An Introduction to Vikings

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The Vikings were explorers who lived in the region that is now Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. They often set sail for distant lands. Although their feats took place more than 1,000 years ago, the tales live on in legend. Stories tell of the sailors’ voyages to new lands and of their violent raids. Two views of the Vikings have emerged from these accounts. One view is of the Vikings as brutal warriors who led vicious attacks. The other view is of them as noble seafarers who embarked on journeys of exploration. Both views are true to some extent. In their travels, the Vikings reached Europe, Russia, North Africa, and North America. Along the way, they often raided the towns they passed through. Their swords and battle-axes caused terror wherever they went. During a raid, the Vikings would seize whatever loot and captured slaves they could fit on their ships. Despite the Vikings status as raiders, not all Viking voyages were violent. Trade was central to their voyages. Although they might loot one town, they would approach another in peace to trade goods. A group of Viking traders reached Russia by way of unknown seas and rivers. The group settled peacefully in the foreign land. In fact, some believe that Rurik, the leader, was the head of what became the Russian royal family. Another Viking, Ottar, was a famed explorer of the Arctic Ocean. Ottar avoided violence on his voyages. After battling severe cold and storms to become the first known sailor to reach the North Cape, Ottar encountered some unfriendly people. When these people did not wish to trade, Ottar simply set sail for home. Settlements were a common result of Viking Voyages. Some took towns by sword; others settled peacefully. In many cases, the Vikings brought with them their system of law. Although they were seen as lawless raiders, the Vikings had great respect for law. They called meetings in which local people acted as courts of law. Yearly national meetings to make government decisions...
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