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J. Hargis




Location: Pacific Palisades, California
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PostPosted: Tue 07 Oct, 2014 4:09 pm    Post subject: 'How the Vikings Saved Europe and Got a Terrible Reputation'         Reply with quote

Jim Adelsen of www.Viking-Shield.com sent this article to me today. I thought I'd pass it along. It makes good sense to me. Knowledgeable opinions appreciated. Thanks.
Jon

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09...dium=email

Quote:
How the Vikings Saved Europe and Got a Terrible Reputation
William O'Connor

History teaches us that the Vikings were brutal, thieving invaders, but much of that history was written by Viking victims: European monks. New evidence says otherwise.


The Age of the Vikings’ by Anders Winroth. 328 p. Princeton University Press. $22.19

They say history is written by the victors, but what if the victims are the ones with the pens?

That is the bizarre circumstance surrounding the history of the Vikings, since the centuries-old myth that has come down to us about their brutal savagery originated with their victims—monks and priests—who had the monopoly on writing in that time.

As a result, the image we have today of the marauding Vikings is both wildly off the mark, and ignores the major contributions they made in shaping Europe during the Middle Ages. That demystification and deep dive into the world of one of history’s most iconic people is the subject of a new book, The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth. Not only are the Vikings completely misunderstood, he argues, but they may have saved Europe.

The Vikings weren’t picky about their raiding targets, but the short-term gains in booty and ransom achieved by attacking monasteries resulted in the Vikings being relegated to the “vicious barbarian” category of history. The monks in those monasteries were the only historians around at that time.

“Since [the Vikings] attacked those with a monopoly on writing, it is their deeds … that have gone down in history as infamous, irrational, and bloodthirsty,” writes Winroth.

A contemporary ruler like Charlemagne, he notes, is “today generally extolled as a founding father of Europe. France and Germany compete about who has the greatest right to claim him as their national founder.”

Charlemagne is the cultured hero of the age. The Vikings—not so much.

One of the reasons the Vikings are viewed so negatively is that their violence could seem wanton or irrational.

Part of that lies in the paucity of documentation of what the Vikings actually did during their raids. To many at the time—clerics in particular—attacking a monastery or church would have seemed irrational. Those who did document the raids, which were usually monks, had something to be gained by playing up the Vikings’ violence against religious figures, and they often resorted to broad, generic rhetoric about the “devastation” and “destruction” without specific detail.

Or, the documentation we are left with was written centuries after the events, often in poetry, often wrong. The horned helmets of the Vikings—they never existed. As for the other two famous images, the blood eagle and the berserker—those are the result of mistranslations.

The execution method of the blood eagle in which victims were sliced open along the spine, had their ribs snapped open so they looked like wings, the lungs pulled out, and salt poured in, maintains Winroth, is a mistranslation of Icelandic poet Sigvat Thordarson’s famous poem Knútsdrápa. The poem is about Ragnar Hair-Breeches’s sons slaying King Ella of Northumbria in revenge. The stanza in question has been translated as both “Ivar caused the eagle to cut the back of Ella” and “Ivar cut the eagle on the back of Ella.” However, argues Winroth, only the first makes literary and historical sense, as it fits in with the unique structure of Icelandic poetry as well as the tradition of describing a slaughter as providing carrion for birds. The second translation led to a 14th-century interpretation that still exists today of the Vikings enacting a particularly horrid form of retribution.

As for the berserkers, Winroth argues that they were also later creations of Icelandic poets who misunderstood the original poetic meaning in the Norse poem Haraldskvæði, which was talking about men in armor, not a mythic elite warrior.

“So thrilled by tales about Norwegian superheroes,” Winroth notes cheekily, “normally well-functioning critical faculties of historians and others have frequently been overwhelmed.”

More importantly, contends Winroth, the Vikings were acting completely rationally with their raids. These men weren’t addicted to violence—the treasure gained from the raids was used by chieftains in the complex and even poetic gift-giving system of the Viking halls. And, he argues, it was no different than Charlemagne.

For instance, he points out, Charlemagne treated Saxony like his own personal punching bag. On just one day in 782, “Charlemagne ordered no fewer than 4,500 Saxons decapitated” because they were oath-breakers. Meanwhile, because they attacked those who would control the written record, the Viking execution of 111 prisoners in 845 lives on in infamy. Winroth finds it ironic that Germany is so quick to extol Charlemagne, when “the Saxon ancestors of moderns Germans were among the longest-suffering of Charlemagne’s victims.”

According to Winroth, Charlemagne’s wars on his neighbors were not dissimilar from Viking raids in that their primary purpose, particularly the raids of Avar and Pavia, was booty for his currency-starved empire.

Which brings us to the utterly fascinating heart of the argument for why the Vikings are due for a makeover—their sophisticated and extensive trade network saved Europe.

