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The name Viking is a loan from the native Scandinavian term for the Norse seafaring warriors who raided the coasts of Scandinavia, the British Isles, and other parts of Europe from the late 8th century to the 11th century, the period of European history referred to as the Viking Age.

In the Icelandic sagas, víking refers to an overseas expedition (Old Norse farar i vikingr "to go on an expedition"), and víkingr to a seaman or warrior taking part in such an expedition. In Old English, the word wicing appears first in the 6th or 7th century in the Anglo-Saxon poem Widsith. Later on, the term viking became synonymous with "naval expedition, raid", and a vikingr was a member of such expeditions.

The word was introduced to the English language with romantic connotations in the 18th century. Today, somewhat controversially, the word is also used as a generic adjective referring to Viking Age Scandinavians. As members of the ledung fleet, as well as farmers and fishers now and then attacked by Vikings, most Scandinavians probably saw Vikings as their enemies and fought against them with all their effort. The medieval Scandinavian population in general is more properly referred to as Norse. It may even be possible that Vikings were outlaws - several sources name Vikings in association with Jomsborg/Julin, which, according to modern history, was a refugee center for Slavic pirates, as opposed to the descriptions in the Norse saga.

There were no specific "Viking ships" or "Viking longships"; Vikings used any of the common Scandinavian longships. These boats were identical to those used by the Scandinavian defense fleets, known as the ledung. The term "Viking ships" has entered common usage, however, possibly because of its Romantic associations.

 

According to the Swedish writer Jan Guillou, the word Viking was popularized, with positive connotations, by Erik Gustaf Geijer in the poem The Viking, written at the beginning of the 19th century. The word was taken to refer to romanticized, idealized naval warriors, who had very little to do with the historical Viking culture. This renewed interest of Romanticism in the Old North had political implications; A myth about a glorious and brave past was needed to give the Swedes the courage to retake Finland, which had been lost in 1809 during the war between Sweden and Russia. The Geatish Society, of which Geijer was a member, popularized this myth to a great extent. Another author who had great influence on the perception of the Vikings was Esaias Tegnér, another member of the Geatish Society, who wrote a modern version of Frithiofs Saga, which became widely popular in the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom and Germany.

A focus for early British enthusiasts was George Hicke, who published a Linguarum vett. septentrionalium thesaurus in 1703-5. During the 18th century, British interest and enthusiasm for Iceland and Nordic culture grew dramatically, expressed in English translations as well as original poems extolling Viking virtues, and increased interest in anything Runic that could be found in the Danelaw, rising to a peak during Victorian times.

The Romanticist heroic Viking ideal, and the Wagnerian mythology, also appealed to the Germanic supremacist thinkers of Nazi Germany, as reflected, for example, in the runic emblem of the SS, and the neo-Nazi youth organization Wiking-Jugend, and its Odal rune symbol (see also fascist symbolism).

Since the 1960s, there has been rising enthusiasm for historical reenactment. While the earliest groups had little claim for historical accuracy, the seriousness and accuracy of reenactors has increased dramatically during the 1990s, including many reenactment groups concentrating on an accurate representation of the Viking Age.

 

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