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The Norse Remembers: Top 10 Viking Maritime Stories You Should Know

30 June 2021

The Vikings are renowned for being fearless warriors from Scandinavia roaming the European seas from the 8th  to the late 11th century. The word “Viking” means “pirate raid” in the Old Scandinavian language. But besides ferocious raids, the Vikings also used to trade such valuables as timber, fur, metals, spices, and amber with merchants from Ireland, France, Rus’, England, and Scotland. 

We think that you’d like to know more about these skillful seamen and some of the mysterious Scandinavian tales. In this article, we’ve handpicked the most captivating Viking stories and great naval battles that will allow you to feel this unique Nordic atmosphere. 

1. The Vikings and the Kraken

You’ve probably heard about the Kraken, an enormous octopus-shaped sea creature that hunts for sailors in the waters of Greenland and Norway. But do you know the Viking legend about the Kraken’s first appearance? 

Back in 1000 AD, a Norwegian bishop noticed a strange island of an unknown origin in the middle of the sea. After a while, the bishop was frightened to death as the island seemed to have disappeared into thin air. Thus, the Kraken could imitate islands to attract more vessels, attack, and destroy them, along with all the sailors and cargo. Later, numerous Vikings claimed to see this vast octopus during their sea journeys. After almost 200 years, Sverre Sigurdsson, the Norwegian king, named such a phenomenon “the Kraken” (“octopus” in the Old Norse language).

Some superstitious sailors could mistake the Kraken for intense currents and underwater volcanic activity, but who knows, maybe this giant octopus is still wandering through the seas, waiting for the furious Vikings to come back? 

2. The Battle of Nisa

One of the most spectacular Viking naval battles, the Battle of Nisa took place in present-day Sweden, in the waters of the Nissan River, on 9 August 1062. This fierce battle was fought between the Danish forces led by king Sweyn II and the Norwegian forces headed by king Harald Hardrada. 

In 1046, Harald Hardrada made a deal with Magnus Olafsson, king of Norway and Denmark, to rule Norway jointly. A year later, Magnus died, so Harald single-handedly gained the Norwegian throne, while Sweyn II got the Danish one, because, as it turned out, Magnus assigned Sweyn as his successor. 

Since 1048, Harald began making severe raids on Demark, trying to conquer the country and gain the throne. The final naval battle of Nisa was pre-arranged but, according to one of the Viking stories, Sweyn didn’t show up. Then, Harald sent back home some of his warriors and ships. 

Once Norwegian ships left, Sweyn’s forces showed up and attacked. The battle was long and fierce but finally, the Norwegian Vikings won the battle, which had no impact as the majority of Danish warriors managed to flee with their king. Two years later, the kings finally buried the hatchet and made peace. 

3. The Vikings discovered America in the XI century

Did you know that the Vikings outpaced Christopher Columbus in discovering America? According to the ancient manuscripts (“Graenlendinga Saga” and “Eirik’s Saga”), the Vikings managed to locate North America in the X century. 

The Vikings’ ship got caught in a storm, so they were forced to change course and spotted an unknown land. Later, a search party of seasoned Vikings set out from Greenland to find out more about this mysterious country. Once they arrived and explored the land, the Vikings found a lot of game to hunt for, timber, and grapes, so the country was nicknamed “Vinland”. The Vikings even tried to settle there, but they were banished by Native Americans. 

In the 1960s, a group of archaeologists decided to follow the Vikings’ sailing route described in the ancient manuscripts and discovered the remnants of eight wooden houses and four workshops in the Viking style. Thus, this Viking fable turned out to be a true story. 

4. The Battle of Nesjar

This naval battle is the biggest one in Norwegian history in which the Vikings participated. The battle was fought in 1016, somewhere near Vestfold County in Eastern Norway, between Olav Haraldsson, the Norwegian throne’s claimant, and Sweyn Hakonarson, the vassal from Sweden who was trying to conquer Norway. 

With over 200 warriors, Sweyn outnumbered Olav’s army of 100 fighters on his vessel. The Norwegian Vikings had extensive experience of wars in England, so they defeated the untrained Swedish army. Both major players survived and Sweyn was forced to return to Sweden.

Olav Haraldsson didn’t manage to rule Norway in a single-handed manner and had to ally with Erling Skjalgsson. This alliance was always tense, so both rulers were killed in battles in 1028 and 1030.

5.The legendary whirlpool on the Orkney Islands

The Orkney Islands, a picturesque archipelago in Scotland, was home to numerous Viking legends about mermaids, giants, trolls, sea monsters, and other creatures from Norse mythology. In the 9th century, the Vikings used the Orkney Islands as the headquarters of their raids. One of Orkney’s tales even explains us why the sea became salty. 

In the old days, there were two giantesses, Fenni and Menni. They worked for a ruthless king Frodi who kept them busy constantly. The giantesses had to follow every order given to them, but their main task was to turn a quern that could grind literally anything. Finally, Fenni and Menni decided they had enough of such a life, ground out the entire army, along with the king himself, and sailed away with Mysing, a pirate.

