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Episode
96

The Vikings

Oct 9, 2020
History
-
23
minutes
Vikings
European history
The Middle Ages
Terrorism

For almost 300 years the Vikings terrorised large parts of Europe, arriving in boats and killing anyone that got in their way.

But they were also traders, inventors, and storytellers, and they have had a lasting legacy on the world we live in.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about The Vikings, the warriors from Scandinavia who terrorised large parts of Europe for the best part of 300 years.

[00:00:35] You probably know something about the vikings already, but today we are going to go a little deeper, talking about who they really were, why they did what they did, how they actually did it, and we’ll discover that the story of the vikings is actually quite different to how it is represented in popular culture.

[00:00:58] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus the subtitles, the transcripts, and the key vocabulary for this episode and all of our other ones over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:14] This is also where you can also check out becoming a member of Leonardo English, and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally, improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:31] So if that's of interest, and I certainly hope it is, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:40] OK then, let’s get started, and talk about the vikings.

[00:01:45] When you think about the vikings, you might imagine barbarian men with large beards, red hair, helmets with horns on, jumping out of boats, killing innocent people, raping and running off with women, and generally terrorising anyone they came across.

[00:02:05] Indeed, this is how the story of the vikings is often taught. The story of the vikings is actually one of my first memories of a subject that I covered in school - I think we must have done a project on it when I was about 5 years old, and you can see why it appeals to a young child. 

[00:02:26] The problem is that not all of this is true, and it’s a gross oversimplification of the story of the vikings.

[00:02:34] In reality, the vikings were a sophisticated group of people, a group that had made some admirable technological advances, probably the first Europeans to arrive in The Americas, five hundred years before Christopher Columbus, and they operated a sophisticated system of trade that stretched all the way to modern-day Baghdad.

[00:02:59] But they were also murdering warriors.

[00:03:03] Until the year 793, people in the British Isles, the modern day UK and Ireland, they didn’t know much about the vikings, about the people who lived across the sea from them in Norway and Sweden.

[00:03:18] There is a small island just off the north-east coast of England called Lindisfarne. It’s considered a holy island, and there was a monastery on it where Christian monks passed their days studying the bible and praying.

[00:03:35] Then on the 8th of June 793, three long ships arrived, carrying foreign men, men who we now refer to as vikings. 

[00:03:48] They rushed out of their boats, swords and spears in hand. They massacred a large proportion of the monks, and they destroyed the monastery and church, taking with them all the treasures of the holy buildings.

[00:04:03] The local population didn’t know what had hit them, and they weren’t to know that this was just the start. 

[00:04:13] These raids would continue for the next 300 years, and extend all over modern day England, Wales and Ireland, as well as France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Russia, and even parts of Italy.

[00:04:28] So, who were these invading warriors, who were the vikings, and why did they start attacking monasteries in Britain?

[00:04:38] They came from Scandinavia, modern day Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. 

[00:04:43] Historians are divided over exactly why they decided to get in their boats and sail across the dangerous North Sea to the British Isles in the first place.

[00:04:55] Some have said it was due to overpopulation in Scandinavia, that there wasn’t enough farmland for people to make a living, and so they set off for pastures new, for new land.

[00:05:09] Others have said it was to seek women, for men to find wives. 

[00:05:15] It’s thought that rich Scandinavian men used to have multiple wives, and dying during childbirth was sadly pretty common back then, which led to a big imbalance between the number of men who wanted a wife and the number of available women. 

[00:05:35] So they set off in search of brides, and that’s why they would capture women on their raids and take them back to their settlements.

[00:05:45] There’s another theory that it was actually out of revenge. 

[00:05:50] The Christian emperor Charlemagne had forced non-Christians to convert to Christianity, and had murdered and terrorised anyone who hadn’t. 

[00:06:02] The vikings were pagan, they weren’t Christian, and so there’s a theory that they went on these brutal raids out of revenge for what Charlemagne did.

[00:06:14] And there’s another theory that they just saw that there was this opportunity, that the British Isles and large parts of Western Europe didn’t have strong defences, but were full of treasures, so why not give it a try?

[00:06:30] Whether there was one overarching reason, or it was a combination of various different factors at different times, the viking invaders soon found that going on raids was a very profitable activity, and these raids continued in various shapes and forms until the 11th century.

[00:06:52] But while in a lot of popular culture the vikings are depicted as getting in their boats, sailing over to Britain, jumping out, killing people, snatching women, stealing treasure and sailing back again, as the years went on, their expeditions actually got a lot longer, both in terms of the time spent and the distances they traveled.

[00:07:18] After attacking a town or city, naturally killing anyone who resisted them and taking possession of anything that caught their eye, they would often stay in the area, trading with the local people. 

[00:07:31] Although this might seem strange, Scandinavia is a long way away from Britain. At its absolute closest point it’s 300km, and from where most of the vikings came from, in modern-day Sweden, it’s about three times that.

[00:07:48] So, it was a long trip, and if you are superior militarily, if you can stay, why not?

[00:07:57] Some would just stay for the winter, and there were other viking communities that would settle for anything from a few months to a few years to permanently. 

[00:08:09] They would use these settlements as places from which to launch attacks further inland, using their boats to head inland up rivers, attacking large parts of the south of England, as well as going up the Seine and attacking Paris in the year 845, after having formed a base at Nantes, a town just inland from the west coast of France.

