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The Vikings: A History

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The Vikings have a kind of dual existence in popular culture, where the Hollywood image of horned helmeted warriors set on rape and pillage has largely been replaced with a less exciting vision of trade and settlement. Robert Ferguson's new interpretation of the Viking Age, whilst rejecting the cliches aims to return some of the violence to the mix. He argues that the Viki The Vikings have a kind of dual existence in popular culture, where the Hollywood image of horned helmeted warriors set on rape and pillage has largely been replaced with a less exciting vision of trade and settlement. Robert Ferguson's new interpretation of the Viking Age, whilst rejecting the cliches aims to return some of the violence to the mix. He argues that the Viking raids were qualitatively different than anything that had gone before precisely because of this violence, and his largely narrative account gives plentiful details of battles and conquest alongside evidence for their more peaceful activities. The thread which runs through the account though is the confrontation between a Heathen Scandinavia and the Christian kingdoms to its south and west, and the processes whereby the Viking kingdoms came to be Christianised.


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The Vikings have a kind of dual existence in popular culture, where the Hollywood image of horned helmeted warriors set on rape and pillage has largely been replaced with a less exciting vision of trade and settlement. Robert Ferguson's new interpretation of the Viking Age, whilst rejecting the cliches aims to return some of the violence to the mix. He argues that the Viki The Vikings have a kind of dual existence in popular culture, where the Hollywood image of horned helmeted warriors set on rape and pillage has largely been replaced with a less exciting vision of trade and settlement. Robert Ferguson's new interpretation of the Viking Age, whilst rejecting the cliches aims to return some of the violence to the mix. He argues that the Viking raids were qualitatively different than anything that had gone before precisely because of this violence, and his largely narrative account gives plentiful details of battles and conquest alongside evidence for their more peaceful activities. The thread which runs through the account though is the confrontation between a Heathen Scandinavia and the Christian kingdoms to its south and west, and the processes whereby the Viking kingdoms came to be Christianised.

30 review for The Vikings: A History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jason Pettus

    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.) Regulars know that I'm a big fan of the so-called "NPR-worthy" history book, in which academic research is combined with a narrative framework and engaging personal style; and for a perfect example of why this deserves a special new term in the first place, look no further than Robert Ferguson's old- (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.) Regulars know that I'm a big fan of the so-called "NPR-worthy" history book, in which academic research is combined with a narrative framework and engaging personal style; and for a perfect example of why this deserves a special new term in the first place, look no further than Robert Ferguson's old-skool history book The Vikings, which admittedly has a kickass cover* but whose interior is as dry as the brittle bones of a New England classics professor. Now, admittedly, this is not entirely Ferguson's fault; as he himself admits in the introduction, a big part of why so little is factually known about the Vikings is that this medieval warrior society was largely a non-literate one, resulting not only in a dearth of written records but with most surviving artifacts being stone pictographs, and therefore open to wildly different interpretations. So to fill his 400-page manuscript, then, Ferguson unfortunately has to rely on the trick that most older history books had to as well -- namely, to concentrate mostly on unending lists of minor battles and fiefdom takeovers that happened in the 300 years of the so-called "Viking Era" (roughly 700 to 1000 A.D.), taking place in an endless series of ancient villages you've never heard of and led by an endless series of chieftains whose names you can't pronounce. This is the way most of our childhood history textbooks were, which is why so many people end up despising the entire subject of history by adulthood; how "NPR-worthy" books differ, and why they've suddenly flowered in popularity among the mainstream public in the last ten years, is that they incorporate sections on the culture of that age too, and the ways that normal average random people back then quietly lived their daily lives, nearly impossible to do here because of there being almost no direct evidence to illuminate us. Although a noble effort, and of course perfect for those who don't mind history books that read like doctoral theses, I found myself bored to tears throughout large sections of this book, and suspect that many others will as well. *Yes, my guilty secret is finally out -- I often pick books based on their covers. I know, as a book critic I should be ashamed of myself for doing this; I know, I know. Out of 10: 7.2

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sarah - All The Book Blog Names Are Taken

    I waited so long to finally get this, and it ended up taking me so long to get through. I skimmed a lot. The author is supremely knowledgeable, but somehow the book is very dry. And this is coming from someone who reads nonfiction almost exclusively. I just couldn’t get into it, which is kind of ridiculous because Vikings are so utterly fascinating. Review to come.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    I found the reviews of this a bit surprising- I guess it is a bit hard to read at times, with all those names flying around, but given that Ferguson was trying to be a responsible historian, there's not much else he could have done. Viking history has to be seen from the outside, because outsiders were the ones who recorded that history for us. Stranger still are the complaints about his use of the word 'heathen,' a product, I can only assume, of peoples' bizarre inability to understand that whe I found the reviews of this a bit surprising- I guess it is a bit hard to read at times, with all those names flying around, but given that Ferguson was trying to be a responsible historian, there's not much else he could have done. Viking history has to be seen from the outside, because outsiders were the ones who recorded that history for us. Stranger still are the complaints about his use of the word 'heathen,' a product, I can only assume, of peoples' bizarre inability to understand that when you're writing about the way something is perceived, you have to use the language of the perceivers. As for the goodreads reviewer who said Ferguson is 'obviously a Christian' who somehow has it in for the Vikings... uh... huh? The central oddity of this book is Ferguson's insistence that 'The Viking Age' of marauding and rapine was a kind of clash of civilizations between Christian and Heathen, in which Charlemagne's violent imposition of the former religion provoked the Scandanavians (who are taken to be not 'primitives', but just as civilized as the nations to their south, east and west) to burn churches and murder priests. It's timely, I guess, but the best evidence he can martial suggests just as much that the Vikes attacked churches because that's where the money was, and murdered priests and nuns to spread terror, which is a pretty sound military strategy. These civilized gentlemen pretty quickly converted to Christianity and assimilated wherever they settled. But note that Ferguson's presentation is perfectly objective; his reading of the archaeological, literary, and dendrochronological evidence, as well as all sorts of other stuff) never overwhelms his presentation of that evidence.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bryn Hammond

