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The British Isles

The Vikings didn’t just explore and settle new territories. They also settled in the lands in Europe that they conquered through warfare.

In such cases, it was sometimes just the warriors themselves who settled down, began working the land, and took wives from among the native population. At other times, whole families moved from Scandinavia to the newly-conquered territories. In the British Isles, for example, the Scandinavian genetic contribution to some areas is evenly split between men and women, whereas in other places it’s overwhelmingly male.

Viking rulers in conquered territories largely adapted to what was expected of a ruler in those lands rather than simply imposing Scandinavian customs on the populace. Viking rulers in non-Norse lands often maintained good relations with the Christian Church, used written documents in governance, and even minted coins. Their Viking followers did likewise, to the point that archaeologists often find it nearly impossible to distinguish the graves of Vikings from the graves of non-Vikings in Viking-controlled territories.

The Viking conquest with the deepest and longest impact was that of the British Isles.The Scandinavians who migrated to England, Scotland, and Ireland forever changed the character of those countries. Perhaps this should be unsurprising given the sheer extent of Viking rule in these places. By the late ninth century, the Norse controlled virtually all of England besides Wessex, and large swaths of Scotland and Ireland as well.

Even after the English regained control of the country in the mid-tenth century, many Scandinavian settlers remained, and had a large influence on England’s culture, as loanwords, place-names, law codes, and other lines of evidence indicate. The modern English language, for example, has no less than 600 loanwords from Old Norse, including such common words as “cast,” “knife,” “take,” “window,” “egg,” “ill,” and “die.”

The Vikings settled northern Scotland especially heavily, mostly due to the fact that it was both close to Norway and a convenient jumping-off point for raids in England and Ireland.The Norse found and conquered lots of already-thriving settlements there in the ninth century, subjugating the local populations.

The level of Norse influence upon the people of Scotland and its islands was so great that today, Shetlanders have 44 percent Scandinavian DNA, the Orkneys’ inhabitants have 30 percent, and those who live in the Western Isles have 15 percent. The inhabitants of the Orkney and Shetland Islands spoke Norn, a dialect of Old Norse, until the nineteenth century.

The British Isles

The influence didn’t just go one way, however. The Norse adapted to the local customs, including becoming Christians.

Over the course of the ninth century, as the Vikings settled in Ireland, they became more and more integrated into Irish society. They fought wars on behalf of Irish leaders, intermarried with the Irish, adopted Christianity, and so forth. The Irish had no particular tradition of trade with the outside world, and relied on the enterprising and well-connected Vikings to perform this activity on their behalf so that they could enjoy the fruits of interaction with international markets.

While Viking settlements in Ireland were confined to trade towns – the Irish made a point to keep them out of the rest of the country – those trade towns had a great impact on the contemporary and subsequent character of the country. One of them, Dublin, is now Ireland’s capital city.