Norse dragons were a very central part of viking mythology; the dragons ruled many parts of the Viking world. Even the Norse Gods feared them.
Late in the 8th century AD strange ships began appearing in the bays along the coasts of Europe. Some of these ships were quite long for that era. They were strongly built of oak, and from 40 to 60 oarsmen sat on the rowers’ benches. Each ship had a single mast with a square sail that was often striped in brilliant colors. Bright shields overlapped along the gunwale. The ships were pointed at each end so that they could go forward or backward without turning around. They had tall curved prows, usually carved in the shapes of dragons.
These dragon ships, as they were often called, usually appeared in a bay at about dawn. As soon as the ships reached the beach, tall blond men jumped out, shouting battle cries. Armed with swords and battle-axes, they attacked the sleeping villagers. They killed many of them, captured some of the youths and maidens, and gathered all the loot that their ships could carry. Then they sailed away.
These marauders, or pirates, came from Scandinavia–what is now Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The people who lived there were Norsemen, or Northmen. Those Norsemen who took part in these swift, cruel raids along the coast were called Vikings. Their expression for this type of warfare was to “go a-viking.” Vik in Norse means “harbor” or “bay.” The Vikings came to be the most feared raiders of their time and were the only Norsemen with whom most Europeans came in contact. Their name was given to the era that dated from about AD 740 to about 1050–the Viking Age.
The Norsemen or Vikings thought of the world as a giant tree: Yggdrasil, the tree with huge branches and deep roots. This was considered to be the structure upon which all life depended, or the order holding everything together. Under the tree, biting at the roots, was the first Dragon who was thought to be constantly working to rip apart the Order.
852 A.D. For centuries, the Vikings have swept out of the Norse countries and fallen on England, Ireland, whatever lands they could reach aboard their longships, and few could resist the power of their violent onslaught. They came at first to plunder, and then to settle, an encroachment fiercely resisted where ever they went. Such was the case in the southern lands of Ireland.
The Vikings eagerly snatch the prize, unaware of its significance to the people of Ireland and the power granted to the king who wears it. Soon the Norsemen are plunged into the violence and intrigue of Medieval Ireland, where local kings fight with each other and with the invaders from the north for rule of the island nation.