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When was the Viking Age?

Posted by Kurt Evald Noer on

793-1066 AD ...or 750-1050 AD?

From the late-8th century to the late 11th century, Vikings shook Europe, upending the status quo, building lasting trade networks, and laying the groundwork for many of today's most prosperous nations. The actual dates of the Viking Age and when is started and when it ended depends on who you ask. This should not be a surprise since historians assign labels to time periods using hindsight, and that perspective is always relative.

Periods overlap and should be in the context of the place. For example, the year 800 in Europe is in the Viking Age, but it is also in the Early Middle Ages, but the year 800 in China is in the Tang Dynasty.

So when did Vikings exist?

The traditional dates for the Viking Age are 793-1066. 793 is the date the Vikings first arrested international attention by sacking the famous monastery of Lindisfarne in northern Britain. 1066 is when an English army defeated the Norwegian king and super Viking, Harald Hardrada. 1066 is, of course, also the date of the Battle of Hastings (which happened just a few weeks later), where this valiant but exhausted English army was defeated in turn. So, after 1066, things seemed different, and the power of the Vikings seemed gone or changed.

The 793-1066 date set is Anglocentric, though. It focuses on England and English history, not on the whole Viking story. So, for this reason (and also because the dates can be a bit cumbersome to remember, perhaps), many new books and sources favor the 750-1050 date set.

The 750-1050 date set for the Viking Age is based on the approximate dates for archaeological finds in Scandinavia and the Baltic that show an acceleration of Viking activity. For example, the fantastic double ship burial of a Viking warlord and his crew at Salme, Estonia, dates to about 750. 1050 is when Harald Hardrada sacked Hedeby in Denmark as he fought against his nemesis Sweyn Estriddson in an epic Viking versus Viking war.

While the 750-1050 date set is a nice round number and easy to remember, while also focusing more on Scandinavian changes and not English ones, the bookend events are not as poignant as the 793-1066 dates, and so your authors do not favor it.

There are other dates for the Viking Age, too. Most of these pertain to regions, though, just as the 793-1066 dates favor England. For example, one might see the dates for the Viking Age as 795-1266, which pertains to Scotland and the Northern Isles (sack of Iona to the ceding of the Hebrides to Scotland from Norway). In Ireland, the Viking Age was 795-1014 (Iona to Clontarf). In Russia, it was circa 750-972 (founding of Ladoga to the death of Sviatoslav the Brave).

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