[00:08:35] The fact that they could travel such distances with such relative ease was due to the technological advances that they had made with their boats.

[00:08:46] You can probably picture a viking boat. It’s long, has a sail, and would also have oars, so it worked whether there was wind or not.

[00:08:57] But the main technological advances were really things that you don’t immediately see. 

[00:09:05] Firstly, the vikings are thought to have invented the keel, the piece of wood that extends downwards under a boat to make it more stable.

[00:09:17] The ships were also very low, so they didn’t need to have large hulls, the part of the boat that is under the water. This meant they could travel in water that was just 1 metre deep, which comes in handy when you need to rush up onto a beach, or navigate rivers inland.

[00:09:37] The boats were also double-ended, they could travel in either direction, which was very handy if you needed to quickly go into reverse.

[00:09:47] The ships were also, in many cases, very beautiful, and would have dragon heads carved into them, and big, red painted sails. But if you lived in a coastal town in northern Europe and you saw one of these beautiful ships with a big sail in the distance, well, I don’t imagine you would be admiring the artwork.

[00:10:10] As news of the spoils to be had, of the treasures to be taken, as it reached the communities back in Scandinavia, more and more men joined these raiding parties

[00:10:23] While it might have been 3 ships that first attacked Lindisfarne, the raiding parties ended up being as large as 30 ships, full of warriors ready to jump out and run into battle.

[00:10:36] It’s worth spending a little bit of time talking about how they actually fought, because this is also interesting.

[00:10:45] Firstly, one of the biggest misconceptions about vikings is that they wore helmets with horns on. 

[00:10:54] They didn’t. 

[00:10:55] There is absolutely no evidence that they wore these in battle. There has only been one horned helmet ever found, but it’s thought to be ceremonial, not used for actual fighting.

[00:11:08] The second interesting fact about vikings in battle is that there are reports about them going berserk, going mad, and rushing towards the enemy screaming like they were completely crazy, completely unafraid of dying. 

[00:11:25] It’s thought that the warriors would often go into a kind of trance state, a sort of state of madness, to frighten the people they were attacking.

[00:11:37] It’s now believed that they were probably either just incredibly drunk or on some kind of hallucinogenic drug, perhaps hallucinogenic mushrooms, and this would send them into a sort of otherworldly state that made them act like madmen and be completely unafraid of death.

[00:11:59] That’s one theory, but they could have just been genuinely unafraid of being killed in battle.

[00:12:06] Our knowledge of viking culture does tell us that there was this strong idea of death in battle being the ultimate honour. 

[00:12:15] If a viking died in battle, he might be welcomed by the god Odin to Valhalla, a mythical huge hall that was so big it had 540 doors.

[00:12:28] And what happened in Valhalla? 

[00:12:30] Well, mainly fighting and eating. 

[00:12:33] Every day in Valhalla the dead would fight against each other, and every night their wounds would heal and they would do it all over again the following day.

[00:12:45] Now, this might sound like not that much fun to me or you, but evidently for a viking, it was, literally, heaven.

[00:12:54] In addition to the ability to fight all day long, there were drinking horns that never emptied, so you could drink alcohol all day long, and a wild boar that would be eaten by the warriors and come back to life over and over, so they would never run out of food.

[00:13:13] So you can understand that if, culturally, there was this huge obsession with fighting, and if you died fighting then you would have the chance to go to Valhalla and fight all day long, then the Vikings were not just pretty keen fighters, but afraid of nothing.

[00:13:31] Evidently, this made them quite a formidable enemy.

[00:13:37] But the vikings weren’t just about violence. They were also accomplished traders, and there is evidence of them going all the way to modern day Baghdad to trade.

[00:13:49] They would take slaves from Britain and France, and then take them to the middle east to be sold. 

[00:13:56] The Quran forbade, it didn’t allow muslims to be kept as slaves, but foreign slaves were fine. So the vikings found very willing buyers in the middle east, and they would return north with piles of silver, which they had got in exchange for the slaves.

[00:14:15] When they weren’t out on raids, and were back home, in Scandinavia, viking culture was divided across three broad social classes. 

[00:14:25] Thralls, Karls and Jarls.

[00:14:29] Thralls, the lowest class, were essentially slaves, and they made up about 25% of the total population. The Thralls would be tasked with things like construction, building settlements, as well as being household servants to the higher-ranking members of society.

[00:14:50] Above them came the Karls, who were the free peasants. They worked the land, farming.

[00:14:57] And the Jarls were the viking royalty, the top of the pecking order. They ruled over their lands, and would keep Thralls as their slaves. When a Jarl died, their Thralls would often be killed and buried with them as a sacrifice.

[00:15:14] We do know quite a lot about the Vikings but our knowledge of them comes mainly from archaeology

[00:15:21] They didn’t have a strong written culture, although there are some stones, called runestones with Norse symbols on them dotted around Norway and Sweden.

[00:15:33] If you can’t imagine Old Norse, the language that the vikings would have spoken, it might surprise you to know that you probably have seen it before, and you probably have some Norse on the device that you’re listening to this episode on.

[00:15:50] Now, I thought that this couldn’t be true until I did a little bit more research and confirmed it, but the symbol for Bluetooth, you know the wireless system that your headphones might connect to your phone or laptop, that symbol actually comes from the name of a legendary viking warrior, Harold Bluetooth. 

