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York’s obsession with the Vikings: A confused Fresher’s guide to the Vikings

Image: VisitYork
Image: VisitYork
Image: VisitYork

When I arrived in York I was perplexed by the continual references to the Vikings. It started with a Viking reenactment at Fresher’s Fair, moving swiftly onto the Viking Raid, and then to the Jorvik Viking Festival. It felt like the Vikings were following me; one day it was the Jorvik Viking Centre, the next it was Vikings Pizza. And I still didn’t know what Jorvik meant!

Now in my Fourth Year, I finally feel obliged to find out what is going on, or rather what went on, with the Vikings in York. I hope anyone just as confused as I am will benefit from this quick guide to our city’s obsession with the Vikings.

First of all, who are the Vikings?

The Vikings originated from the Scandinavian countries Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Their period in history was from about AD700 to 1100. The word ‘Viking’ literally means ‘a pirate raid’.

Why do we care?

The Vikings first got involved in British history in AD787 when they paid the Anglo-Saxons a visit. Naive and innocent, when the Anglo-Saxons first saw the Viking Longboats they were ready to welcome them at the shore with a cuppa (ok, the cuppa is my own little addition). However, the Vikings weren’t after a DMC (deep meaningful conversation) and stayed true to their name, fighting the locals, stealing from churches and burning down buildings.

In AD865 they decided to take things to the next level in their relationship with England. They wanted to settle down, taking them a reasonable 78 years to get over their commitment issues. This just goes to show there’s hope for us all!

What’s it got to do with York?

After many years of fighting, a peace agreement was signed, dividing land between the Vikings in the North and the Anglo-Saxons in the South. We all need our space after all. This was the start of the North-South divide, which continues to be a talking point among University of York students today; who says we don’t actively contribute to historical memory?!

The areas belonging to the Vikings were known as the ‘Danelaw’ of which the most important city was ….drumroll…. YORK! In fact, the word ‘York’ comes from the Viking word ‘Jorvik’, pronounced ‘your-vick’. According to a history account the Vikings ‘rebuilt the city of York, cultivated the land around it, and remained there’. Wonderful!

A few things to bear in mind…

Firstly, the Vikings weren’t kings. The word ‘Viking’ is thought to come from the Old Norse word for ‘pirate’.

This next one will shock you… They never had horns on their helmets. It’s just another case of fake news.

Lastly, Viking raids haven’t always been a boozy bar crawl after Fresher’s Week. They were once raids of churches, monasteries and houses.