What is a Viking?

I should probably explain myself.

The term Viking, to Scandinavian and / or an academic studying Norse history and culture has a very specific meaning.

I Dont resent the term as such, it existed.

There is a football team in Minnesota called “The Vikings”, thats just fine.

If you call your neighbur “the viking” because he´s big and blonde i have no problem with that either (even though real vikings where short by our standards and often black haired).

The only time it bothers me are in tutorial texts. “How did the vikings build their houses?”, answer, they didnt, builders did.

The Norsemen where called several things depending on who (among themselves or others) did the calling.


The population in Scandinavia and places occupied by Scandinavians where called “Norse” or “Norsemen” (as in people from the north).

The modern equivalent is “Scandinavian” or the name of a nation (so i do not generally call myself “Norse”, and defenetly not viking…..i am a “Swede”, a thousand years ago i would have been a “Geat” since Sweden and the Geats where not yet united).

Thus, vikings where Norse but most Norse where not vikings.

Norse society had every profession a rather rural medieval society anywhere else did.

Some of our toughest cultural heroes, like Beowulf, where never vikings.

1: The term viking reffers only to people that “went in viking”, that is people who took to the sea as merchants, pirates, explorers and so on.

Norse people launched whole invasions without employing fleets. Germanic peoples (including the Norse) have always been renowned for their equestrian skills and horses. Thus cavallry was not at all unusual. These where warriors, clansmen (and later soldiers and knights), but never vikings (unless they got the money for their horse through a viking career earlier).

The majority of warriors would have been footsoldiers and archers in a normal clan skirmish (the clans where called “Aettir”), spears and axes being the normal weapon.

About 7% of the Norse population had anything to do with vikings….ever.

The term is flimsy at best since other people too launched similar boat attacks with the same ferocity. Difference is the others did not hit monastairies (in a mostly Catholic world where the Pope had a lot of political / military power).

Being a “viking” was not considered “finer” in Norse society, your acomplishments, regardless of how , where what counted. Being a successful merchant or horsedealer would have been just as fine. A landowner was in high regard.

Having said that, you COULD rise to political power where you lived after returning from a successful viking expedition ( = with riches and / or new land ).

The word “viking” WAS used in the Norse language ( as in “My son went in viking with Gunnar”) but disapeared only to be resurected by romanticists in the 19th century.

The viking of popular myth never existed. The viking that DID exist where exactly like any other Norsemen.

I just want terms to be used correctly to avoid further myth and confusion.

Thus “We found a viking ship outside England” would be correct.

“We found a NORSE village in Denmark” would be correct.


Norsemen travelling east (essentually vikings) where called Varangians (“Var” = Oath / pledge – “Gengi” =walking / companion).

They settled whole towns in todays Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

One famous Varangian was Rurik who founded Novgorod as his capitol. Rurik

was accepted by the east Slavic and Fenno – Ugric tribes living in the area as ruler.

The invitation

Another one named Oleg did the same founding Kiev.

In Norse (the language) the area was known as “Gardariki”.



Another name for the Norsemen was “Rus”, later giving name to Russia and it´s people.

In Finnish, Sweden is called Routsi, in Estonian Rootsi. It is theorized this comes from Roslagen that was a very active area during the time (acording to Danish scholar T.E.Karsten, “Roslagen” might have to do with rowing (Ro-to row. Slagen-the beats).

The Rus are mentioned allready  859 AD .

The Rus founded the Rus Khagnate and later the Kievan Rus.

 Gall Gael and Gallowglass

The The Gall Gael (Norse Gaels) are Norsemen (generally Norwiegian) who settled in Scottland and became part of Gaelic society.

Sometimes referred to as Scoto-Norse, Irish-Norse, Hiberno-Norse and so on.

Their heritage can still be found in Scottish Clan names as MacIver (Ivarsen), MacAuley (Olofsen).


The Gallowglass where mercenaries of a mixed Norse / Gaelic stock that lived together as one people. You might say that the Gallowglass came from the Gall Gael (Like the vikings where from the Norsemen).

To a Scandinavian with an interest in his heritage, all the “viking craze” is at best a bit funny, at worst an outright affront close to racism.

My culture had more than Klingons with boats.


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