Pirates…wild…bloody barbarians. This is how the Vikings were seen by their contemporaneous southern Europeans, who during the 9th and 10th centuries suffered their pillaging expeditions. Still, these Northern people also left a rich culture and a developed trade network till Persia and discovered America 500 years before Columbus.
The name "viking" comes from the word "vic" "bay" and was referred to those that dedicated themselves to piracy. Thus, not all the Northern people were Vikings, but only those that made looting expeditions in the south.
In their native lands, these Germanic people practised agriculture (cereals and vegetable cultivation) and the husbandry in cattle, sheep
and pigs. They were excellent artisans and smiths.
Till their conversion to Christianity at the end of the 10th century, they worshiped a pantheon of gods, amongst which the most important were Odin, the god of wisdom and war, Thor, the god of thunder and storm and Freya, the goddess of Earth and nature.
With the help of their exceptional ships, called drakkars, they started to search for all the things they longed for in their chilly north, like silk, glass, quality steel and silver, offering leathers, amber, walrus ivory and iron.
From the Baltic Sea, they reached Rome, Baghdad, Caspian Sea and even Africa. They even traded with goods from Buddhist northern India.
But during the 8th century, the Vikings realized they could acquire goods in an easier way. The monasteries with which they traded on the European shores were not only very rich but also very isolated and lacked defence. This is how the Viking piracy started, with expeditions implying a variable number of ships and men.
Not only did they perpetrate attacks, but they also formed permanent settlements in Scotland, Ireland (they founded Dublin) and England. Later they created the dukedom of Normandy, a kingdom in southern Italy and a dynasty in Kiev.
The expeditions ended with the Christianization of the Vikings. The new religion was not compatible with this lifestyle, and, of course, with the looting of monasteries.
The first Viking drakkars reached the Iberian Peninsula in 844 AD, some 50 years after their first expeditions hit hard the northwestern Europe. In this year, one Viking group looted Gijon (on the north coast) and disembarked at La Coruna, but they faced a tough response from the Asturian king Ramiro I, who for a moment neglected the fight with the Moors (Arabs) to deal with this danger.
The Vikings retired and in the next weeks they looted the neighborings of Lisbon before advancing on the river Guadalquivir and attacked Sevilla. But the Blammen ("Black Men", Arabs) defeated them at Tablada and the Vikings retreated to their northern home.
In 860, a new fleet attacked Galicia (northwestern Spain), the Portuguese shores and Sevilla; it crossed the Mediterranean and wiped out the Balearic Islands. They attacked Pamplona after crossing the Ebru river and captured the king of Navarra, Garcia Iniguez, who paid a ransom for his release.
Another great campaign took place in 968. The jarl ("warlord") Gundraed attacked Galicia with 100 ships and 8,000 warriors. They roamed freely for years and even occupied Santiago de Compostella, but the Vikings were finally defeated by the troops of the count Gonzalo Sanchez.
They moved southward, but the Moorish in Spain were at their peak in that moment and the armies of Al-Hakam II easily rejected the pirates.
Around 1,000 Norwegian Vikings tried another attack on the area, but with no result.