[00:16:12] If you look closely at the logo for Bluetooth, it becomes obvious, but it’s actually two different Norse characters on top of each other.

[00:16:22] And when it comes to English, the Vikings have left an impressive legacy on the language.

[00:16:28] The names of several days come from the Old Norse of the vikings.

[00:16:33] Thursday means the day of Thor, the Norse god of Thunder.

[00:16:38] Friday is the day of the goddess of Freya, a Norse god associated with love, beauty, fertility, sex, war, and gold.

[00:16:48] Wednesday comes from Woden, or Odin’s day. Odin is one of the most famous Norse gods, and is Thor’s father.

[00:16:57] And there are hundreds of other words with old Norse origins, from knife to window, husband to Hell. The legacy lives on through the language we use.

[00:17:10] A question that is often asked is ‘how did the vikings end?’, and the reality is that there wasn’t one single event, or dramatic reason for the end of the viking raids

[00:17:25] The links between the vikings and the people that they had been attacking for 300 years had grown stronger. Vikings had spent months and years away from Scandinavia, and they had brought back some British and Christian traditions. There were vikings who converted to Christianity, and viking kingdoms back in Scandinavia slowly became part of the wider European Christian tradition.

[00:17:54] After 300 years, the inhabitants of the British Isles and northern France also got better at defending themselves, as you might imagine. While it might have been easy in 793 to rush out of your longboat and surprise a lot of unarmed monks and steal all of their valuables, people soon cottoned on, they figured out what was happening, and it became harder and harder to get the same results.

[00:18:23] Then in the year 1066, on Christmas day in fact, William of Normandy was crowned King of England. He was a strong military ruler, and was able to deflect the viking threat, and that’s where the records of viking attacks end.

[00:18:42] Up until the Victorian era, the vikings were remembered as barbarians, savages, violent, bloodthirsty pagan invaders who massacred innocent people. Then in the Victorian era things started to change.

[00:18:59] There was a newfound fascination with the vikings, and an understanding that, yes, they might have done quite a lot of raping and pillaging, but they were humans too, and trying to understand them was an interesting exercise.

[00:19:16] Since then, they have captured people’s imagination, and certainly when I was at school it was an important subject that we all learned about, probably because it’s quite an easy subject to get a 5-year-old child excited about.

[00:19:32] And the legacy of the vikings lives on not just through language and popular culture, but through our DNA

[00:19:41] William the Conqueror, the Norman who invaded Britain in 1066 was descended from viking settlers in northern France. 

[00:19:49] And there are always slightly ridiculous articles about what percentage of people in Britain can directly trace their heritage to the vikings - one article said that around one in thirty three men can trace their ancestry back through the father’s side directly to viking invaders. Evidently, when you include all of the genealogical combinations, from fathers and mothers, then we’re probably all a little bit viking.

[00:20:20] So, there we are, the vikings. 

[00:20:22] The inhabitants of the Lindisfarne monastery didn’t know it when they first saw the boat arriving on the 8th of June 793, but this people were to have a huge impact on the fabric of Europe for the next three hundred years, and leave a legacy that is felt all over the continent.

[00:20:43] Yes they were savage invaders, but they were also traders, explorers, shipbuilding innovators, storytellers, and artists, and our history, culture, and traditions are richer thanks to them, although I’m not sure that all of the monks on the island of Lindisfarne would agree.

[00:21:03] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on The Vikings. 

[00:21:08] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and you’ve learned something new about a people that, statistically speaking, you probably share some kind of ancestry with.

[00:21:18] I think it’s fascinating to go beyond the stereotypes that we’re taught, and to think about the why: the vikings were humans like you and me after all with their own motivations, reasons, and desires, and I hope that today’s episode has shed a little light on some of these.

[00:21:38] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds. As well as to me.

[00:21:52] I can't wait to see what you have to say.

[00:21:55] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, and to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:22:14] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:22:19] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about The Vikings, the warriors from Scandinavia who terrorised large parts of Europe for the best part of 300 years.

[00:00:35] You probably know something about the vikings already, but today we are going to go a little deeper, talking about who they really were, why they did what they did, how they actually did it, and we’ll discover that the story of the vikings is actually quite different to how it is represented in popular culture.

[00:00:58] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus the subtitles, the transcripts, and the key vocabulary for this episode and all of our other ones over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:14] This is also where you can also check out becoming a member of Leonardo English, and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally, improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:31] So if that's of interest, and I certainly hope it is, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:40] OK then, let’s get started, and talk about the vikings.

[00:01:45] When you think about the vikings, you might imagine barbarian men with large beards, red hair, helmets with horns on, jumping out of boats, killing innocent people, raping and running off with women, and generally terrorising anyone they came across.

[00:02:05] Indeed, this is how the story of the vikings is often taught. The story of the vikings is actually one of my first memories of a subject that I covered in school - I think we must have done a project on it when I was about 5 years old, and you can see why it appeals to a young child. 

[00:02:26] The problem is that not all of this is true, and it’s a gross oversimplification of the story of the vikings.

[00:02:34] In reality, the vikings were a sophisticated group of people, a group that had made some admirable technological advances, probably the first Europeans to arrive in The Americas, five hundred years before Christopher Columbus, and they operated a sophisticated system of trade that stretched all the way to modern-day Baghdad.

[00:02:59] But they were also murdering warriors.

[00:03:03] Until the year 793, people in the British Isles, the modern day UK and Ireland, they didn’t know much about the vikings, about the people who lived across the sea from them in Norway and Sweden.

