5 Viking Leaders That Viking Fans Should Know

The enemies of the Vikings would have you believe that these fascinating people were godless and structure-less societies. And they couldn't be farther from the truth. Because there were Viking leaders! 

And these Viking leaders had their own strengths and weaknesses and their own contributions to their thriving society of warriors.

What the Law and the Government Was Like

The Vikings believed in supernatural beings -- in gods and a supernatural hall where warriors belong in. They identified as pagans at first, but soon enough they have developed a system of family government. Regional government followed short, and then finally, a form of democracy. 

In families that extend to grandparents and cousins, there were 'Jarls' and even Kings in some areas.

'Konungr' means King, and it's the title given to the chief of a community. Point is, there were lots of Kings. One rules over a small section or portion of land. Some chiefs were also war chiefs who didn't own any land. And how did they become Kings, you may ask?

Each free man in the Viking community would gather with their communities to create the law, and to decide cases in meetings called a 'Thing.' 

Every community had its own 'Thing.' Instead of having disputes settled through dueling or interfamily brawls, the Thing was created to write laws and judge cases within the law. The law speaker and the local chieftain would judge and come up with a verdict for cases of dispute.

Yes, every free man had a say. But the 'Things' were more likely dominated by local and power families.

So how did they become Kings?

'Things' were like courts, and they also decided if Kings would stay in power.

After the Kings came the Jarls. They are nobles and they usually have as much power and land as Kings, and the both of them have to rule the people according to the law.

5 Viking Leaders You Should Know

As time went by, both Sweden and Denmark crowned a single King. By 1872, Norway only had one King and his name was Harald Fairhair. And this man made a mistake by giving each son the title of 'King,' just like him, dividing up Norway. 

Others who didn't favor Harald's government migrated to Iceland and created their own colony over there. A national assembly was formed, known as the Althing, instead of having a King.

Today, it's still known as one of the oldest assemblies in the world.

Some from Erik the Red, founder of Greenland's first Norse settlement; to Cnut the Great, ruler of the northern European empire.

#1 Rollo -- first ruler of Normandy

Rollo's origins were either Danish or Norwegian, and he began doing raids across France in the 9th century. In 911, because of the Treaty of St. Claire-sur-epte, King Charles the Simple, of the West Franks, gave Rollo a part of the area now known as Normandy. 

He gave the land to Rollo so this Viking leader could protect it from the other Viking raiders. Later on, Rollo expanded control of the region, and by the time he died in 928, his son, William Longsword succeeded him

#2 Erik the Red -- founder of Greenland's first Norse settlement

In Norway, Erik the Red was born as Erik Thorvaldsson. He earned his nickname thanks to his red hair and also his hot-headed nature. Erik's father was banished from Norway for murdering somebody. 

To escape his punishment, he fled to Iceland. There, Erik was accused of manslaughter, leading to his exile from Iceland at around 982. But several years later, Erik came back to Greenland with only 14 vessels having survived the journey. In Greenland they found 2 main settlements in 986. 

At its very peak, the Greenland colony had at least 5,000 residents. Even after Erik the Red died, Greenland's Norse communities lived on before it was eventually abandoned in the 14th and 15th century.

Why did the people abandon the Greenland Norse settlement? It's a mystery to this day, although a combination of factors contributed to it. That included a cooling climate and declining trading opportunities.

#3 Leif Eriksson -- discoverer of the New World 500 years earlier than Columbus

Leif Eriksson is the first European to set foot in North American soil. And this Viking ruler got to the New World 500 years earlier than Christopher Columbus. He was believed to have been born in Iceland around 970. 

Later on, Leif moved to Greenland where his father, Erik the Red, found the first Norse settlement. At around 1000, Leif sailed away to look for territory that wasn't spotted years earlier by an Icelander named Bjarni Herjolfsson, but his vessel blew off course on the way to Greenland. 

However, Viking presence in North America was short-lived because of the clashes with the hostile natives. 

The only authentic Norse settlement in North America was found in the early 1960s. It was on the northern tip of Newfoundland. The site is called L'Anse aux Meadows. And the artifacts they found there date back to around 1000.

#4 Cnut the Great -- Viking King of England

In 1013, King of Denmark, Svein Forkbeard's son, Cnut (Canute) helped him conquer England. When Svein died the following year, the exiled Anglo-Saxon King, Aethelred the Unready returned to power. 

When Aethelred died in 1016, he was succeeded by his son, Edmund Ironside. Not long after, Cnut defeated Edmund Ironside in the Battle of Ashingdon. Edmund signed a treaty that gave Cnut power over a portion of England. 

After a few weeks though, Edmund died and the whole of England came under Cnut's rule. His reign gave the region stability after years of battles and raids. Eventually, Denmark, Norway, and portions of Sweden came under Cnut's control. Cnut the Great had a vast empire.

#5 Harald Hardrada -- the last great Viking leader

This Viking leader was born in Norway in 1015. As a teenager, he fought at the Battle of Stiklestad waged in 1030 by his half-brother, Olaf Haraldsson -- exiled King of Norway, in attempts to return to power. 

But as you can predict, Olaf's forces were trounced, he was killed, and Harald went into exile. Later on, Harald traveled to Constantinople and joined the Byzantine emperor's prestigious Varangian Guard.

When he became rich, and was also an accomplished military commander, he returned to Scandinavia in the mid-1040s. There, he and Svein Estrithson formed an alliance -- the claimant to the Danish throne. They planned to go against King Magnus the Good, ruler of Norway and Denmark.

But in 1046, Harald abandoned his partnership with Svein when Magnus made Harald co-ruler of Norway. When Magnus died the next year, Harald had full control of the Norwegian throne while Svein was King of Denmark. The two fought for years, but even if Harald won the majority of the battles, he decided to make peace with Svein in 1064.

Instead, Harald shifted his focus to England, taking over it two year later. He scored a victory at the Battle of Fulford Gate. But just days later, England had a new king, Harold Godwinson. This English king decimated Harald's army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Although defeated, Harald was eventually referred to as the last of the great Viking warrior kings.

The Takeaway

The history of the Vikings is rich, and so is their culture, customs, and their own way of looking at the world. These 5 great Viking leaders proved that the ancient world is rife with color, rich in tradition, and wildly interesting.

These people don’t deserve to be forgotten, and that’s why Viking Lair aims to honor their traditions and the heritage they left for our generation. From shirts to hoodies, and accessories and jewelry like our Viking leather bracelet.

To find out more, keep browsing through our blog’s collection of Viking stories.


  • https://finnsancientvikings.weebly.com/viking-government.html
  • https://www.history.com/news/6-viking-leaders-you-should-know

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