It is prohibited and unacceptable for the plundering and looting deeds in this day and age. But back to more than 1,000 years ago, the Vikings made their name by plundering their neighboring tribes. The question here is, what made the Vikings so powerful not only in their battlefield but also their normal life where the nature didn’t favor these men.
My personal answer to the question “What made the Vikings?” is that the Viking shipbuilding skills and Viking religious belief.
Viking Shipbuilding skills
It goes without saying that Viking ship was the greatest achievement of the Vikings. Without the majestic longship, the Vikings would not have reached that far. And it was the Viking ship that granted the Vikings an edge over their neighboring enemies. In the Viking raid on Lindisfarne monastery, the monks described the Viking ships as the “fiery dragons were seen flying in the air“.
The historians agreed that the Vikings didn’t erect their ship by luck. They must have observed and experienced so many times that they finally stored for themselves the shipbuilding techniques.
Imagine the time when all technology that these people had was a stone as their compass, sailing to fish was hard, let alone crossing the Atlantic Ocean. So there came their great shipbuilding skills which enabled them to both fish and raid.
The archaeological evidence can attest to the greatness of the Viking ship. The Oseberg ship which was dedicated in a Viking funeral more than millennium years ago was one of the most majestic Viking ships on earth. The subtle carvings and edgy lines of the ship can capture the attention of anyone the moment they see her. Somehow Oseberg ship survived the test of time and the archaeologists made the Oseberg excavation to the public eye in the beginning of the 20th century.
Another famous Viking ship was the Gokstad ship. The Gokstad ship was also a part of the Viking burial ritual and the archaeologists agreed that the Gokstad ship had made a lot of sails on the ocean before the Vikings towed her inshore for the funeral of a Viking warrior. “Viking” was the first Viking ship replica on Earth and she resembled Gokstad ship. When the Norwegian crew launch “Viking” to cross Atlantic Ocean, it worried them for they were unsure whether the ship could make it. But it also excited them to see the result. A modern hand-made ship based on the Viking shipbuilding techniques crossed Atlantic Ocean.
One important factor for the greatness of the Vikings includes their religious belief the empowers them in life and battle.
The Vikings worshipped Norse Pantheon, especially Odin, Thor, and Freyr. Odin was the god of war, wisdom, and military intellect. Thor Odinsson was the god of thunder, storm, bravery, and physical strength. Freyr was the god of fertility and summer.
The Viking warriors didn’t fear death. They believed in the fate and the Norns who created their destiny. No matter what they did, if their time was up, they died. If the Norns wanted them to die in this battle, they could not change it. What they could do was to bravely fight in the battle so Odin would choose them to live in Valhalla. This was what made the Vikings powerful: They didn’t fear death. The Viking warriors accepted death as a reward from the High Power. They would reunite with their fallen brothers in Valhalla, feasting and drinking with the gods.
The two mentioned elements: shipbuilding skills and religious belief are not all of the contributing factors to the Viking success in their time. Rather, we should view them as one of the major reasons. Because there are more reasons that facilitate Viking glory in Europe. For example, thanks to the political turmoil in Europe during this time, the Vikings could easily attack their neighboring kingdoms.
Anyway, the Viking ships are truly the greatest Viking achievement. Without the Viking ship, there would have been no Viking Age as such. Along with it was the Viking religious belief in Norse Pantheon that gradually fostered the savage monsters within every Viking warrior.