<Vikings in Britain.
We can?t be precisely sure of the reasons why the vikings came to
Britain but there are a number of explanations based on archaeological
and written evidence.
Here the viking raids are described and several explanations are given
for their arrival in Britain. The sources of the explanations are also
The first raid was on Lindisfarne monastery in 793. By 865 they had
changed from looting to occupation (Batey and sheehan 2000).
Population pressure is a popular theory (Sawyer 2000) particularly in
respect to Norway. The warming trends that started before the Viking
Age and increased cereal production may have promoted an increase in
population throughout the Norse world. Botanical evidence exists for
thie increase. Norway was controlled by chieftans and giving precious
gifts to underlings was common. Wealth flowed in from trade, mercenary
expeditions and possibly piracy. This would have resulted in a number
of competing chieftans. Those who were not successful as well as their
underlings may have sought fame and fortune elsewhere (McGovern
1980-81). According to Myhre (1998) archaeology has yet to show that
settlement expansion took place immediately before or during the early
The eldest son had more inheritance rites than the other sons. Some
younger sons may have decided to seek status by exploiting regions
away from home.
Another theory is that alliances of the upper class were held together
by the giving of gifts. Rings were an especially common gift. The
wearing of such a gift displayed one?s loyalty. Raiders often stole
items that were such appropriate gifts, for instance swords, jewelry
or other items that could be made into jewelry.
Alternatively it may have been a simple extension of a pre-existing
local pattern. Prior to the Viking Age instead of invading foreign
lands, the Norse assaulted each other. Plundering was much more
honorable than manipulation.
Current scholarly opinion favors a modified population argument based
on current ecological theory about the carrying capacity of land.
There was an increase in population during the period and there was
also political unrest. The combination created a situation where
activity outside the local area was inevitable.
Source: Scandanavia and the Northern Seas. Vikings. Tamsin Hekala.
This article suggests a combination of reasons:
There was economic development in Scandinavia in the 8th century.
Ocean going ships were developed.
There was a paricular heroic ethic in Scandinavian society
And the lure of plundering moveable wealth.
There is evidence of renewed economic expansion in Scandinavia in the
8th Century. Economic growth promotes predatory activity as much as it
does commercial activity; and in the maritime sector this means
piracy. As trade expanded, so did the number of sea-borne warbands
preying on it. Sawyer explains that the early Viking raids in Britain
were simply the spill-over of Baltic piracy facilitated by the
coincidental development of the ocean-going Viking ship.
The fully developed ocean going Viking ship was almost certainly only
developed by the late 8th Century as a result of long-distance trade.
The following attributes made it particularly well adapted for ocean
The shallow-draught keel (18 inches in some desigins).
Flexibility in movement.
The use of sails as a complement to oars.
Sails that could be swivelled.
Its design also enabled it to be beached easily and navigated far up rivers.
The development of the ship to this level seems to have been a direct
result of long-distance trade, and the consequent piracy. But also,
the Scandinavians were always oriented towards the sea. An extensive
coastline limited the population, especially that it was so much
broken up by fjords, such that travel and transportation overland was
very difficult. The lack of fertility of the land meant there was
little land that could be farmed (thus a pastoral economy). The answer
to these limitations was to undertake many of their activities by sea.
And thus we have the development of decent ships. So, the technology
came together about the year 800. This is a very good explanation for
the date, but not that it was a cause.
The circulation of goods is inherent in the activities of Germanic
warbands themselves. Members of a warband have to be rewarded, as we
are reminded in Beowulf. Moveable wealth is the cement of the
lord-follower relationship in this type of society. While moveable
wealth can be obtained by peaceful means, it is often easier, and more
'heroic', to obtain such wealth via plunder. Here Wormald recommends
that we remember one of the basic meanings of the noun viking, that of
a sea-borne military adventurer. It is perhaps significant that, in
Egil's Saga, Thorolf sends Thorgils to England to buy foodstuffs.
Returning triumphant with a sack of flour does not have quite the same
heroic appeal as with gold cups and croziers. So, the increase in
trade opened up more avenues for obtaining this wealth, and once one
Viking raid was successful others were bound to follow.
Source: The vikings. Why they did it. BBC.
Lulea University, Sweden supports the explanation that it was as a
result of inheritance customs.
In Scandinavia the custom was that the eldest son inherited the farm.
This meant that there were a lot of people which had to choose between
being workers on their brothers farm or going abroad in search of fame
and fortune. The rumours about how easy it was to get rich on such
expeditions spread like wild fire over the Scandinavian peninsula.
Source: Lulea University, Sweden
<"inheritance laws" vikings>
<vikings "why they">
<Hope this helps.>