    It didn't wean me off my old Gwyn Jones (A History of the Vikings). Still, I liked that he uses Heathen and Heathendom -- in capitals -- to give conceptual equality with Christianity. Also I thought the specific chapter on 'The culture of Northern Heathendom' was great. The next chapter, 'The causes of the Viking age' was even better: he argues that Charlemagne's religious persecution of the Saxons, and his destruction of their most holy world-tree, directly triggered the first attack on Lindisf It didn't wean me off my old Gwyn Jones (A History of the Vikings). Still, I liked that he uses Heathen and Heathendom -- in capitals -- to give conceptual equality with Christianity. Also I thought the specific chapter on 'The culture of Northern Heathendom' was great. The next chapter, 'The causes of the Viking age' was even better: he argues that Charlemagne's religious persecution of the Saxons, and his destruction of their most holy world-tree, directly triggered the first attack on Lindisfarne, as retaliation. In short he interprets the Vikings' attacks on churches as a conscious religious war and an answer to Christian pressures & Christian slaughters. This aspect of the book is important and I say bravo. When he's on general history, though, I yawn (never did in Gwyn Jones), and he has that journalistic habit of yattering about how things were discovered... a priest in the 18th century had trouble with a loose daughter and so dug up a Viking ship... it's meant to 'entertain', but he only has 400 pages -- tell me about the 10th century.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    If you’re looking for a dynamic and riveting history of the Vikings, this isn’t really it — Neil Oliver’s book might be more your speed. It’s quite slow and thorough, covering a lot of ground in terms of both time and space. For me, that wasn’t a bad thing, since I know my medieval history tolerably well and my Viking history better. A better knowledge of geography might have served me well, but I suck at that. From all I know, this is well researched and accurate, and there’s a ton of extra read If you’re looking for a dynamic and riveting history of the Vikings, this isn’t really it — Neil Oliver’s book might be more your speed. It’s quite slow and thorough, covering a lot of ground in terms of both time and space. For me, that wasn’t a bad thing, since I know my medieval history tolerably well and my Viking history better. A better knowledge of geography might have served me well, but I suck at that. From all I know, this is well researched and accurate, and there’s a ton of extra reading and footnoting to back that up. If you’re looking for something to bring the Vikings to life, no, but if you’re looking for something by someone who seems to know everything about the period he can find to cram into a book, then that’s definitely this book. Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ton

