Module 1: The Viking Age, c. 790-1050

By Søren M. Sindbæk, PhD, Professor, Aarhus University

The Viking Age is the earliest period in which we can discern Denmark as a political unit. It was characterised by population growth as peoples recovered from the unstable climate and plagues of the sixth and seventh centuries, which had kept the population down. Around the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, growing trade stimulated the use of sailing ships and the founding of the earliest trading towns in Scandinavia. The expanded use of ships within the cultural context of the warrior ideal from the Iron Age led to a wave of maritime wars, piracy and settlement in new diasporas overseas. In the naturally fragmented countries and islands around the western Baltic, a common royal power arose in response to the opportunities and challenges created by improved navigation. Repeated confrontations led to clashes at its margins at Hedeby and Danevirke in the south of the Jutland peninsula – clashes that laid the ground for a conflict of interests with the Christian powers to the south. Nevertheless, Denmark became more closely connected to the neighbouring kingdoms. Under Harald Bluetooth, around 963, Christianity was established as the king’s and the kingdom’s faith. Early in the eleventh century, kings Sven Forkbeard and Cnut the Great won power in both Denmark and England. For some decades they held sway over large parts of the North European maritime world that the Viking-Age expeditions had linked together.

Watch this film in which Søren M. Sindbæk takes you through a series of key developments that took place from c. 790-1050. The film is in Danish with English subtitles, and lasts about 13 minutes. Click 'CC' and choose 'English' or 'Danish' for subtitles.