The image of the Viking warrior has long been a source of (sometimes guilty) fascination. Victorian intellectuals were eager to see in the Vikings a specifically northern inspiration for British industrial, scientific and imperial advances. In the 20th century, however, despite continuing enthusiasm for Viking machismo in popular culture, many scholars, drawing on early medieval Christian commentaries, have tended to take a dimmer view. The bad press the Vikings received was not helped by the claims of the Nazis to be the herrenvolk inheritors of Old Northern values and mettle. A more balanced view, one that found deeper historical forces at work behind the sudden surge of violence from Scandinavia that began in the late eighth century, did not emerge until 1968 with Gwyn Jones’s masterly A History of the Vikings.
Yet, however one might choose to see the Vikings, 2014 looks like being a bumper year for enthusiasts. This month the British Museum is staging a major exhibition entitled ‘Vikings: Life and Legend’ and, as the cover blurb on Philip Parker’s