During the Middle Ages, Europe was continually threatened by marauding armies. Nomadic horsemen known as the Magyars invaded from the East, attacking both Italy and Germany. Then in 846 AD, Muslim Arabs crossed the Mediterranean Sea and invaded Italy, destroying the city of Rome. At this time , the most feared of the marauding armies were the Germanic Norman Vikings. These people farmed the thin soil of Scandinavia coast for many centuries. They were also known for their seafaring skills and culture. The Vikings used a small shallow boat that was called a drakken or dragon. All of their boats featured a wooden dragon's head for a bow. The Vikings fashioned them in this manner in an attempt to frighten the enemy. The average Viking ship was 60 feet long, and it was carved from just one tree trunk. In the center of the ship was a large sail that was usually striped in bright colors. There was no place for shelter on the boats, and as a result the sailors lived exposed to the elements.
The name Viking is believed to have come from an old historical district in Norway called Viken. The time period between 790 AD and the Norman's conquest of England in 1066 AD is known as the Viking Age. Historians classify the Vikings as barbarians because of their savage fighting skills. The most vicious of these barbarian Vikings were called berserkrs which meant bear shirts. This is where the word berserk comes from, and it is also believed to be the origin of the werewolf. This is because the berserkrs often fought wearing the skin of a wolf. They were also known to have become very intoxicated before entering battle. Viking soldiers believed that they were protected by the gods called Odin and Thor. The Vikings invaded over and over using the same basic technique. They started by attacking a coastal town or fortification. From there the Vikings would take their shallow bottomed boats up river where they could pillage more villages and towns. They were interested in horses, silver, gold, gemstones, and anything else of value. The Vikings burned churches to the ground and were known to kill priests and monks.
Historians believe that Viking expansionism was the direct result of the introduction of Christianity. The sudden popularity of the religion deeply divided the kingdom of Charlemagne and the pagan culture that existed in Scandinavia. They also tell us that Charlemagne converted everyone he conquered, and if they refused conversion they were killed. As a result of these killings, the Viking cause was ignited by those who desperately wanted to get even. This was because the pagan Vikings were opposed to Christianity.
One of the first things the Viking invaders did was take advantage of England's river system. They attacked over and over, becoming feared from one end of the country to the other. At the time western Europe was without an organized navy. The Vikings attacked every part of Charlemagne's Empire. Their main weapon was a two handed ax that could penetrate through armor when used correctly. They also used bow and arrows, swords, shields, spears, helmets, and protective mail shirts. The Vikings took many prisoners, turning them into slaves. Slavery was an important part of the Viking economy. The Vikings invaded Paris four times, and twice they burned it to the ground. In 911AD, the Norman Vikings were led by a man named Rollo, and the king of France was Charles the Simple. King Charles offered the Vikings a large area of France if they converted to Christianity. Rollo agreed to the deal. Today this area is called Normandy.