A little bit of history
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In this article, we are being cross-curricular once again, and looking at some of the ways that you can link mathematics to a topic on the Vikings.
Setting the scene
The Vikings came from the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Locate these countries on a map of Europe or the world and, using string, measure the distance from your school’s location to their capital cities (Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen). Use the scale on the map to convert measurements to miles and kilometres.
Maps of Europe and Scandinavia based on image by Tintazul
Explore the areas of each ‘Viking’ country. You could give the children copies of the map so that they can cut each one out to compare their sizes. Which has the largest area? Which has the smallest? They could then cut the countries up and make the pieces from each into rectangles. They could then work out the approximate areas of these rectangles, using the formula l x w, and compare their sizes. They could convert these to kilometres to give an actual area for each country and work out a comparison using approximate ratios. They could discuss whether it is realistic to use these ratios to compare the areas of the actual countries.
The children could make mathematical fact-files for the three countries and also for the UK to show, for example, annual rainfall, temperature, time zone, population. They could make graphs and tables to show the information and make comparisons between the countries. They could explore the mode, median, mean and range of the information as appropriate. You could include currency conversions. They could also make these facts into a database using ideas from ICT in the classroom in Issue 38 and Issue 29 of the Primary Magazine. They could then explore these by posing questions and use their databases to answer them.
The children could measure distances from place to place and routes to take from one to another using the map. Work out the time it would take to drive at an average of 60 or 70 mph.
You could ask the children to use the internet or holiday brochures to plan a holiday to one of these Scandinavian countries. They could investigate why they are tourist attractions, what sights they have to offer etc.
These websites might be helpful:
Scandinavian countries are famous for such sights as glaciers, fjords, icebergs and the phenomenal Northern Lights. They could explore these using the internet. For each, they could find out as much mathematical information as they can.
They could plan a trip to see the Northern Lights. This could involve finding the costs of flights and accommodation, add in spending money for food, souvenirs etc. What sort of budget would they need? What sort of clothes will they need to wear for such a cold climate? Does this involve buying anything special? How long would it take to save up for this holiday if saving, say, £200 a month?
They could work out the best time of year to go to see the lights. When they have decided the dates, they could find times of flights and work out what time to leave the house to get to airport in plenty of time for checking in.
You could show them this video clip from Joanna Lumley’s documentary In the Land of the Northern Lights. Look out for things to count, shapes to identify and other mathematical things that you can see.
photograph by Senior Airman Joshua Strang
The name ‘Viking’ comes from a language called ‘Old Norse’ and means ‘a pirate raid’. The people who went off raiding in ships were said to be ‘going Viking’. The Viking age in European history was about AD 700 to 1100. During this period many Vikings left Scandinavia and travelled to other countries, such as the UK and Ireland. Some went purely to fight and steal. Others were settlers and became farmers, craftsmen or traders.
In addition to their European raids, they also raided parts of the US which they called Vinland.
You could ask the children to make a class-sized number line to show the length of time the Vikings were raiding and settling in the UK. They could also plot on other periods they have studied, for example, the Saxons, Tudors and Victorians to get the ‘big picture’ of this part of our history. You could use this as an opportunity to find the difference between different dates using a counting on strategy. As you go through your topic, the children could add dates of significance to the Vikings. Encourage them to draw illustrations.
You might find this timeline helpful.
The areas of the UK where most Vikings settled were northern Scotland and eastern England. For a short time England had Danish kings (King Cnut and his sons, 1016 to 1042). From about AD 900, they ruled the north of Scotland, the Orkney Isles, the Shetland Isles and parts of the Hebrides. This rule lasted for about 500 years. They founded the city of Dublin in Ireland. Ask the children to find these places on a map of the UK and compare distances from their location to each of these.
The English towns and cities that were invaded can be identified by their names. For example, places ending in ‘by’ such as Enderby, Selby and Whitby are generally places where the Vikings settled first. In Yorkshire alone there are 210 ‘by’ place names. Places ending in ‘thorpe’, such as Scunthorpe, are connected with secondary settlements. In Yorkshire, there are 155 place names ending in ‘thorpe’. You could ask the children to search on a map of England for as many ‘by’ and ‘thorpe’ places as they can. They could then sketch the perimeter around these places to show the area invaded. They could also make a tally or list of these places.
York is a very famous Viking settlement and was known as the Kingdom of Jorvik. There is a well-known Viking Centre in York and its website
is full of interesting information. You could ask the children to research various elements of the Vikings using this and to make up more mathematical fact-files.
