"Never before has such a terror appeared in Britain" - Alcuin of York
Vikings epitomize terror - bloodthirsty raiders who, some thousand years ago, looted and pillaged their way across significant swaths of Europe, the sight of their approaching sails on the horizon one of the most chilling in history.
This is the classic - and somewhat clichéd - image of the Vikings, and their fearsome reputation was in many respects well deserved, the Norse sagas charting their deeds in all their lurid glory. But over the past century, thanks to a wealth of new archaeological evidence, a much more nuanced picture of the Vikings has emerged, providing profound insights into one of the most astonishing, misunderstood, and adaptable of European civilizations.
Vikings are now recognized not just as "wolves among sheep": brutal warriors and pirates who seized treasures and land and annihilated those who dared to stand in their path. They were also skilled and innovative traders, explorers, settlers, craftsmen, entrepreneurs, shipbuilders, and poets whose activities brought them into what may well have been peaceable and constructive contact with various races across Europe and beyond.
Through their sometimes disruptive activities, they had a profound influence on European history, interacting with numerous other cultures across an area embracing four continents - from Greenland to the Mediterranean and North Africa, and from North America to the Middle East and beyond. And just as the Vikings impacted on these peoples and their culture, the Vikings themselves absorbed foreign influences and customs into their own civilization.
The Vikings were essentially a maritime society and some of the most skilled boat builders in history, but what precisely drove them to leave their Scandinavian homelands and strike out on long and dangerous sea voyages in search of a new life and fresh opportunities? What areas did they settle in or colonize - and why? Who were their leaders, villains, and heroes? Who were the great historical leaders who dared to oppose them? How did they live, dress, eat, play, fight, and die? Which pagan gods did they worship - and why did they convert to Christianity? Why did the Viking age come to an end? And what is their legacy?
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