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Did Vikings do anything other than go raiding? - A Masterclass Mini-Guide with Dominic Sandbrook

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Recently we ascended the mountain of knowledge to consult with the oracle of history that is Dominic Sandbrook. We wanted to ask this veritable literary legend all of the Viking-related questions that our workshop participants and readers asked, nay demanded, an answer to. Over the next few days, we’ll be revealing what we learned about the Vikings from Dominic in a series of mini-history guides on the run-up to the release of his latest history book for children, teenagers, and grown-ups, Adventures in Time: Fury of the Vikings.

The question we posed Dominic:

Did Vikings do anything else other than go raiding?

What we learned:

The answer is “No” said Dominic, “to be a Viking is to be a raider. Most people in the Viking lands, actually didn’t go raiding. They were farmers. They tended their sheep.”

The bemused look on my face prompted Dominic to explain further, “So, if you had a time machine and went back to the era of the Vikings, you’d see that every summer, those that were going out on raiding parties, would be going viking. They would be Vikings. Most people didn’t however, they would plod around their farmstead. Those people who did go raiding, after a few years, they might never go Viking again. So, sort of a yes or no answer really.”

Okay, I think I get it! Calling Vikings ‘Vikings’ then, is quite a modern concept. The Vikings wouldn’t really have thought of themselves like that. Instead, they would think of themselves as the inhabitants of a certain village or town, perhaps the denizens of a Lord or Jarl, maybe even the subjects of a King. They would identify as farmers, blacksmiths, and tailors. They could be traders, fishermen, and weavers. They were certainly fathers, mothers, children, and dashing wearers of fabulous cloaks.

They could be anything or anyone, really. But they wouldn’t be Vikings. That’s because to be a Viking you have to be doing some “viking-ing”. Yes, Viking was a verb, a doing word, an action. To go “viking” meant to sail across the sea on a longship and to raid and trade.

So, to be a Viking you had to go viking. It’s only when Vikings weren’t going viking that they would be fathers, daughters, mothers, sons, farmers, blacksmiths, tailors, traders, fishermen, weavers, and, most importantly of all, the dashing wearers of fabulous cloaks.

Thanks for the help with figuring that out Dominic!

Join us next time when we reveal what we learned from Dominic Sandbrook about the differences between an Anglo-Saxon and a Viking. Are there even any? Be sure to check back in this Thursday to find out.

In Adventures of Time: Fury of the Vikings, prepare to meet the most terrifying raiders the world has ever known, as historian Dominic Sandbrook plunges us back into the thrilling drama of the Viking Age.

We'll encounter gods and giants, axemen and shield-maidens, from the warlords rampaging through King Alfred's England to the sea-captains who first glimpsed the mountains of Iceland. For even in the most glittering cities on earth, no one is safe from the Northmen's fury.

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