When we think of Vikings we tend to see them as flaxen hair, bearded warriors in longships bent on raiding and slaying innocent villagers in far of places, collecting gold and silver then heading back to Scandinavia. And of course, they all wear helmets with great horns. That is the Hollywood image we often saw as children at the movies or in comic books. But history and archaeology have told a far different story of the Viking period. Sure, they raided and slayed but that is only a small part of what they were doing. In most cases the Vikings were after land to farm and to establish trading links and trading centres to boost their wealth. On many of their voyages there were women and children on the longships intent on establishing a life in another place.
The Vikings were mostly traders and colonisers. They were responsible for establishing trading centres that were to thrive and grow into major towns and then later cities that exist today. The city of York in England is one such place that began its existence as a Viking trading centre. Another Viking settlement is Hedeby in northern Germany. Hedeby, located on the eastern side of the Jutland Peninsula was Scandinavia's most southerly town. When it was established, probably probably between 770 and early 800s, it lay on the borderlands of the Saxons, Frisians and Slavs With its access to sea, land and river routes, itt was well-placed to become a crossroad for international trade between the land of the Danes and the populations in Europe. Just the place for the Vikings to settle down and trade their way into wealth; and that is exactly what they did.
But it wasn't always an easy and prosperous life. Successful trading could be a dangerous occupation; Hedeby was besieged and conquered several times in its history. King Harold Hardrada of Norway sacked the town in 1050 during one of the many conflicts with the Danes. Even though it was severely burnt the town survived. Hedeby was sacked again and burnt to the ground in 1066 by Slavic raiders. It would appear that this was just one time too many for the townsfolk and the traders. The township was slowly abandoned and another settlement established nearby. At its height Hedeby had a population of between 1,000 and 1,500 people. Archaeological excavations have revealed much of the trading settlement of Hedeby and it is now an open museum.
So, if you would like to visit Viking Hedeby you should think about joining a tour, which the ACT National Trust will be conducting to Germany in May 2015. This unique tour will be experiencing the history and archaeology of the country and its people. The group will visit many of the UNESCO World Heritage places and sites dating back to the Stone Age. And one of the highlights of the tour will be a visit to Hedeby.
Contact the ACT National Trust:
And by the way, Vikings did not wear helmets with horns!