Vikings along the Silk Road

Vikings along the Silk Road

The UNWTO Silk Road Programme, together with the Vikings Cultural Route, discovers Viking heritage and their contributions to Silk Road.

During the Western Silk Road tourism development initiative, a joint UNWTO-European Commission project, the Vikings Cultural Route contributed with a SWOT-analysis to the Western Silk Road research effort and highlighted the untapped history of the Vikings along the Silk Road river ways. 

Despite extensive research on the Vikings, little was known about their connection to the Silk Road. With her study Silk for the Vikings, Marianne Vedeler shed some light on this issue.

By collecting and studying available manuscripts and documents, she discovered that the Vikings entertained extensive trade relations with neighbouring countries and foreign empires. Hence their knowledge and appreciation of silk primarily resulted from peaceful exchange, as opposed to previously held, more violent, views.

Research of key Viking sites where silk was found indicates that Viking silk had two main origins: the Byzantine Empire, especially from its capital Constantinople (Miklagard for the Vikings), and the Persian Empire.

The Russian rivers Dnepr, leading to Constantinople, and the Volga, which flows into the Caspian Sea, functioned hereby as the main modes of transportation.

The so-called Viking Age ranged between 800 and 1050 AD, a time during which Vikings reached significant boat building achievements, as well as unprecedented navigation skills. This allowed them to trade and settle throughout Europe. They also bequeathed to future generations a language and highly valuable intangible heritage such as sagas, literature and story-telling traditions.

Among many interesting findings, the research on the Vikings on the Silk Road highlights the potential of Silk Road thematic cruises. Building on the historical significance of the rivers as trade bridges, thematic cruises connecting northern Europe and the Russian Federation, underpinned by niche tourism products such as gastronomy, could enhance the attractiveness of the Western Silk Road route and diversify its tourism offer.

Further cooperation between the UNWTO Silk Road Programme and the Vikings Cultural Route will be discussed during the International Tourism Fair ITB Berlin 2018. 

    Learn more about the Vikings on the Silk Road in the brochure.