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Baltic-tribes2-1200

A map showing the different pagan tribes and peoples living near the Baltic Sea during the Viking Age.

In the Baltic region, Northmen from Norway, Sweden and Denmark weren't the only people engaged in maritime warfare and raiding. Endemic warfare between the Iron Age tribes living along the shores of the Baltic Sea would have been one of the factors which shaped the practices of the Vikings and their contemporary societies.

Polabian Slavs from Poland and eastern Germany used longships, similarly to the Norse, and defended their territories with fortresses called Gords. Referred to as Wends (or Vindr in Old Norse) by Northmen, they were divided into tribes, such as Obotrites, the Veleti, the Rani, the Havelli and the Lutici. Tribes were led by chieftains of princely status called Knes (related to the Russian title of Knyaz). After Knes came the Voivot, the chief warrior and governor of a district ruled by the tribe. Helping the Knes govern the people was the council of landowners called the Veche.

The Kurs or Curonians were an ethnic Balt tribe occupying coastlands of modern Lithuania and Latvia. Much as their Norse Viking counterparts, they were noted as fierce warriors and skilled sailors.

The Oeselians were a Balt tribe who inhabited the Estonian island of Saaremaa. The Oeselians were formidable pirates. The were referred to in Snorri Sturlusson's Heimskringla as Vikingr fra Esthland (Vikings from Estonia). In the late 10th century CE, the future Norwegian king, Olaf Tryggvason, was taken captive by Oeselians vikings during boyhood.

Kvens were a Finnish tribe found in was is now Finnland and the northern Swedish region of Norrland. Some groups herded reindeer, where others were hunter-gatherers. Many lived as nomads, though some located on the Finnish shores of the Gulf of Bothnia, who may have adopted agriculture through contact with the Norse, may have sailed in smaller boats and raided the shores of Svealand and Götaland.