Did Vikings Ever Travel To Asia? (India, China, the Middle East?)


The Vikings erupted out of their Scandinavian homelands in the 8th century, taking much of the northern world by storm. During the years 787 to 1066 AD, the Vikings traveled and expanded their control and trade routes, but did they ever make it as far as Asia?

There is evidence that the Vikings reached as far as Central Asia and possibly South Asia, but historical records are inconclusive. Documents reveal Vikings traveled into Byzantine and Iran, controlling trade along the Dnieper, Dvina, Volga Rivers, and the Black and Caspian Seas.

How Close Did The Vikings Get To India And China? Did The Vikings Explore Russia? Did The Vikings Make It To The Middle East? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

map of Asia
How far did the Vikings explore? See below

How far did the Vikings explore?

They raided, pillaged, and dominated much of Northern Europe during their expansion, traveling into Russia, North Africa, and the Middle East. They even landed and explored some of North America.

The Byzantine Empire, modern-day Istanbul, borders Asia on Istanbuls’ eastern side. Records show that the Vikings traveled into the Byzantine Empire, with some working for the Empire as mercenaries called Varangian Guards.

A group of Vikings under Ingvar, the Far-Traveled, underwent expeditions that saw them enter Iran and Caucasus during the years 1036 – 1042.

Viking groups also controlled trade routes along the Dnieper, Dvina, and Volga Rivers, all tributaries of the Caspian and Black Seas inland seas with access to much of Central Asia.

How close did the Vikings get to India and China?

Although the Vikings traveled quite far across the European continent, their exploration was mainly limited to areas close to oceans, seas, and rivers.

Expansion far inland on foot was not much to be desired, so it comes to question how close the Vikings might have gotten to India and China.

They would have had to traverse large landmasses to get to these countries or travel around the southern tip of Africa to access them.

How Close Did The Vikings Get To China?

There are no written records of the Vikings ever traveling as far as China, although there is enough evidence to show that they traded in Chinese goods.

Excavated Viking burials show the deceased wearing Chinese silks, but this was probably the result of indirect trade between Vikings and Eastern Asia.

When it comes to documented records, the furthest north any Viking traveled would have been the Caspian Sea, visited by Ingvar the Far-Traveled. Ingvar explored this area around the middle of the 11th century.

Other than Ingvar and his group of merrily looting explorers, there is the possibility of singular or small groups of Vikings making it as far as China. If this did occur, there are no records of it, and the chances that these Vikings returned to tell their tale are slim to none.

How Close Did The Vikings Get To India?

There are no documented records of the Vikings ever making it close to India, with the furthest any Viking traveling being the Caspian Sea in the middle of the 11th century.

However, the Vikings came close enough through indirect trade. History tells us that the Vikings were strong traders, trading their furs, amber, ivory from narwhales and walruses and enslaved people while buying spices, Indian iron, silver, and silks.

Many of these traded goods came from India to the trade markets in Constantinople and the Middle East. These trading markets might have facilitated meetings between Vikings and traders from India, but there are no documented records of such encounters.

Records also show that the Vikings played board games similar to chess, a game with its origins in India.

map of Russia
Did the Vikings explore Russia? See below

Did the Vikings explore Russia?

The Vikings traveled into the heart of Russia, where they set up a federation called Kievan Rus. Research shows that some Scandanavian settlements in Eastern Europe date as far back as 750 AD, pre-dating the great age of Viking expansion.

At this early date, records suggest that the settlers set themselves up in northwestern Russia in a town called Staraya Ladoga. 

Later, when the Vikings came through Russia after 840 AD, they established their rule over the Slavic tribes and were known as “Rus” or “Varangians.”

Over the years, this group of Vikings would expand their control by capturing new territories to add to their expanding lands. Their settlement later came to be known as Kievan Rus.  

The Vikings’ explorations took them deep into the continent, traveling along the Dnieper and Volga Rivers. They seized control of the ancient trade routes along the way.

The legacy of the Vikings’ travel and exploration of this area is seen in the very name of Russia itself, deriving its name the Rus. 

map of the Middle East
Did the Vikings make it to the Middle East? See below

Did the Vikings make it to the Middle East?

The Vikings’ travels took them as far as the Middle East for trade networking and the odd looting. They journeyed to the Middle East via two different routes that took them across the Gulf of Finland, where they sailed the rivers through Russia.

Here they had two options. The first was to take an overland trip via camelback to Arabia from where they could engage in trade, or they sailed the Black Sea to Constantinople and the trade markets situated there.

There is an abundance of written records showing that the Vikings made it to the Middle East. These records are mainly in Arabian written documents describing meeting the Norsemen and how they viewed them.

Archaeological remains show Middle Eastern artifacts in Viking hordes and burial mounds. These finds include plenty of silver Dirhams showing the Vikings’ preference for them, among other artifacts.

Ingvar the Far-Traveled took a group of around 15000 men and raided as far afield as the Caspian Sea and Persia, modern-day Iran.

His raids ultimately failed around 1240, and he returned to Scandinavia with Dirham coins they buried in hordes. Many written documents show the interaction between Vikings and the inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire. 

Conclusion

Records show that the Vikings did manage to get to Asia with their travels taking them onto the Caspian and Black Seas via the Dnieper, Dvina, and Volga Rivers. These inland seas would have given the Vikings access to Central and Southern Asia.

It does not seem likely that any Vikings made it as far as India or China, although they did travel through the Middle East, trading as they went. The Vikings traveled to the heart of Russia, leaving a permanent imprint of themselves on the land.

References:
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