The differences between Vikings and the Wokou

Oceans take up the majority of the earth’s surface while lands only take a small portion of it. Therefore, human does not only explore the oceans, but also utilize them. Pirates emerge with the development of human society.

Due to the lack of communication between the East and the West, pirates in two sides of world became independent from each other. Even so, Vikings dominated the Europe while the Wokou swept China and Southeast Asia; thus they were both of great importance in the history of piracy.


The lack of communication led to their respective characteristics in formation, lifestyle and combat mode. There were some obvious differences between Vikings and the Wokou. But in some ways Vikings were undoubtedly more successful.



Vikings: Nordic civilians from the Scandinavian Peninsula. They were of specific class identities, organized by families and tribes, and they acted for specific goals.

Wokou: defeated samurais, ronins, merchants from Japan, and Chinese.

Japanese sword

Goal of action

Vikings: invade, plunder, occupy coastland and even inland areas, finally found a country (today people in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and Denmark are all of Viking descent).

Wokou: rob civilians and merchantships. They rarely settled down somewhere, just plundered resources and wealth by violence, and seldom went for political purposes.

Viking ax


Vikings: those Nordic pirates liked stories and poems, for a long time they recorded the history by them. In every tribe, there was a certain person who recorded such stories and wrote new tales. It obviously took a long time to carve these lengthy stories on the bones, so during the long winter Vikings just stayed inside the houses and told the stories passed down from the elder generations.

Wokou: barely care about culture. Wokou rarely got involved in things other than plundering, so they left very few literary works or historical materials about themselves.

Viking architecture


Viking: Vikings were family-minded and usually lived together with the whole family. They were loyal to each other, and would even called for justice in the tribal council when a member of family got bullied.

Wokou: mainly live in groups in a paramilitary manner.

Viking life


Vikings: invade and occupy local areas, establish political organizations and then prepare for long-term development

Wokou: invade and plunder local areas, then marauded hither and thither

Japanese warships


Vikings: Vikings were excellent handicraftsmen. Their artisans could make implements with more decorations, as well as tools, weapons and jewellries. To this day, Viking-style jewelries are still popular. In addition, Vikings produced almost all the daily necessities in their farms, from tools to clothes. Therefore they lived our-sufficient lives.

Wokou: lived by plundering, could not be self-sufficient.

Virgin Ware

Why they vanished

Vikings: gradually intermingled with local people

Wokou: eliminated by government forces


The Vikings and Wokou are two distinct historical groups, and they differ in the following aspects:


Geographic Difference:

The Vikings originated from the northern European regions, primarily Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, while the Wokou were from the Japanese archipelago.


The Vikings and Wokou are two groups with different cultures and histories, originating from different regions and possessing distinct production technologies, military techniques, and approaches to foreign relations.


Firstly, the Vikings hailed from the northern European regions, primarily Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. The people in this region were characterized by Viking culture, exhibiting qualities of bravery, resilience, and a martial spirit. They excelled in advanced production technologies, particularly in crafting high-quality ships, and had superior navigation and weapon-making skills. The Vikings were pragmatic in their interactions with outsiders. When encountering powerful adversaries, they sometimes embraced the religion of the ruling people to demonstrate respect and amicability.


On the other hand, the Wokou originated from the Japanese archipelago and were characterized by traditional Japanese culture. Their ships were traditional Japanese-style vessels, built with wooden joints, without the use of iron nails. Each ship could carry more than 20 people and over 2,000 pounds of fresh water, relying solely on the protection of the Shinto deity Amaterasu for safe navigation. The Wokou’s production technologies and military techniques were relatively less advanced, but they possessed a strong fighting spirit and aggressiveness. They often employed extreme measures such as killing, looting, and burning in their interactions with others, earning them a reputation for unscrupulous behavior.


In conclusion, the Vikings and Wokou differed in production technologies, military techniques, and their approach to foreign relations. The Vikings were pragmatic, excelling in navigation and weapon-making, while the Wokou displayed a strong martial spirit and aggressiveness, often resorting to extreme measures. These differences reflect the distinct characteristics of different regions and cultures, as well as the historical diversity and interactions between various ethnic groups.




Differences in Production Technology and Military Techniques:


The Vikings were more advanced than the Wokou in terms of production technology and military techniques. They excelled in manufacturing high-quality ships and possessed more advanced navigation and weapon-making skills. On the other hand, the Wokou’s ships were traditional Japanese-style vessels, with each ship capable of carrying over 20 people and 2,000 pounds of fresh water. These ships were constructed without the use of iron nails and relied on the protection of the Shinto deity Amaterasu during voyages.


The disparities in production technology and military techniques between the Vikings and the Wokou were significant, reflecting their distinct historical and cultural backgrounds.


