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- The Vikings were the people who came from Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway , Finland , and Sweden) around 800AD-1100AD and who traveled great distances in their longboats, as traders, settlers and warriors. Many of the Vikings were tall and had red or blonde hair and beards. Villages on or near any coast in early medieval Europe lived in great fear of Viking attacks. Some of the countries most affected by Viking piracy were England, Scotland, Ireland, and France.
- More than the raiders of tradition, the Vikings were also traders and colonists.
- The Viking Age was a period of considerable religious change in Scandinavia. Part of the popular image of the Vikings is that they were all pagans, with a hatred of the Christian Church, but this view is very misleading. It is true that almost the entire population of Scandinavia was pagan at the beginning of the Viking Age. But the Vikings had many gods, and it didnt bother them to accept the Christian god alongside their own. Most scholars today believe that Viking attacks on Christian churches had nothing to do with religion, but more to do with the fact that monasteries were typically both wealthy and poorly defended, making them an easy target for plunder.
- The Vikings came into contact with Christianity through their raids, and when they settled in lands with a Christian population, they adopted Christianity quite quickly. This was true in Normandy, Ireland, and throughout the British Isles. Although contemporary accounts say little about this, we can see it in the archaeological evidence. Pagans buried their dead with grave goods, but Christians normally didn't, and this makes it relatively easy to spot the change in religion.
- Further pressure came as Viking raiders settled down alongside Christian neighbours. Although scholars disagree on exactly how extensive the Scandinavian settlement was in different parts of the British Isles, few people would now accept that the Vikings completely replaced the native population in any area. In particular, the settlers often took native wives (or at least partners), although some settlers apparently brought their families over from Scandinavia. The children of these mixed marriages would therefore grow up in partially Christian households, and might even be brought up as Christians. Further intermarriage, coupled with the influence of the Church, gradually brought about a complete conversion.
- The peaceful co-existence of pagans and Christians is suggested by some of the coinage of Viking York. One coin type carries the name of St Peter, rather than the ruler. This seems very obviously Christian, but on many of the coins, the final 'I' of 'PETRI' takes the form of Thor's hammer, and some of these coins also have a hammer on the reverse. These coins seem to carry a deliberate message that both paganism and Christianity were acceptable.