[00:03:18] There is a small island just off the north-east coast of England called Lindisfarne. It’s considered a holy island, and there was a monastery on it where Christian monks passed their days studying the bible and praying.

[00:03:35] Then on the 8th of June 793, three long ships arrived, carrying foreign men, men who we now refer to as vikings. 

[00:03:48] They rushed out of their boats, swords and spears in hand. They massacred a large proportion of the monks, and they destroyed the monastery and church, taking with them all the treasures of the holy buildings.

[00:04:03] The local population didn’t know what had hit them, and they weren’t to know that this was just the start. 

[00:04:13] These raids would continue for the next 300 years, and extend all over modern day England, Wales and Ireland, as well as France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Russia, and even parts of Italy.

[00:04:28] So, who were these invading warriors, who were the vikings, and why did they start attacking monasteries in Britain?

[00:04:38] They came from Scandinavia, modern day Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. 

[00:04:43] Historians are divided over exactly why they decided to get in their boats and sail across the dangerous North Sea to the British Isles in the first place.

[00:04:55] Some have said it was due to overpopulation in Scandinavia, that there wasn’t enough farmland for people to make a living, and so they set off for pastures new, for new land.

[00:05:09] Others have said it was to seek women, for men to find wives. 

[00:05:15] It’s thought that rich Scandinavian men used to have multiple wives, and dying during childbirth was sadly pretty common back then, which led to a big imbalance between the number of men who wanted a wife and the number of available women. 

[00:05:35] So they set off in search of brides, and that’s why they would capture women on their raids and take them back to their settlements.

[00:05:45] There’s another theory that it was actually out of revenge. 

[00:05:50] The Christian emperor Charlemagne had forced non-Christians to convert to Christianity, and had murdered and terrorised anyone who hadn’t. 

[00:06:02] The vikings were pagan, they weren’t Christian, and so there’s a theory that they went on these brutal raids out of revenge for what Charlemagne did.

[00:06:14] And there’s another theory that they just saw that there was this opportunity, that the British Isles and large parts of Western Europe didn’t have strong defences, but were full of treasures, so why not give it a try?

[00:06:30] Whether there was one overarching reason, or it was a combination of various different factors at different times, the viking invaders soon found that going on raids was a very profitable activity, and these raids continued in various shapes and forms until the 11th century.

[00:06:52] But while in a lot of popular culture the vikings are depicted as getting in their boats, sailing over to Britain, jumping out, killing people, snatching women, stealing treasure and sailing back again, as the years went on, their expeditions actually got a lot longer, both in terms of the time spent and the distances they traveled.

[00:07:18] After attacking a town or city, naturally killing anyone who resisted them and taking possession of anything that caught their eye, they would often stay in the area, trading with the local people. 

[00:07:31] Although this might seem strange, Scandinavia is a long way away from Britain. At its absolute closest point it’s 300km, and from where most of the vikings came from, in modern-day Sweden, it’s about three times that.

[00:07:48] So, it was a long trip, and if you are superior militarily, if you can stay, why not?

[00:07:57] Some would just stay for the winter, and there were other viking communities that would settle for anything from a few months to a few years to permanently. 

[00:08:09] They would use these settlements as places from which to launch attacks further inland, using their boats to head inland up rivers, attacking large parts of the south of England, as well as going up the Seine and attacking Paris in the year 845, after having formed a base at Nantes, a town just inland from the west coast of France.

[00:08:35] The fact that they could travel such distances with such relative ease was due to the technological advances that they had made with their boats.

[00:08:46] You can probably picture a viking boat. It’s long, has a sail, and would also have oars, so it worked whether there was wind or not.

[00:08:57] But the main technological advances were really things that you don’t immediately see. 

[00:09:05] Firstly, the vikings are thought to have invented the keel, the piece of wood that extends downwards under a boat to make it more stable.

[00:09:17] The ships were also very low, so they didn’t need to have large hulls, the part of the boat that is under the water. This meant they could travel in water that was just 1 metre deep, which comes in handy when you need to rush up onto a beach, or navigate rivers inland.

[00:09:37] The boats were also double-ended, they could travel in either direction, which was very handy if you needed to quickly go into reverse.

[00:09:47] The ships were also, in many cases, very beautiful, and would have dragon heads carved into them, and big, red painted sails. But if you lived in a coastal town in northern Europe and you saw one of these beautiful ships with a big sail in the distance, well, I don’t imagine you would be admiring the artwork.

[00:10:10] As news of the spoils to be had, of the treasures to be taken, as it reached the communities back in Scandinavia, more and more men joined these raiding parties

[00:10:23] While it might have been 3 ships that first attacked Lindisfarne, the raiding parties ended up being as large as 30 ships, full of warriors ready to jump out and run into battle.

[00:10:36] It’s worth spending a little bit of time talking about how they actually fought, because this is also interesting.

[00:10:45] Firstly, one of the biggest misconceptions about vikings is that they wore helmets with horns on. 

[00:10:54] They didn’t. 

[00:10:55] There is absolutely no evidence that they wore these in battle. There has only been one horned helmet ever found, but it’s thought to be ceremonial, not used for actual fighting.

[00:11:08] The second interesting fact about vikings in battle is that there are reports about them going berserk, going mad, and rushing towards the enemy screaming like they were completely crazy, completely unafraid of dying. 

