The Vikings: A History

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Overview

"For those living outside Scandinavia, the Viking age effectively began in 793 with an attack on the monastery at Lindisfarne. As the Northumbrian cleric and scholar Alcuin put it: "We and our fathers have now lived in this fair land for nearly three hundred and fifty years, and never before has such an atrocity been seen in Britain as we have now suffered at the hands of a pagan people. Such a voyage was not thought possible. The church of St. Cuthbert is spattered with the blood of the priests of God, stripped of all its furnishings, exposed to the plundering of pagans - a place more sacred than any in Britain." The attack on Lindisfarne was a characteristically violent harbinger of what was in store for Britain and much of Europe from the Vikings for the next three hundred years, until the final destruction of the heathen temple to the Norse gods at Uppsala around 1090." Establishing the history of this largely illiterate people is notoriously tricky. Robert Ferguson is a sure guide across what he calls "the treacherous marches which divide legend from fact in Viking Age history." His long familiarity with the literary culture of Scandinavia - the eddas, the poetry of the skalds and the sagas - is combined with the latest archaeological discoveries and the evidence of picture stones, runes, ships and objects scattered all over northern Europe, to make the most convincing modern portrait of the Viking age in any language. The Vikings ranges from Scandinavia itself to Kievan Rus and Byzantium in the east to Iceland, Greenland and the North American settlements in the west. Beyond its geographical boundaries the book takes us on a journey to a misty region inhabited byHallfred the Troublesome Poet, Harald Bluetooth, Ragnar Hairy-Breeches, Ivar the Boneless and Eyvind the Plagiarist, in which literature, history and myth dissolve into one another.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Ferguson (Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun; Henrik Ibsen: A New Biography) offers a comprehensive overview of the Viking age, covering mythology and tradition alongside the many bloody forays Viking warriors made into Europe and the North Atlantic between roughly 790 and 1100 C.E. Although Ferguson often notes how incomplete the source material is, he tells a full and lively story and is transparent about where records or interpretations diverge. The narrative occasionally threatens to get bogged down in a confusion of Olafs, Olavs, and Olofs, but Ferguson keeps the pace up with numerous fascinating tidbits. He describes Viking words still used in modern English, the Viking origins of major British cities, and the dark rituals the community hung onto as Christianity crept into Denmark, Scandinavia, and Iceland, eventually bringing the population into a more peaceful modernity. VERDICT Ferguson has produced a readable and accessible book that will serve as a solid introduction to Viking history, even for those with no previous knowledge of the subject.—Elizabeth Goldman, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.\
Kirkus Reviews
Scandinavian studies scholar Ferguson puts the violence back in the Viking Age in his knotty, dense, intriguing look at these restless voyagers and conquerors. The so-called Viking Age-roughly between 793 CE, with the raid on the island of Lindisfarne, and 1066, with the Battle of Hastings-got under way when the sea-faring Norsemen began their marauding infiltrations of the British Isles and the European continent, venturing as far as Muslim Spain and Constantinople. The motivation for their movement south is sometimes attributed to the overpopulation and scant resources of their Scandinavian homelands, but Ferguson debunks this idea, advancing the case of holy war in retaliation for the slaughter of Saxons by the crusading Christians under Charlemagne. These pagan seaborne raiders were violent, terrifying and merciless, and Ferguson traces their plundering devastation across a vast swath of territory: the Shetland and Orkney islands, where they wiped out the native Picts; Ireland and England, where they established strongholds; Normandy, where the Carolingian rulers appeased them by offering land and fortunes and their leader Rollo eventually converted; across the Baltic into Slavic lands; Seville and the Iberian peninsula; and Iceland and Greenland, with brief treks to Newfoundland. Ferguson notes how the study of place-names reveals the extent to which the Vikings seized control. He looks at Viking culture and pre-Christian beliefs, such as their rich cosmology and myths, skaldic verse, strong sense of communal responsibility, a view to an afterlife evident from burial ceremonies and an ingrained employment of law-the Danelaw. The author also examines King Harald Bluetooth's monumentto his conversion, the pyramidal rune-stone in Jelling, Denmark. Ferguson's scholarly study requires close attention, but the intellectual rewards are plentiful. Provides a significant deepening of our knowledge of the Vikings.
From the Publisher
"Integrating archaeological, genetic, linguistic, and literary information, Ferguson realizes a Viking history bound to satisfy." —-Booklist
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670020799
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/25/2009
  • Pages: 450
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Ferguson began his literary career as a radio dramatist, translating and adapting for radio works by Knut Hamsun and Henrik Ibsen for the BBC. His first literary biography was Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun, which was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Best Biography Award. As well as literary biographies, Ferguson has written two novels, published in Norwegian.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