They were sailing by the Orkney Islands when Mysing needed to grind some salt and asked the giantesses to do it with their quern. Fenni and Menni ground so much salt that the vessel and its passengers sank. It is believed that the ship created a whirlpool, where the quern still lies, making the sea water salty. 

6. The Battle of Svolder

One of the most significant sea battles, the battle of Svolder took place on September 9, 1000, in the Baltic Sea. It was fought between the Norweigan king Olaf Tryggvason and a group of his rivals from Denmark and Sweden. The consolidation of Norway and numerous attempts of Denmark to dominate Norway led to this ruthless battle.

The battle was not pre-arranged—King Olaf was attacked while sailing home from one of his expeditions. Thus, the Norwegian forces of 11 ships were outnumbered by their opponents’ fleet of over 70 vessels. The Norwegian Vikings fought to the last, but every single ship was abducted, including Ormen Lange, one of the most renowned Viking boats, with King Olaf aboard.

King Olaf couldn’t put up with such a disgraceful defeat and jumped into the Baltic Sea waters. Though, according to some of the Viking stories, the king survived, got to the shore, and joined a monastery. After Olaf’s defeat, Norway was ruled by Sweyn I, the Danish king. 

7. The world-renowned Viking ship excavated in Norway

In 1879, the two teenagers were playing near an enormous burial mound in Sandefjord, Norway. They decided to organize some kind of a scavenger hunt and dug into the mound to find out if they could bump into anything interesting. That’s how the Gokstad, one of the most iconic Viking ships, was found. 

In a year, archaeologists excavated the ship from a mound of 5 meters (16 feet) high. It turned out that the oak vessel was built around 890 AD and the Vikings probably used it for trading and raids. This impressive ship was 5 meters (16 feet) wide and 23 meters (75 feet) long. Later it was restored and now you can find it in the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. 

But how could such a remarkable ship end up buried in the mound? The Gokstad ship was used as a grave for a wealthy warrior who died around 900 AD. The researchers concluded that the man was around 183 centimeters (6 feet) tall. According to the marks of cutting blows on his legs, the man probably died of a knife wound on his thigh. The skeleton was found lying in a spacious bed decorated with silk and woven tapestry, so the deceased was one of the high-ranking Vikings.  

8. The Battle of Hjörungavágr

According to the Viking legends, the Battle of Hjörungavágr took place in 986 on the coast of Sunnmøre and was fought between a fleet headed by the Jomsvikings from Denmark and the Jarls of Lade from Norway. It is believed that this battle was crucial for Haakon Sigurdsson to rule Norway all by himself. 

In those times, Denmark dominated the Nordic region, so some parts of Norway were under its reign. Haakon believed in the traditional Norse gods and he couldn’t tolerate the spread of Christianity from Denmark. Thus, he decided to break the Danish dominance and make Norway independent. 

Eventually, Haakon defeated the Danish Jomsvikings and became the sole king of Norway. As a result, Denmark didn’t claim over Norway until the Battle of Svolder in 1000. 

9. The Midgard Serpent 

One of the most significant representatives of Viking myths, the Midgard Serpent is a vast sea monster, wrapped around Midgard (the entire human world). He lives deep in the sea and causes all kinds of natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, and hurricanes. The Vikings believed that the monster holds his tail in his mouth and will let it go on the day of Ragnarok when the whole world will collapse. 

It’s also believed that on the day of Ragnarok the poisonous serpent will have a ferocious battle with Thor, the thunder god. Thor is supposed to conjure horrible thunder and lightning, but he will die from the serpent’s poison, taking nine steps before his agonizing death. 

10. Erik the Red: one of the greatest Viking leaders 

Erik the Red was one of the most remarkable Viking leaders famous for discovering Greenland. Around 982, he was banished from Iceland and Norway after the accusation of manslaughter. He sailed off and bumped into an uncharted island. Later, a fleet of 25 vessels led by Erik the Red arrived in Greenland and settled there. 

This colony comprised nearly 5000 inhabitants, but it was abandoned in the XV century for unknown reasons. The Norse Greenlanders could have left the island because of the harsh climate and poor trade opportunities. 

The exact time and cause of Eric’s death are unknown, but it’s believed that he died of some kind of epidemic disease. Though Eric was extremely hot-tempered, he is renowned for being an avid Norse explorer and a skillful warrior. 

Embark on Your Epic Journey With Ragnar

We hope that these Viking stories and legends immersed you in the special Norse atmosphere and inspired you to embark on your next adventure! Do you want to follow in the Vikings’ footsteps and visit their battlefield sites? Or maybe you have in mind your own destination to visit? In any case, Ragnar is always happy to follow any route and ensure you get an exclusive traveling experience!

Embark on your sailing vacation with Ragnar to relish magnificent adventures and discover new places around the world! 

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