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Books Features

New Medieval Books: Vikings

Five new books that tell us about the Norse and the Viking Age.

Old Norse Mythology

By John Lindow

Oxford University Press
ISBN: 9780197554487

Excerpt: The title of this book, Old Norse Mythology, recognizes the fact that the mythology question is recorded almost exclusively in the manuscripts of Old Norse literature tradition –  that is, in manuscripts primarily from 13th and 14th century Iceland (the term “Old Norse” recognizes that the language in question was spoken in Norway, Iceland, and other Atlantic Islands). Since Iceland had converted to Christianity in the year 1000 CE, the scribes who recorded the myths were Christians, and then this can hardly have been sacred in their eyes.

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Norse America: The Story of a Founding Myth

By Gordon Campbell

Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-886155-3

Excerpt: The idea that it was the North’s who discovered America first emerged in the late eighteenth century, long before there was any public awareness of the sagas on which claims were based. In the course of the nineteenth century, evidence for a Norse presence was discovered in what was now the United States. This evidence, in the form of inscriptions in Norse artifacts, generally appeared in areas of Scandinavian settlement, and advocates of the authenticity of this evidence tended to be of Scandinavian descent. Public awareness of the idea of a Norse discovery of America prior to Columbus broadened with a publication by Rasmus Andersson of America not discovered by Columbus in 1874. This book lent powerful support to both the historic contention that the Norseman visited New England repeatedly from the 10th to the 14th centuries and to the Teutonic ancestral link between the Norse and New England cultural elite known (in the memorable phrase of Oliver Wendell Holmes) as ‘the Brahmin cast of New England’.

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The Viking Great Army and the Making of England

By Dawn M. Hadley and Julian D. Richards

Thames and Hudson
ISBN: 978-0-500-02201-6

Excerpt: From AD 865 to 878 Viking Army wreaked havoc on the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England, leading to military and political conquest, settlement of a substantial scale and extensive Scandinavian cultural and linguistic changes in eastern and northern England. Previous Viking raids in England have largely been coastal hit-and-run affairs, but this period saw a change in tactics, as the raiders penetrated deep into the countryside, moving rapidly by road and river, exploding Anglo-Saxon internal divisions and overwintering at strategic locations. While the Viking raids on the British Isles had begun in the 790s as a quest for portable wealth in the form of silver and Slaves, by the 860s and 870s the aims of Viking armies had shifted to land seizure and political conquest.

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The Valkyries’ Loom: The Archaeology of Cloth Production and Female Power in the North Atlantic

By Michele Hayeur Smith

University Press of Florida
ISBN: 9780813066622

Excerpt: The Valkyries’ Loom is a book about textiles, specifically textiles from Scandinavian settlements of the North Atlantic. It is not a descriptive or technological book and nature; rather, it addresses the social archaeology of textiles and textiles as a form of material culture that encodes information about societies who made them. Dictating textiles are like “text” (which is where the term comes from) and tell a story about hardships and successes and, most importantly, about the lives of the women who made them.

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Thraldom: A History of Slavery in the Viking Age

By Stefan Brink

Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-753235-5

Excerpt: What did Scandinavian slavery look like qualitatively and quantitatively during the period AD circa 600-1200? Is it possible to obtain an understanding of, for example, the Viking Age thraldom, its constituent parts and extent, based on literary sources or on retrospective analysis – that is to say, might we dare to apply what we know about slavery during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Viking Age? Can other source material, such as runes, terminology, names, archaeology, and so on, strengthen such a retrospective method, or must we allow for a different substance of Viking Age thraldom? My hope is that a thorough analysis of all available source material can we give us a new and more comprehensive picture of what slavery looked liked in Scandinavia and appeared before circa 1100 (which in Scandinavia is prehistory).

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