The Norwegian Vikings sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to Iceland and Greenland. In about AD 1000, they sailed to North America and started a settlement, which didn’t last long. Danish Vikings went to France and founded Normandy, the Land of the North-men. They also sailed south around Spain, and into the Mediterranean Sea. Swedish Vikings roamed along rivers into Russia. Viking traders could be found as far east as Turkey.
You could ask the children to plot their possible routes onto a map of the world and ask them to calculate the approximate distances that they travelled. They could then estimate how long it might have taken them based on a journey from the coast of Norway to the coast of north east England taking about five days.
The Vikings built fast ships for raiding and war. These ships were known as ‘dragon-ships’ or ‘longships’. The Vikings also had slower passenger and cargo ships called ‘knorrs’. They built small boats for fishing or short trips.
Viking longships could sail in shallow water and travel up rivers as well as across the sea. In a raid, a ship could be hauled up on a beach. The Vikings would then jump out and start fighting and make a quick getaway if they were chased.
A Viking ship was built beside a river or an inlet of the sea. A tall oak tree was used to make the keel. The builders cut long planks of wood for the sides and shorter pieces for supporting ribs and cross-beams. They used wooden pegs and iron rivets to fasten the wooden pieces together. Wood was overlapped to give support. Animal wool and sticky resin from pine trees was stuffed into every join and crack to keep out the water.
These ships had room for between 40 and 60 men. There were no cabins so the men slept and ate on deck.
A Viking ship had one big, square sail made of woven wool. This was important in making the boat move. When there was not enough wind for the sail to work, the men rowed with long wooden oars. To steer the ship, one man worked a big steering oar at the back end, or stern. At the curved front end of the ship was a carved wooden figure-head.
You could ask the children to look at longship figureheads on the internet and, from these, design their own.
Vikings sailed close to the coast whenever possible, watching for landmarks to help them identify where they were or the direction in which they were travelling. When they weren’t close to land they used the sun or stars. They invented an early form of sun compass to help them find their way. You could use this as an opportunity to look at early compasses and sundials. The children could explore how these work in the playground. A little bit of history in Issue 13
explores the history of time and has information about this. The children could pretend to be Viking raiders and carry out some orienteering exercises using compasses. You could also use this as an opportunity to plot routes across a map of the North Sea using coordinates.
The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has information about Viking ships on its website
. The children could explore this site and from their findings draw, then make models of Viking ships. They should find the approximate size and scale this down to make a life-size model. The ships were symmetrical, so they need to make sure their versions are symmetrical too!
You might be interested to read about the Viking burial boat uncovered in the north of Scotland (coverage from the BBC
and The Guardian
). Watch out for next month’s It's in the News!
when we look into this in more detail!
Plot these dates and occurrences on your class number line:
- in AD 865, a ‘Great Army’ of Vikings invaded England. The army stayed in England for 14 years, fighting the English kings
- in AD 866 Vikings captured York. They captured King Edmund of East Anglia and shot him dead with arrows
- in AD 892, 300 Viking ships invaded to fight King Alfred of Wessex.
No one knows how big the Viking armies were. However, we can make estimates. If there were 20 men in each ship, the army of AD 892 numbered 6 000. That was a huge army for the time.
Most Viking armies were probably smaller – perhaps 1 000 to 2 000 men.
The Vikings fought using long swords and axes. A good sword was handed down from father to son, but Vikings also buried weapons with their owner when he died.
Vikings did not wear much armour, though some chieftains wore mail coats. Most relied on a round wooden shield for protection. On their heads, they wore helmets made of leather or iron. A Viking saying was, ‘Never leave your weapons behind when you go to work in the fields – you may need them’.
You could ask the children to make Viking shields. The wikidot website
has some examples of Viking shields. They could explore these, finding examples of shields that show symmetry, reflection and rotation. Encourage them to design their own using one of these mathematical techniques.
Viking crafts photograph by James Fishwick
Most Viking men were all-round handymen, but some had special skills. Some were boat-builders, potters, leather-workers and smiths. Most Viking men knew how to handle a boat. Most could fight if they had to, to protect the family or to support their chieftain.
Women baked bread, spun and wove sheep wool into cloth. They looked after the children, made the family’s clothes and cooked the two meals a day most families ate. On the farm, women milked the cows and made cheese.
A boy usually took his father’s name too. For example Eric, son of Karl, became Eric Karlsson. You could ask the children to find out if there are any children in school with a surname that ends in ‘son’. Of whom might they be the descendant?
Girls often took the same name as their mother or grandmother. Are there any children in the class who have a relative’s name as part of their own? You could show this information in a Carroll diagram.
Viking children did not go to school. They helped their parents at work and learned Viking history, religion and law from spoken stories and songs, not from books. By 15 or 16 they were adult. Girls were likely to marry at this age and it was common for a girl’s father to choose her husband.
