domestic animals were kept inside the house at night, which provided extra warmth for people and added protection for the animals.
People ate their meals with their fingers, off wooden plates. They used a knife they carried with them always to chop food. Some foods were served in bowls and eaten with spoons made of wood or antlers. They drank ale, wine, and water from animal horns. Some horns were highly decorated or carved, and belonged to someone. Horns were not shared. Everyone had their own. Most Vikings did not use glasses to hold liquids.
Viking government was well organized. Each chief was assisted by a council. Laws were clear. The family was an important unit. You can see this from their laws. Their laws of inheritance, for example, stated women had a right to inherit. Sons were given priority over their sisters. But sisters were given priority over their uncles and grandfathers. Women could inherit land from their children, if their children died without living children of their own. This helped to keep families and family property together. These laws might have created because the men were frequently away from home, fighting, raiding, and trading. The Vikings were fierce warriors.
The Vikings had a written language. But for hundreds of years, they rarely wrote stories down. Instead, they sang songs about their great battles and victories in war, and about their gods and goddesses. The Vikings rarely lost the battles they fought because their warriors believed it was better to die in battle than to return home defeated. Later on, some of these stories, called sagas, were written down. If it were not for the sagas, people today would know very little about the Vikings.
Their system of writing was called Runes. The Vikings wrote on stones and sticks. Runestones were large stones carved with pictures and writing in runes. These stones were placed so that people could admire them and learn about the bravery of a person who had died. Household items like a wooden comb had the owner's name written on it in Rune.
Sporting events were major forms of entertainment. Archery, spear throwing, swordplay, wresting, fist fighting, stone throwing, stone lifting, running and jumping were all very popular. Everyone played including women and kids. All Vikings, women, men, and kids loved games of agility, games of balance. One popular game was oar leaping - leaping from oar to oar, while men rowed a boat. To leap from oar to oar all the way around a boat without falling in the water was hailed as a great achievement. Those rowing would wiggle their oars and do their best to toss the leaper into the sea, much to the amusement of everyone. Skiing and skating were winter sports. Storytelling, feasting, and poetry were also major forms of entertainment.
The Vikings were great sailers and adventurers. Some Viking longboats were large enough to have 50 or 60 oarsmen, but most longboats were smaller than that. The Vikings used sails and oarsmen to move quickly about on the water. Their boats had flat bottoms, which kept the boat upright even when the waves were high. One end of each boat was always built very high, with a carving of a dragon or a snake. This was done to scare any sea monsters lurking about. Viking sailers kept their shields hanging over the side of their boat. It kept the shields out of their way, yet handy in case they were needed, and also helped to protect the sides of the boat from damage from rocks or waves or anything floating in the water. Their boats were so important to them that when a chief died, his boat was buried with him.
One famous Viking is Leif the Lucky. Leif and a small band of men sailed across the sea and landed in North America many years before Columbus. For a while, there was a Viking settlement on the coast of North America. But the Viking settlers missed their homeland, and returned home.
The Vikings believed in many gods and goddesses. These gods are called Norse gods, because the Vikings were called Norsemen or men from the north. Thor was the god of thunder. Iduna was the goddess of spring. Loki was a mischief maker. Odin was the god of poetry and wine. The gods of the Vikings looked like ordinary people. They had the same faults that people have like jealously and temper. The Norse gods were not immortal. They could die. The Vikings were very fond of some of their gods. Others they disliked intensely. Some scared them! Viking gods made their home high in the sky, in a place the Vikings called Asgard. To reach Asgard from Earth, gods walked a rainbow bridge. The Vikings made up many great stories about their gods and goddesses. (The ancient Greeks were not the only civilization to make up wonderful stories about their gods. The Vikings did as well.) These stories are called Norse myths.
A great book to read for Vikings:
JOURNEY FOR A PRINCESS by Margaret Leighton