If I am living in England around 1000 and some Scandinavian raiders show up at my village to pillage our farms, which phrase would I be most likely to be saying:

  • "Oh no, here come the Vikings!"
  • "Oh no, here come the Northmen!"
  • "Oh no, here come the Norsemen!"
  • "Oh no, here come the Danes!"
  • "Oh no, here come the raiders!"

And would it change if it was a foray of people from the Danelaw?

  • 1
    It's worth remembering that from 1016, with the conquest by Cnut the Great, England was ruled by a series of Danish kings as part of a wider empire (the North Sea Empire) that included Denmark & Norway. It's quite likely that terminology would have changed around that period. Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 1:20

3 Answers 3


Usually "Danes", or the "pagans"[note], or possibly the "Northmen" - though the last was more of a Continental usage.

In Francia these Scandinavians were called 'Northmen' or 'Danes' (in translation), and in England they were called 'Danes' or 'pagans' in contemporary chronicles.

Brink, Stefan. "Who were the Vikings?" Brink, Stefan, and Neil Price, eds The Viking World, Routledge: 2008.

While the word "viking" is possibly attested to in Old English (wicing), the meaning and etymology are disputed. It fell out of use during the High Middle Ages, and did not acquire it's modern meaning until it was re-introduced into English in the 18th century.

The precise meaning and origin of the word 'Viking' is, however, uncertain . . . Whatever its origins, though, it is important to realize that the word was only really popularized during the nineteenth century, and that contemporaries of the Vikings usually called them other names.

Holman, Katherine. The Northern Conquest: Vikings in Britain and Ireland Signal Books, 2007.

Note: Not meant to be taken literally - this is just what they would've meant. The actual word pagan came from Latin, and replaced the native heathen in Middle English.

  • @RonJohn Fine, "heathens". Not that English chroniclers weren't "local" to England.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 21:44
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 1:29

What about "heathens"? It comes from Old English hæþen, and basically means pagan, which was also mentioned in other answers.

Notice this word comes most probably from a Saxon origin, "hedhin", compared with pagan, which comes from Latin paganus (i.e. referring to the rural, country-side).


As used in The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth or in Beowulf, your Englishman might use "ingenga" to mean invader or visitor.

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    The Wake is about as trustworthy as Urban Dictionary for this purpose. Just as an obvious example: the F word, the C word, whore, and arse are liberally used, but they were not rude back then; Old English nouns were gender- and number inflected. etc.
    – Yorik
    Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 22:32
  • 2
    Keep in mind that while Beowulf is an English poem, it is set in Scandinavia 300 years prior to the earliest surviving manuscript and is based on a mix of legend and actual events from the preceding 100 years or more. So there is no guarantee it is any more accurate than an American book from 2000 set in 1700s Italy written by someone with half of a reference book on the 1600s in France and a book about Greek gods. Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 12:04

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