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Vikings were the first gig workers

The Vikings were the first gig workers, working as traders, mercenaries, and as explorers from the late 8th to the early 11th century. Most often remembered as fabled warriors, they were much more than ruthless killing machines.In pop culture, they are protrade as bloodthirsty heathens who raped, pillaged, and killed for sport. But in reality, their society, economy, and lasting impact on history are far more sophisticated. Through different adventures, jobs, and expeditions, Vikings discovered North America, traded with the Far East, and settled in distant lands such as Greenland and Iceland.

Vikings Were the First Gig Workers

The Vikings were the first gig workers, working as traders, mercenaries, and as explorers from the late 8th to the early 11th century. Most often remembered as fabled warriors, they were much more than ruthless killing machines.

In pop culture, they are protrade as bloodthirsty heathens who raped, pillaged, and killed for sport. But in reality, their society, economy, and lasting impact on history are far more sophisticated.

Through different adventures, jobs, and expeditions, Vikings discovered North America, traded with the Far East, and settled in distant lands such as Greenland and Iceland.

In this video, I will cover how the Vikings became the first gig workers, how the jobs they took on shaped history, and what modern-day gig workers can learn from Viking gig workers of the past. As the modern-day success of the gig economy is directly tied to the global economy, Vikings started in the 8th century. 

So who were the real Vikings?

Most Vikings were normal people like you and I who lived in the extremely harsh region of Scandinavia from the 8th to the 11th century. Over 90% of them were farmers who grew crops, raised livestock, and worked the land.

Farming was the cornerstone of daily life and the primary source of income and food for most Viking families. Their farms were generally small, and the harsh climates of Scandinavia made farming and raising livestock challenging, this combined with logging, trapping, and fishing was the core of their economy and society. 

The raids and explorations, often highlighted in historical accounts, were actually undertaken by a smaller segment of the population. About less than 10% of the population were “Vikings” which came from the Old Norse word “Vikingr” which means “pirate” or “raider”.

The Vikingr were not a separate class or caste in society; they were ordinary people, including farmers, craftsmen, and traders, who took part in these voyages. The term "Vikingr" specifically referred to their role as explorers and warriors, distinct from their everyday life back home in Scandinavia.

Raiding, and exploring were not their primary jobs in Norse society but instead were part-time gigs typically occurring during the summer when farming duties were less demanding and provided opportunities for acquiring wealth, resources, and prestige. It's important to note that not all people in Norse society were raiders; many never left their homelands and led peaceful lives as farmers and tradespeople.

It is only through the accounts of survivors of “Vikingr” raids that we get the association of all Norse society being Vikings, which is incorrect. 

How did Vikings get gig work?

Vikings became explorers, merchants, and mercenaries through a combination of necessity, opportunity, and societal structure. Due to the harsh environment they lived in they were forced to travel south and east to sell goods, earn money, and bring back food, furs, and resources they could not produce in Scandinavia.

On these trading voyages, Norse captains gathered information in ports, taverns, and from other traveling merchants about regional conflicts, trade opportunities, and nobles who were looking for warriors.

Norse traders brought this information back to their villages and raised open calls for sailors, warriors, and merchants. In doing so, they planned expeditions based on the information they learned through their travels and the partnerships they made in their trade networks.

For the average farmer, this was an opportunity to gain wealth, prestige, and fame, and advance their place in society. Traders and rulers who formed these expeditions hired help as needed, and took on jobs seasonally.

Open calls for sailors, warriors and merchants were posted at ports, taverns, and missive boards throughout Norse cities and villages leading to an abundance of opportunities for Vikingr’s who were looking for work.

Traveling Vikingr’s could find steady work from season to season to supplement their income, and often took on recurring work with the same captains and warlords just like modern freelancers do. 

This led to Norse society relying on a Vikingr gig economy to support local infrastructure and trade and a necessity for able-bodied men to go overseas to gather wealth and bring it back home. This recurring cycle of expeditions, wealth, and trade led the Norse to become expert shipbuilders, navigators, and warriors. 

The Vikingr Gig Economy:

The Vikingr gig economy was built upon 4 primary trade routes that catered to specific jobs Vikingrs could take on. On each route there was raiding, trading, and exploration, but each of these routes focused on one primary specialty, giving Vikingr options each summer in how they wanted to make money. 

The first established route was the eastern route also known as the Volga Trade Route. Starting in the Baltic Sea, going through Eastern Europe to the Caspian Sea and reaching the Middle East. 

This route allowed Vikings to trade goods from their homelands, such as furs, slaves, and amber, for valuable commodities found in the Middle East, including silver, spices, and silk. The use of rivers like the Volga made this route feasible, enabling the Vikings to penetrate deep into foreign territories. 

The trade along this route was instrumental in connecting the Norse world with the rich cultures and economies of the Islamic Middle East and the Byzantine Empire, facilitating not just commercial exchange but also cultural interactions.

This route was used primary as a trade route for Vikingr’s who specialized in trade. Viking crews also worked as mercenaries for kingdoms along this route. This route was showcased in the second season of the TV show Vikings: Valhalla on netflixs.

