The new orthodoxy about Vikings downplays the rape and pillaging, the terror of sighting longships skimming up the river, and the ruin of the most learned culture of eighth-century Europe in the destruction of Northumbria. The new Vikings are merchants, settlers and poets, founding the Viking towns of York and Dublin, composing poetry about campaigns in the British Isles – some even fighting for the English king against Irish Viking interlopers – and carving stone monuments that bring together pagan and Christian motifs in theologically interesting ways. In his new and comprehensive history of the Vikings, the Norway-based writer Robert Ferguson explores Scandinavian deeds, from scratching runic graffiti high up in the Cathedral of St Sophia in Istanbul to constructing distinctively Norse longhouses on the west coast of Labrador. Defining Viking as broadly as possible, Ferguson regards the pre-Christian populations of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland, the Norse colonies of Greenland, and the temporary settlement in North America as ‘Viking’, even though most of these people were peaceable stay-at-home peasants who left the foreign adventuring to others.
Framing his definition so broadly enables Ferguson to narrate the internal history of the Scandinavian countries as they move towards conversion to Christianity and a unified national polity under a single Christian king – from ‘Gang-Leader to the Lord’s Anointed’, as Norwegian historian Sverre Bagge frames the transformation.