Viking traders and explorers

The Vikings were great explorers and travellers. Viking ships reached Britain, France, Spain, Italy and North Africa.

Traders made long journeys overland through Russia, reaching as far south as Constantinople in modern-day Turkey. Some merchants travelled further east to Baghdad in Iraq.

A few daring explorers made voyages to Iceland and beyond, travelling across the Atlantic Ocean to North America.

What did the Vikings trade?

The Vikings traded all over Europe and as far east as Central Asia.

They bought goods and materials such as silver, silk, spices, wine, jewellery, glass and pottery.

In return, they sold items like honey, tin, wheat, wool, wood, iron, fur, leather, fish and walrus ivory. Everywhere they went, the Vikings bought and sold slaves too.

Viking traders carried a set of folding scales which they used to weigh coins to make sure they got a fair deal.

A set of Viking scales
This is the kind of balance scale a Viking trader used. They put the little weights in one pan and the silver in the other.

Click on each of the Vikings to find out how far they travelled and what they discovered.

How did they find their way?

Vikings sailed close to the coast whenever possible, watching for land marks.

Out of sight of land, they looked for the sun: west (towards the sunset) meant they were headed for England; east (towards the sunrise) meant home to Denmark or Norway.

The Vikings invented a kind of sun compass to help find their way. At night they watched the skies and could use the position of the stars to determine which direction they were heading.

Seamen knew a lot about winds and sea currents. By watching birds or even the colour of the water, an experienced sailor could tell when land was close.

A raven perched on the prow of a Viking longship helped the navigators to find new land.
If Viking navigators could see birds in the sky, they knew that land was nearby

Find out below how the Vikings' skills as shipbuilders and sailors allowed them to travel so far from their homeland.

How do we know about longships?

Wood rots and metal rusts away after a thousand years or more in the ground, but some remains show what Viking ships were like.

Two Viking ships were found by archaeologists in Norway. The Gokstad ship was dug up on a farm in 1880. The Oseberg ship was found on another farm in 1904.

Both ships were buried in Viking funerals between AD800 and 900. The Gokstad ship is 23 metres long. It was big enough for 32 oarsmen and had 16 oars on each side.

These two ships are now in a museum in Oslo, Norway. In 1893, a copy of the Gokstad ship sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Norway to America.

The Oseberg longship in the Vikingskiphuset, Oslo.
The Oseberg ship was found in 1904 and is now in a museum in Oslo, Norway
An illustrated Viking scene with a warrior and a longship