    A cultural history of the Viking peoples, about the Viking peoples, their raiding and settlements across Europe, which turns into a “what happened whereabouts” history of the Vikings. Hampered by the lack of written heathen sources (except for poetry, practically all literary sources are by Christian writers), and the author’s tendency to hop about. About the former point, I have to say Ferguson gives a very clearly argued view when evidence from sources falls short, and he is clearly in his elem A cultural history of the Viking peoples, about the Viking peoples, their raiding and settlements across Europe, which turns into a “what happened whereabouts” history of the Vikings. Hampered by the lack of written heathen sources (except for poetry, practically all literary sources are by Christian writers), and the author’s tendency to hop about. About the former point, I have to say Ferguson gives a very clearly argued view when evidence from sources falls short, and he is clearly in his element here. He gives plausible arguments for why he thinks X, Y or Z happened, and also clearly enumerates why he is speculating. He is also upfront about using other people’s theories, and generally credits them with plausible deductions. The latter point is perhaps inevitable with the author’s chosen approach, since the Vikings had settlements as far apart as Iceland, Greenland and Kiev, but it does not help focus. Ferguson takes the chronological approach, which means that he switches between ‘topographical’ subjects when the larger subject matter requires it. This is sometimes confusing, but on the other hand, the separate items are cohesive as separate units. In the end I assume this will depend on the reader, and I had mixed feelings about this approach. This book contains a wealth of anecdotal evidence, the author’s breadth of knowledge is impressive, as are the ‘alternative’ methods of study; there’s archaeology of course, but also carbon-dating and several technologies which I had never heard of (which apparently make it possible to date the colonisation of a certain point of Greenland to the period 980-1020) and ‘circumstantial’ evidence like the use of certain techniques and materials which allow for other conclusions. Ferguson makes these techniques go a long way, and I never felt he was overreaching to enforce his point. The anecdotal evidence really made this book for me. Some tales I had heard before (like the Viking who had to kiss the Frankish king’s foot, but declined and ordered one of his men to do it; that man also didn’t feel like bending, so he toppled the astonished king and kissed his foot while standing up – probably literary invention, but amusing nonetheless), but most were new to me. These give flavour to the narrative and paint a picture of the Viking world, both in the ways the Vikings wanted to see themselves, and in the ways the Christians saw them. This brings us back to the sources: Ferguson is very good in piecing together the different strands of events in different sources, to give us a likely chain of events; whenever this is possible I should say, because most often there isn’t enough evidence to compare. Ferguson goes by ‘what likely happened’, backs it up with circumstantial evidence and only quotes the sources when they really add something substantial. I found that this approach worked really well. It also highlights how much you can apparently glean from other methods, which is something most historians working in, say, Plantagenet history, don’t have to do very often. One concluding note about the sources: Ferguson is also very adept at balancing both the Christian propaganda against the Viking’s view, and vice versa. I feel I should mention this, because it takes a real breadth of knowledge to be able to put these things together. Then again, there are also several incidents where Ferguson explains why we just don’t know something even though it’s clearly mentioned in the sources. For instance, the nickname given to a Swedish king named Olof can apparently mean several things: “His nickname “Sköttkonung probably derives from the fact that his profit from the battle of Svolder in 1000, at which Olaf Tryggvason of Norway was killed, was control over the Bohuslän district, on the eastern side of the Vik, which he ruled as Sven Forkbeard’s tributary king. Other explanations on a stimulating roster of possibilities that depend upon different translations of the first element of his nickname include the ‘sheet-’ or ‘lap-’ king; an interpretation that may suggest a Caesarian birth; the possibility that he spent some time in Scotland; and that, as the first Swedish king to mint coins, he was remembered as ‘the tax-king’.” [371] …And then there is the exotic flavour of the poetic works: Knútsdrápa, Haustlong, ‘Vafthrudnir’s Sayings’; the names of the Viking heroes, each more baffling than the next: Ivar the Boneless, Harald Bluetooth, Klak-Harald, Ganger Rolf; the Viking ‘Thing’ as a collective noun for political and public events; and the fact that apparently classic Russian names as Oleg, Igor and Olga are Rus’ bastardizations of Viking names Helgi, Ingvar en Helga. There are also points of criticism: this book remains an overview; interesting points like the foundation of settlements among the Kiev Rus’ and the Viking presence in Byzantium are mentioned, but then dropped from the narrative (like “King Olof returned to Scandinavia rich after 10 years in the Varangian Guard”). Again, the author has made a certain choice in which subjects to treat and which not, and a narrative of 400 pages simply can’t cover everything in any depth, but I would have liked more exposition on certain subjects. Furthermore, I appreciate the book more than I like it. Goodreads’ rating system is based on how much you like a book, and I’ve decided to give this book 4 stars whereas I would otherwise give it three. As you will gather, the fourth star is for the quality of the research and narrative, which merit more than three stars. It took me some time to finish this book, which says something about how much I liked it. However, three stars would be too meagre for the effort and clarity Ferguson put into this, which is why I feel four stars are merited.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    I thought this was a fantastic scholarly history book on the Vikings. There were a few idiosyncrasies, but basically I thought it was quite readable for a scholarly work of history. It's a lot of information, more than the casual reader will want. And a few chapters do get weighed down by the needs to grapple with complex data. I gave it 4 stars, but that may just refer to the Kindle version. This book has a complex and vast scope, and desperately needs a good timeline and better maps to make th I thought this was a fantastic scholarly history book on the Vikings. There were a few idiosyncrasies, but basically I thought it was quite readable for a scholarly work of history. It's a lot of information, more than the casual reader will want. And a few chapters do get weighed down by the needs to grapple with complex data. I gave it 4 stars, but that may just refer to the Kindle version. This book has a complex and vast scope, and desperately needs a good timeline and better maps to make the data accessible.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jenny T

    This book showed such initial promise, and I was particularly fascinated by the discussion of Viking law; however, I couldn't bring myself to finish it, for three main reasons: 1) The author consistently refers to the Vikings as Heathens. While I don't *believe* he intends this in a negative sense, the word *does* have negative connotations that can not be ignored. 2) The organization was poor and the digressions numerous -- within a page, the author had jumped from the importance of horses in Vik This book showed such initial promise, and I was particularly fascinated by the discussion of Viking law; however, I couldn't bring myself to finish it, for three main reasons: 1) The author consistently refers to the Vikings as Heathens. While I don't *believe* he intends this in a negative sense, the word *does* have negative connotations that can not be ignored. 2) The organization was poor and the digressions numerous -- within a page, the author had jumped from the importance of horses in Viking culture to a description of how ancient Irish kings mated with mares at their coronations. Erm? 3) The author makes some illogical claims. The one that most struck me was his note (page 39) that "Heathen religion was probably never understood systematically even by those who practiced it" and then points out people's belief in personal gods. Correct me if I'm wrong, but those personal gods make up part of their religion. You really can't say that someone doesn't understand their own religion: what they understand *is* their religion. The book appeared well-researched, diligently cited, and doubtless contains some interesting information, but at this point, I'm giving up.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This book is a brilliantly detailed, well researched, a laid out walk through from the earliest stages of the Viking era through to its demise not just at 1066 but in all the countries the Vikings made land fall and settled (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Iceland, Hebrides, Shetland, Greenland, North America, Istanbul and the Mediterranean, Russia etc) and of course their home nations of Scandinavia. The brilliant thing about this book besides it great detail, research, anecdotes and use of a This book is a brilliantly detailed, well researched, a laid out walk through from the earliest stages of the Viking era through to its demise not just at 1066 but in all the countries the Vikings made land fall and settled (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Iceland, Hebrides, Shetland, Greenland, North America, Istanbul and the Mediterranean, Russia etc) and of course their home nations of Scandinavia. The brilliant thing about this book besides it great detail, research, anecdotes and use of archeological evidence and up-to-date findings is how Robert Ferguson examines the mythology and pagan religion of this mighty race of people and how it changed and adapted or in most cases became outlawed and faded away with the oncoming of Christianity. You meet the regular famous characters of this era, Ethelred the Unready, Alfred the Great, Guthrum, Ivar and Cnut etc but you also meet many other great historical power heads of the era not just from Britain but in any country that was invaded by the Vikings and their struggle to defeat and convert them from Marangian Kings to Holy Roman Emperors. If anyone is interested in this era and of the Viking people then this book is for the keen learner and long-term researcher as it is a very long book due to its detail and knowledge but by the end of it you gain a new fascinating indepth insight into the world from so many different points of view.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gerry

