A Couple of Reasons Why the Vikings Had Such Huge Success in War
Reasons could definitely vary, mostly questioning whether it's on an individual level, like the mindset of a warrior as a single unit, his temper, character, physique, battle education and technology - parameters which apply on a micro level - or on a macro level - Vikings military formation, their weapons, military training in general, the grounds they master, strategies, rank hierarchies, and other.
Best to say it's everything throughout, can't really estimate values on one thing that a Viking possessed. Innate war talent - perhaps. However, let's not disregard the assessment based on their naval capabilities. Remember those Drakkar ships and the piracy, yes, the Vikings relied on their ingenious way of surrounding lands and shores with their swiftness, pillaging at the speed of light. It was inevitable that when you see the grim dragon tip - most likely you're about to lose property, being stolen in a matter of no time! No bantering while raids were under operation, but then again, they weren't successful with every single raid they executed.
Also, let us not forget the fact that massive graveyards were a part of their culture. Plus, those fallen warriors who were far away from land were dumped in waters, which remains couldn't even be found in the science of archeology! Graveyards are definite, no lie, Vikings weren't aliens after all, found powerless in certain occasions, failures filling their genetic resume.
Like mentioned, naval coast entries absolutely terrorized Europeans through the entire mainland, with their ships being so small that apparently, no one could catch them in sight just in time to deploy defensive measures. The raid of Lindisfarne, north-east coast of England, also known as the Holy Island, had their monasteries destroyed by clusters of Viking gangs who came by the vivacious waters. This is the probably the first raid ever recorded in official history, for the curious readers.
Coastal towns had been always under constant threat of being under attack by the Vikings, since they were the unfortunate topography, like a simulation of what yet's to become Norse colony in the future! Despite the bands being of a small count, especially compared to the towns' entire population, the tactics and skillful handling of the raid and combat had usually been one-sided, standing on the perpetrators' will.
Later the colonies were far-fetch islands used as trading key locations and shelter for warriors set to attack within the next days of the subsequent raid. Well, at least not the monasteries, since the Vikings would usually leave them in ruins after they collected and looted all the treasures the monk's kept in the churches and holy Christian spaces. After the invasion of Lindisfarne, England noted the existence of a fearsome tribe or nation, recklessly demolishing everything in sight and running off with the loot. For their Christian belief, the monks thought it was a punishment from God.
Latter shipbuilding technology gave them an advantage in creating settlements after a raid, they could almost "tread" the main rivers, such as the Thames in England, connecting the vital parts such as London, Reading and Oxford, for instance, then it's the Volga in Russia, and Loire among Frankish territories. Other than that, settling strong colonies afterward was also the trait of having larger and endurable ships, making more room and expanding the capacity for more warriors to carry. That's how Vikings who have resided in former Denmark, traveled via the Seine, a 700km long river of Paris basin, capturing monasteries and acquiring settlements where their people lived off earthly production, unlike their seaside comrades.
The Vikings then should be thankful to their leader Gaange Rolf or Rollo simply, the first Viking ever to become a ruler and that he was entitled in nowadays Normandy in 879. His first generation offspring, his son used the title "count" and "prince", since Rollo was considered the Duke of Normandy a thousand years back from now. It was official once Charles the Simple or Charles III chronologically, the king of West Francia, gave him the part Lower Seine, to be under his command. This was the sign for later Viking expansion, since then they continued to bring fear to Europeans all across the continent, spreading settlements, colonies and posts on Frankish territories, England, European Russia, etc, we've already talked about it in one of our previous articles. Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and the people until 900's, were in despair.
The Vikings would obliterate their rulers, take control of lands. Named by the losing side, the Anglo-Saxons named these Danish-Norwegian warriors "The Great Heathen Army", translated meaning the Great Danish Army. It consisted of battle strategy and weaponry not a bit like the premier cruisers who pillaged English monasteries in the beginning. This started to look like a true military more like, unlike the band setting assail in boats to scare off monks. This was the true power of the Vikings! Behold! After 900's until 1000's no one could parry the Vikings, their economic and geopolitical growth couldn't be ceased by anybody, especially after developing the governing apex during the reign of the Gael, Ivarr dynasty.
