Friday, October 26, 2012

Where did Vikings Sail (and get horses)

English sources typically date the beginning of the Viking Age by the burning of the monastery at Lyndisfarme on a small British island in 793 AD and the end at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 AD.  However, the time period is more accurately described as “Old Norse” since the term Viking or “fara í víking” referred only to those Norsemen who went exploring or raiding, returning with loot and slaves to a home base.  Possibly due to population expansion with limited agricultural resources or just exploiting a power gap after the collapse of Charlemagne’s empire in the 830s, groups of Norse from Scandinavia began to expand across Europe at this time (Viking, Wikepedia).
Map showing Norse Expansion from Wikipedia

Norse ships were capable of sailing cross large expansions of open ocean and navigating far inland up rivers.  Establishing trade routes and forming both permanent and temporary settlements, the Norse groups founded outposts in pockets of coastline and rivers along current day France, Spain, North Africa and western Italy.  Additional settlers headed to England, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, Shetlands, and Faroe Islands.  Other trading groups navigated the major river ways of Eastern Europe and Russia--eventually reaching the Black and Caspian Seas.  Eric the Red and similar adventurers sailed to North America and established short term settlements in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, and Labrador.
The map to the left shows Norse expansion during this time.  Certainly the Norse would have picked up horses on their travels and brought them to Iceland.  But what types of horses would have they have selected?  See tomorrow's post.

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