    I had a particular expectation when I began the book; however, I was mildly surprised and quite satisfied with the different direction the author took in this book in regards to “A History” of Vikings. The truth and tone of this book is clearly set in the beginning with the introduction – something I very much appreciated as it provided an indication of the journey I was about to undertake. The word “Viking” itself is representative of the condition to which negative connotations can begin with I had a particular expectation when I began the book; however, I was mildly surprised and quite satisfied with the different direction the author took in this book in regards to “A History” of Vikings. The truth and tone of this book is clearly set in the beginning with the introduction – something I very much appreciated as it provided an indication of the journey I was about to undertake. The word “Viking” itself is representative of the condition to which negative connotations can begin with the attempts of the introduction of Christianity to the “heathens” themselves. “Viking” has come down to one of several possibilities of existence and the likely two originations of the word itself can create debate I imagine among historians and linguists alike. Latin vicus or Old Norse verb vikja (???) The author is by far and large a qualified and educated historian – I hope one day to hear him speak on the topic should I be in the right place at the right time. He holds no punches and refers to the term “heathen” as written in historical documents. Modern day 21st century people may likely be offended by this term; however, history as documented during the time is factual. Robert Ferguson informs the reader in the introduction that modern day valid perspectives have swung the pendulum too far and that Vikings were not merely longhaired hippies looking for a good time. They ravaged, pillaged, raped, and murdered their way through many territories of Europe. The Viking Age for the British began at Lindisfarne in 793 AD and according to this author it cleanly ends with the Battle of Hastings in 1066 AD. I take no exception to this historical fact. Some historical interest points I found completely immersed in as I crossed the pages were: War of the 3 Brothers, the Medieval Global Warming known as Little Optimum that occurred from roughly 800 – 1200 AD, King Harold and the Jelling Stone, a thorough attempt in the 20th century to confirm DNA through DNA testing of some current residents of areas of where Vikings ruled for a period of time in Britain – the city of York was one and there were others, and then there was the Little Ice Age. All of these topics have details I won’t go into here in this review as it would be a spoiler for some who wish to read the book. However, the one chapter I had a really tough time getting through (for some reason) was Chapter 11 Danelaw II. This chapter was the one that could not keep my interest nor my attention as I read the pages; I had no issue with the other chapters as there are a total of 18 chapters to this book. Maps: Are near excellent in my opinion and helped me pin point locations of text and descriptions as provided by the author. Photos: Are excellent and give a visual to the overall narrative of the history as described. Notes: Are worthy of additional credit for future reading points and areas of descriptions should one like to review more. The author does an excellent job of expanding where he believes is necessary for the benefit of the reader. This book is not for everyone – it is “A History” with some stories peppered throughout the book. It is linear in form and for me that method worked very well. I came away with some exciting scientific and historical points of fact.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lucy Pollard-Gott

    Ferguson writes about Viking history during the period running from about 800-1200, when raids by sea from the Scandinavian countries affected other parts of northern Europe and even as far as Iberia and Russia. Struggles for kingship in Norway and Denmark are part of the story, as are the moves westward into Iceland and Greenland. This book is fascinating but not an easy read--very dense in historical detail--and it did help that a few of the names were familiar from reading Heimskringla: or, T Ferguson writes about Viking history during the period running from about 800-1200, when raids by sea from the Scandinavian countries affected other parts of northern Europe and even as far as Iberia and Russia. Struggles for kingship in Norway and Denmark are part of the story, as are the moves westward into Iceland and Greenland. This book is fascinating but not an easy read--very dense in historical detail--and it did help that a few of the names were familiar from reading Heimskringla: or, The Lives of the Norse Kings. A familiarity with some of the sagas is helpful too, although reading this makes me want to return to them, perhaps with more understanding. This is not a book about everyday life as a Viking--for that go to the tongue-in-cheek Viking: The Norse Warrior's (Unofficial) Manual. The main strength of this book is the recurrent theme of the interface with Christianity and how the traditional Norse religion gave way as some of the Norse kings were converted and, in turn, insisted (often by force) on their people converting too. These events were contemporary with the early Crusades and offer a more complete picture of Europe in the early Middle Ages. Highly recommended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    John Carter McKnight