The second route was the Western Route, stretching across the North Sea and connecting Scandinavia to the British Isles and the Frankish Empire. This route was pivotal for the exchange of a variety of goods. The Vikings exported items such as furs, walrus ivory, and timber, and imported commodities like wool, silver, and weaponry from the British Isles and mainland Europe. 

The control of this route was vital for the Vikings, not only for trade but also for their raids and eventual settlements in these regions. The interaction along this route significantly influenced the economic and cultural landscapes of both the Viking world and the regions they engaged with, and is the most well-known of the trade routes the Vikings used.

This route was also primarily used by vikings who raided eastern england, and northern france, and is depicted in the TV show Vikings on the History Channel and The Last Kingdom on Netflix.

The third route was the Baltic Sea Route, a crucial trading path for the Vikings, connecting Scandinavia with the Baltic regions, Russia, and further east. This route was particularly important for the exchange of goods like honey, wax, and timber, which were abundant in the Baltic regions and Russia. 

These goods were highly valued in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe for various uses, including construction and manufacturing. The Baltic Sea Route also facilitated cultural exchanges and influenced the political landscape of the regions it connected, as it was not only a conduit for trade but also for the movement of people and ideas.

Leading to many viking crews creating outposts in various baltic cities of the time that focused on acquiring more work, and outsourcing various contracts for trade, and shipbuilding.

The last and least known trade route was the Arctic Route. It led to the White Sea in what is now northwestern Russia. This route was primarily used for fishing and hunting expeditions, crucial activities for the Vikings given the challenging climatic conditions of their homelands. 

The Arctic waters were rich in resources like fish and seals, which were vital for their sustenance and trade. This route also facilitated exploration and possibly trade with the indigenous peoples of the Arctic regions. This led to many luxury goods of the time like whale blubber, cod, and fur pelts being collected and traded in southern markets.

Together, these trade routes were the backbone of the Viking gig economy each serving as vital expedition routes for trade, raiding, and exploration, and letting Vikings specialize in different professions just like freelancers of today. 

Now lets explore some stories of famous Viking gig works you may not know.

We will start with Ingvar the Far-Travelled, a Viking trader whose exploits not only expanded the horizons of Viking commerce but also left an indelible mark on the Silk Road.

Ingvar, known as "the Far-Travelled," earned his moniker through his voyages to the East during the Viking Age. Born with an insatiable curiosity and an uncanny aptitude for trade, Ingvar embarked on a series of epic journeys that ventured far beyond the waters of the baltic trade routes. His destination? The storied realms of the East, along the fabled Silk Road.

Setting sail from modern-day sweden, Ingvar and his crew sailed through perilous waters, braving storms and navigating treacherous rivers. Their quest was to establish direct trade routes connecting the Viking world with the riches of the East.

This undertaking required not only immense courage but also exceptional diplomacy and trade skills, as the Vikings had to negotiate with a multitude of diverse cultures and rulers along their path.

Ingvar's voyages took him through the heartlands of Eastern Europe and further eastward into the exotic territories of the Silk Road. Along this journey, he traded Viking treasures like weaponry,  furs, and amber jewelry for goods only found in the East—silks, spices, precious metals, and gemstones.

His ability to forge strong alliances and navigate the intricate web of the Silk Road's trading network allowed the Vikings to gain a foothold in this lucrative trade route, enriching their society and reinforcing their reputation as formidable traders and explorers.

Ingvar the Far-Travelled's contributions extended beyond mere commerce. His expeditions fostered cultural exchanges, bringing Viking customs and traditions to the far reaches of the Silk Road while simultaneously introducing the Vikings to the diverse cultures and practices of the East.

The legacy of his ventures endures as a testament to the courage of the Vikings, who, led by figures like Ingvar, not only established Viking trade routes to the East but also wove the threads of their culture into the intricate fabric of the Silk Road, leaving a lasting impact on history.

Back on the shores of the Baltic sea there was Thorkell the Tall, a Viking whose extraordinary contributions to blacksmithing and craftsmanship left a mark on Viking society, spanning from the forging of formidable weapons to the creation of exquisite jewelry.

Thorkell the Tall, renowned for his towering stature and unmatched skill as a metalsmith, stands as a legendary figure in Viking history. His talents extended far beyond the ordinary; he was a master of the forge, crafting weapons that struck fear into the hearts of Viking foes. Thorkell's forge, nestled within the heart of a Jomsborg, became a hub of innovation and artistry.

In the realm of weaponry, Thorkell was peerless. He created swords, axes, and spears of exceptional quality, known for their sharpness, durability, and exquisite designs. Warriors sought his creations not only for their deadly effectiveness in battle but also for their ornate and intricate detailing. Thorkell's weapons were not mere tools of war; they were symbols of Viking craftsmanship and mastery.

But Thorkell's talents extended beyond the battlefield. He was also a gifted jewelry maker, crafting intricate pieces that adorned the noble and the common alike. His jewelry featured intricate patterns, often inspired by Viking mythology and nature. Rings, brooches, and pendants bore witness to his artistic prowess, becoming coveted items of personal adornment among the Viking elite.

