The vikings

The Vikings in Britain

by Mandy Barrow

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The Vikings

About the year 800, bands of fierce raiders began to attack our coasts. They were the Vikings. They came across the North Sea, just as the Anglo-Saxons had done 400 years earlier.

In time, like the Anglo-Saxons, they made their home here. They drove the Saxons out of part of the country and took it for themselves.

King Alfred, Saxon king of Wessex, fought them in a great battle, but he could not drive them right away and had to let them have part of the country, called Danelaw.

  1. Where did the Vikings come from?
  2. Who were the Vikings?
  3. When did they invade Britain?
  4. Alfred the Great and Danelaw
  5. Why did the Vikings invade Britain?
  6. Where did the Vikings settle in Britain?
  7. What religion did the Vikings follow?
  8. What were Viking houses like?
  9. What were Viking clothes like?
  10. Timeline
  11. Other Viking websites

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Where did the Vikings come from?

The Vikings lived over one thousand years ago and came from the three countries of Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Who were the Vikings?

Vikings were also known as the Norsemen. They were great travellers and sailed to other parts of Europe, where they traded, raided, and often settled

They were also farmers, fishermen, trappers and traders. Viking craftsmen made beautiful objects out of wood, metal and bone; Viking women were skilful weavers, produced fine, warm textiles.

Norsemen means 'people from the North'

Many Vikings were great travellers and sailed all over Europe and the Atlantic Ocean in their long ships.

Viking ship

Vicking long boat
A model of a Viking longboat

When did they invade Britain?

The Viking Age in Britain began about 1,200 years ago in the 9th Century AD and lasted for 300 years. The Vikings first invaded Britain in AD 793 and last invaded in 1066 when William the Conqueror became King of England after the Battle of Hastings.

The first place the Vikings attacked in Britain was the monastery at Lindisfarne, a holy island situated off the Northumberland coast in the north east of England. A few years later the island of Iona (off the west coast of Scotland), came under attack and its monks were slaughtered.

Soon no region of the British Isles (Britain and nearby islands) was safe from the Vikings. They attacked villages and towns in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and England.

No matter how many times the Vikings were beaten, they always came back, and in the end all their efforts paid off. It was the Vikings (Norse) of Normandy who finally conquered England in 1066 and changed British history for ever.

Alfred the Great and Danelaw

Rather than face defeat, Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, paid the Vikings (Danes) to leave his kingdom alone. He bought just five years of peace. In that time the Vikings took over one third of England. Then they returned to take Wessex. Alfred fought and defeated the Vikings and their leader, King Guthrum, asked for peace. The Vikings settled peacefully in an area of Britain which became known as Danelaw

Other countries were attacked by the Vikings too

The Vikings also attacked settlements along the coasts and rivers of Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and France. The area they settled in France became known as Normandy, meaning land of the Northmen

Why did the Vikings invade Britain?

Most Vikings who sailed overseas were simply searching for better land for their farms. Their land was not very good for farming. Norway was very hilly, Sweden was covered in forests, and Denmark had a lot of sandy home land.

Map of where the Vikings settles in the UKWhere did the Vikings settle in Britain?

The area eventually settled by Vikings was called the Danelaw. It formed a boundary separating Anglo-Saxon England from Viking England and was defined in a treaty between the English King Alfred and Viking King Guthrum in AD 880. It lay north of Watling Street, a Roman road running from London north-west to Chester and covered northern and eastern England. It included counties north of an imaginary line running from London to Bedford and then up to Chester.

The Vikings settled in:

  • Islands off the coast of Scotland - Shetland, Orkney and The Hebrides
  • Around the north and north west coast of Scotland
  • Parts of Ireland - Dublin is a Viking city
  • The Isle of Man
  • Small parts of Wales
  • Parts of England known as Danelaw

Place Names

We can tell where the Vikings settled by place names of towns and villages today. Some of the names of places in Britain are made up of Viking words.