[00:11:25] It’s thought that the warriors would often go into a kind of trance state, a sort of state of madness, to frighten the people they were attacking.

[00:11:37] It’s now believed that they were probably either just incredibly drunk or on some kind of hallucinogenic drug, perhaps hallucinogenic mushrooms, and this would send them into a sort of otherworldly state that made them act like madmen and be completely unafraid of death.

[00:11:59] That’s one theory, but they could have just been genuinely unafraid of being killed in battle.

[00:12:06] Our knowledge of viking culture does tell us that there was this strong idea of death in battle being the ultimate honour. 

[00:12:15] If a viking died in battle, he might be welcomed by the god Odin to Valhalla, a mythical huge hall that was so big it had 540 doors.

[00:12:28] And what happened in Valhalla? 

[00:12:30] Well, mainly fighting and eating. 

[00:12:33] Every day in Valhalla the dead would fight against each other, and every night their wounds would heal and they would do it all over again the following day.

[00:12:45] Now, this might sound like not that much fun to me or you, but evidently for a viking, it was, literally, heaven.

[00:12:54] In addition to the ability to fight all day long, there were drinking horns that never emptied, so you could drink alcohol all day long, and a wild boar that would be eaten by the warriors and come back to life over and over, so they would never run out of food.

[00:13:13] So you can understand that if, culturally, there was this huge obsession with fighting, and if you died fighting then you would have the chance to go to Valhalla and fight all day long, then the Vikings were not just pretty keen fighters, but afraid of nothing.

[00:13:31] Evidently, this made them quite a formidable enemy.

[00:13:37] But the vikings weren’t just about violence. They were also accomplished traders, and there is evidence of them going all the way to modern day Baghdad to trade.

[00:13:49] They would take slaves from Britain and France, and then take them to the middle east to be sold. 

[00:13:56] The Quran forbade, it didn’t allow muslims to be kept as slaves, but foreign slaves were fine. So the vikings found very willing buyers in the middle east, and they would return north with piles of silver, which they had got in exchange for the slaves.

[00:14:15] When they weren’t out on raids, and were back home, in Scandinavia, viking culture was divided across three broad social classes. 

[00:14:25] Thralls, Karls and Jarls.

[00:14:29] Thralls, the lowest class, were essentially slaves, and they made up about 25% of the total population. The Thralls would be tasked with things like construction, building settlements, as well as being household servants to the higher-ranking members of society.

[00:14:50] Above them came the Karls, who were the free peasants. They worked the land, farming.

[00:14:57] And the Jarls were the viking royalty, the top of the pecking order. They ruled over their lands, and would keep Thralls as their slaves. When a Jarl died, their Thralls would often be killed and buried with them as a sacrifice.

[00:15:14] We do know quite a lot about the Vikings but our knowledge of them comes mainly from archaeology

[00:15:21] They didn’t have a strong written culture, although there are some stones, called runestones with Norse symbols on them dotted around Norway and Sweden.

[00:15:33] If you can’t imagine Old Norse, the language that the vikings would have spoken, it might surprise you to know that you probably have seen it before, and you probably have some Norse on the device that you’re listening to this episode on.

[00:15:50] Now, I thought that this couldn’t be true until I did a little bit more research and confirmed it, but the symbol for Bluetooth, you know the wireless system that your headphones might connect to your phone or laptop, that symbol actually comes from the name of a legendary viking warrior, Harold Bluetooth. 

[00:16:12] If you look closely at the logo for Bluetooth, it becomes obvious, but it’s actually two different Norse characters on top of each other.

[00:16:22] And when it comes to English, the Vikings have left an impressive legacy on the language.

[00:16:28] The names of several days come from the Old Norse of the vikings.

[00:16:33] Thursday means the day of Thor, the Norse god of Thunder.

[00:16:38] Friday is the day of the goddess of Freya, a Norse god associated with love, beauty, fertility, sex, war, and gold.

[00:16:48] Wednesday comes from Woden, or Odin’s day. Odin is one of the most famous Norse gods, and is Thor’s father.

[00:16:57] And there are hundreds of other words with old Norse origins, from knife to window, husband to Hell. The legacy lives on through the language we use.

[00:17:10] A question that is often asked is ‘how did the vikings end?’, and the reality is that there wasn’t one single event, or dramatic reason for the end of the viking raids

[00:17:25] The links between the vikings and the people that they had been attacking for 300 years had grown stronger. Vikings had spent months and years away from Scandinavia, and they had brought back some British and Christian traditions. There were vikings who converted to Christianity, and viking kingdoms back in Scandinavia slowly became part of the wider European Christian tradition.

[00:17:54] After 300 years, the inhabitants of the British Isles and northern France also got better at defending themselves, as you might imagine. While it might have been easy in 793 to rush out of your longboat and surprise a lot of unarmed monks and steal all of their valuables, people soon cottoned on, they figured out what was happening, and it became harder and harder to get the same results.

[00:18:23] Then in the year 1066, on Christmas day in fact, William of Normandy was crowned King of England. He was a strong military ruler, and was able to deflect the viking threat, and that’s where the records of viking attacks end.

[00:18:42] Up until the Victorian era, the vikings were remembered as barbarians, savages, violent, bloodthirsty pagan invaders who massacred innocent people. Then in the Victorian era things started to change.

