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The Vikings in England

By Emily Johnston

When most people think of the Vikings, they will think of people similar to pirates who raided and pillaged many places. This is only one aspect of the Vikings - they were talented sailors and craftsmen, with their own law, who traded, had an economy with coins and had developed an alphabet. The Viking culture has given a name to a geographical and time period - The Viking Age. 


There are disagreements about where the name ‘Viking’ comes from - it is thought that word means pirate raid in Old Norse, vikja means to move swiftly, and vik means an inlet


The Vikings were Norse people, were from Scandinavia and explored many regions, including England, Iceland, Greenland, as well as the Mediterranean, North Africa, and were the first Europeans to sail to North America. 


The Viking Age is thought of as the late 8th Century till the late 11th Century AD. The Viking Age was ended in 1066, by the Norman conquest of England, and in Scandinavia, the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden were being formed. 


The first Viking raid in Britain was in 793AD, but the Vikings settled in Britain from 860AD. The Vikings would often raid monasteries, which had lots of treasure and precious items.

An Artefact

The Harrogate Hoard
The Harrogate Hoard.jpg

The Harrogate Hoard © The Yorkshire Post

The Harrogate Hoard was found by metal detectorists in a Yorkshire field, which had been freshly ploughed. The hoard has 617 silver coins (some which are very rare), and 65 other items made from precious metals. The coins date to the late 9th Century and early 10th Century. It is unknown exactly why the items were buried - some historians think that they may have belonged to a Viking leader, who buried them when the Anglo-Saxons were causing unrest in Northumbria.


The silver gilt cup is very rare - only two of its kind have been found in Britain, and six / seven in Europe! It is decorated with images of animals being chased around the cup. The cup held all but the 11 biggest objects. 


Many of the items come from different parts of the world - including Afghanistan, Russia, Ireland, Scandinavia, Uzbekistan and North Africa - which helps archaeologists understand Viking trade and travel.

A Site


Lindisfarne is in the north east of England, and is a tidal Island - meaning the land between the island and the coast can be walked across when the tide is low. A monastery was made at Lindisfarne in 634AD by the monk Saint Aidan. Lindisfarne became a very important site for Christian evangelism, as Monks settled here. 


In 793AD, the Vikings raided Lindisfarne - this attack has been thought of as the start of ‘The Viking Age’, because this was the first of many raids in Britain. Everyone was very shocked by this raid because Lindisfarne was such an important place and this was the first time the Vikings had attacked a monastery in Britain. Many of the monks were killed or became slaves, and the Vikings looted all the wealth in the monastery. Even after the attack, some monks still lived at Lindisfarne.

Lindisfarne Priory © English Heritage


A Person

Ragnar ‘Hairy- Breeks’ Lodbrok and Ivar the Boneless

Illustration of Ragnar Lodbrok © Matthew Corrigan

Ragnar Lodbrok and his son, Ivarr, are famous Viking leaders. Ragnar was known as ‘Hairy Breeches’ because he wore trousers that his wife had made him from animal skin! Ragnar was part of many raids in France, and he led a famous raid on Paris in 845AD. When he and his crew shipwrecked in Northumbria, Ælle King of Northumbria called for Ragnar to be executed, by throwing him in a pit of poisonous snakes! 


When Ragnar’s sons Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan, and Ubbe heard about his death, they promised to get revenge. They crossed to Britain, and invaded East Anglia. They went on to sack York, and captured Ælle in battle. Some sources say that they tortured Ælle using the ‘Blood Eagle’ method, which the ribs were broken to look like wings, and the lungs were pulled out through the wounds in the back. 


Ivar the Boneless was ruler of modern Denmark and Sweden. The Viking Sagas said that Ivar had ‘only cartilage where bone should have been’. After Ivar’s army had captured Northumbria and York, Ivar co-ruled in Dublin, and was in charge of attacks on Scotland. He died suddenly in 873AD - historians think that he may have had a bone disease (which led to his name ‘boneless’) and caused brittle bones.

Emily Johnston is a PhD candidate in Archaeology and educator. She enjoys engaging with the past and expanding her knowledge of different periods of history.  

She can be found on her personal twitter at @emilyrjohnston and instagram @emilyrebeccajohnston or on any of the archaeo-logic social medias & email! 

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