Viking game of hnefatafl photograph by Mararie
Viking men enjoyed swimming, wrestling and horse racing. In winter, people skated on frozen rivers, and used skis over the snow. A favourite board game was ‘hnefatafl’ (king’s table). Players moved pieces around a board, as in draughts or chess. You could set up a draughts or chess tournament – lots of mathematics involved in this!
You could do a survey of the sports that the children like to take part in or to watch. Make a list, then a tally and finally ask the children to choose whether to make a bar graph, pictogram or pie chart to show the results.
Most children’s toys were home-made, for example, whistles made from the leg bones of geese. Children had wooden dolls, played football and sailed model boats. Pig bones found at Viking sites might be toy ‘hummers’ - the bones were threaded on a twisted cord which you pulled to make a humming noise.
Compare these with the toys that children play with these days. Again do a survey, make a list, tally and bar graph, pictogram or pie chart to show the favourite toys or games of the children in your class.
Vikings wore clothes similar to those of the other people in England, Scotland and Wales at this time. Men wore tunics and trousers. Women wore long dresses, with a kind of long apron. Clothes were made from wool, linen and animal skins. Mostly people dressed to keep warm!
Compare what these people wore with the clothes that we wear today. Make a list of the clothes that the children say they wear in the winter. Do they know if their clothes are made of wool or linen?
Food and drink
From the bones, seeds and other food remains at Viking sites, we know they ate meat from farm animals and the wild animals they hunted. We know that they collected foods such as berries and nuts. They cooked meat in a big stew-pot over the fire, or roasted it on an iron spit. Fish and meat were smoked or dried to preserve it. Viking bread was made from rye or barley flour. They used milk mostly to make cheese and butter. They drank the buttermilk that was left over.
At a feast, guests drank ale and mead (a strong drink made from honey). People drank out of wooden cups or drinking horns (made from cow-horns). Feasts were held to mark funerals and seasonal festivals, such as midwinter. Some feasts lasted more than a week!
Consider the food that the Vikings ate. How does it compare with what the children eat? If they have parties, how do theirs compare with the Viking feasts?
You could ask the children to explore healthy meals and to make a pie chart similar to the one below. They could add the foods they commonly eat at mealtimes. They could then do one for the Vikings. How do they compare? Who had the healthiest diet?
House photograph by Charles Hutchins
Viking houses were built of wood, stone or blocks of turf, depending on local materials. The houses were long box-shapes with sloping thatched or turf roofs. The walls were made of wattle. Wattle is made from woven sticks, covered with mud. This kept out the wind and rain. The floor of a Viking house was often dug below ground-level, this might have helped keep out draughts.
Compare these homes with those that we live in today. Make a list of the materials ours are built with. Are there any similarities? Does anyone live in a house that has a basement? You could collect this data and represent it in a way that the children think will be suitable.
Most houses had just one room for a family to share. Rich people’s farmhouses might have a small entrance hall, a large main room, a kitchen, a bedroom and a store room. In a Viking town, houses were crowded close together along narrow streets.
You could make a table to show the number of rooms in the children’s houses. How would they feel if all their family had to share one room?
Most Vikings lived on farms. Farming was very popular because good farmland was scarce in the countries where they came from. The farmers used iron tools, such as sickles and hoes. They grew oats, barley and wheat, and ground the grain to make flour, porridge and ale. Vikings grew vegetables such as onions, beans and cabbages. Their farm animals included pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, geese and chickens. They used manure from the animals to keep the soil fertile. In autumn, farmers killed some animals because there was not enough food to feed them all through winter.
How do these compare with farms today? Together make a list of the vegetables grown on farms or allotments. Make a list of animals reared on farms.
This is just a taster of the mathematics that you can include in a topic on the Vikings. We hope you find this helpful and that you are inspired to find more mathematical links in the other areas of this topic that we have not covered.
Page header Vikings photograph by Mararie some rights reserved
European map based on image by Tintazul some rights reserved
Northern Lights photograph by Senior Airman Joshua Strang courtesy of Wikipedia, in the public domain
Viking families: Viking crafts photograph by James Fishwick some rights reserved
Daily life: Viking game of hnefatafl photograph by Mararie some rights reserved
Food and drink: Food photographs in graphic:
Fruit and vegetables by muammerokumus, some rights reserved
bread by little blue hen, some rights reserved
cheese by alpha, some rights reserved
cakes by Eriko Nagawara, some rights reserved
fish by Stu Spivak, some rights reserved
knife and fork by Michael Nutt, some rights reserved
Viking homes: house photograph by Charles Hutchins some rights reserved