Thorkell's contributions to Viking metalwork and craftsmanship were more than just practical; they were a reflection of Viking culture and pride. His legacy endures as a testament to the artistry and skill of Viking craftsmen, whose creations not only served functional purposes but also celebrated the aesthetics and intricacies of their world.

Thorkell's name lives on as a symbol of the enduring craftsmanship of the Viking Age, reminding us of the rich cultural tapestry woven by these remarkable artisans.

Last we will talk about Harald Hardrada, who served in the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Empire as a Viking mercenary.

Harald Hardrada was born in 1015 and was a member of the Norwegian royal family. His early life was marked by the familiar tales of Viking adventure and valor.

He sought glory and wealth on distant shores, engaging in battles and skirmishes that forged his reputation as a fierce warrior. However, the tide of fate turned against him at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030, where he fought on the losing side. Harald was forced into exile, wandering through the lands of the Rus and into the distant East.

It was during his travels that Harald's destiny took an unexpected turn. He arrived at the fabled city of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire and home to the legendary Varangian Guard.

An elite group of Viking mercenaries that served as the personal bodyguards of the Byzantine emperors. Their reputation was formidable, and their loyalty unwavering.

Harald Hardrada, with his battle-hardened demeanor and a thirst for adventure, sought entry into the Varangian Guard. His reputation as a warrior preceded him, and he was accepted into their ranks around 1034 AD. Within the walls of Constantinople, Harald underwent rigorous training and honed his martial skills alongside his fellow Varangians.

As a Varangian guardsman, Harald Hardrada found himself in a world of intrigue and power, serving the Byzantine emperors in their court and accompanying them on campaigns.

He quickly gained the trust of the emperors, and his loyalty was unwavering. His Viking roots blended with the opulence of the Byzantine Empire, and his experiences were as diverse as the lands he had journeyed through.

Harald's time as a Varangian guardsman saw him embroiled in battles and skirmishes against the empire's enemies in the Eastern Mediterranean. His prowess on the battlefield became legendary, and he was admired for his unyielding courage and unwavering loyalty.

After serving in the Varangian Guard for several years, Harald Hardrada returned to Norway in 1046, where he eventually became the King of Norway. His reign was marked by further military campaigns, including an ill-fated invasion of England in 1066, where he died in the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

The story of Harald Hardrada's time as a Varangian guardsman is a testament to the incredible journeys and diverse experiences of Vikings in the medieval world. His life, filled with battles, loyalty, and adventure, showcases the indomitable spirit of a Viking who left his mark not only in the Byzantine Empire but also in the pages of history.

So what can freelancers of today learn from the famous Vikings?

Despite not having remote work opportunities, computers, or the internet Vikings were some of the most successful gig workers of their time. Earning a reputation as fierce fighters, daring explorers, and lucrative merchants.

Modern-day freelancers can draw valuable lessons from the Viking way of life and their contributions to freelancing in the ancient world. Here are some key takeaways:

1. **Adaptability and Resourcefulness:** Vikings were known for their ability to adapt to new situations and environments. Freelancers should embrace change and be resourceful when faced with challenges, finding innovative solutions to meet their clients' needs.

2. **Diverse Skill Sets:** Vikings excelled in various roles, from exploration to trade, craftsmanship, and diplomacy. Freelancers can benefit from diversifying their skill sets, making themselves more versatile and attractive to potential clients.

3. **Independence and Self-Reliance:** Vikings were independent adventurers, and freelancers share a similar spirit of self-reliance. Freelancers should take ownership of their careers, manage their time efficiently, and stay motivated, much like Vikings did during their voyages.

4. **Networking and Alliances:** Vikings formed alliances and built relationships to succeed in their endeavors. Freelancers can also benefit from networking, collaborating with others, and building a strong professional community to support their work.

5. **Quality Craftsmanship:** Viking craftsmen were renowned for their exceptional work. Freelancers should prioritize delivering high-quality work to build a reputation for excellence and gain repeat business.

6. **Fearless Pursuit of Opportunities:** Vikings were fearless in seeking new opportunities. Freelancers should actively seek out new clients, projects, and markets, not hesitating to venture into uncharted territory.

7. **Cultural Sensitivity and Diplomacy:** Vikings navigated different cultures and built relationships with foreign powers. Freelancers should be culturally sensitive when working with clients from diverse backgrounds and use diplomacy to resolve conflicts.

8. **Legacy and Branding:** Vikings left a lasting legacy, and modern freelancers should focus on building their personal brand. Developing a strong online presence, showcasing their expertise, and consistently delivering value will contribute to a lasting reputation.

9. **Adherence to Ethics:** Vikings had their own code of honor. Freelancers should uphold ethical standards, maintain transparency with clients, and ensure fair and honest business practices.

10. **Persistence and Resilience:** Vikings faced adversity but persevered. Freelancers should develop resilience, staying persistent in their pursuit of success despite setbacks and challenges.

Incorporating these lessons from Viking history into your freelancing career can help you grow as a freelancer and become more adaptable, skilled, independent, and successful in your endeavors, just as the Vikings were in their time.

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