As modern heathens, it is our duty to challenge ourselves to make sure we have as solid an understanding of the people and culture’s, who’s religions we thrive to live. But how much of our
understanding is not based so much on fact as it is someone else’s theories and suppositions? Where can we look to find what is actually known as it is presented to us, versus speculation? In the case of the people of Scandinavia during the late heathen period, one of the simplest answers is “Eric Christiansen”. The Norsemen in the Viking Age is one of the absolute best overviews out there regarding the Norse people during the age we have come to dub “The Viking Age”. There are no flowery theories. No rehashing the same arguments again and again. This book is simply a well of facts and information.
Christiansen draws from archeology, literature, and even anthropology, and does something with it that most other historians do not. He presents the information we have as it is. He presents
sketches of the Nordic people that are framed less firmly than usual, because he does not rely on theorizing or attempts at explanations. He also shoots down wildly popular ones which still exist with the justification that “These fantasies have sucked blood from anthropology and still walk upright, independent of evidence.” He dismantles the romanticized vision we have of the idealized roving Viking warrior, explains how that vision even came to exist and replaces it with what we actually know. He then proceeds to continue this process throughout each and every aspect of Norse life. The first five chapters are mainly descriptive. They survey the geography and ecology, but more importantly the social conventions and self awareness of individuals and groups insofar as they are revealed in contemporary sources. This presents depictions of the worldview of these people in regards to topics such as poetry, custom, age, outlawry, marriage, birth-control, suicide, homosexuality etc. Chapters 6 through 9 cover the major topics of politics, war, work, and emigration. He concludes with an investigation into the concepts of past, present, and future with the Norsemen. Religion and the role it played in their lives, is found throughout the entire book and is not given its own section because it simply was not separable from the other aspects. He concludes by giving an overview of some of the old and new schools of approach to the field of Old Nordic History.
The Norsemen in the Viking Age can get a little dry at times, and sometimes it feels a little piecemeal. I pin this on the fact that Christiansen is avoiding flowering it up with exciting, connective
theories that only harm any attempts at obtaining a true understanding of what we really know about the Norsemen. He never really goes as deep as is possible in each topic, which only makes sense in a 300 page book that covers every aspect of Norse life. Forget those all too available books on “The Vikings” and pick this one up. It will shatter your preconceived notions and make you realize how wrong you were the Norsemen.