The end of the Viking raids in the middle of the 11th century was not the end of the Scandinavian adventures abroad. Christian kings and chieftains still equipped ships for long journeys, but the aim was now pilgrimage to the great holy centres of Christendom, especially Rome and Jerusalem.
There were many motives for these journeys made by kings and chieftains, such as penance or fulfilment of an oath, but they could also be combined with political aspirations.
For example, Cnut’s journey to Rome in 1027 enabled him to participate in the coronation of the Emperor Conrad II, while Erik Ejegod’s first pilgrimage to Rome and in 1098 was combined with negotiations with the Pope for the establishment of the first Scandinavian ecclesiastical province.
Until c. 1200 documentary sources mainly mention Denmark and the west of Scandinavia. There is evidence to suggest that St Olaf visited grave of St James at Santiago de Compostela in 1012-13. Sighvat Thördarson travelled from Iceland to Rome in 1030, and the Icelandic chieftain Gelli Thorkelsson visited Rome c.1070. Erik Ejegod started on a second pilgrimage to Jerusalem, treavelling along the Russian rivers. He stayed with the Varangian guard Byzantine court, although he never reached Palestine, as he died in Cyprus in 1103.
In 1108, the Norwegian king, Sigurd Jorsalfar, known as ‘Sigurd the Jerusalem-traveller ‘ travelled to the Holy Land via England and around the Iberian Peninsula, where he called at Santiago de Compostela. He then sailed into the Mediterranean, arriving at Jerusalem in 1110.
The fraternity book of the Benedictine monastery at monastery of Reichenau on Lake Constance, lists over forty-thousand pilgrims who visited the monastery on their way to Rome in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Nearly seven hundred of these names are Scandinavia – mostly Danish, although some are Norwegian and there are thirteen Icelanders.
The second pilgrimage of Erik Ejegod and that of King Sigurd Jorsalfar are described as ‘armed pilgrimages’, suggesting that they were more in the nature of crusades. People taking part in a crusade the same absolution and indulgence those making a pilgrimage. In the ninth century the church offered pardons to those who fought against Muslims and pagan Vikings.
Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095 Scandinavians were among those who took the cross, and when Pope Eugenius III and Bernard of Clairvaux called for the Second Crusade in 1147, the Danes, led by King Sven and King Knut fought against the pagan Slavs south of the Baltic.
In 1171, Pope Alexander III persuaded the Scandinavian kings to stage a Crusade against heathen Estonia. The crusade against Estonia began in 1197, but was not really successful until the Danish king Valdemar Sejr fought the battle of Lyndanise in 1219. Valdemar built a chain of fortifications to defend the newly-conquered land, thereby creating the short-lived Baltic Empire