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What Did Vikings Call Themselves?

What Did Vikings Call Themselves?

The Vikings were a distinctive group of people that were appraised for their fascinating culture and seafaring excursions. Despite being associated with negative connotations by the prevailing Christians of the time and popularly known as Vikings, this specific term was not exchanged among the local folks. 

Surprisingly, they called themselves Ostmen while they were also known as Danes, Norse, and Norsemen in general. In this article, we will learn some interesting facts about Viking dwellings and how different they were as compared to modern-day descriptions. 

Who Were the Vikings? 

The Vikings were a group of seafaring men that raided and plundered the European continent from 800 AD to the 11th century. They had a notorious reputation for being pirates, looters, or traders across many parts of Northern Europe, including Britain and Iceland. 

The landing of Vikings on America, artwork.
The landing of Vikings on America
Marshall, H. E. (Henrietta Elizabeth), b. 1876, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

They were one of the Germanic people who exerted political and martial control over the Anglo-Saxons in the 8th century. The beginning of the Viking Age is often set in 793 AD and begins with the attack on Lindisfarne, an important monastery in England. Widsith is an Anglo-Saxon chronicle that may be the earliest mention of the word “Viking” from the 9th century. [2]

In Old English, the word referred to Scandinavian pirates or raiders that wreaked havoc on many monasteries for material gain and bounties. The Viking settlers were known for never settling in one place. They never ventured into the interior lands and always chose sea ports as their main target for raiding and looting goods. 

These seafaring pirates were known by many names. Some of them are listed below. 

What Were They Called by Others? 

The Vikings were often addressed by many names, depending on the respective region of the place. 

While some referred to them as Danes or Scandinavians due to their place of origin, others referred to these bounty hunters as Northmen. We have elaborated on these Viking terms below: 

Norsemen 

The word “Viking” has been used multiple times to refer to the historical Scandinavians. For centuries, people from the European nations referred to the bounty hunters of the north as Norsemen, especially in the Middle Ages. 

Historically, the term ‘Norse’ was used to refer to the people from Norway. The term Nortmann became “Normannus” in Latin, pertaining to Normans. [3] Since Scandinavia was not completely established as it is today, it comprised Nordic countries like Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. 

In many versions, they were also referred to as Danes–the people from Denmark. There was no unified term for the people of Scandinavia in the Middle Ages, so the Vikings were often addressed by many names. 

Ostmen 

According to some interpretations, the Vikings were called Ostmen by the people of England in the 12th and 14th centuries. This term was used to refer to the people of Norse-Gaelic origin. 

This term originated from the Old Norse Word ‘austr’ or ‘east’ and was used to address fellow Scandinavians during the Middle Ages. It literally meant “the men from the east.” 

Other Terms 

The Vikings settled in several regions of Scotland and Ireland–after raiding the region for multiple years. 

The successive generations of these Norsemen adopted the Gaelic culture. As a result, terms like “Finn-Gall” (Norwegian ancestry), “Dubh-Gall” (Danish), and “Gall Goidel” were used to refer to the Gaelic people of foreign origin. 

In Eastern Europe, the Scandinavians were known as the “Varangians”. In the Byzantine empire, a personal bodyguard was known as a Varangian guard, which consisted of Norwegians or Anglo-Saxons. In Old Norse, the term “Vᴂringjar” meant “sworn men.” 

Did They Call Themselves Vikings? 

The Vikings called themselves an extremely different name from what is mentioned in Medieval history texts. 

Although Historians and linguists have adopted the term Viking to refer to the people from Scandinavia, there is no written evidence that confirms whether the Vikings associated themselves with this term. 

Many Vikings used the term “Vikingr” to generalize all the Scandinavians who took part in overseas seafaring expeditions. When it comes to the Old Norse language, Vikings greeted each other with “heil og sᴂl” which translates to healthy and happy.

Everyday life in the Viking Age, stamps.
Everyday life in the Viking Age
Image courtesy: wikimedia.org

What Did They Call Themselves? 

The word “Vikings” was not widely used among the Norse people. During the Viking age, people settled in scattered areas and clans throughout the region. The term was usually associated with “piracy” or “raiding” rather than being used for a specific group or clan. 

It was a personal descriptor that meant seaborne raiding or adventuring. “To go on a Viking” was a popular phrase during the time that was attributed to the Norsemen or Danes infiltrating foreign regions.  

The Norse referred to the seafaring pirates as “Vikingr” as they emphasized the ‘r’ in their words. The word “Vikings” refers to the English version of the ancient term that was popularized by historians. 

In Old Norse, the term “Vikingr” referred to a man from “Vik” or a specific bay in Norway. Generally, a Vikingr participated in these seafaring adventures and did not actually refer to the Scandinavians. 

Another theory connects “Vik” to the southwestern part of Norway, where a number of Vikings came from.

Conclusion 

There are no written pieces of evidence to properly trace the history of the Vikings. Since they did not leave any written texts behind, we can only draw from the various references from other nations in Europe. 

To conclude, they belonged to no particular group, clan, or area. The term “Viking” does have its origin in Old Norse, even if it has a different meaning today.