Raiding Danes, Norse Seafarers and Varyag mercenaries. And where do the Vikings come into the picture? ‘A beloved child has many names’ is a Swedish proverb, and a quite fitting one when looking at this topic. There are a lot of different terms and definitions which can be quite confusing. Let’s have quick look at it and go through the basics.  

We choose to start off our story with the Roman Empire. They were the first to record their encounters with the Germanic Tribes of the time, who are the forefathers we’re looking for. The Romans were all about expanding their empire, which meant that they had to conquer those who stood in their way. The tribes inhabiting the dark forests of ‘Magna Germania’ were too hard adversaries though, which led to the northern border of the Roman Empire halting there. It wasn’t a peaceful stalemate though since the Romans tried to defeat the Germanic Tribes, who in turn wanted the Romans to leave. This resulted in the ‘Germanic Wars’ that raged back and forth in between 113 BC and 596 AD. 

Vikings, as we choose to refer to the Scandinavians of the time, are a branched out group of descendants to the Germanic peoples. What about the others? We’ll sort them out in a small lexicon below.

Left: Map based on a Roman map over their empire. The Roman Empire is marked in red, and the territory of the Germanic Tribes in green. Scandinavia is not visible, it’s located north of the map.

Right: Map showing the travels of the Vikings.

Scandinavia – Region in Northern Europe that shares a common heritage. It consists out of the countries Sweden (unified in the 12th century), Norway (unified in 872) and Denmark (unified in early 10th century).

Viking age – A period in Scandinavian History from the late 8th to late 11th century when Norse seafarers used the seas and rivers to raid, trade and colonize. The Viking Age is considered by many to have begun on 8th of  June 793 when Vikings raided the abbey on Lindisfarne. Similarly, it is considered to have ended with the Battle of Stamford Bridge on the 25th of September 1066 when the English King Harold Godwinson defeated the invading Norsemen under the leadership of King Harald Hardrada. If going by those dates, the Viking Age lasted: 273 years, 3 months and 18 days (or 99 823 days).

Norse or Norsemen – The name used for the people living in Scandinavia during the Viking Age. It literally means ‘man from the north’.

Viking – Norse seafarers who during the Viking Age left their Scandinavian homelands (Sweden, Denmark and Norway) to raid, trade and colonize. The meaning behind the term is debated, but we tend to consider Anatoly Liberman's thesis the most logical one. In it he argues that most likely means a person who takes rowing shifts on a boat, based on that the noun "Vica" that means the very same thing. From our linguistic perspective, it makes perfect sense. 

Dane – A person from Denmark. However, during the Viking Age the word ‘Dane’ became synonymous with Vikings that raided and invaded England. These Vikings consisted out of a coalition of Norse warriors originating not only from Denmark, but also Norway and Sweden.

Varyag or Vargangian – The name given to Norsemen (mainly Swedish Vikings) by the Greeks and East Slavs. They raided, traded and colonized along the rivers of Eastern Europe and as far as the Arab Caliphates and the Byzantine Empire.

Rus – A group of Varangians who relocated to northeastern Europe. Led by Rurik, the Rus eventually founded what would become Russia (which is named after them).

Northman – The same as Norseman.

Germanic tribes – Tribes of people inhabiting Northern Europe. The Roman Empire fought against them in the ‘Germanic Wars’ in between 113 BC and 596 AD. Both the Norsemen and the Anglo-Saxons are later branches of the Germanic Tribes.

Anglo-Saxon – Germanic people who migrated to Great Britain in the 5th century and ruled it until the Norman conquest in 1066.

Norman – Means ‘Northman’ in French. They were descendants to Norseman raiders who in early 10th century under the leadership of Rollo swore fealty to the King of Francia (the region Normandy in France is named after them). King Harold Godwinson of England, who defeated the final invading Viking Army in the Battle of Stanford Bridge, was ironically defeated by Duke William II of Normandy just a few weeks later in the Battle of Hastings. The Normans thus replaced the Anglo-Saxons as the ruling class of England. This also means that all the wars fought in Great Britain between Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and Normans were all between descendants to the Germanic Tribes.

A simple timeline over the discussed period.



  • Sean

    It’s also of note that 3 Viking vessels from Hordaland first landed in 789AD at Portland Bill, Dorset as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. they killed the kings reeve when he demanded taxes and sailed on.

  • Philip Furze

    For anyone wishing to get information on their Norse ancestry, I recommend checking many of the research companies. I used two different ones for my DNA tests and my Scandinavian & Finnish blood. These company’s also will give information on the area your ancestors came from and with help and some investigation, you can narrow down their history. My 32nd great grandfather Ragnvald Olafsson, King of Vestfold, would be proud of me.

  • Padackor

    If I can add my two cents, the correct word for “Northman” in French is spelled “Normand” (with a final silent “d”), hence “Normandie” (French word for “Normandy”).


    Well, here it goes: According to the article in Misterica Ars Secreta (Summer Solstice 2017 edition) the Vikings raided Seville in the 9th century (1 October 844). They even burned a Mosque with lots of muslims inside. The city did not opposed to the Norsemen, because they did not have enough arms or soldiers to defend the population. According to a legend, the vikings threw a lot of fire arrows to one of the main mosques in the city centre (nowadays the christian church “El Salvador”, whose main tower is the remaining original mosque tower). They did so from their ships. At first, this was believed impossible by scientists, because the river is far from the place, but some recent studies about the ground have revealed that in fact two of the most popular streets in the city centre, Cuna and Sierpes, were small streams which could be sailed by the efficient and light viking ships. And the very fascinating fact is that the City Hall Square, called Plaza Nueva, was perforated when the subway workings started in the 80s, and, surprise!, a viking ship was founded there, something which corroborates the studies around the matter.
    For me it is very important to have such interesting information about the Norsemen in Seville, because almost all research can be found around the muslims, obviously, and very little about the people from the North.

  • Inés Vasco

    I found very interesting information about Viking raids in Seville, the city where I live, in Southern Spain, may I share It with you? I have a fascinating article published on a specialist magazine.

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