And now, about those warships. I'm super phased by them personally, and a bit distraught by the fact how little time took them to craft ships perfect for gliding through the river stream! The ships properties permitted them to enter any coast they desired to raid, quite indestructible if you ask me, especially when you have an opinion of Vikings as warmongers and brutes! Which they, apparently are not. Of course, nothing would've been achieved weren't for those meddling rowers, who powered the entire ship to sail, for an example, the Gokstad ship, which is presented today in a museum in Oslo.
It's a pointy, narrow ship, 28 meters long and only 5 meters wide! About 50 is the capacity of the ship, including the rowers, who were actually rowing on shifts with the rest of the crew/warriors. The artifact is very intimidating even judged by modern standards! Heck, this ship granted the Vikings hundreds of thousands of kilometer square surfaces of Europe, Russia, and the Americas, as well as large islands! The ship was generally made from wood, depending on the area where it's built. If the environment would generate oaks in their surroundings in this matrix we call life, the main ingredient was stable oak, however, it was found that some were made from pine. The space between the planks was split by axes and linked with grains.
They weren't daft when they made short mast on the Gokstad, that's the large post in the sailing vessel which caries sails and its purpose were to cumulate high speeds, rather than it was used for ship steering. The hull of the ship was relatively close to the water, only a meter apart from it. Basically, the ship was built to draft quickly through the water with minimum drawback force and resistance, that's why it was made only 5 meters wide.
Speed was the most important aspect serving for their primary tactics at the beginning, where they captured every possession of an English monastery, and it's all thanks to the early development of this ship when it could carry fewer men, but be fast and reliable. Later adaptations, such a thicker hull, a larger distance from the water which was made in order to increase the carrying abilities of the ship, since they started to transport goods aside to the men. Of course, everything at the cost of speed and elasticity.
If you've got a good eye, might as well realized that there's nothing relatable to the ship regarding naval battles at sea. The design wasn't concentrated around pirate battles, because the Gokstad couldn't stand a chance against English ships. It could easier be docked on wild beaches than on harbor and with a relatively low height, it was able to pass under isle bridges, therefore being extremely resilient.
A picture resembling the Gokstad is on a 100 NOK bill. Proof that the Vikings really dealt impact on the Scandinavian culture we know of today.
Seafaring is just one of two big reasons for Vikings' combat success. As far as land is concerned, it was thought that their god Odin gave their on-foot warriors the gift to battle relentlessly. The so-called Berserkers would pull out the famous battle cry and almost forget about the physical damaged inflicted upon them, and the Vikings among themselves have tried to explain this as a divine intervention of their Gods. Not prone to injuries, they would battle to the death, and psychologically the best explanation is that adrenaline in high doses circulated in their veins which caused them to be reckless melee fighters. English monks who suffered their attacks described them as Satanists since it really seems like they've been possessed by the devil with beyond human abilities.
Stealth land combat
The element of surprise played the key role, planning ambushes for upcoming enemy soldiers they spotted in a safe distance. Later on, they'd seek for a forest or tall grass, secluded from eyesight, and once the time comes, they'd form a wedge V-shape of their warriors and expose opposing sitting ducks soldiers who didn't have a clue what was lurking all the time. The Norse warriors would throw spears from the pack, send their berserkers and ultimately engage into melee combat. So, barging in uninvited was what we remember the Vikings for, and that's kind of an upbeat personality, don't you think?
Elaborations why they succeeded at first
I've seen some biased explanations probably written by the losers of that time because the unspoken rule is that whenever there are war conditions, holy sites shouldn't be targeted, but that did not stop the Vikings to be their first ever target of their raids. It didn't match the concurrent convention of battling, because these areas weren't defended at all and were most vulnerable. Plus, their scouts sent battle logs that the monasteries and churches have valuable items. That's why the Vikings settled for them as the beginning of their relentless attacks, later acquiring enough wealth to build out more developed weapons, transport, and tactics. Besides, murdering the clergy at religious sites would be in the name of their demonic Gods.
