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When and Where did the Viking Expansion Begin?

Historians, relying on documentary evidence, have often pinpointed the inception of the Viking Expansion with the famous raid on the Lindisfarne monastery in 793 AD. This event seemed to mark the commencement of widespread Viking activity. Initial narratives suggested that the Vikings directed their early endeavors predominantly towards the western regions.

However, a significant revelation emerged with the unearthing of two ship burials in Salme, Estonia. These graves, containing approximately 40 skeletons accompanied by an array of Viking-style weapons and other grave goods, disrupted the established timeline. Contrary to expectations, these burials predated the assumed onset of the Viking Age by at least 50 years. Intriguingly, DNA analysis traced the origins of the buried individuals to Sweden, notably close to the Vendel cemetery area.

In 2015, a groundbreaking ten-year research initiative known as the Viking Phenomenon was initiated under the leadership of Professor Neil Price. Although slated for completion in December 2025, the ongoing findings have already reshaped scholarly perspectives. Contrary to prior beliefs, the research suggests that the Viking Age did not commence with a singular defining event. Rather, it emerged as a gradual evolution from the preceding Vendel Period, characterized by shifting socio-political dynamics and increasing maritime activity.

Moreover, the accumulating evidence challenges the traditional notion of westward expansion as the primary focus of early Viking endeavors. Instead, the data indicates an initial thrust towards the east, prompting a reassessment of the geographical scope and chronological framework of Viking activities. This revelation not only redefines the narrative of Viking expansion but also underscores the complexity and multifaceted nature of this transformative historical period.


Outline of Salme Ship 2
image: Salme Iaevmatused.

image: Wikimedia