The stereotype of the raping, pillaging Norseman has its roots in the very earliest days of Viking raids. The plundering of Lindisfarne in 793 CE was one of the earliest recorded raids, and the target—a church—made the act all the more heinous in the eyes of the Anglo-Saxons, who wrote terrifying reports of the event.
However, most Old Norse people were more interested in trading. (More taxes, fewer axes.) Their impressive sailing technology allowed them to travel tremendous distances, bringing them into contact with many other societies. This was critical to the development of Viking societies, as it helped create both material and cultural wealth in the region.
This map shows some of the major trade routes in Scandinavia and other regions of Northern Europe.
Vikings had expensive tastes. Jewellery made of gold and silver, as well as strings of glass beads, were relatively common, but more exotic luxuries such as silk also made their way to the frigid north from southern regions of Europe and the Middle East.
By using a scanning electron microscope, scientists determined that some Viking swords were made using materials and techniques that originated in the Middle East.
Scandinavian Centres of Trade
Most of the Old Norse people lived on small farmsteads without many close neighbours, so they had to be highly self-sufficient. However, those who specialized in a craft could make a living in these newfangled urban areas, where people traded all manner of goods, including food, furs, jewellery, and slaves.
Trading was risky business. Raids and other attacks could result in the theft or destruction of goods, so safety was a chief concern. With the rise of increasingly powerful Viking chieftains and kings came the promise of greater safety through fortifications, garrisons, and treaties.
Notable Viking Age trading towns include the following:
More links about the Vikings: