Four Books on the Vikings and Norse Society

Four Books on the Vikings and Norse Society

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Here are four recent publications about the Vikings and/or Norse society.

Vikings in the Irish Sea

By David Griffifths
The History Press, 2010
ISBN: 9780752436463

Vikings began raiding islands and monasteries on the Atlantic fringes of Europe in the 790s. The Irish Sea rapidly became one of their most productive hunting-grounds. Attacks, battles and destruction were accompanied by trade – in slaves, silver and fine objects. Vikings crossed and re-crossed the Irish Sea in search of land, wealth and power. Raids were followed by settlement, firstly in fortified camps, and later in towns, market enclaves and rural estates. Vikings came into contact with existing populations in Ireland, Britain and the Isle of Man. Viking paganism, demonstrated by spectacular burials, was gradually eclipsed by Christianity. By 1050, the process of assimilation was well under way, yet Viking influence and distinctiveness did not altogether disappear. This book takes the sea as its starting point, and looks afresh at the story of a supremely opportunistic people who left their mark in ways which still resonate today.

Review by Rachel Bellerby – An intriguing and well-researched exploration of a fascinating aspect of Viking history. Author David Griffiths presents his arguments in a clear and logical fashion, using photographs and maps to enrich his narrative.

Thorfinn the Mighty: The Ultimate Viking

By George S. Brunsden
The History Press, 2010
ISBN: 9780752446806

Surrounded by a Nordic world that spanned from Spitzbergen to the Mediterranean, and from Russia to North America, medieval Orkney was much more than just a remote group of islands off the north coast of Scotland. To rule Orkney was to control a key intersection along the Viking western sea route. Of all Orkney’s early rulers, none understood this better than Earl Thorfinn the Mighty Sigurdarson. Descended from Norse chieftains and Scottish kings, Thorfinn was born into a competitive world undergoing great change. Old concepts of governing through brute strength were being supplanted by developing ideas of statesmanship. In the midst of this evolution, Thorfinn became its prime agent, evolving from avaricious Viking into just-minded Christian prince. After his transformation, he worked to give Orkney a permanent Christian temper and good governance. As Thorfinn evolved, so too did Orkney, taking its place in the medieval west. Authoritative and accessible, Thorfinn the Mighty is the first history to focus on the life and times of this important figure.

Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas

By William R. Short
McFarland, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7864-4727-5

The Sagas of Icelanders are enduring stories from Viking-Age Iceland filled with love and romance, battles and feuds, tragedy and comedy. Yet these tales are little read today, even by lovers of literature. The culture and history of the people depicted in the Sagas are often unfamiliar to the modern reader, though the audience for whom the tales were intended would have had an intimate understanding of the material. This text introduces the modern reader to the daily lives and material culture of the Vikings. Topics covered include religion, housing, social customs, the settlement of disputes, and the early history of Iceland. Issues of dispute among scholars, such as the nature of settlement and the division of land, are addressed in the text.

Lay Belief in Norse Society, 1000-1350

By Arnved Nedkvitne
Museum Tusculanum Press, 2009
ISBN: 978-87-635-0786-8

With insightful readings of his source material – which includes Norse sagas, Eddic literature and church homilies – Arnved Nedkvitne sheds light on the complex and diversified nature of lay belief in medieval Norse society. One of the study’s main claims suggests that laypeople had a firm belief in life after death – with all central rituals and beliefs seen as a means to this end. Yet, laypeople also had greater latitude in choosing between a sacred or secular understanding of their everyday lives than is often assumed: while religion was a fundamental source of norms, values and concepts at the time, laypeople also had to relate to state laws, codes of honour upheld by the local community and their own material interests.

Lay Belief in Norse Society 1000–1350 offers a comprehensive treatment of the diffusion of strains related to the subject at hand: from orthodox rituals to remnants of pagan religion, from Christian ethics to secular honour. Combining a powerful and lucid exploration of his material with astute methodological awareness, Arnved Nedkvitne paints a vivid picture of the religious and cultural landscape of medieval Norse society.

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