The Vikings hailed from the northern European regions and were prominent representatives of maritime culture. They were skilled in crafting high-quality ships known for their speed, stability, and adaptability. Their vessels mainly included longships and roundships, which were meticulously designed to withstand the challenges of oceanic environments. The Vikings were highly advanced in navigation, enabling them to undertake long-distance voyages and explorations, reaching destinations in Europe, Africa, and North America. In terms of weapon-making, the Vikings produced high-quality weaponry such as long swords, battle axes, and chainmail armor.


In contrast, the Wokou originated from the Japanese archipelago and lagged behind in production technology and military techniques. Their ships were traditional Japanese-style vessels constructed without iron nails. Each ship could carry a limited number of people and supplies. The Wokou mainly utilized weapons such as swords and bows and arrows, and their combat tactics were relatively simple.


In summary, the Vikings were more advanced in production technology and military techniques compared to the Wokou. They were proficient in manufacturing high-quality ships and weapons, possessed superior navigation skills, and demonstrated advanced combat tactics. On the other hand, the Wokou were relatively less advanced, with simpler production technology and military techniques, but displayed a strong fighting spirit and aggressiveness. These differences reflect the unique characteristics of different regions and cultures and also illustrate the historical diversity and interactions between various ethnic groups.



Different Ways of Dealing with Outsiders:


The Vikings and the Wokou also exhibited significant differences in their ways of dealing with outsiders.


The Vikings were pragmatic and, when encountering formidable opponents, they would choose to adopt the religion followed by the ruling populace as a gesture of respect and friendship. Known for their bravery, resilience, and martial prowess, the Vikings were rational and practical in their foreign interactions. They understood their strengths and weaknesses and were adept at leveraging their resources and power to face external challenges.


On the other hand, the Wokou adopted a “Three Lights” policy, which involved killing, looting, and burning during their interactions with outsiders. Their approach was characterized by aggressive and aggressive behavior, and they were not afraid to employ extreme measures to achieve their objectives. The Wokou’s actions were relatively monotonous, lacking flexibility and innovation, which imposed certain limitations on their dealings with external forces.


In summary, the Vikings and the Wokou also differed in their ways of dealing with outsiders. The Vikings were pragmatic, utilizing their resources and strength to confront external challenges, while the Wokou possessed a strong fighting spirit and aggressiveness, employing a more one-dimensional approach. These differences reflect the unique characteristics of different regions and cultures and also illustrate the historical diversity and interactions between various ethnic groups.



The Vikings and Wokou lived in different eras, and their historical activities were distinct:


The Vikings:

The Vikings were an ancient ethnic group from the North European region, flourishing between the 7th and 11th centuries. This period marked the peak of Viking culture, during which they conducted extensive explorations and conquests across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Sailing in their longships and roundships, the Vikings traversed the oceans, conquering much of the known world at that time.


The arrival of the Vikings had a profound impact on the local inhabitants. They introduced new cultures and traditions, including Norse mythology, poetry, and music. However, their conquests and raids also caused significant destruction and disruption to the local economy and society. The relentless attacks and plundering instilled great fear and unrest among the local population, leading to social chaos and turmoil.


Over time, the Viking culture and traditions gradually merged with other cultures, giving rise to new cultural elements. Their history and culture also had a significant influence on other cultures, including medieval European culture, Russian culture, and Nordic culture. The history and culture of the Vikings have become an essential part of the world’s cultural heritage, attracting people from around the globe to explore and understand them.



Wokou refers to maritime pirates and raiders active around the Japanese archipelago during the 13th to 16th centuries. Their activities extended across Japan, China, the Korean Peninsula, Southeast Asia, and other regions. The Wokou threat to Japan began around the 12th century, but their most active period was during the late 15th to early 16th centuries, known as the Ming Jiajing era.


During the Ming Jiajing era, numerous Wokou emerged along the Chinese coastal regions, targeting coastal cities for frequent raids and plunder. Most of these Wokou were comprised of Japanese warriors, fugitives, and unemployed individuals. Utilizing fast and agile small boats, they launched surprise attacks and looted coastal cities before swiftly retreating to the sea. The Wokou operated over a vast area, ranging from Fujian in the south to Shandong in the north, and even penetrated inland regions, severely impacting China’s economy and society.


To counter the Wokou threat, the Ming Dynasty implemented various proactive defense measures. They strengthened coastal defenses, established naval forces, and engaged in active patrols and strikes. Additionally, diplomatic negotiations were conducted with Japan, urging the Japanese government to take actions against the source of Wokou activities within their territory. With the aid of these measures, the Ming Dynasty gradually contained the aggressive momentum of the Wokou.


Apart from the economic and social consequences on China, Wokou activities also had significant psychological effects on local inhabitants. The Wokou’s raids and plundering spread widespread panic and anxiety among the local population, living in constant fear. Moreover, they frequently engaged in kidnapping and human trafficking, causing severe disruptions to the lives and families of the local people.