    An excellent history of a difficult subject, one where most of the sources are either poets or adversaries. Ferguson's historiography is on display: he's very clear about his source material, the extent to which it might be trusted, and how it cross-checks with a broad range of evidence. I greatly prefer the breadth of his coverage of the entire Viking phenomenon, from Kiev to Vinland, to more provincial accounts, which tend to focus on the English experience. As this does involve some "jumping An excellent history of a difficult subject, one where most of the sources are either poets or adversaries. Ferguson's historiography is on display: he's very clear about his source material, the extent to which it might be trusted, and how it cross-checks with a broad range of evidence. I greatly prefer the breadth of his coverage of the entire Viking phenomenon, from Kiev to Vinland, to more provincial accounts, which tend to focus on the English experience. As this does involve some "jumping around," temporally and geographically, it may be disorienting to some. Ferguson's overarching thesis is that the Viking phenomenon was driven less by population and climate pressures than by a reaction against Christian cultural imperialism after the forced conversions of Charlemagne. It's not the only possible, or by any means sole, explanation, but it makes this book the one I'd been looking for, to provide an explanation of why the Norse converted to a Christianity so alien to their values. The account of the peaceful, elective conversion of the Icelanders in order to maintain social unity is contrasted with the endless back-and-forth butchery of England in particular. I found this a very satisfying book in its scope, transparency of methods, and clarity of thesis. It's not a simple or rip-roaring narrative, for which some of the other reviews here have criticized it: the complexity of the Viking era deserves better than the likes of Neil Oliver's simplistic and parochial entry in the field.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Mishap

    I will give a good review lest the author erect a "shame-pole" taunting my lack of manliness or perhaps become enraged enough to give me the "blood-eagle." Ferguson attempts a comprehensive history of the Viking Age (roughly 790's C.E. to 11 C.E.) as various groups engage in piracy, the slave trade, exploration, and conquering. He separates the chapters by the areas the Viking raiders engaged. While this perspective split keeps us geographically clear, it makes a linear narrative almost impossibl I will give a good review lest the author erect a "shame-pole" taunting my lack of manliness or perhaps become enraged enough to give me the "blood-eagle." Ferguson attempts a comprehensive history of the Viking Age (roughly 790's C.E. to 11 C.E.) as various groups engage in piracy, the slave trade, exploration, and conquering. He separates the chapters by the areas the Viking raiders engaged. While this perspective split keeps us geographically clear, it makes a linear narrative almost impossible--so much so that I wish each page had a Time Read-out along with the page number (you are in the year 970 and Harald Bluetooth has just...). Nonetheless, this was a fascinating and informative look at Northern Heathendom and just how extensive the Vikings foray were--and how much they shaped the coming Middle Ages of Europe, England and Ireland, and Russia (indeed, the very term comes from Swedish area Vikings, the Rus). For anyone interested in European history as well as those who Hold the Heathen Hammer High.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Ferguson's theory is that the Viking Age was less about expansion and "lebensraum" than a culture war between the Odin-ists and the Jesus-ists. I must say, there's ample evidence than can be read either way, the good thing is that he puts it all together in one book like this, which makes for interesting reading, If only you can keep track of the different Olavs, Olofs, Sigurds, Sitgards, Eriks and Leifs, Haakons and Haralds and Harolds! But to say, yes, he does have a point. So do lots of other Ferguson's theory is that the Viking Age was less about expansion and "lebensraum" than a culture war between the Odin-ists and the Jesus-ists. I must say, there's ample evidence than can be read either way, the good thing is that he puts it all together in one book like this, which makes for interesting reading, If only you can keep track of the different Olavs, Olofs, Sigurds, Sitgards, Eriks and Leifs, Haakons and Haralds and Harolds! But to say, yes, he does have a point. So do lots of other people on the other side of his issue. He leaves us go at 1066 saying it is "not" a Viking episode. But for that, he really leaves the Normans short changed. They weren't "real" Vikings , to him, for they settled down and weren't out "viking" at the time. Well, to each their own. It only made me partially Snorri.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lucynell

    Unfortunately we know very little about the Viking Age. Robert Ferguson explains why and goes the extra mile to present us with what we do know and what we can somewhat assume. He draws on numerous literary sources as well as advanced archeological methods and what we do find is impressive, definitely not the monolithic impression i personally had before starting this book. Still, no matter the intention, we know very little and for a casual history reader like myself, this is a bitch to read. U Unfortunately we know very little about the Viking Age. Robert Ferguson explains why and goes the extra mile to present us with what we do know and what we can somewhat assume. He draws on numerous literary sources as well as advanced archeological methods and what we do find is impressive, definitely not the monolithic impression i personally had before starting this book. Still, no matter the intention, we know very little and for a casual history reader like myself, this is a bitch to read. Unfamiliarity with contemporary linguistics and geography, and a messy narrative makes for frustrating reading. I felt lost, and often. But overall, i 'm glad i read this, and i recommend it but i guess one will be better served if already acquainted with the subject.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Toast

    I would have liked it a whole lot more if it wasn't such a struggle to read the small print / font . Why? Don't publishing houses want people to read the books they publish? Especially with a subject like this where names are often repeated, there is much confusion over location / name / spelling to deal with such petty issues as small font or paper saving measures its frankly insulting to the scholarly undertaking of an academic of RF's level. Shame on you Penguin, I thought better of you. Toast I would have liked it a whole lot more if it wasn't such a struggle to read the small print / font . Why? Don't publishing houses want people to read the books they publish? Especially with a subject like this where names are often repeated, there is much confusion over location / name / spelling to deal with such petty issues as small font or paper saving measures its frankly insulting to the scholarly undertaking of an academic of RF's level. Shame on you Penguin, I thought better of you. Toast

