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Viking exploration

A Viking cargo ship, known as a knarrA Viking cargo ship, known as a knarr The sturdy and sleek design of their ships enabled the Vikings to make long voyages across seas and oceans as well as sail up the shallowest of rivers. The Vikings travelled all over Europe and beyond in their quest for trade and for new lands to settle. The Vikings were the first people to create permanent settlements on Iceland. During the 9th to 11th centuries, they also built settlements in Greenland, North America, the British Isles, northwestern France, Russia and along the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea.

The Varangians arriving in RussiaThe Varangians arriving in Russia

The Varangians

Around 860, Swedish Vikings began to venture across the Baltic Sea and along rivers, such as the Volga, into western Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. These people were known as the Varangians. Along the way they set up trading posts, where they collected furs and amber to trade for silver, silks and spices.

Viking trade routes and settlementsViking trade routes and settlementsOne group of Varangians, named after the Slavic name for the Vikings, the “Rus” (the origin of “Russia”), founded the towns of Novgorod and Kiev. These towns became major stations on the trading route between the Baltic Sea and the Caspian Sea. Varangian merchants also travelled down the River Dnieper and across the Black Sea to Byzantium (present-day Istanbul), the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Varangian warriors served as guards to the Byzantine emperors. Varangians even traded in Jerusalem, Baghdad and the wealthy Arab lands of the Middle East.

Vinland was the name given to the area of North America where Leif Ericsson founded his Viking settlement. The name Vinland may come from "wine land" because the Vikings were so impressed with the size of the grapes there. Alternatively, it may come from the Old Norse word "vin", which means meadow.

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