List of Maps

Introduction 1

1 The Oseberg Ship 9

2 The culture of northern Heathendom 20

3 The causes of the Viking Age 41

4 'The devastation of all the islands of Britain by the Heathens' 58

5 The Vikings in the Carolingian empire 83

6 Across the Baltic 108

7 The Danelaw I: Occupation 132

8 The settlement of Iceland 154

9 Rollo and the Norman colony 174

10 The master-builder: Harald Bluetooth and the Jelling Stone 196

11 The Danelaw II: Assimilation 216

12 When Allah met Odin 245

13 A piece of horse's liver: The pragmatic Christianity of Hakon The Good 263

14 Greenland and North America 280

15 Ragnarok in Iceland 298

16 St Brice, St Alphege and the Wolf: The fall of Anglo-Saxon England 325

17 The Viking saint 348

18 Heathendom's last bastion 364

Notes 383

Index 421

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 9, 2010

    The author knows his subject...

    ...and is writing, it seems, for people who know it as well. I found that this book tended to bounce around a lot in history. Though this is inevitable, it should be kept at a minimum, as constantly doing so makes it hard to place people, events, and developments in relative chronological order (making it difficult to discern cause and effect). Also, the book would occasionally become wrapped up in a particular burial site, ritual, event, source, or historical figure, and the overall history seems to suffer on its behalf. The final shortcoming is the lack of maps. It is hard to understand any history if you don't have a firm grasp on the relevant geography. The contradiction is that one must know the history in order to know what geography is "relevant." Hence, it is best for texts to include ample maps. This one does not do so.

    I found the portions on linguistic interchange and legal foundations very interesting.

    I probably would have enjoyed this book more if I had been more familiar with general Central and Eastern European and British history (and geography), as well as having a broad working knowledge of Scandinavian history. I guess one could say that my dissatisfaction with this book is attributable to my shortcomings as a reader. True, but most people aren't Viking gurus, and so they should steer clear of this book until they have already read a couple of other books about our friends of the north.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 5, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Viking's Allure

    Robert Ferguson has written some excellent biographies. This History of the Vikings has a special place in the many books about the Viking Age. Johannes Brondsted (THE VIKINGS 1960) a compelling compression, Gwyn Jones (A HISTORY OF THE VIKINGS 1984) has literary flair, Else Roesdahl (THE VIKINGS 1998) is a full and fascinating survey. Now, this book by Robert Ferguson has merit and rightly finds its place with the above and other scholars of many disciplines. In this history of the Viking World, every aspect of Viking life is examined. This book is recommended to a broad readership! Dag Stomberg

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The Vikings

    Very informative and full of facts on the Viking culture. It was awesome to be able to read and absorb the chapter of the Viking influence in my native country Latvia. I also found this book in some way to be a bit humorous in my own personal understanding. I bet trying to convert that group back in those days must have felt something like trying to talk to a cave man or something. However, the fact that the author does bounce around between events and time periods, thats what made this book such a drag to read. I think that if it was written in a way where all the events put into this book were somehow in a chronological order, it probably would have been different and better.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2013

    Recommended - for a more accurate understanding of the Vikings and Scandinavian history.

    This book is full of information and insight into Viking culture and I really enjoyed it - particularly as a Norwegian American doing research on my ancestry. Be prepared, however, to wade through segments that are complicated and vacuum-packed with names and dates. You may have to really work at reading this book - as did I - but if you are interested in gaining an understanding of Viking history and times it is well worth it. You will learn much and no doubt find some surprises and even a few laughs. Good (though heavy) read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 22, 2011

    Highly Recommend

    Great book, if a bit dry at times. This is an exciting topic and the book is written in an engaging fashion, although as with any historical treatise, the information can at times be dense and less than exciting. As other reviewers have mentioned, the book skips around a bit in historic dates but i did not find this as problematic as others did. I can't recommend this book highly enough for those who are ready to delve deeper into the history of the people of the Scandinavian region, and the effect they had on the surrounding areas as well as the entire western world at the time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2009

    Very Detailed & BORING!!!!!!

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...


    MADE ME GO TO SLEEP!!!!

    2 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 17, 2010

    excellent

    Engaging history of a fascinating people. Well worth a read if you are at all interested in the Vikings & their culture.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2014

    I am a high school sophomore and I read this book for my researc

    I am a high school sophomore and I read this book for my research project. I didn't enjoy this because I found too long and tedious to read. The facts were not that interesting and it made my brain hurt. I was very excited about learning more about the Viking culture, but this book did nothing to keep my excitement.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 12, 2014

    Great information and insight into not just the vikings but the

    Great information and insight into not just the vikings but the cultures they interacted with. However, its a very confusing read because it follows no sort of chronological order. One paragraph is in the 1200s and the next skips back to the 800s and the next is the 1000s. Its great for a research, but hard to keep up with for a leisurely read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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