Place names ending in –by eg. Derby, Rugby, Whitby, Selby, Grimsby
–by meant farm or homestead (village). These places mark the earliest Viking settlements.

Derby - A village where deer are found

Place names ending in –thorpe (or -thorp, -throp or –trop) eg. Scunthorpe and Grimethorpe
-thorpe meant farms.

Place names ending in –toft or-tofts.
A -toft referred to the site of a house or a plot of land.

Viking Words

hus = house
holm = islet; dry place in a marshy area
orm = Serpent or Dragon

What religion did the Vikings follow?

The Vikings worshipped many different gods, but there were three that were especially important.

Odin - the leader of the gods - god of knowledge and war

Thor, provided protection from cold hunger, giants and other dangers.

Thor (Tor in Scandinavian languages) is the god of thunder.
Thor is also god of protection against the Giants (Jotun; Swedish pronunciation)

  • the Rimturs - giants of the cold world; (rim = rime, thurs = thirst; Swedish)
  • the Bergresar - giants of the mountains; berg = mountain, res = giant; Swedish)

Frey (or Frej in Swedish) - god of agriculture and fertility he was worshipped on a regular basis all through-out the year for future prosperity. He was the brother of Frey.

Freya - goddess of love and beauty

The Vikings believed that men who died in battle went to Valhalla (Old Norse Valhöll, "Hall of the slain") and feasted with the gods.

Soon after settling in England (Angle Land) the Vikings changed the religion to Christianity.

Interactive Activity

Information on Viking Gods

Click to enlargeViking Houses

Viking houseMost people lived on farms. The Vikings lived in long rectangular houses made with upright timbers (wood), wattle and daub or stone. They were usually one room with a cooking fire in the middle. The smoke escaped through a hole in the roof.

Animals and people lived in the same building. The animals lived in a byre at one end of the house and the people lived at the other.

More about Viking Homes


Men wore tunics and trousers and women wore a long dress with a pinafore over it. Their clothes were fastened with belts and brooches. They made their clothes from wool and linen.

First invasion by the Vikings. They raided monasteries on the coast including Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumbria.
First raids on Scotland and Ireland.
820 Viking raids continue around the English coast
Wessex becomes the Supreme Kingdom
Great Viking Army from Denmark Invades England
Danes capture York (which the Vikings called Jorvik) and make it their kingdon (land ruled by a king)
871 King Ethelred, the West Saxon king, and his brother Alfred, defeat the Viking army at the Battle of Ashdown (in Berkshire).
876 Vikings from Denmark, Norway and Sweden settle permanently in England.
King Alfred the Great defeats the Vikings but allows them to settle in Eastern England (the Kingdoms of York and East Anglia) This area on England becomes known as Danelaw and is ruled by the Viking King Guthrum.
Eastern England (Danelaw) is conquered by the English
950 Vikings from Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Hebrides raid Wales, particularly the coastal monasteries.

Eric Bloodaxe, the last Viking King of Jorvik, is thrown out of York.

New Viking Raids on England
Olaf of Norway and Sven 'Forkbeard', son of the Danish king, lead an invading Danish army in an unsuccessful siege of London, and subsequently ravage the south-east.
King Canute (Cnut) of Denmark captures the English Crown
Edward the Confessor becomes King (A Saxon King)


The Vikings
The Vikings - A superb site from Snaith Primary School in East Yorkshire.
1. Who were the Vikings? Where did they come from?
2. Who were their gods and goddesses?
3. Where did the Vikings go on their travels?
4. What evidence have we that the Vikings were settlers?
5. Writing about a Viking
6. Who ruled England?

Resources for Teachers and Students

Viking Runes

The Vikings
This site contains videos. 'Walk' through a Viking village. Find out who the Vikings were and get an idea of the extent of their travels. Write your name in Runes and learn about their longships.

BBC Viking Quest Simulation
Travel back in time to 793 AD. Can you build a ship, cross the seas, loot a monastery and return home safely to claim a prize from your chief?

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