What does the word Viking even mean?

Viking in Old Norse

Viking in Old Norse is víkingr. The ‘r’ on the end is essentially a grammatical feature of Old Norse for denoting a masculine noun. It is often dropped in English transliteration (for example, people may write the name of the god Freyr as Frey). In Old Norse, víkingr was someone who was a seaborne raider/adventurer.

Noun or Verb

Víkingr and plural forms of the word, such as víkingum or víkingar, appear as nouns describing Scandinavian seaborne raiders in the sagas, Eddic poetry, and runestones.

We see literally carved in stone the term “Viking” being used as a noun and to denote people. From the context, it does not seem that “Viking” referred to everybody, though, but to some type of traveling warrior.

Viking’ also used as a Verb in Old Norse

Viking could also be a verb in Old Norse. This verb meant the act of seaborne raiding or adventuring. So, a víkingr would víking, or in other words, a seaborne raider would raid by sea. In many historical fiction books, this is rendered “to go viking.”

There is no evidence to suggest that the verb was more prevalent than the noun or adjective. However, it is fair to say that Vikings used the terms víkingr and víking differently than we use these terms.

What Vikings Called Themselves, and What Other People Called Them

It is essential to remember that in our ancestors’ times many of the current cultural values did not exist. ideals, concepts, and information we now take for granted had not developed yet. Today, one of the strongest ways people identify is by their nationality – we are Americans, Norwegians, etc. While many of Europe’s nations began to form and organize in the Viking Age, national identity was then only in its embryonic stages. 

As the Viking Age dawned, the Nordic peoples of Scandinavia shared a common language, culture, and faith. However, they did not share a strong sense of common identity, as evidenced by their constant wars, raiding, and competition – even within the geographical boundaries of their homeland. They were divided into numerous tribes or clans.

Their societies were arranged in small units united by kinship and their allegiance was to local chieftain. The first “King of All Norway,” Harald Fairhair, did not consolidate power until a century into the Viking Age, and the political boundaries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden would not solidify for several centuries after that.

So, while Vikings used the term víkingr for a seaborne adventurer, early medieval Scandinavian peoples had no overarching name for themselves. They did not think that way. Instead, they identified themselves by family, clan, and tribal loyalties. During the Viking Age, these intimate groups formed larger and larger networks and affected greater and greater changes far from home. 

Vikings might not have had a common term for themselves, but their enemies had many. The English and the French tended to call them all Danes. Archeology is abundantly clear, though, that the “Great Heathen Army,” the “Army of the Seine,” and these other large forces were not just Danes but mixed companies from locations wherever Vikings roamed. 

English monks, writing in Latin, also adopted the word, Wiccinga/Wiccingi (the Old English form of ‘viking’ in Latinized singular and plural forms). This capitalization in the manuscripts strongly suggests the Vikings were known by that name, and that it is not just a generic descriptor.

There were other names in other places. In Ireland, the Vikings were called “the Foreigners.” In the east – Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria, and the Mediterranean – Vikings were called Varangians (“sworn companions”) and Rus’. To the Moors of Spain and the Arabs around the Caspian, they were called Majūs.

Source: Sons Of Vikings

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