The term Viking commonly denotes the ship-born warriors and traders of Norsemen (literally, men from the north) who originated in Scandinavia and raided the coasts of Britain, Ireland and mainland Europe as far east as the Volga River in Russia from the late 8th–11th century. This period (generally dated 793–1066) is often referred to as the Viking Age. The term Viking has also denoted entire populations of Viking Age Scandinavia and their settlements, as an expanded meaning.
Famed for their longships, Vikings founded settlements for three centuries along the coasts and rivers of mainland Europe, Ireland, Great Britain, Normandy, the Shetland, Orkney, and Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland circa 1000. They reached south to North Africa and east to Russia and Constantinople, as looters, traders, or mercenaries. Vikings under Leif Ericson, heir to Erik the Red, reached North America, with putative expeditions to present-day Canada, Maine and Southeastern Massachusetts, Including Cape cod in the 10th century. Viking voyages decreased with the introduction of Christianity to Scandinavia in the late 10th and 11th century.
The word Viking was introduced to the English language with romantic connotations in the 18th century. However, etymologists trace the word to Anglo-Frankish writers, who referred to "víkingr" as one who set about to raid and pillage, as in the saga of Egil Skallagrimsson. In current Scandinavian languages, the term Viking is applied to the people who went away on Viking expeditions, be it for raiding or trading. In English and many other languages, Viking might refer to the Viking Age Scandinavians in general. The pre-Christian Scandinavian population is also referred to as Norse, although that term is properly applied to the whole civilization of Old-Norse speaking people.
There were two distinct classes of Viking ships: the longship (sometimes erroneously called "drakkar", a corruption of "dragon" in Norse) and the knarr. The longship, intended for warfare and exploration, was designed for speed and agility, and were equipped with oars to complement the sail as well as making it able to navigate independently of the wind. The longship had a long and narrow hull, as well as a shallow draft, in order to facilitate landings and troop deployments in shallow water. The knarr, on the other hand, was a slower merchant vessel with a greater cargo capacity than the longship. It was designed with a short and broad hull, and a deep draft. It also lacked the oars of the longship.
Longships were used extensively by the Leidang, the Scandinavian defense fleets. The term "Viking ships" has entered common usage, however, possibly because of its romantic associations (discussed below).
In Roskilde are the well-preserved remains of five ships, excavated from nearby Roskilde Fjord in the late 1960s. The ships were scuttled there in the 11th century to block a navigation channel, thus protecting the city, which was then the Danish capital, from seaborne assault. These five ships represent the two distinct classes of the Viking Ships, the longship and the knarr.
Longships are not to be confused with longboats.
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