Vikings first invaded Britain in the late 8th century, with the first recorded attack taking place in 793 AD when they landed at Lindisfarne and raided the church there. But whilst the Vikings’ legacy can be said to be one of violent invasions, they also made some positive contributions to Western society which are still evident today.
The Viking Thing was a gathering of the community at which laws and criminal trials were discussed. Alleged law-breakers were tried by a group of their peers, which could include women, and criminals could be fined, semi-outlawed or totally outlawed. Things could be local, where members of a small community would meet, or more regional, which required the presence of a select number of local representatives. In 930 AD the Althing was established in Iceland and, as it still runs today, is considered to be the world’s longest running parliament. Whilst we no longer try people at a Thing in Britain, its legacy remains, with a number of places bearing its name. Tingwall in Shetland was the site of the islands’ parliament until the 16th century, and a Viking local government was situated at Dingwall in the Highlands.
When the Vikings invaded, language in Britain saw a mingling of the Old Norse language and Old English, and many Norse words were adopted into the English language. Between 100 and 200 of the words that we use today derived from the Viking language. Some examples include the word husband, which comes from two Norse words – hus (meaning house) and bondi (occupier) – and the word cake, which derives from the Norse word kaka, which refers to a sweet baked food made from flour, sugar and eggs.
As mentioned, the Vikings gave us many of the words that we use today, and this includes the names of some of the days of the week. The word Thursday is derived from the Middle English word Thuresday, which has roots in the Old Norse language meaning Thor’s Day – Thor being the Norse god of thunder. In many civilisations the days of the week were named after gods and, continuing with this tradition, Friday is also named after the Norse goddess of marriage and motherhood, Frigg.
Whilst skiing was invented in China, the Vikings made it popular and the word ski comes from the Norse word skio. The Vikings skied both for fun and as a mode of transportation and there is much Viking art which depicts the gods wearing skis.
The earliest recorded settlement near what is now known as Dublin was a Viking town dating back to 841 AD. It was named Dubh Linn, which translates as Black Pool, and the town became an important Viking slave trading post. The Vikings held Dubh Linn for a few centuries until they were defeated by the Irish High King Brian Boru in 1014.
The Vikings were the first Western culture to have invented and made use of the hair comb. Hair, and hair styling, was of great significance to the Vikings, and the lavish and intricate design of the combs they used reflects this. Often made of deer antlers, and beautifully decorated, Viking warriors would carry them on their belts alongside their swords, knives and axes. As well as using combs, the Vikings also made frequent use of tweezers and razors.