The Christianization of the Vikings could date back to around the 8th to the 12th century. This process took a lot time because it met with many strong disapproval. Many missionary efforts were recorded and the first attempts failed. In this blog post, we briefly discuss how the Vikings converted into Christianity back then.
At first, the Vikings didn’t like this new religion. The Vikings believed in polytheism although they didn’t know the concept of polytheism. They worshipped many gods so it would be easy for them to accept the theory of many gods. But of course, they practised the ancient way and worshipped the Norse Pantheon only. What I mean about polytheism here was that it would take the Vikings less time to accept new religion which would benefit the Christianization.
As soon as the Vikings did business with other regions outside their border, they exposed to the new religion. Later, the historians believed that it was economic and political reasons that the Vikings converted into Christianity.
The Viking traders realized that the Christian traders were wealthy as well as they had many interesting things to trade with. But the Christian traders tended to trade with those who shared the same religion with them. These Christian traders discriminated pagans and Muslims. Then some of the Viking traders came up with wearing the cross as if they were Christians. And when they came home, they changed into the Mjolnir hammer pendant.
Also, the Christian kingdoms would not wage war against its religious fellows. This was also an attractive deal for many Viking petty kings.
While many historians claimed that the Christianization of Scandinavian regions happened without violence, this wasn’t a case in Sweden.
In Sweden, both violent and non-violent attempts took place. Even towards the end of the 10th century, the process met with many disapproval. Both new religion and the old faith co-existed for a long time. Later, when some of them gave up the ancient path taking on a new one, they still honored the pagan rites. The newly-Christianized Swedes still supported paganism for a while.
By the end of the 12th century, the majority of Swedish had given up pagan path.
Although Harald Klak Halfdansson was the first Viking King of Denmark that got baptised in 826, it wasn’t until Harald Bluetooth’s reign that many Danes converted into Christianity.
Prior to Harald Bluetooth, Denmark was divided into many tribes and each tribe had a jarl whose viewpoint upon Christianity varied. Until the reign of King Gorm the Old and Queen Thyra (parents of Harald Bluetooth), they started to be open with the new religion. While King Gorm was the committed pagan follower, Queen Thyra was somewhat for the new religion which must have affected Harald. After uniting the Danes under a banner, Harald Bluetooth also managed to convert the Danes into Christianity. He erected the Jelling stones in honor of his parents as well as writing down his achievement of uniting and converting the Danes into new religion.
The belief in Christianity was also the reason why Harald met his demise. Palnatoke was a chieftain under the reign of Harald and he strongly disapproved this religious conversion. Palnatoke brought up Sweyn Forkbeard (a son of Harald Bluetooth) and later waged war against Harald Bluetooth by allying with Sweyn.
Norway had some petty Viking kings converted into new religion very soon. But it wasn’t until Olaf Tryggvasson led a revolt against king Hakkon that Christianity started to have greater influence on the Viking Norwegian. Olaf Tryggvasson then became Olaf I of Norway. He forced his people to convert into Christianity with violence. Olaf I burnt down pagan temples and killed those who refused to convert themselves into Christianity.