[00:18:59] There was a newfound fascination with the vikings, and an understanding that, yes, they might have done quite a lot of raping and pillaging, but they were humans too, and trying to understand them was an interesting exercise.

[00:19:16] Since then, they have captured people’s imagination, and certainly when I was at school it was an important subject that we all learned about, probably because it’s quite an easy subject to get a 5-year-old child excited about.

[00:19:32] And the legacy of the vikings lives on not just through language and popular culture, but through our DNA

[00:19:41] William the Conqueror, the Norman who invaded Britain in 1066 was descended from viking settlers in northern France. 

[00:19:49] And there are always slightly ridiculous articles about what percentage of people in Britain can directly trace their heritage to the vikings - one article said that around one in thirty three men can trace their ancestry back through the father’s side directly to viking invaders. Evidently, when you include all of the genealogical combinations, from fathers and mothers, then we’re probably all a little bit viking.

[00:20:20] So, there we are, the vikings. 

[00:20:22] The inhabitants of the Lindisfarne monastery didn’t know it when they first saw the boat arriving on the 8th of June 793, but this people were to have a huge impact on the fabric of Europe for the next three hundred years, and leave a legacy that is felt all over the continent.

[00:20:43] Yes they were savage invaders, but they were also traders, explorers, shipbuilding innovators, storytellers, and artists, and our history, culture, and traditions are richer thanks to them, although I’m not sure that all of the monks on the island of Lindisfarne would agree.

[00:21:03] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on The Vikings. 

[00:21:08] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and you’ve learned something new about a people that, statistically speaking, you probably share some kind of ancestry with.

[00:21:18] I think it’s fascinating to go beyond the stereotypes that we’re taught, and to think about the why: the vikings were humans like you and me after all with their own motivations, reasons, and desires, and I hope that today’s episode has shed a little light on some of these.

[00:21:38] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds. As well as to me.

[00:21:52] I can't wait to see what you have to say.

[00:21:55] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, and to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:22:14] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:22:19] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about The Vikings, the warriors from Scandinavia who terrorised large parts of Europe for the best part of 300 years.

[00:00:35] You probably know something about the vikings already, but today we are going to go a little deeper, talking about who they really were, why they did what they did, how they actually did it, and we’ll discover that the story of the vikings is actually quite different to how it is represented in popular culture.

[00:00:58] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus the subtitles, the transcripts, and the key vocabulary for this episode and all of our other ones over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:14] This is also where you can also check out becoming a member of Leonardo English, and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally, improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:31] So if that's of interest, and I certainly hope it is, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:40] OK then, let’s get started, and talk about the vikings.

[00:01:45] When you think about the vikings, you might imagine barbarian men with large beards, red hair, helmets with horns on, jumping out of boats, killing innocent people, raping and running off with women, and generally terrorising anyone they came across.

[00:02:05] Indeed, this is how the story of the vikings is often taught. The story of the vikings is actually one of my first memories of a subject that I covered in school - I think we must have done a project on it when I was about 5 years old, and you can see why it appeals to a young child. 

[00:02:26] The problem is that not all of this is true, and it’s a gross oversimplification of the story of the vikings.

[00:02:34] In reality, the vikings were a sophisticated group of people, a group that had made some admirable technological advances, probably the first Europeans to arrive in The Americas, five hundred years before Christopher Columbus, and they operated a sophisticated system of trade that stretched all the way to modern-day Baghdad.

[00:02:59] But they were also murdering warriors.

[00:03:03] Until the year 793, people in the British Isles, the modern day UK and Ireland, they didn’t know much about the vikings, about the people who lived across the sea from them in Norway and Sweden.

[00:03:18] There is a small island just off the north-east coast of England called Lindisfarne. It’s considered a holy island, and there was a monastery on it where Christian monks passed their days studying the bible and praying.

[00:03:35] Then on the 8th of June 793, three long ships arrived, carrying foreign men, men who we now refer to as vikings. 

[00:03:48] They rushed out of their boats, swords and spears in hand. They massacred a large proportion of the monks, and they destroyed the monastery and church, taking with them all the treasures of the holy buildings.

[00:04:03] The local population didn’t know what had hit them, and they weren’t to know that this was just the start. 

[00:04:13] These raids would continue for the next 300 years, and extend all over modern day England, Wales and Ireland, as well as France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Russia, and even parts of Italy.

[00:04:28] So, who were these invading warriors, who were the vikings, and why did they start attacking monasteries in Britain?

[00:04:38] They came from Scandinavia, modern day Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. 

[00:04:43] Historians are divided over exactly why they decided to get in their boats and sail across the dangerous North Sea to the British Isles in the first place.

[00:04:55] Some have said it was due to overpopulation in Scandinavia, that there wasn’t enough farmland for people to make a living, and so they set off for pastures new, for new land.

[00:05:09] Others have said it was to seek women, for men to find wives. 

[00:05:15] It’s thought that rich Scandinavian men used to have multiple wives, and dying during childbirth was sadly pretty common back then, which led to a big imbalance between the number of men who wanted a wife and the number of available women. 

[00:05:35] So they set off in search of brides, and that’s why they would capture women on their raids and take them back to their settlements.

[00:05:45] There’s another theory that it was actually out of revenge. 

[00:05:50] The Christian emperor Charlemagne had forced non-Christians to convert to Christianity, and had murdered and terrorised anyone who hadn’t. 