In conclusion, the active period of the Wokou was during the Ming Jiajing era, a time of internal unrest and political turmoil in Japan, leading to many warriors, fugitives, and unemployed individuals turning to maritime piracy, significantly impacting China’s economy and society. Through the proactive defense and strikes of the Ming Dynasty, the threat posed by the Wokou was gradually curtailed.





The Vikings:


The Vikings were a group of people residing in North Germanic tribes, known for their seafaring, raiding, and trading activities, showcasing formidable combat abilities. In the history of the Vikings, weapons played a crucial role as not only tools for battle but also symbols of their culture and traditions.


The primary weapons of the Vikings included swords, battle-axes, spears, and slings. Among them, the sword held a special place as one of the most revered weapons, playing a significant role in Viking warfare. Viking swords featured a unique design and function, typically with a long, exceptionally sharp blade capable of easily cutting through bones and leather. These swords were often imbued with special symbolism, such as being considered divine or heroic, representing the courage and honor of the Vikings.


In addition to swords, battle-axes were another commonly used weapon among the Vikings. These battle-axes were usually made of iron or steel, had substantial weight, and could inflict severe damage. In Viking combat, the battle-axe proved to be a practical weapon, swiftly cleaving through enemy weaponry, equipment, and even armor and shields.


Long spears and slings were frequently employed by the Vikings, allowing them to attack enemies from a distance with significant killing power. Long spears were used for thrusting or throwing, enabling the Vikings to engage enemies while maintaining a safe distance. Slings, on the other hand, allowed them to launch stones or other heavy objects at adversaries, causing harm and confusion.


One of the commonly used defensive gears among the Vikings was the Viking shield. Typically measuring around 80-90 centimeters in diameter, the shield was composed of seven firwood planks, with the center being the thickest and the edges the thinnest. A circular hole was often left at the center of the shield to attach a hemispherical metal boss for handle protection. The shield’s edges were usually reinforced with leather strips and metal plates. The Viking shield’s simple yet effective design provided effective protection without imposing significant limitations on the warriors’ mobility.


Besides the aforementioned common weapons, the Vikings also utilized other tools such as the wolf-tooth club and war hammer. These weapons were relatively simple but highly practical, easily produced and repaired. In battles, the Vikings frequently utilized these weapons to confront and triumph over their enemies.


In addition to their practicality, Viking weapons carried powerful symbolic meanings. In Viking culture, weapons were considered symbols of honor and status. Warriors often cherished their weapons as valuable treasures, adorned with exquisite metal decorations and carvings to express their bravery and glory.


In conclusion, the Vikings had a limited variety of weapons, but each was practical and effective, playing a significant role in battles. These weapons not only possessed formidable attacking capabilities but also featured unique designs and structures, granting the Vikings greater flexibility and advantages in combat. Moreover, weapons represented essential aspects of Viking culture and traditions, symbolizing their courage and honor.




The weapons used by the Wokou mainly consisted of cold weapons, with firearms such as the arquebus as a secondary option.


The cold weapons used by the Wokou included powerful bows and long arrows, which allowed them to engage enemies from a distance with substantial killing power. Additionally, their swords were long and sharp, and the Wokou were skilled at wielding and utilizing them, making them a formidable threat. These weapons provided an advantage for the Wokou compared to Chinese weapons.


In addition to bows and swords, the Wokou also used other types of cold weapons, such as long spears, waist knives, and wolf-tail whips. Long spears were commonly used by the Wokou to thrust or throw, posing a threat to the enemy’s armor and shields. Waist knives were effective close combat weapons, lightweight and flexible, allowing them to swiftly cut through enemy weaponry and equipment. The wolf-tail whip was a special weapon made from bamboo, featuring long and resilient branches that effectively deflected enemy attacks and were used for close-quarters combat.


Apart from cold weapons, the Wokou also utilized firearms like the arquebus. While early firearms like the arquebus were inaccurate and unstable, they still posed a certain threat to enemies. During that era’s battles, the use of firearms gave the Wokou an advantage in long-range attacks.


In summary, the Wokou had a limited variety of weapons, but they were practical and effective, adaptable to various combat environments and tactical requirements. These weapons possessed formidable attacking capabilities and featured unique designs and structures, providing the Wokou with greater flexibility and advantages in battle. Additionally, weapons symbolized essential aspects of Wokou culture and traditions, representing their courage and honor.


In conclusion, there were big differences between Vikings and Asian pirates such as the Wokou. Till now, the Vikings, as well as their crafts of jewellries and shipbuilding, are still highly praised. As for the Wokou, they are nothing but brutal bandits in the textbooks in every East Asian countries.


 Viking products