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ana

    Brilliant book, loved it! It's well researched, full of information, covers absolutely everything one might want to know about the so called Viking Age, with the author staying objective throughout. Admittedly, it's so dense that it requires a lot of focus when reading it. There's a great deal of kings and battles and places to keep track of, so it might be hard to follow. Not something you'll just casually read on the bus. As much as I loved it, I can understand why someone would think it to be Brilliant book, loved it! It's well researched, full of information, covers absolutely everything one might want to know about the so called Viking Age, with the author staying objective throughout. Admittedly, it's so dense that it requires a lot of focus when reading it. There's a great deal of kings and battles and places to keep track of, so it might be hard to follow. Not something you'll just casually read on the bus. As much as I loved it, I can understand why someone would think it to be dry and boring. It's not really a book for the casual reader with a mild interest in the subject, it's a proper scholarly work with thoroughness and objectivity being it's main agenda, rather than entertainment. But if you're willing to put up with the enormous amount of detail, or you're even excited about it, it's the right book for you!

  18. 4 out of 5

    James

    I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the format. I look forward to more books via Audible & even to listening to this one again, as I feel there may have been some learning curve type issues of getting used to using this format. As far as keeping up with books desired to be read, while having no focused time to read them, this allows for a busy adult to still enjoy content. I think i may enjoy the voice of other "readers" more in the furture, but as far as content, Ferguson's book covered alot of groun I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the format. I look forward to more books via Audible & even to listening to this one again, as I feel there may have been some learning curve type issues of getting used to using this format. As far as keeping up with books desired to be read, while having no focused time to read them, this allows for a busy adult to still enjoy content. I think i may enjoy the voice of other "readers" more in the furture, but as far as content, Ferguson's book covered alot of ground and went into detail nicely. I look forward to listening to it again! Except I now have a full cue of books I want to get to next!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Caro

    A more academic tome than Oliver's chatty introduction, Vikings, but with some good additional detail (okay, sometimes too much). Ferguson arranges his narrative geographically, which means that the same names come up repeatedly in different chapters and at different dates. A timeline and list of characters, plus more maps, would have helped me. I am still astonished that the Vikings penetrated as far as Russia, Spain and North Africa. A more academic tome than Oliver's chatty introduction, Vikings, but with some good additional detail (okay, sometimes too much). Ferguson arranges his narrative geographically, which means that the same names come up repeatedly in different chapters and at different dates. A timeline and list of characters, plus more maps, would have helped me. I am still astonished that the Vikings penetrated as far as Russia, Spain and North Africa.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Max

    This is a history book. It is not a novel so I will tell a bit more of the "story" than usual. "Guns don't kill people .. people kill people". Who pulled the Viking trigger? Vikings killed lots of people but were they the merely the Guns. Well thats a bit obtuse. This is a history book about the Vikings based on more recent findings.In Viking history books the major question that is always raised but never plausibly answered, in the past, is "Why did the vikings start suddenly in 793 AD to raid This is a history book. It is not a novel so I will tell a bit more of the "story" than usual. "Guns don't kill people .. people kill people". Who pulled the Viking trigger? Vikings killed lots of people but were they the merely the Guns. Well thats a bit obtuse. This is a history book about the Vikings based on more recent findings.In Viking history books the major question that is always raised but never plausibly answered, in the past, is "Why did the vikings start suddenly in 793 AD to raid the European coast." They were assumed to be strangers out of the mist. This book proposes a new train of logic. 1.The traditional arch villain, the Catholic church, put pressure on the christian kings to convert their barbarian minions. 2.Charlemagne wanted to have the church as an ally as he took over surrounding lands so he forcibly converted every people he conquered. The Saxons of what is now the Netherlands, Denmark and Northwest Germany were among his most brutal conquests. Charlemagne forcibly baptized some thousands (4000 I think) then immediately beheaded them. Think of it as Charlemagne's "solution to the barbarian problem'. 3. The Saxons were trading partners of the vikings. As such they vikings learned of the Christian approach to assimilation. Many Saxons became refugees in Viking lands. .. and / or slaves to the vikings as they fled north. 4. Communications among the widely spread out scandinavian lands was greater than normal for the time because of trading ships. News travels fast and wide to Norway, Sweden and of course their neigbors the Danes. The language of the scandinavians was more or less the same and very close to the west Saxons. 5. There is now evidence that the Wends (They didn't become Vikings until they started raiding Christian Churches) were peaceful traders with their Anglo saxon cousins in Britain for more than 200 years previously. The 'Vikings' were no strangers to the Britons but the were new to the increasingly agressive Latin church blossoming in Britain (forcibly converting barbarians there too). 6. The scene was set by 30 years of forcible conversions. Lindesfarne (the first reported viking attack in 793) may have been the result of a trading mission gone wrong further south when overly fanatic priests reacted to the hammer worshipping barbarians trading in christian parishes. Great History book. Well Recommended. Like all History books .. the joy is in the details and the connections made.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kurt Garfield