[00:06:02] The vikings were pagan, they weren’t Christian, and so there’s a theory that they went on these brutal raids out of revenge for what Charlemagne did.

[00:06:14] And there’s another theory that they just saw that there was this opportunity, that the British Isles and large parts of Western Europe didn’t have strong defences, but were full of treasures, so why not give it a try?

[00:06:30] Whether there was one overarching reason, or it was a combination of various different factors at different times, the viking invaders soon found that going on raids was a very profitable activity, and these raids continued in various shapes and forms until the 11th century.

[00:06:52] But while in a lot of popular culture the vikings are depicted as getting in their boats, sailing over to Britain, jumping out, killing people, snatching women, stealing treasure and sailing back again, as the years went on, their expeditions actually got a lot longer, both in terms of the time spent and the distances they traveled.

[00:07:18] After attacking a town or city, naturally killing anyone who resisted them and taking possession of anything that caught their eye, they would often stay in the area, trading with the local people. 

[00:07:31] Although this might seem strange, Scandinavia is a long way away from Britain. At its absolute closest point it’s 300km, and from where most of the vikings came from, in modern-day Sweden, it’s about three times that.

[00:07:48] So, it was a long trip, and if you are superior militarily, if you can stay, why not?

[00:07:57] Some would just stay for the winter, and there were other viking communities that would settle for anything from a few months to a few years to permanently. 

[00:08:09] They would use these settlements as places from which to launch attacks further inland, using their boats to head inland up rivers, attacking large parts of the south of England, as well as going up the Seine and attacking Paris in the year 845, after having formed a base at Nantes, a town just inland from the west coast of France.

[00:08:35] The fact that they could travel such distances with such relative ease was due to the technological advances that they had made with their boats.

[00:08:46] You can probably picture a viking boat. It’s long, has a sail, and would also have oars, so it worked whether there was wind or not.

[00:08:57] But the main technological advances were really things that you don’t immediately see. 

[00:09:05] Firstly, the vikings are thought to have invented the keel, the piece of wood that extends downwards under a boat to make it more stable.

[00:09:17] The ships were also very low, so they didn’t need to have large hulls, the part of the boat that is under the water. This meant they could travel in water that was just 1 metre deep, which comes in handy when you need to rush up onto a beach, or navigate rivers inland.

[00:09:37] The boats were also double-ended, they could travel in either direction, which was very handy if you needed to quickly go into reverse.

[00:09:47] The ships were also, in many cases, very beautiful, and would have dragon heads carved into them, and big, red painted sails. But if you lived in a coastal town in northern Europe and you saw one of these beautiful ships with a big sail in the distance, well, I don’t imagine you would be admiring the artwork.

[00:10:10] As news of the spoils to be had, of the treasures to be taken, as it reached the communities back in Scandinavia, more and more men joined these raiding parties

[00:10:23] While it might have been 3 ships that first attacked Lindisfarne, the raiding parties ended up being as large as 30 ships, full of warriors ready to jump out and run into battle.

[00:10:36] It’s worth spending a little bit of time talking about how they actually fought, because this is also interesting.

[00:10:45] Firstly, one of the biggest misconceptions about vikings is that they wore helmets with horns on. 

[00:10:54] They didn’t. 

[00:10:55] There is absolutely no evidence that they wore these in battle. There has only been one horned helmet ever found, but it’s thought to be ceremonial, not used for actual fighting.

[00:11:08] The second interesting fact about vikings in battle is that there are reports about them going berserk, going mad, and rushing towards the enemy screaming like they were completely crazy, completely unafraid of dying. 

[00:11:25] It’s thought that the warriors would often go into a kind of trance state, a sort of state of madness, to frighten the people they were attacking.

[00:11:37] It’s now believed that they were probably either just incredibly drunk or on some kind of hallucinogenic drug, perhaps hallucinogenic mushrooms, and this would send them into a sort of otherworldly state that made them act like madmen and be completely unafraid of death.

[00:11:59] That’s one theory, but they could have just been genuinely unafraid of being killed in battle.

[00:12:06] Our knowledge of viking culture does tell us that there was this strong idea of death in battle being the ultimate honour. 

[00:12:15] If a viking died in battle, he might be welcomed by the god Odin to Valhalla, a mythical huge hall that was so big it had 540 doors.

[00:12:28] And what happened in Valhalla? 

[00:12:30] Well, mainly fighting and eating. 

[00:12:33] Every day in Valhalla the dead would fight against each other, and every night their wounds would heal and they would do it all over again the following day.

[00:12:45] Now, this might sound like not that much fun to me or you, but evidently for a viking, it was, literally, heaven.

[00:12:54] In addition to the ability to fight all day long, there were drinking horns that never emptied, so you could drink alcohol all day long, and a wild boar that would be eaten by the warriors and come back to life over and over, so they would never run out of food.

[00:13:13] So you can understand that if, culturally, there was this huge obsession with fighting, and if you died fighting then you would have the chance to go to Valhalla and fight all day long, then the Vikings were not just pretty keen fighters, but afraid of nothing.

[00:13:31] Evidently, this made them quite a formidable enemy.

[00:13:37] But the vikings weren’t just about violence. They were also accomplished traders, and there is evidence of them going all the way to modern day Baghdad to trade.

[00:13:49] They would take slaves from Britain and France, and then take them to the middle east to be sold. 

