The Vikings by Don Nardo. 112 p. Farmington Hills: Lucent, 2011. 978-0-4205-0316-6
Whether called the Norse, the Norsemen, or the Northmen, the Vikings remain iconic figures of lawlessness and abandon. This volume in Lucent’s World History series explores the truths behind the archetypal Viking, pillaging and raiding settlements, and delves into the unique influence that Vikings have had on modern Europe.
The text draws from archaeological sites, ranging from Canadian and Danish outposts to the English city of York, once Yorvik, for centuries a Norse stronghold. In addition to the surviving material evidence, the book integrates primary sources from Anglo Saxon accounts and Icelandic sagas, with caveats that they themselves are an imaginative melding of story and history.
The novel describes the marginal situation of the Scandinavians during the Roman era, when few traders had much contract with the largely agrarian people of the north. A few centuries later, economic and military expansion, coupled with an admiration for the Roman tradition, is credited with the rise of the Vikings. Viking is derived from the term “i viking,” which means to go raiding. The Vikings were often identified as pagans because of the destruction of churches, which often were undefended and contained portable wealth. Europe lived in terror of raiders for centuries, as attacks were first centered along the coast or Ireland but became progressively more invasive, as raiders ventured far upstream on the navigable rivers such as the Seine and the Rhone. Only weather too inclement for sailing was considered reassurance that settlements were safe from Vikings.
The book includes many nice visual elements, including ample cartographic depiction of campaigns and the extent of occupations, as well as a range of interesting illustrations. A timeline contextualizes the Vikings within global events and ranges up until the twentieth century discovery of Norse colonies in Newfoundland. Passages describe the masterful construction of longships, Viking etiquette, burials, gender roles, laws, governance, song and runes. While the chapter on religion and Nose mythology is not particularly comprehensive, it does include an interesting description of the the intersection and eventual disappearance of the old beliefs with the rise of Christianity
One interesting chapter deals with Viking explorations in the West, beginning with Greenland, which established a base for subsequent north Atlantic navigation. At their most expansive, the Vikings had settlements at Baffin Island, Labrador, and Newfoundland, and the North American child first born to European parents might in fact be dated to these outposts, between 1000 and 1030. Also fascinating are the passages describing Scandinavians’ encounters with the Native Americans
The year 1066 is held to mark the end the Viking era, but Nardo suggests that the Battle of Hastings did not check the menace of the barbarians in the way it has been described. The Norman invaders were themselves a product of the Scandinavian occupation of north France, presaging the accelerated assimilation and convergence of peoples that would typify modern Europe.
Supplementary materials include notes on sources, glossary, additional resources, and an index. Recommended for school and public libraries.