    I was very excited to read this book. Growing up I had read plenty about the Vikings by proxy but I never read a full fledged book about them. Ferguson goes through a lot of effort to provide a very comprehensive and well-researched account on the Viking Age. The book was full of interesting details and attention to their sources. My main issue with the book is that it was not the most well organized non-fiction book. Each chapter felt like one long diatribe sprinkled with the interesting cultur I was very excited to read this book. Growing up I had read plenty about the Vikings by proxy but I never read a full fledged book about them. Ferguson goes through a lot of effort to provide a very comprehensive and well-researched account on the Viking Age. The book was full of interesting details and attention to their sources. My main issue with the book is that it was not the most well organized non-fiction book. Each chapter felt like one long diatribe sprinkled with the interesting cultural details that would have made the book more interesting read. For instance, discussions of culture, religion, and politics, such as the Thing, were discussed more as an afterthought than a main focus. If these topics were discussed in more detail on their own as they were presented, it would’ve added much to the book. Instead, Ferguson wold often drop in topics and make the assumption that readers already had a previous knowledge. Often times the narrative was way down by discussion of small chieftains and local struggles. I do bot want to be too harsh on the book as I realize that working with the primary sources on Viking Age topics is difficult and limited. Some chapters such as the Settlement of Iceland were truly fascinating. Anyone looking for a comprehensive and well researched books, the Vikings provides plenty of details.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alex Telander

    There have been many books written on the Vikings, and everyone has their own stereotypical – and in most cases, inaccurate – idea of who the Vikings were and what they were like; media has done much to reaffirm these clichés. Thankfully, there is The Vikings: A History by a “leading authority in the field of Scandinavian studies,” Robert Ferguson. Ferguson puts all the misconceived and incorrect notions of Vikings to rest, launching into a comprehensive history of these northern peoples and wha There have been many books written on the Vikings, and everyone has their own stereotypical – and in most cases, inaccurate – idea of who the Vikings were and what they were like; media has done much to reaffirm these clichés. Thankfully, there is The Vikings: A History by a “leading authority in the field of Scandinavian studies,” Robert Ferguson. Ferguson puts all the misconceived and incorrect notions of Vikings to rest, launching into a comprehensive history of these northern peoples and what affect they had on Europe from the eighth centuries on through the first millennium. Ferguson pulls from many sources, and presents not just the viewpoint of the Vikings and their achievements, but also short histories on the northern British Isles, Charlemagne, and the various kingdoms of the European continent, showing how greatly affected they were by the Viking attacks and takeovers. The Vikings: A History will clear away the image of a horn-helmeted brute and replace it with a developed, complex culture that was intelligent and creative, and had reasons for the attacks against the various peoples of Europe. For more book reviews and exclusive author interviews, go to BookBanter.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Graeme

    I couldn't finish this. I persevered for quite some time and was only about 80 pages from the end, but I put it down and just could not bring myself to pick it up again. It's incredibly densely written, with a huge amount of information flung at the reader, which makes following a narrative or argument difficult. The focus jumps around geographically and temporally, even within chapters at times, and I found that I frequently could not follow what the author was trying to say at all. Additionall I couldn't finish this. I persevered for quite some time and was only about 80 pages from the end, but I put it down and just could not bring myself to pick it up again. It's incredibly densely written, with a huge amount of information flung at the reader, which makes following a narrative or argument difficult. The focus jumps around geographically and temporally, even within chapters at times, and I found that I frequently could not follow what the author was trying to say at all. Additionally, while the framing of the book was admittedly a religious one, I found the frequent references to 'Heathenism' as some sort of monthetic cultural grouping pretty jarring and not desperately helpful. Add in to that a not particularly sophisticated implementation of the minimal archaeological material brought in, and you have really quite a disappointing book. This had been on my shelf for years and now it turns out it wasn't really worth the wait!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Ferguson is very clearly Christian and he is unable to look at things objectively because of this. In the space of a page he tells us that the destruction of 'heathendom' in Iceland was a good thing and then because Christianity does not allow for the more egalitarian political system of the allthing Iceland breaks out in civil war over who should be the new supreme ruler and it gets so bad that the Icelanders give themselves up to Norway. Sounds totally worth it. It really impedes the reading o Ferguson is very clearly Christian and he is unable to look at things objectively because of this. In the space of a page he tells us that the destruction of 'heathendom' in Iceland was a good thing and then because Christianity does not allow for the more egalitarian political system of the allthing Iceland breaks out in civil war over who should be the new supreme ruler and it gets so bad that the Icelanders give themselves up to Norway. Sounds totally worth it. It really impedes the reading of the book. He shouldn't be making judgement calls like that at all if we are supposed to take this book seriously.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mary Alice

    This book is poorly written, and at times impossible to understand. It assumes one knows the geography of Europe during the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries. Sure, there are plenty of maps, but not all the places mentioned are on the maps. Every so often there is a good story, but many parts of the books are endless lists of forgotten places, peoples and things with little explanation. It's really hard to keep track of the characters. This book is poorly written, and at times impossible to understand. It assumes one knows the geography of Europe during the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries. Sure, there are plenty of maps, but not all the places mentioned are on the maps. Every so often there is a good story, but many parts of the books are endless lists of forgotten places, peoples and things with little explanation. It's really hard to keep track of the characters.

