Archive for the 'Norse and Newsworthy' Category

Odin at Lejre?


This Viking-Age figurine has already provoked quite a lot of interest on the net. Jonas Wellendorf brought it to my attention on norrø; it’s also been discussed in posts at Norse and Viking Ramblings and The Viking Rune. But is it really Odin, as people have already claimed?

Roskilde Museum is confident that this 2cm-high silver artifact represents Odin on his throne with his two ravens. It was found at Lejre, although not as part of the main excavations there.

It now probably won’t be long before the hall-complex at Lejre is claimed to be the prototype for Valhalla as well as for Beowulf‘s Heorot … but how convincing do you find the identification with Odin? Do you have an alternative explanation for this intriguing little icon? Do you agree with Martin Rundkvist that it’s in fact a female figure–Freyja perhaps? Let the speculation begin!

Norse and Newsworthy

A couple of quick links to recent Norse-related stories from the international press:

1. The Vikings: it wasn’t all raping and pillaging
From The Independent (UK) — quite a long feature in connection with last weekend’s Cambridge conference ‘Between The Islands’ (which I hear was a great success). The Vikings: Raiders or Traders? issue is revisited.

[Update: The Cambridge publicity machine was obviously in full swing over this conference. Medieval News also notes pieces on the conference in The TelegraphRampaging hordes — or darlings of the Dark Ages? — and The AustralianHistorical rethink portrays Vikings as model migrants.]

2. Review of Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America (2007)
From The New York Times — A review of an intriguing-sounding new independent film about the Norse presence in America: featuring dialogue in Old Norse, no less! It hasn’t been widely released yet, but if any North American readers get a chance to see it, Old Norse News would love to do a review.

Viking Swords — The Afghan Connection(?)

As reported by The Register, Viking-Age metalurgical techniques were imported to the Baltic region from the Middle East. Analysis by scientists at the British National Physical Laboratory suggests that steel for sword-making may have been produced using methods imported along Viking trade routes through Russia:

The results showed that the swords were made of imperfectly melted steel – consisting of a mixture of iron and carbonaceous materials heated together to give high-carbon steel. NPL’s results match descriptions of ancient sword making in Herat (now in Afghanistan) described by ninth century Arab philosopher and writer Al-Kindi. This links to a known Viking trade route down the Volga and across the Caspian Sea to Iran … until now it was not known that Vikings had brought crucible steel back to Scandinavia and integrated ancient Arab steelmaking methods with their own swordsmithing.

I’d be interested to know if any archaeologically-minded readers have opnions on this story. While the discovery of more details about Viking-Age steel making is certainly interesting, I can see some methodological problems with making the leap to this proposed route of transmission for the technology.

The Song of Hilde

I’ve been asked to pass on details of a new Norse-themed play by Roland Lloyd Parry, which will premiere in London in the New Year. What’s more, readers can get tickets at the reduced price of £8 (normally £10) simply by mentioning the site when booking.


The Evangeline Stage Group bring us a splendid start to the New Year! Written by Roland Lloyd Parry, Performed by Christopher Tully, and Produced and Directed by Sarah Forbey, “The Song Of Hilde” is a bloody, bawdy, tender tale of Vikings invading Yorkshire – perfect for cosy nights of story telling in darkest winter.

Hear how Vikings storm the English town of Whitby and how a young nun, Hilde, charms a Viking warrior to protect her until her lost lover returns……A heroic tale of love and sacrifice amid the slaughter.

Baron’s Court Theatre, London Thursday 15 January – Saturday 17 January only (8 p.m.)

Tickets and further details

More on the Vikings and Icelandic Entrepreneurship

Further to our recent discussion of comparisons between the ‘New Vikings’ of the Icelandic economic boom and their medieval counterparts, I discovered that the Reykjavík Grapevine has published — entirely mischievously — the text of a speech given by former president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson in 2005. Ólafur comes right out and attributes some of the Icelanders’ success in business to their Viking character:

Eighth on my list [of factors explaining this success] is the heritage of discovery and exploration, fostered by the medieval Viking sagas that have been told and retold to every Icelandic child. This is a tradition that gives honour to those who venture into unknown lands, who dare to journey to foreign fields, interpreting modern business ventures as an extension of the Viking spirit, applauding the successful entrepreneurs as heirs of this proud tradition.

Ninth is the importance of personal reputation. This is partly rooted in the medieval Edda poems which emphasise that our wealth might wither away but our reputation will stay with us forever. Every Icelandic entrepreneur knows that success or failure will reflect not only on his or her own reputation but also on the reputation of the nation. They therefore see themselves as representatives of a proud people and know that their performance will determine their reputation for decades or centuries to come.

It’s easy to be wise after the fact, but in the light of recent events one wishes that somebody in Iceland had had the prescience of Njáll in these matters: when Ólafur Ragnar concluded by saying ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’, he clearly hadn’t. Perhaps Hávamál 75 is the verse we should remember in the current climate:

Even a man who knows nothing
Knows that many are fooled by money;
One man is rich, another is not rich,
He should not be blamed for that.

Or, even better, the second half of stanza 78:

Wealth is like the twinkling of an eye,
It is the most unreliable of friends.

(Translations: Larrington)

Norse and Newsworthy

(An occasional feature devoted to our subject’s appearances in the mainstream media, and what becomes of it out in the wider world…)

Iceland has been in the news plenty recently, but only for rather gloomy reasons. You can revisit the old clichés (perpetuated by the new Icelanders themselves, it has to be said) about Icelandic entrepreneurs being the embodiment of the ‘Viking spirit’ in this BBC article from 2006: The Vikings are coming. Or you can wonder, as you read an article like The party’s over for Iceland, the island that tried to buy the world (Guardian), whether the methods of the original Vikings (unsubtle though they seemed to some) weren’t preferable to the activities of some of their descendants. The hedge-fund has turned out to be a less effective weapon than fire and the sword for subjugating the rest of Europe.

That digression into macro-economics put swiftly aside, it was rather nice to see, also on the Guardian’s site, an article asking whether the Sagas of Icelanders are not Europe’s most important book. The use of the singular in the title seems odd, but the author, Ben Myers, seems to think that we may view the whole corpus as a single unified literary entity. It’s a position I think I’d have trouble defending, but it’s good to see the sagas even being discussed in such a forum.

If you’ve been frustrated by the meagre results that you get when you type “Egill Skallagrímsson” + “Eminem” into Google, help is at hand. The March 2008 issue of The Journal of Popular Culture (not something that I’d normally include in our Journal Round-Ups, necessarily) has an article by Brian Anse Patrick of the University of Michigan, which rejoices in the title ‘Vikings and Rappers: The Icelandic Sagas Hip-Hop across 8 Mile’ (subscription possibly needed to read the whole thing). I just thought you might like to know.