[00:13:56] The Quran forbade, it didn’t allow muslims to be kept as slaves, but foreign slaves were fine. So the vikings found very willing buyers in the middle east, and they would return north with piles of silver, which they had got in exchange for the slaves.

[00:14:15] When they weren’t out on raids, and were back home, in Scandinavia, viking culture was divided across three broad social classes. 

[00:14:25] Thralls, Karls and Jarls.

[00:14:29] Thralls, the lowest class, were essentially slaves, and they made up about 25% of the total population. The Thralls would be tasked with things like construction, building settlements, as well as being household servants to the higher-ranking members of society.

[00:14:50] Above them came the Karls, who were the free peasants. They worked the land, farming.

[00:14:57] And the Jarls were the viking royalty, the top of the pecking order. They ruled over their lands, and would keep Thralls as their slaves. When a Jarl died, their Thralls would often be killed and buried with them as a sacrifice.

[00:15:14] We do know quite a lot about the Vikings but our knowledge of them comes mainly from archaeology

[00:15:21] They didn’t have a strong written culture, although there are some stones, called runestones with Norse symbols on them dotted around Norway and Sweden.

[00:15:33] If you can’t imagine Old Norse, the language that the vikings would have spoken, it might surprise you to know that you probably have seen it before, and you probably have some Norse on the device that you’re listening to this episode on.

[00:15:50] Now, I thought that this couldn’t be true until I did a little bit more research and confirmed it, but the symbol for Bluetooth, you know the wireless system that your headphones might connect to your phone or laptop, that symbol actually comes from the name of a legendary viking warrior, Harold Bluetooth. 

[00:16:12] If you look closely at the logo for Bluetooth, it becomes obvious, but it’s actually two different Norse characters on top of each other.

[00:16:22] And when it comes to English, the Vikings have left an impressive legacy on the language.

[00:16:28] The names of several days come from the Old Norse of the vikings.

[00:16:33] Thursday means the day of Thor, the Norse god of Thunder.

[00:16:38] Friday is the day of the goddess of Freya, a Norse god associated with love, beauty, fertility, sex, war, and gold.

[00:16:48] Wednesday comes from Woden, or Odin’s day. Odin is one of the most famous Norse gods, and is Thor’s father.

[00:16:57] And there are hundreds of other words with old Norse origins, from knife to window, husband to Hell. The legacy lives on through the language we use.

[00:17:10] A question that is often asked is ‘how did the vikings end?’, and the reality is that there wasn’t one single event, or dramatic reason for the end of the viking raids

[00:17:25] The links between the vikings and the people that they had been attacking for 300 years had grown stronger. Vikings had spent months and years away from Scandinavia, and they had brought back some British and Christian traditions. There were vikings who converted to Christianity, and viking kingdoms back in Scandinavia slowly became part of the wider European Christian tradition.

[00:17:54] After 300 years, the inhabitants of the British Isles and northern France also got better at defending themselves, as you might imagine. While it might have been easy in 793 to rush out of your longboat and surprise a lot of unarmed monks and steal all of their valuables, people soon cottoned on, they figured out what was happening, and it became harder and harder to get the same results.

[00:18:23] Then in the year 1066, on Christmas day in fact, William of Normandy was crowned King of England. He was a strong military ruler, and was able to deflect the viking threat, and that’s where the records of viking attacks end.

[00:18:42] Up until the Victorian era, the vikings were remembered as barbarians, savages, violent, bloodthirsty pagan invaders who massacred innocent people. Then in the Victorian era things started to change.

[00:18:59] There was a newfound fascination with the vikings, and an understanding that, yes, they might have done quite a lot of raping and pillaging, but they were humans too, and trying to understand them was an interesting exercise.

[00:19:16] Since then, they have captured people’s imagination, and certainly when I was at school it was an important subject that we all learned about, probably because it’s quite an easy subject to get a 5-year-old child excited about.

[00:19:32] And the legacy of the vikings lives on not just through language and popular culture, but through our DNA

[00:19:41] William the Conqueror, the Norman who invaded Britain in 1066 was descended from viking settlers in northern France. 

[00:19:49] And there are always slightly ridiculous articles about what percentage of people in Britain can directly trace their heritage to the vikings - one article said that around one in thirty three men can trace their ancestry back through the father’s side directly to viking invaders. Evidently, when you include all of the genealogical combinations, from fathers and mothers, then we’re probably all a little bit viking.

[00:20:20] So, there we are, the vikings. 

[00:20:22] The inhabitants of the Lindisfarne monastery didn’t know it when they first saw the boat arriving on the 8th of June 793, but this people were to have a huge impact on the fabric of Europe for the next three hundred years, and leave a legacy that is felt all over the continent.

[00:20:43] Yes they were savage invaders, but they were also traders, explorers, shipbuilding innovators, storytellers, and artists, and our history, culture, and traditions are richer thanks to them, although I’m not sure that all of the monks on the island of Lindisfarne would agree.

[00:21:03] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on The Vikings. 

[00:21:08] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and you’ve learned something new about a people that, statistically speaking, you probably share some kind of ancestry with.

[00:21:18] I think it’s fascinating to go beyond the stereotypes that we’re taught, and to think about the why: the vikings were humans like you and me after all with their own motivations, reasons, and desires, and I hope that today’s episode has shed a little light on some of these.

[00:21:38] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds. As well as to me.

[00:21:52] I can't wait to see what you have to say.

[00:21:55] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, and to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:22:14] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:22:19] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.