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 monument to 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.