As impressive as the Vikings’ accomplishments as raiders and warriors were, their accomplishments as explorers and settlers were equally magnificent. The Vikings ventured far from their homelands in Scandinavia and became the first Europeans to discover Greenland and even North America (which they called “Vinland”) – roughly 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Along the way, they became the first people to establish sizable settlements in Iceland and other North Atlantic islands, and also colonized the territories their warriors conquered throughout northern Europe. These explorations and settlements have had a decisive impact upon these places that persists even today.
A map showing Viking settlements in more detail by Max Naylor
The Vikings’ motivations for faring so far across the globe and founding new settlements in the lands they reached were as varied as the individuals who undertook these tremendous projects. But a few motives stand out as being especially strong and generally applicable. In places that the Vikings were the first sizable group to explore and/or settle, these were the quest for fame, prestige, and honor; the desire for the level of personal freedom that one can only find in a sparsely-populated area with no pre-established government; and the ability to take advantage of virgin natural resources.
In places where the Vikings conquered existing populations, they were driven by political ambitions, the desire for wealth through tribute and the control of trade, and, as in newly-inhabited lands, the ability to make a name for oneself.