How many of you depict axes as the number one weapon of the Scandinavians? For me, it portrays the viciousness of these people, and that's quite reasonable since axes were the main utensil to pick chunks of flesh of the infidels! This common weapon didn't live up to its name filled with blunders since the Axe was used rather in agricultural purposes, in farming and far less in raids. Just when they made a derived broad axe, that's when frequent use in battles was noted. Later on, it winded up as a symbol of the Vikings historically, when there were rulers who gifted their axes to their son's as heritage.
Spears were found to be more efficient than axes in battles. It's easier to smith, it's lighter nature would release the tension in hands, so that combat could be efficient and quick. The spears were 2 to 3 meters long. There were throwable spears, which thrown from the ships to the shore soldiers has been proven to be a strong bruiser, and there were thrustable spears, which mimic the act of poking, you know, like knights and their lances.
Swords were the secondary weapons, once the primary one gets broken in battle. Swords had multi-purpose, plus sentimental value which was bonded by family, like heritage. They didn't make them anything special, however, as a quick puller, it is quite lethal. Other than it's used in raids against the unholy Christian as seen by the Vikings, the swords would settle, decide and break quarrels between people, as a request for sword duels was a common practice.
On the defensive part, I couldn't verify and vouch for more equipment, however, shields and helmets were inseparable pairs which were crucial for battle. In the beginning, creating helmets was too expensive for a humble life of a Viking, so their defense mostly relied on shields. It wasn't oval, oval shields cover ankles and feet, but round, leaving their lower parts exposed. The shield was made from wood because that was easier to make, plus once hit the weapons of their enemies would get stuck in the shield so that they disarm them and slash them helpless! In addition, it was easier to carry, very light in weight and it was only one meter in diameter!
All in all, these brutal Scandinavians preferred a skillful warrior, over an armor-funded one. Besides, they were only agricultural workers, aka farmers, so they couldn't even afford adequate equipment, suitable for fighting, however, what adorned them the most was their experience, belief and further most - skill! Their traditions implied the sacredness of their families are to be untouched, so death wasn't even in the top 10 things they feared most. Their idolizing of paganic gods also implied on good things, as protecting their own kind from the enemies even if it means sacrificing their lives. They viewed death as an honoring route to their praised gods.
Mindless and Vikings don't come in a sentence together, because they never raided a town before analyzing it, if it's worth, how many people could there be and other important parameters. It wasn't luck that helped them conquer those English-controlled monasteries, they intended to gather goods and highly valued gold and other metals so that they have a promising future as a nation. The suitable age of one becoming a warrior is as early as 11. So, since they're small they're taught numerous techniques, go thoroughly through training, spending their entire life as one individual, conquering territories and protecting own families.
Word of thought by the writer
So, there you have it. These are all major things which could objectify and reason the successful history the Vikings had over the course of almost 400 years. Generations have lived through the centuries, as they expanded and grew bigger and better, every next generation being a better instance of a Viking than the previous. From compact ships to full-built ships that carried loads of goods, food, equipment, men, etc, from uncomplicated tactics of quickly pillaging their prey to the Great Heathen Army, a stacked military which lead to diverse, vast wars. But as I was saying in the mere beginning, the mindset of a Viking, the berserker mentality, without that, they probably wouldn't own half the territories they ran as colonies in the 1000's. The dwellers mixed with the Vikings so it resulted in more discoveries and culture mixing.
The Vikings surely are deemed as one of the bravest historical nations in the past, leaving marks and impacts regarding wars even to this day. Although looking primitive, even to this day we talk about the Vikings and their warm-hearted, dreadful feats. Evaluation exists still, and the series which was filmed these years is the greatest sign that the entire Northern and Central Europe feared the cheerful and friendly Scandinavians!