Williams, Gareth, et al. Vikings: Life and Legend.

Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014.

This very lavishly illustrated large-format volume was published for the international public exhibition of the same name put together by the British Museum, the National Museum of Denmark, and the Berlin State Museum. It was the first such exhibition in more than three decades, which gave the organizers the opportunity to show off a great many recent finds from many parts of Europe and the Near East (the Vikings got around) and to propose various refinements in interpretation.

The centerpiece was “Roskild 6,” the longest Norse warship yet excavated (though not that much of it actually survived above the keel), which was mounted in such a way that it could be broken down and easily transported to the next display venue.

Because it’s a companion to a visual event, the natural emphasis is on material culture, though the objects on display, which include a great many weapons and a great deal of jewelry of one kind and another, is often used to exemplify Scandinavian religion, social structure, politics, and the warrior ethos. Also, because of the intended audience for the exhibition, the book doesn’t try to move beyond a broad survey of the period 850-1050 AD, though the geographical reach is considerable. There are five broad sections (each by a different specialist), on trade and cultural contact, warfare and military expansion, political power and the aristocracy, beliefs and ritual, and the ships that were essential in making the Vikings what they were.

The photography is of very high quality, though, so even the experienced student of the period, who is unlikely to learn much that’s new, will nevertheless drool over the pictures, all of them in color. And they do provide an extensive bibliography.


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