Vikings were maritime traders, raiders, mercenaries, and settlers originally from Scandinavia who took Europe by storm beginning in the Early Middle Ages. They formed a trade network, known as the Northern Arc, stretching from Greenland to the Middle East. They founded and settled in Iceland and Greenland, and there is firm archaeological evidence that they were in North America (Canada) for about 200 years (almost 500 years before Columbus landed in the Caribbean). Many nations of Europe developed through the Vikings’ help or through opposition to their pressure.
What’s in a name?
Vikings is a broad term that applies to many different tribes and peoples. Vikings included Svear, Geats, Zealanders, Icelanders, Lochlanders, Jutes, Rus, and many more. Their enemies knew them as Danes, Foreigners, Varangians, Heathens, Majus, or of course, Vikings (also spelled Wikings in medieval documents). The word Viking originally comes from the Norse verb viking, which means to adventure by sea, and víkingr (Old Norse spelling ....in today's English the proper spelling is Viking), which means one who adventures by sea.
The term Viking is found in medieval manuscripts as well as on rune stones within Scandinavia, proving the word was used for these people at the time. However, it was not until the 19th century that scholars broadened the term to have a useful word to talk about these diverse people and their contributions. Properly, Vikings refer to medieval Scandinavian adventurers in diaspora (traveling and settling abroad). But by extension, Viking is also commonly used to talk about medieval Scandinavians at home as well.
Learn more about the word Viking.