The Vikings were a Germanic Norse seafaring people from the late eighth to early 11th century who established a name for themselves as traders, explorers and warriors. They discovered the Americas long before Columbus and could be found as far east as the distant reaches of Russia. While these people are often attributed as savages raiding the more civilized nations for treasure and women, the motives and culture of the Viking people are much more diverse. These raiders also facilitated many changes throughout the lands from economics to warfare.
The Vikings, properly speaking, were not the inhabitants of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark during the Dark Ages as a whole, but rather, that specific part of the population that went seafaring and raiding; the very word "Viking" means "raider," in fact. The first recorded Viking raid was in 789 when some Vikings landed in southern England and killed the Reeve of Dorchester. Four years later, in 793, they carried out the famous sack of Lindisfarne on the northeastern coast of England. After that, for the next two centuries, Vikings harried the coasts of Europe everywhere, even venturing as far afield as Constantinople (where many of them entered the Byzantine Emperor’s service as the Varingian Guard), and successfully won a great deal of plunder; in many cases, they actually won much territory for themselves, including northern England - which came to be known as the Danelaw, and where remnants of the Scandinavian language can be found to this day in place-names and local dialect - and Normandy, which was named after them ("Normans" being the French version of "Northmen" or "Norsemen"). The Vikings also ventured westwards across the Atlantic, discovering and settling Iceland and Greenland and, under Leif Erikson, temporarily settling in North America around A.D. 1000.
- Contrary to popular belief, Vikings did not wear horned helmets in battle - these did exist, but only as ceremonial garb.
- The Vikings were the first to land in the New World (America) five-hundred years before Christopher Columbus.
- Many Vikings used to wear a small hammer around their neck for good luck. Also, when there was a feast they would give the sign of Thor over their food much as Christians do the sign of the cross in an act of prayer.
- The country Russia derived its name from Rus, a group of vikings who entered the area in the ninth century.
- The Vikings setlled much of Great Britain, founding many great cities such as Dublin.
- A viking named Erik Thorvaldsson, better known as Erik the Red, gave the country Greenland its name in hopes of attracting other settlers, though archaeological evidence shows that Greenland was more fitting of the name hundreds of years ago.