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What really caused the Viking Age? The social content of raiding and exploration

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 May 2015


The cause of the Viking Age is one of our longest-lived debates. A combination of push and pull factors and a catalysing environment instigated the late 8th-century escalation in maritime activity that ultimately led to social, political and religious transformation. Recent discussions have focused on the macro level, with little consideration of the individual gains to be made by raiding. This paper argues that rewards consisted in more than portable wealth. In the flexible hierarchies of the Viking Age, those who took advantage of opportunities to enhance their social capital stood to gain significantly. The lure of the raid was thus more than booty; it was about winning and preserving power through the enchantment of travel and the doing of deeds. This provides an important correction to models that focus on the need for portable wealth; the act of acquiring silver was as important as the silver itself.

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