English 33


Nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus has landed1 in the New World, a wooden ship sailed through the hazy mist and arrived on the rocky coast of what is now Newfoundland, Canada. [2] The Viking sailors on board were the first Europeans to land in North America. But who were they? Folktales and history books have described them as violent warriors, and thieves3 who terrorized Europe from about 800 to 1000 A.D. During the 18th century, the Vikings were portrayed as noble savages.4

The Vikings weren’t just burly fighters in horned helmets. In fact,5 their helmets had no horns. Vikings were Norse people from a region in Northern Europe that is now Scandanavia. Contarary to popular belief, the Norse were also peaceful farmers and traders, as well as gifted metalworkers. Their superior6 talent, though, was shipbuilding.

The Vikings used their ships to sail in search of goods they couldn’t get at home: silk; glass; steel, and silver7 from Europe, the Middle East and possibly Africa. At a time when old trade routes through the Mediterranean were closed, the Vikings kept the trade route between Byzantium and the west open by way of Kiev. There is, however, much8 truth to their savage reputation: they used brute force to steal, especially if they spotted a shiny treasure.

In 871, one’s9 restless spirit led the Vikings west to a freezing cold island they named Iceland. Evidence shows that about 12,000 Norse settled there. Later, an explorer named Bjarni Herjolfsson was blown off course10 on his way to Greenland and spotted a forested land in the distance. Erik’s son Leif set out to find it – and became11 the first European to reach North America. Ruins suggest his base lasted less than 10 years, but archaeologists believe that Vikings continued to trade with Native American tribes such as the Inuit long after the Norse abandoned their camp: many Norse objects found at Inuit sites date from decades or even centuries later.12

Remnants of Viking culture remains13 part of modern life. The Vikings set up the Althing in Iceland, this being the world’s oldest democratic legislature that has survived until present times.14 Its representatives still meet to discuss important issues and settle disputes. On the contrary,15 every week we all honor the ancient Norse gods Odin, Thor and Freya: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are named after them!