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The Viking Timeline: What Happened & When?

Viking raiders in the ocean

The Viking Age lasted a few hundred years. But what happened, and when? We take a detailed look at the Viking timeline.

The Viking era is the period following the Germanic Iron Age. From around the year 793 to 1066, Norsemen used rivers and oceans to explore Europe for trading, raiding and conquest.

Of course, history from so long ago is far from exact. Much of what we know about the era is based on Icelandic sagas, stories that were written hundreds of years after the events took place. If they ever took place at all. This is one of the biggest criticism of Viking stories.

What historical records there are tend to have been left by the people that the Norsemen conquered. So while those accounts will likely paint a one-sided picture, they do at least help us begin to pull a Viking timeline together.

Bear in mind when reading these dates and facts that many historians disagree on the details! In some cases the dates aren’t clear, in others there’s some doubt whether the events even happened at all.

Read more: The Vikings in Norway

The early days

791: Raids begin on the British Isles. Early targets were Christian monasteries on small islands, which were often unprotected. One of the most famous early raids was in 793 at Lindisfarne, north east England. It was described by Anglo-Saxon writers as “Heathen men came and miserably destroyed God’s church on Lindisfarne, with plunder and slaughter,” according to English Heritage.

830: The Oseberg ship is buried. Arguably the finest artefact to have survived the Viking age, the Oseberg ship discovered near Tønsberg was buried around this time. The skeletons of two women were found with the ship. The ship is today on display in Oslo, while a reconstruction bobs in the harbour of Tønsberg.

Oseberg Viking Ship in an Oslo museum
The Oseberg ship at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo

840: Norse settlers found Dublin. Or rather, they seized the ecclesiastical settlement and began to build a camps of their own, which would go on to become the capital of the Republic of Ireland.

Far and wide

844: Muslims repel a Viking raid in Spain. Vikings sailed up the Guadalquivir river to raid Seville. A Muslim army fought back, and the rapid Muslim response dissuaded the Vikings from further attacks on Spain.

866: Vikings establish a Kingdom in York. Danish Vikings take York in the north of England, and establish a Kingdom. The Northumbrian kings Aelle and Osbert were not captured, however. You can learn more about York's perspective on the era's history at the Jorvik Viking Centre.

Read more: Fun Facts About The Vikings

Control and establishment

872: Harald I gains control of Norway. According to medieval Icelandic historians, Harald Fairhair (Harald hårfagre) became the first King of Norway and would rule to 930. He was regarded to have unified Norway after the the Battle of Hafrsfjord. The famous swords sculpture of Stavanger commemorates this moment.

878-890: The Danelaw pact. The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum is signed, defining the political split of England between Alfred and the Danes. The Old English document survives in Cambridge's Corpus Christi College.

Southern Europe

900: Raids along the Mediterranean. Vikings began a series of raids in the Med. A few years later, the Swedish Olef the Wise led a force to Constantinople, the city now known as Istanbul. He was well paid to turn around and leave.

Participants in a Viking time festival

911: Rollo founds Normandy in France. Viking chief Rollo is granted land by the Franks after he besieged Paris. The descendants of Rollo and his followers adopted the local languages and became the Normans.

Battles in Britain

910: Battle of Tettenhall / Wednesfield. Forces from Mercia and Wessex combined to defeat the Northumbrian Vikings. The battle saw the defeat of the last great Danish army to ravage England.

915-918: Battles of Corbridge. On the banks of the Tyne River, an army of Englishmen fighting under the Norse King Rægnald defeated the Scots. The second encounter is also known as the Battle of Bloody Acres.

Even farther, even wider

941: Rus Vikings attack Constantinople. The Rus and their allies took advantage of the Byzantine fleet and army being thinly spread. The Imperial capital essentially stood defenceless. The Rus' were said to have violently killed their victims. It was one of many wars between the two sides.

981: Erik the Red discovers Greenland. Expelled from Norway and later Iceland, Erik the Red settled in Greenland with 25 ships, people and goods. Within around 20 years, more than 3,000 Vikings were said to be living on Greenland as farmers.

A statue of Leiv Eriksson watches the fjord in Trondheim, Norway
The Leiv Eriksson statue in Trondheim, Norway

986: Viking ships sight Newfoundland. L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site is the only authenticated Norse site in North America. Leif Erikson is the man credited with discovering the region, but according to stories it was Bjarni Herjolfsson who first discovered the land, having been blown off course from a journey to Greenland. About 10-15 years later, Erikson would go on to lead an expedition to the New World.

The influence of Christianity

995: Norway's Viking King builds a Christian church. The founder of Trondheim, Olav Tryggvasson built the first Christian church in Norway. He had spend time on the Scilly Isles, where a seer is said to have foreseen a battle in which Tryggvason would suffer great wounds and then convert. Shortly after the meeting he survived a vicious attack, and duly converted. He returned to Norway to take the throne, and so began Norway's slow conversion.

1000: Christianity arrives in Iceland and Greenland. Although the faith had already begun to spread, it really took hold when Norway's King Olav began to convert chieftains. He also imposed trade restrictions on those that refused.

The last days

1015: The North American settlement is abandoned. The area known as ‘Vinland' was abandoned, most likely due to limited supplies and the long journey required to trade with Scandinavia.

1030: The Battle of Stiklestad. Norway's Christian King Olav Haraldsson was defeated in the Battle of Stiklestad. Churches and shrines to Saint Olav were built in his honour across Europe. Some historians doubt the authenticity of the battle however, and say Olav could have been killed by his own people.

1066: Battles in England. England's King Harold Godwinson defeated Norway's Harald Hardråda at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, while William Duke of Normandy defeated the Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

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