  26. 5 out of 5

    David Greco

    Sorry. I tried but just couldn't make it through this. As one reviewer said, "how can someone make something so interesting so boring." The author seemed to randomly move from topic to topic with no narrative thread and no overall theme as to what he was trying to say. Sorry. I tried but just couldn't make it through this. As one reviewer said, "how can someone make something so interesting so boring." The author seemed to randomly move from topic to topic with no narrative thread and no overall theme as to what he was trying to say.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Solid overview of Viking history and its transformation from bands of raiders to established Christian kingdoms. Covers a lot of ground - and does an admirable job mixing in known history, Icelandic sagas and archaeological evidence to tell the story.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Otempora

    The back-cover blurb for The Vikings promises a history that is "comprehensive and thrilling," and it's certainly right about the first part. This is a survey of the roughly three-hundred-years long Viking Age, defined as the period in which pagan Scandinavians raided other parts of Europe for gold and glory. There's a lot to cover in three hundred years, and of course the Vikings were not a monolith; the chapters are structured episodically, moving between parts of the world as the chronology m The back-cover blurb for The Vikings promises a history that is "comprehensive and thrilling," and it's certainly right about the first part. This is a survey of the roughly three-hundred-years long Viking Age, defined as the period in which pagan Scandinavians raided other parts of Europe for gold and glory. There's a lot to cover in three hundred years, and of course the Vikings were not a monolith; the chapters are structured episodically, moving between parts of the world as the chronology marches onward, until finally all of Northern Europe is Christianized, monarchized, and has for the most part chilled tf out on the raiding thing. This is very much a starter course to the period and the culture, and it serves that role well. "Thrilling," though, is a stretch. I don't say that to rag on the author. Ferguson is an academic, and he's writing academic history, and if this account were more exciting to read then I'd be more suspicious of its veracity. The fact is, very little is known about the Vikings. They could write, but by and large they didn't, other than brief inscriptions. Our knowledge about them comes on the one hand from contemporary, non-Scandinavian Christian and Muslim sources, and on the other hand from Scandinavian histories and folklore collections written hundreds of years after the region's conversion to Christianity. Both of these, obviously, have to be taken with grains of salt. Ferguson is cautious about his sources, largely refraining from speculation. Combined with the survey-style emphasis on political and military history, the result is a narrative that often boils down to a slew of names and battles. There are still characters that stand out, events that capture the imagination, and delicious slivers of cultural history. And through all the dry patches, Ferguson manages to maintain a sense of overarching narrative that keeps you turning the pages, curious to know the next development. Now that I've finished The Vikings, I want to find other books that focus more on Viking literature and culture, and to read some of the sagas for more color; but this book provides essential, and reliable, context, and for that reason I'd recommend it to anyone who's interested in both the Vikings and in somewhat more "serious" history.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dustin Lovell

    As the title implies, Robert Ferguson's The Hammer and the Cross tracks the earliest interactions of Scandinavian and Danish vikings with the usually Christian post-Roman Europe. Following events from the 8th century attack on the Lindisfarne monastery in what would become NE England to the founding of Normandy in NW France, from viking expeditions to Spain and northern Africa to their establishment as the Varingian Guard in Kiev, Ferguson shows how the vikings shaped much of what became medieva As the title implies, Robert Ferguson's The Hammer and the Cross tracks the earliest interactions of Scandinavian and Danish vikings with the usually Christian post-Roman Europe. Following events from the 8th century attack on the Lindisfarne monastery in what would become NE England to the founding of Normandy in NW France, from viking expeditions to Spain and northern Africa to their establishment as the Varingian Guard in Kiev, Ferguson shows how the vikings shaped much of what became medieval and Renaissance Europe. Presenting viking paganism and post-Roman Christianity in a cultural, often political, back-and-forth, Ferguson follows the eventual acceptance (and often full embrace) of Christianity by viking leaders from Denmark to Norway to Sweden. Taking the perspective that such oral cultures--usually written of by both antagonistic and, more often than not, sympathetic Christian writers--often carry more myth in their history than literal event. While he seeks to cut through the exaggerated stories of viking legends to describe the real men and women in them, Ferguson nonetheless sees a poetic value and usefulness in such legends, and he by no means attempts to reduce the size such figures have in the stories, then or now. I had some idea of the influence the vikings had on European history, but I did not know that influence was so extensive and, after reading Ferguson's book, so visible. One cannot study medieval history without studying the vikings, and whether one is a history buff or merely a fan of "Vikings" the show (which, though taking liberties with time and interpretation, ends up being quite based in the culture's history and key figures over the centuries), Ferguson's The Hammer and the Cross is an excellent read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jadelyn

    Ferguson takes the reader on a long boat journey among Scandinavian peoples and all those around them that makes you rethink national identity and ancestry. "Who do you think you are?" most people would not answer Viking and yet historical data that Ferguson lays out writes a different answer. Perhaps there is a little Viking in all of us. The time period during which the pirate nations pillaged and conquered was only a few hundred years in Scandinavian history and linked them to peoples in ever Ferguson takes the reader on a long boat journey among Scandinavian peoples and all those around them that makes you rethink national identity and ancestry. "Who do you think you are?" most people would not answer Viking and yet historical data that Ferguson lays out writes a different answer. Perhaps there is a little Viking in all of us. The time period during which the pirate nations pillaged and conquered was only a few hundred years in Scandinavian history and linked them to peoples in every direction--as if they were a central point of the known world and beyond. The records of other peoples and what they left behind in their graves and markers string evidence of their polytheistic culture in the midst of Christian expansion. Viking raids may have more about fighting back Christian invaders than seeking new lands to put her peoples on. The Viking booty included more than precious metals and gems. They were a central slave trade, removing people they conquered and selling them in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Baltic and Mediterranean regions. Ferguson even discusses DNA evidence of modern residents throughout this area.

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