The period known as the Viking age extended from the 9th to the 11th century. During this 300 years Scandinavia became strongly connected to the rest of Europe.
In the 8th century Norse craftsmen developed and constructed light but stabile ships with shallow drafts and good maneuverability under sail and oar. The long ships, used as warships, needed to be fast so they were extremely light and could rode out of the water and skim along like powerboats. They could use favorable winds, but the main source of power was the oar, to be independent from contrary wind, the mast unstepped to reduce wind resistance and provide more stability. The merchant ships, knars, relied mostly on their single square sail. They just had few oar ports on either end, using the space for cargo capacity. They were shorter and bulkier than the long ships. To keep them as light as possible there was no protection for cargo or crew.
The Viking seamen developed their navigation skills over generations. Experience and practice told them to use landmarks even in extreme visual range. They had no compass or accurate timepiece and sailing out of sight was probably steered relative to the pole star and the sun. Wind could be used for direction, the warm wet wind coming from southwest, the cold wet wind from northeast. They also used the length of daylight as an evidence of how far north they are, but part of the navigation was for sure pure reckoning, luck and the believe, that a ship finds its way back to where it once was. Which did not always work out, but might sometimes have helped to discover new countries instead.
We connect the Viking age to piracy and raids, to invasion, exploration and settlement. The beginning of the Viking age was most certainly a less sudden event than it is often depicted and did not start with the first big raid. The term Viking was used for pirates and raiders but a lot of Scandinavians were good craftsmen and clever traders.
They started to build up a commercial network. On one side using the major rivers through Europe all the way to the worlds of Bycantinium and Islam, on the other side down the coastline to Spain, the Muslim empire and Italy.
Trading was one motive to travel, but some preferred a maybe not more convenient, but for sure more adventurous way to make their living. They were pirating and plundering. The Vikings started their raids in West-Europe, bringing terror and destruction with them. And they found out early that monasteries were an easy target, always being centers of wealth and population as well as being ill protected. The monks and nuns where captured for ransom or sold into slavery.
Not only the coasts suffered, the long ships allowed their crews to strike deep inland along the rivers, reaching important ports and markets to plunder. During the 9th and 10th century the frequency of raids increased, before the attacks diminished in the 11th century by number and intensity. Those raids became the hallmarks of the Viking age and the Vikings.
But not all Scandinavian sailors were pirates. There were merchants and there were people in search of new land to settle. Following the tradition the first son inherited the land from his father and his brothers had to go out and find their own land to claim. Before long the best and most fertile land was already inhabited and big parts of Scandinavia became overpopulated, so people started to go abroad. Others were possibly fugitives from their kings and preferred leaving the country to fighting them.
Those Norse settlers took their families and friends with them, their whole household and the complete livestock in order to start a new live abroad. They claimed land as far south as the Normandy, in England, Scotland and Ireland, settled in the Shetland Isles, the Faroer, Iceland and Greenland. And they started to make their living in accustomed manner, by mixed farming, hunting and using the resources of the sea.
The precondition for settlement in new countries was knowledge about them. The fourth big reason to travel for the Vikings was the discovering and exploring of new countries, in order to see if they were inhabitable as well as out of curiosity and adventure spirit. The most venturesome explorers set out for long journeys into the unknown, sailing to countries yet unseen by Europeans, to Greenland and America. Eric the Red, for example first discovered Greenland and, having been exiled from Iceland, sailed west with 500 others to found the first European colony there.
His son, Leif the Lucky, went even further west to the north of America, Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland. And somewhere in the area between Newfoundland and New Jersey a group of Vikings found fertile land that they called Vineland and were they lived for a while before returning to Iceland.
During the 11th century the Viking age came to an end. The Vikings adopted Christianity. Merchants and Settlers had become absorbed into the local population or established new societies, like in Iceland. The three northern Christian kingdoms of Norway, Sweden and Denmark were formed and the famous and feared Viking raids found an end, not without leaving traces of their culture and their blood all over Europe.
The Viking period, whitch dates from the ninth century to the middle of the eleventh, is the most famous period in Scandinavian history. During this time Norweigen seafarer´s explored the N- & V Europan sea, the rivers running E- & S- in Russia and even sailed to the Mediterranean sea. The reasons for the Viking journey’s vere prosperity, growing population and better navigational skills. The Keel, or the spine of the Knarr boat was invented and furher exploration was possible. The Viking journeys brought prosperity to the costal regions of Norway. This is the period the Kingdoms of Norway, Danmark and Sweden were created and this new sailing route connected Scandinavia with the rest of Europe. The settelment of Iceland was during this time, that is from the ninth century. When a Viking goes on a Viking journey, it is called in Icelandic “ađ fara í Víking” or to plunder. In theese trips the vikings usually went to England and Ireland and looted what they could, stole people for slavary and sometimes took the some women with them. This often led to bloody battles whish the Vikings are famous for. But the journeys were also exploration trips made to find new settlment, as in the case of Iceland. In Iceland the plundering eventually stopped with the overflow of slaves and less wood for boatmaking.