The Viking era marks the termination of the prehistoric period in Norway. No written sources of knowledge exist, so what is known about this period is largely based on archaeological finds. The Sagas also shed some light on this age. Although they were written down later, the Sagas were based on tales passed down orally from one generation to the next. Viewed as a whole they reveal that the Viking Age was undoubtedly the richest of all the prehistoric periods in the north.
Many scholars regard the looting in 793 of the monastery of Lindisfarne, off England's northeast coast, as the beginning of the Viking Age. In parts of west and southwest Europe the Vikings are still regarded today as cruel brigands who wrought havoc on their victims with fire and swords. This is only partially true. The Vikings also came on peaceful errands, to trade and to colonize. Norwegian Vikings settled in the Orkney Isles, the Shetlands, the Hebrides, and on the Isle of Man. The mainland of northern Scotland and Ireland also became their home, and Dublin, founded by the Vikings in the 840s, was under Nordic rule up to 1171.
On Iceland and Greenland the Norwegian Vikings found uninhabited land. There they settled and built communities. Present-day Iceland descends directly from the Viking colonization. On Greenland, however, the Norse communities died out a few centuries later, for reasons that remain unclear.
The Vikings built swift, easily manoeuvrable vessels for their many expeditions, and were skilled navigators across the open seas. These hardy men repeatedly voyaged to America and back, a feat which bears witness to the seaworthiness of their longships. The Sagas relate that it was Leif Eriksson who discovered "Wineland the Good" in the year 1001, but present-day scholars claim that other Vikings had reached America before him. The Viking Age culminated in 1066, when Norwegian King Harald Hardruler and his men were defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England.
The Unification of Norway
The regions that later became Norway were not unified up to the 800s. There were, however, early attempts to bring them together. Two main types of community were formed: assemblies, or tings, organized around a central Allting, and petty kingships.
There must have been several reasons for this. Not least was the farmers' need for peace and continuity, particularly in the coastal areas. These were repeatedly troubled by robber bands and the harrying of the homecoming Vikings. The coastal areas possessed substantial riches in the form of stolen and traded goods. Safe on their "thrones" sat the petty kings, who, thanks to the kinships created by intermarriage, were a tight-knit group with considerable power.
The petty kings in the Viken – the areas surrounding the Oslo Fjord, played a major role in this process. Their might increased steadily as district after district was brought under their rule. After a battle at Hafrsfjord near Stavanger, presumably fought in the year 872, King Harald Fairhair strengthened his position as ruler of large areas of the country. The unifying process, however, continued for several more decades, bringing harsh struggles between warring Norwegian chieftains, and between Norwegian and other peoples of the north. By 1060 the unifying process appears to have been completed.