Vikings: Life and Legend follows the sometimes-brutal expansion of the Norse tribes from the late 8th century to the early 1100s. Their bloodthirsty attitude saw them travel to four continents to trade or pilfer. What that means is that they left a host of treasure for us to explore including weapons, coins, jewellery, art and a gold scoop used to remove earwax.
The centrepiece is the reconstruction of the longest known Viking ship – Roskilde 6. The warship, featuring the surviving timbers, measures 37m and could comfortably fit over 100 marauding attackers.
A skull shows how some Vikings would file their teeth to look more terrifying. The impressive compendium of items aims to debunk some myths too – the teeth may have been sharp but the helmets were not horned.
Starting in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, the journey of the Vikings moves as far as Byzantium, Central Asia and even North America where they began trade in amber, gold, whalebone, fur and slaves. All these cultures inevitably influenced Viking life – as can be observed in the collection of artefacts.
Hosted at the new Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, it is the first Viking-based exhibition at the British Museum for over 30 years. Vikings: Life and Legend runs until 22 June.
The Northmen’s Fury
If your interest in the Norse raiders is piqued, you could pick up a copy of The Northmen’s Fury: A History of the Viking World by Philip Parker.
Recounting the growth of Viking influence, Parker examines how it wasn’t just their ruthlessness in battle that made them a dominant power in the Dark Ages. They were fierce warriors but they enjoyed poetry as well and started valuable trading from Asia to the North Atlantic.
When Viking longships were first seen off the coast of Britain, they were aimed for the island monastery of Lindisfarne. Raids became so regular and ruthless, it is claimed, that the monks prayed for the end of the ‘Northmen’s fury’. But with the growth of Christianity, Parker argues, the violence reduced.
Available now, Northmen’s Fury is the perfect companion piece to the British Museum’s landmark exhibition.