Homelands
History

Perhaps the most basic reason why the Vikings continue to be popular is that they are a vibrant part of European history. Far from being a brief moment in history, Viking territorial expansion and influence has had lasting impacts beyond the borders of Scandinavia. Their activities gave focus to nordic statehood and nationalism of the Romantic period; shaped the emergence of Scotland, Ireland, and England; and resulted in the incorporation of the Faeroes and Greenland within the Danish kingdom to this very day. It also led directly to the creation of the Icelandic people. Today the convergence of the millennium of Leif Eriksson's discovery of the New World in A. D. 1000 and archeological discoveries have brought attention to the Vikings as the first Europeans in the New World.


Elisabeth Ward on Common Ancestors

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In the 19th century, as nationalistic movements swept across Europe, each nation looked for a way to differentiate themselves from other Europeans. Scandinavians turned to their Viking ancestors as a unique, heroic part of their past. More fundamentally, the Viking Age was the period when the unified Scandinavian kingdoms first emerged, making Vikings pivotal to Scandinavian history. Because of this shared historical and linguistic heritage in the Viking Age, Scandinavians feel more kinship with each other than with other Europeans. Today, the Scandinavian countries continue to cooperate in a number of cultural, security, and economic issues through agencies such as the Nordic Council of Ministers (the instigator and major sponsor for Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga).

The emergence of Scandinavian nationalism also played a role in a darker part of European history as the Scandinavian countries grew closer to Germany in the early decades of the twentieth century. Swedes especially admired German prowess in science and the arts, and Germany in turn found its Nazi Party policies glorified by reference to Viking military achievements. During the 1930s the Nazi Party began using the Viking warrior images on recruitment posters, encouraging Danes to join their Viking "brothers" in the German Army, one outcome of which was the foundation of a Viking Brigade composed of Norwegian Nazi sympathizers which was sent to attack Russia toward the end of WWII. The overt use of the Vikings in promoting the Nazi image of an Aryan master race was so abhorrent to most Scandinavians that public use of Viking symbols and heritage in Scandinavia remained subdued until the end of the twentieth century.

While the Viking Age marked a crucial turning point for the Scandinavian countries, it also helped create a new nation: Iceland. Iceland would not exist were it not for Viking expansion, so anyone interested in Iceland or her history soon discovers Vikings near the heart of any enterprise, and this legacy has been particularly well promoted by the tourism industry. More recently, the Viking settlement of Iceland has caught the world's attention because of DNA studies of their unique, well-documented genealogical history and its biological genome, which has been preserved in relative isolation since the time of the Vikings.

Jorvik Museum
Jorvik Museum
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Historians also credit the Vikings with the formation of political entities throughout Europe. Due to the Vikings, the separate English, Welsh, and Anglo-Saxon kings had to unite to ward off the invading fleets and armies, and this consolidated group formed the basis for the British nation. Less directly, the extensive Viking settlement in the northern British Isles, where the Vikings were settlers, traders, and political figures, certainly helped shape the Scottish nation. Recently, Russians have embraced their Viking past more openly, with greater acknowledgment of the Swedish Viking establishment of the first Russian kingdom, and also the influence of the Vikings on the development of the early Russian economy. And of course, one should not forget that the Duchy of Normandy, which continues to be a unique area of France, was created by a Viking chieftain, Hrolf (or Rollo), who won for his people the portion of France now known as Normandy (from "north men").

The Viking legacy is also highly visible in other North Atlantic islands settled by Nordic peoples. The Faeroe Islands and Greenland became part of the Danish Kingdom in the 19th century, thanks to their incorporation into the Norwegian Kingdom during medieval times. To the Inuit living in Greenland, their association with Denmark, now enhanced through Home Rule political status, is an unmistakable reminder of the early Viking presence here even though the original Nordic settlers disappeared long ago. Just this year, Greenland's Home Rule government invested in its Viking past by re-constructing part of Erik the Red's farm at Brattahlid and erecting a statue in honor of Leif Eriksson in Nuuk, the capitol.

In other words, Vikings continue to be popular and important today because they are part of the national story/history of so many peoples. One cannot hope to understand the politics of Northern Europe and the North Atlantic without taking the Viking expansion of 1000 years ago into account. There is therefore a very good reason why Vikings are as well known as they are.