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The Age of the Vikings

The Age of the Vikings

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 328
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    The Age of the Vikings
    Book Description:

    The Vikings maintain their grip on our imagination, but their image is too often distorted by medieval and modern myth. It is true that they pillaged, looted, and enslaved. But they also settled peacefully and developed a vast trading network. They traveled far from their homelands in swift and sturdy ships, not only to raid, but also to explore. Despite their fearsome reputation, the Vikings didn't wear horned helmets, and even the infamous berserkers were far from invincible.

    By dismantling the myths,The Age of the Vikingsallows the full story of this period in medieval history to be told. By exploring every major facet of this exciting age, Anders Winroth captures the innovation and pure daring of the Vikings without glossing over their destructive heritage.

    He not only explains the Viking attacks, but also looks at Viking endeavors in commerce, politics, discovery, and colonization, and reveals how Viking arts, literature, and religious thought evolved in ways unequaled in the rest of Europe. He shows how the Vikings seized on the boundless opportunities made possible by the invention of the longship, using it to venture to Europe for plunder, to open new trade routes, and to settle in lands as distant as Russia, Greenland, and the Byzantine Empire. Challenging the image of the Vikings that comes so easily to mind, Winroth argues that Viking chieftains were no more violent than men like Charlemagne, who committed atrocities on a far greater scale than the northern raiders.

    Drawing on a wealth of written, visual, and archaeological evidence,The Age of the Vikingssheds new light on the complex society and culture of these legendary seafarers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5190-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION: The Fury of the Northmen
    (pp. 1-14)

    Finally the chieftain took his high seat. The warrior band had waited eagerly on the benches around the great hall, warmed by the crackling fire, quaffing bountiful mead. The chieftain’s servant girls had spent weeks this fall mixing honey and water, brewing barrels full for his famous party at Yule, the old Scandinavian festival of midwinter. Now the chieftain was there in his best clothes demanding to know why his famed warriors had been given such simple drink. Did they not deserve better hospitality after all they had accomplished in Frankland? Had they not hauled home barrels of the best...

    (pp. 15-44)

    All at once, the Northmen swarmed out of their boats. They scaled the city walls on ladders and spread throughout the city. They smashed, broke, and cut through doors and shutters; they plundered, looted, and ravaged as they desired; there was no one to defend the city of Nantes in what is now western France. The town was full of people, for it was St. John’s Day, June 24, 843. Masses of people had come to celebrate the holiday from the surrounding countryside and even from distant cities. First to discover the approaching Vikings, the monks from the monastery Indre...

  3. CHAPTER 3 RÖRIKS AT HOME AND AWAY: Viking Age Emigration
    (pp. 45-70)

    Among the almost five million men living in Sweden in 2014, a single one carried the name Rörik.¹ The name was never very common; among the thousands of men named on Swedish runestones, only five were called Rörik.² Among them was a Rörik in Styrstad, a village just west of where the city of Norrköping would be built centuries later. This Rörik appears to have been a well-to-do farmer perhaps with artistic interests. At least, he sponsored a runestone with an unusual design: two thin snakes wriggling alongside and crossing each other, forming ten knots. The runic inscription is placed...

    (pp. 71-98)

    Emperor Charlemagne was already an old man when, in 810, he “received the news that a fleet of 200 ships from Denmark had landed in Frisia” on the northern coast of his empire. The Vikings ravaged the region, fighting three battles against the Frisians and finally forcing the inhabitants to save their lives by paying a large ransom. The emperor was furious and ordered his army to assemble to march north and defeat them. Charlemagne himself rode toward the plundering Northmen, bringing with him his beloved pet elephant, Abul-Abbas, a gift from Caliph Harun ar-Rashid in Baghdad. The elephant suddenly...

  5. CHAPTER 5 COINS, SILK, AND HERRING: Viking Age Trade in Northern Europe
    (pp. 99-130)

    It was perhaps not an ordinary class of students that was camping out for the night at Stavgard on the large Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea in 1975. They had studied prehistoric Scandinavia for months in school, and now they were going to live like Vikings. The spot they had picked was perfect, full of mysterious ancient monuments: standing stones, inscriptions on rocks, traces of prehistoric agriculture. The students started bonfires, built houses, made and fired pottery, and fished in the Baltic Sea. At dawn on their last day, they prepared “sacrifices” at an old bauta stone,...

    (pp. 131-156)

    Praising his dead patron Olav Haraldsson, the skald Sigvat exclaimed: “The prince subdued every end of Oppland…. Earlier eleven princes ruled them.” Olav had arrived in Norway in 1015 after years of itinerant life as a Viking and a mercenary. He had plenty of warriors and much wealth, and he had proceeded to conquer the country, including the landlocked eastern region known as Oppland. “Which more outstanding prince has ever ruled the northern end of the world?” Sigvat asked rhetorically, clearly not expecting his audience to provide a plausible alternative to Olav Haraldsson.¹

    Sigvat portrays Olav as a great conqueror...

    (pp. 157-180)

    The matriarch of the family was dead. She had died at the farm of her long-dead first husband, at Såsta, about seventeen kilometers north of where, a century or so later, Stockholm would be built. She died in the late eleventh century at a great age for the time, older than sixty, and she had outlived two husbands, three sons, and her stepson. None of them had been Vikings plundering around the shores of Europe, as far as we know, but they lived in the Viking Age and were no strangers to traveling far. Estrid Sigfastsdotter had always taken care...

    (pp. 181-212)

    The Christian King Harald of Norway, destroyer of ancient temples, was dead. The new ruler, Earl Håkon, returned to the old rituals, and, see! suddenly “the earth was growing again.” When the old king had “dared to damage temples,” he angered the gods, who answered by sending bad weather to spoil the grain crop and expelling the herring from their usual spawning grounds. Norway had been starving. Now, in the 970s, with pagan Earl Håkon Sigurdsson in charge, the temples were reopened, and the gods responded happily by providing good weather and plentiful herring catches. That is the message Håkon...

    (pp. 213-240)

    Through the centuries, countless throngs have visited Hagia Sophia, the magnificent basilica that Emperor Justinian built in the 530s in his capital, Constantinople (now Istanbul), and dedicated to Holy Wisdom. When new, the building was an architectural wonder of which Justinian was rightly proud; after inspecting the finished building, he is said to have exclaimed, “Solomon, I have outdone you!” (referring to the builder of the Temple in Jerusalem). What continues to amaze visitors to the building is its remarkably large dome, which has withstood the ravages of time for nearly fifteen centuries, a wonder of mathematical calculations and structural...

  10. CHAPTER 10 EPILOGUE: The End of the Viking Age
    (pp. 241-248)

    On 25 September 1066, King Harald Sigurdsson Hardruler of Norway with his army fought the forces of the English king Harold Godwineson at Stamford Bridge, close to York, England. The battle was not going well for the Norwegians, so the king himself tried to rally his troops by setting a manful example. He “gripped his sword with both hands and hewed it to the left and right. He … cleared a way before him, killing many men in the process…. Both his arms were bloody, and he went among his enemies almost as if he were cleaving the wind, showing...