Dark Ages expert Haywood (Viking: The Norse Warrior's (Unofficial) Manual, 2013, etc.) sets out to chronicle the history of the Vikings, “an unprecedented phenomenon in European history…for the vast expanse of their horizons.”
The sagas were no doubt based on some facts, but many of the names belonged to the shadowy area between legend and history, and many of the cultures were illiterate. While the Viking Age is generally accepted to have run from the sack of Lindisfarne in 793 to the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, the author asserts that they were actively raiding in Scandinavia and the Baltic more than a century earlier. Haywood’s lucid explanations of the cultures of the Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians are vital to understanding the motivations for their movements. Their shallow draft boats allowed for speed—to quickly raid or escape from defenders and move to another victim. The Vikings were generally loyal to no one and happily accepted Christianity (with no intention of forsaking their pagan ways) and fought with locals against other raiders. For the most part, they were seeking booty and had no desire to settle, though that changed with different sectors. Their influence in Ireland, England, and France was absorbed into local cultures. Only in the Faroe Islands and Iceland, where little civilization existed, did Viking heritage remain. In Scotland’s northern isles, they effectively eliminated the Picts, and their influence there lasted longer than even in Scandinavia. Where the Danes sailed in sight of land to Ireland, England, Europe, and Asia, the Norwegians incorporated the use of the pole star, sea birds, ice floes, clouds, and whale migrations. Haywood authoritatively explores it all in a densely informative narrative.
An encyclopedic history of Scandinavia, her raiders, and the effect they had on world cultures—not necessarily a tale to curl up with next to a fire but certainly a sturdy reference book.