Globetrotting Vikings: Crusading to Jerusalem

The Viking Age brought change not only to the regions of Europe plundered and conquered by the Nordic warriors, but to Scandinavia itself. “From the Scandinavian point of view, the big story of the Viking Age is its assimilation into the European mainstream,” says John Haywood, who chronicles the exploits of the Scandinavian raiders on four continents in his new book, “Northmen: The Viking Saga AD 793-1241.”

“You have Vikings going out all over the world, and in a sense the world is coming to Scandinavia. Those ideas they encounter go home, and the biggest of course is Christianity, which changes Scandinavia very dramatically.” Along with the new faith came Roman and canon laws, Latin alphabets and literature and Christian art. “It changes the culture of Scandinavia in just a few decades,” Haywood tells HISTORY.

Scandinavian kings, in particular, saw great appeal in abandoning their pagan gods. “Christianity does a lot to bolster the position of kings in Scandinavia,” Haywood says. “The idea that authority comes from God is quite welcome to kings. It gives them an extra claim.” Unlike Christianity, Viking religions lacked a priesthood. Local chiefs served as intercessors. With the adoption of a new religion with a priesthood, chiefs lost a great deal of power to kings.

Most of Scandinavia had been converted to Christianity by 1095 when Pope Urban II issued a plea for Christian armies from an ascendant Western Europe to aid Byzantine Emperor Alexius I in fending off the Seljuk Turks and recapture the Holy Land from Muslim rule. The pope decreed that those who joined in the expedition would receive remission of all penances due for their sins. Full of religious fervor, the converted Vikings were among the upwards of 100,000 Christians who answered the papal call and joined in the First Crusade.

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