The Viking homeland consists of the three modern Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Covering some 1200 miles, Scandinavia stretches from the Jutland peninsula to North Cape in the Arctic Circle[1] . Understanding Scandinavian geography is vital to understanding the Vikings themselves and the reasons why they are known as "raiders and traders."


Environment

Due to the Gulf Stream, parts of Scandinavia enjoy mild climate in the summer, but severe winters. Climate is categorized as maritime in the west and continental in the east[2] . Northern Scandinavia is very mountainous, particularly in Norway, which causes a rain shadow over northern Sweden, giving it very dry climate compared to Norway's wet coastline. Along with mountains, Norway and Sweden have large forested areas and bogs, making overland travel difficult, and makes farmland scarce. Most farmland is found along the southern coastline of Sweden, and northern and southern Denmark, making the Danes the wealthiest of the Scandinavians.







Norway
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Map of Norway

The coastal areas have cool summers and mild winters, while in the interior has winters can be severe with low temperatures and heavy snowfall, especially in the mountains. Norwegian waters never freeze due to the warm current in the Gulf Stream, making the sea a vital source for food from fishing and transportation[3] .

"Beyond Norway, which is the farthermost northern country, you will find no human habitation, nothing but ocean, terrible to look upon and limitless, encircling the whole world."[4]
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Western Norway


Sweden

Summers are much more dry and warmer than in Norway due to the rain shadow of the Norwegian mountains, but this causing winters to be more severe. Southern Sweden is influenced by both maritime and continental climate, just like Denmark[5] . Any inland body of water will freeze over during the winter and sea ice is very common in the Baltic Sea. Arable soil is concentrated along the southern and eastern coasts, and on the islands in the North Sea and Baltic Sea[6] .
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map of Sweden



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Lapporten mountain pass in Lapland, Sweden








Denmark

Just like southern Sweden, summers are
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Map of Denmark
and winters are cold but not severe. This is categorized as maritime and continental climate.
Because Denmark is not mountainous and temperatures does not get extremely cold, the country has the most arable soil in Scandinavia. Most farmland is concentrated in Troudheim in the north and in Oslo fjord in the south[7] .

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Thy National Park, Denmark








The Sea

Since overland travel was either difficult or impossible, Norwegians looked to the sea as a source of food, travel,trade, and communication. Populations are almost exclusively concentrated along the coast or near a waterway that is linked to the ocean. This is undoubtedly the reason why sailing was the preferred method of travel and the Scandinavians were masterful in shipbuilding and navigating, By using the clinker technique, the Vikings could build a variety of ships for a variety of purposes given the environment[8] .

"Many peoples, Einhard says, occupy the shores of the sea. The Danes and the Swedes, whom we call Northmen, hold both its northern shore and all islands off it."[9]
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Danish coast on the North Sea

Why did the Vikings start raiding?

"787 [789] This year, King Beorhtric of Wessex married Eadburg, Offa's daughter. And in his days there came for the first time three ships of Northmen, from Hordaland [now Norway]. Then the Reeve rode to meet them; he intended to have them go to the king's town because he did not know what they were. They killed him. These were the first Danish ships to attack the land of the English people...."[10]

Arguably, the Scandinavian population reached the the land's maximum capacity and go no longer support their livelihood[11] . Agriculture was limited to certain areas and there was a short window of opportunity to grow anything. On top of that, quality iron (not bog iron[12] ) was hard to obtain as was the case with other precious metals. So sometime near the 8th century, the Vikings probably grew desperate and had to start looking for ways to acquire wealth. Their solution; trading and raiding.
  1. ^ Haywood, John. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. London: Penguin Group Ltd, 1995: 16.
  2. ^ Haywood, 22.
  3. ^ Haywood, 22.
  4. ^ Somerville, Angus and R. Andrew McDonald, ed. "2. A Description of the Islands in the North,The Viking Age: A Reader. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010: 13.
  5. ^ Haywood, 22.
  6. ^ Haywood, 16.
  7. ^ Haywood,22.
  8. ^ Haywood, 40/1.
  9. ^ Somerville, Angus and R. Andrew McDonald, ed. "2. A Description of the Islands in the North,The Viking Age: A Reader. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010: 9.
  10. ^ Somerville, Angus and R. Andrew McDonald, ed. "40. Viking Raids on England, 789-850/1,The Viking Age: A Reader. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010: 230.
  11. ^ Sawyer, Peter. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997: 3.
  12. ^ "Iron Production in the Viking Age" http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/manufacturing/text/bog_iron.htm