As the Netflix series The Vikings of Valhalla starts - here's everything you need to know about Vikings

The Vikings came from Norway, Sweden and Denmark. These three countries are known collectively as ScandinaviaThe Vikings came from Norway, Sweden and Denmark. These three countries are known collectively as Scandinavia
The Vikings came from Norway, Sweden and Denmark. These three countries are known collectively as Scandinavia
Our fascination with Vikings seems to be neverending and with the successful release of Netflix's new Vikings’ series – the Vikings of Valhalla, and series two already confimed  - we asked former school teacher Becky Cranham from school resources creators PlanBee what the Vikings were really like.

She said: “The Vikings are often thought of as just marauding, pillaging warriors but there was a lot more to them than that! “

Becky has pulled together some fascinating facts about the Vikings and their way of life:

Where did the Vikings come from?

The Vikings came from Norway, Sweden and Denmark. These three countries are known collectively as Scandinavia.

Why did the Vikings come to Britain?

The Vikings came to Britain and other countries for many different reasons but one of the main reasons was a lack of farmland in Scandinavia. There was a large population surge in Scandinavia and there was no longer enough land to go around, so they travelled to Britain where there was plenty of good farmland.

When did the Vikings first come to Britain?

The Vikings first came to England from Norway in the 790s, but they didn’t come to farm to begin with. They raided the east coast of England looking for riches, attacking the towns and then returning to Scandinavia with their plunder.

The first recorded Viking raid was of Lindisfarne monastery on Holy Island, off the coast of north-east England, in 793. Lindisfarne was one of the most sacred Christian monasteries in England, and the people were shocked at the brutal attack. The Vikings, however, were not Christians and saw the unguarded monastery as easy prey.

What was a Viking longboat?

Scandinavia has long coastlines so the Vikings used boats as the easiest way to get around. They were good at developing ships that were fast and safe. It is thought that Viking longboats were developed from the narrow boats used in prehistoric times, but they made many improvements to the shape and structure.

Longboats (also known as ‘drakkars’) were the perfect shape for invading coastal towns because they could sail all the way up to the sandy coast without the need for an anchor. This allowed them to sneak up on the towns, ready to attack before the townspeople had a chance to defend themselves.

Who was living in Britain at the time of the Viking invasions?

Anglo-Saxons (from Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands) had been living in Britain since the beginning of the 5th century. The Anglo-Saxons came to Britain after the Romans left. The Anglo-Saxons and Vikings both lived in Britain until 1066 but they spent most of the best part of 300 years fighting each other.

What did the Vikings believe?

The Vikings were pagans who believed in lots of different gods. They had lots of myths about the gods, as well as dragons and giants, that were passed down orally from generation to generation. The Vikings believed that the main gods lived in a world in the sky called Asgard.

Many Vikings converted to Christianity once they arrived in Britain, although many of them just added the Christian god to their existing belief system.

10 of the main gods of Norse mythology:

Odin was the wisest god and most powerful god. He was the ruler of Asgard.

Thor was the god of thunder and was considered to be the strongest of all beings. He was Odin’s son.

Frigg was the goddess of love and fate. She was Odin’s wife and the queen of Asgard.

Baldur was the god of light, beauty, love and happiness.

Vidar was the god of vengeance. He was the son of Odin and a giantess.

Freya was the goddess of love, but she is also associated with beauty, sorcery and gold.

Tyr was the god of war. It was Tyr who decided who would win a war.

Brage was the god of poetry and prose. He was very wise and eloquent.

Sif is the goddess of grain and fertility. She was married to Thor.

Idun was the goddess of spring and eternal youth. In the mythical tales, Idun guards the apples of youth.

What were Viking houses like?

The Vikings, like us, had different house designs, but most people lived on farms in small huts made of wood. They often had turf or thatch roofs. Richer families lived in a large house that was a similar shape to a Viking ship. It was supported on the outside by poles.

Another popular design was the pit house. A hole was dug about a meter into the ground. The surrounding dirt was then used as a wall. This had the advantage of keeping in some of the warmth from the ground.

What did Vikings wear?

If you were a Viking, your clothes would depend on what you did and how rich you were. Generally, people dressed for warmth and comfort rather than fashion. Most clothes were made from wool and linen, and were dyed using vegetable dyes to make them colourful. Both men and women wore a lot of jewellery, especially brooches which were used not just as an accessory but to fasten clothes together.

What did Vikings do?

Wealthy Vikings earned their living from the renting out the land they owned to tenants and from the produce that came from the land. Most Vikings were farmers and self-sufficient. They would grow their own crops and keep cattle for dairy products and meat. Lots of Vikings were also merchants and traders who sold their produce and traded their wares, such as jewellery. Some were skilled craftsmen who built boats or crafted weapons. At the very bottom of society were the slaves who worked in the fields and houses doing hard manual labour.

What did Viking women and children do?

It was a woman’s job to look after the home, doing all the cooking, cleaning and household chores. They milked the cows and preserved the meat ready for the winter months. They also spun wool into thread to make cloth. They made all the clothes using a weaving loom and also made wall hangings. It was also the job of the women to weave the sails for Viking ships.

Children did not go to school because there weren’t any schools, but they helped their parents with jobs at home. Some boys, however, were taught to read and write the rune characters of the Viking alphabet.

What was Viking law and order like?

Viking societies had a hierarchy system. Most Viking countries were ruled by a king. There were also chieftains and earls who were very important. Chieftains often had armies of their own and would have large households and own vast areas of land.

The Vikings had laws for free men and women, although these were not written down anywhere. These laws were passed down orally from generation to generation. Honour was a crucial part of Viking life and disobeying any of the laws brought disgrace to the whole family.

11 fascinating Viking facts:

The Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets! Popular culture often portrays Vikings wearing helmets with horns but there is no evidence to show that this was true.

The Vikings had a written language using a system of letters called runic alphabet. Each rune had a special meaning because it was thought that the runic alphabet came from the gods.

The Vikings kept slaves and would often bring slaves back to Scandinavia from Britain and other countries. The punishment for crimes like murder and theft was slavery too. Slaves were an important commodity and were often traded for other products.

Vikings were often laid to rest in boats. When important Vikings died, they were placed in a burial ship along with goods, such as weapons, tools, clothing and furniture. Sometimes slaves were even sacrificed and laid in the burial ship too!

There was a special group of Viking warriors called beserkers who went into battle without armour and fought in a trance-like fury, howling like wolves and dogs. We get the phrase ‘going beserk’ from these beserkers.

Vikings were much cleaner and more hygienic than many other people at the time. They bathed at least once a week and many items, such as razors, tweezers and combs, have been found in VIking burial ships.

Viking men preferred to be blonde. Dark-haired Vikings would often use a soap that contained lye on their hair and beards to lighten them.

Vikings travelled much further than Britain. In fact, a Viking called Leif Erikson sailed all the way to North America. He is the first known European to set foot in America, 500 years before Christopher Columber got there!

Some of our days of the week are named after Viking gods. Thursday is named for the god Thor, for example, while Friday is named for the goddess Frigg.

The Vikings ate only twice a day. They would have a meal soon after getting up called ‘dagmal’ (or ‘day meal’) and a meal in the evening after the working day was finished called ‘nattmal’ (or ‘night meal’). We get the name 'Thursday' from the Norse god, Thor.