The writer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for AD 793 turned his attention to ominous portents recently spotted in the skies over Northumbria, describing ‘immense whirlwinds and flashes of lightning, and fiery dragons’. Almost as an afterthought, the chronicler added: ‘on 8 June, the ravages of heathen men miserably destroyed God’s church on Lindisfarne with plunder and slaughter’. Thus he recorded the arrival of the small fleet of foreigners who carried out the first Viking raid, ushering in a 250-year-long storm of violence against vulnerable coastal communities and an influx of Scandinavian raiders, traders and migrants who fanned out across northwestern Europe, the North Atlantic and as far east as Russia.
Although the last year has not seen any reports of fire-breathing lizards in the northeast, a veritable flotilla of works about the Vikings has landed in bookshops, many of them associated with the recent ‘Vikings: Life and Legend’ exhibition at the British Museum. The latest offering, The Age of the