“However disastrous and ruinous an individual Viking raid may have been for those attacked, the overall impact of Scandinavian endeavors was, unexpectedly, to stimulate the economy of Western Europe,” declares Winroth. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, all of Europe faltered as trade and commerce dried up. While things had picked up by the height of the Viking era in the 9th and 10th centuries, two things were holding the region back. One was a negative balance of trade in Charlemagne’s kingdom and the region as a whole. This was largely due to currency being made of silver and gold, but the precious metals came from the East, Afghanistan in particular. The second factor was that in regions where currency was not used, the system in place was the barter system, which limits economic growth.

The Vikings solved these problems in two ways.

The first, and less significant one, is that by attacking the monasteries and churches, the Vikings tapped into the sole major untouched source of precious metals in Europe. Those riches did not disappear, as the Vikings were well integrated in the European trade network. They used it to buy anything from Frankish swords or mint them into coins for the kingdoms Scandinavian chieftains set up in England and Ireland.
140916-oconnor-vikings-embed‘The Age of the Vikings’ by Anders Winroth. 328 p. Princeton University Press. $22.19 ()

“More important for the early medieval resurgence of commerce in western Europe was the central Asian silver that Scandinavian merchants brought to Europe,” argues Winroth. The trade network of the Vikings stretched from Greenland and Iceland in the west all the way to the caliphate and Bolghar in the east. The Vikings prodigious exports, mainly fur and slaves, “rectified for some time the lopsided trade balance between western Europe and the East.” The economic recovery in Europe, contends Winroth, “was during the Viking Age.”

The Vikings were not roving bands of berserkers ripping open people’s rib cages. They were undoubtedly violent, and slaughtered countless innocents. But, Winroth argues convincingly in this slightly dry book, that hardly made them unique in the 9th and 10th centuries. Furthermore, they left a huge impact on the region, through their establishment of Dublin, their legacy on the English language (ransack, skin, skirt, and doze to name a few words we take from them), their rule in England, their trade with the Caliphate, and the (disputed) extent to which they made up the Rus people.

But clearly, the moral of the story is, just don’t mess with monks.

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Shahril Dzulkifli




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PostPosted: Tue 07 Oct, 2014 6:16 pm    Post subject: 'How the Vikings Saved Europe and Got a Terrible Reputation'         Reply with quote

At least the Vikings become rather civilized than barbaric thanks to these monks.
“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength”

- Marcus Aurelius
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J. Hargis




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PostPosted: Tue 07 Oct, 2014 7:09 pm    Post subject: Re: 'How the Vikings Saved Europe and Got a Terrible Reputat         Reply with quote

Shahril Dzulkifli wrote:
At least the Vikings become rather civilized than barbaric thanks to these monks.

Hmm. Not sure how "civilized" religious states were or ever are. The fact that Vikings had what could be called a rather democratic legislature and society complete with more women's rights vs. the rest of the world, I say would say they were already fairly civilized. Yes, there was aggression, but comparatively speaking I see nothing above & beyond what was the norm. A point made in the article. Had the Vikings been as outrageous as alleged then certainly there would have been very little interest in interaction and trade with them. That was not the case.
And a primary point here, IMO, was those who wrote the 'history' had a conflict of interest, they were not unbiased observers.
Thanks.

Jon

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Boris R.





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PostPosted: Tue 07 Oct, 2014 7:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am sorry to say this but this is all pseudoscience at best and an outright forgery of historical facts at worst. Vikings were not saviours of Europe, they were fairly unimportant aside to northern Europe and British Isles. New found evidence? What new found evidence? Give me hard, cold facts. And speaking of traveling merchants, the only known merchants that traversed the whole of silk road between the far east and western Europe up until Marco Polo were Jews. They were known to have lived in Kaifeng, China as early as the 7th century.
Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Tue 07 Oct, 2014 10:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My concern with this book's central thesis is that it can be easy to overestimate the role of trade during the Viking era. No one will argue that there was trade in various goods and precious objects that was a significant part of the economy. The question, however, is "How significant?" As far as I know, we have very little reliable evidence and even less data in this time period to account for how much of the economy involved trade, and how much it was reliant on local agriculture. From what I know, the general consensus is that trade was a lucrative but proportionately small part of the economy compared to agriculture. Thus I wonder just how much the Vikings could influence Europe. Was their impact lucrative on a local level? For certain areas, I would imagine the answer is yes. Was it enough to stimulate the economic recovery of Western Europe? That seems more doubtful to me.
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Mikko Kuusirati




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Oct, 2014 2:44 am    Post subject: Re: 'How the Vikings Saved Europe and Got a Terrible Reputat         Reply with quote

What part of this is new, exactly? And what is the evidence they mention (and then never bring up again)?

Unless something real turns up, I'm going to have to call this nothing but typically poor sensationalist journalism and/or marketing copy.

Shahril Dzulkifli wrote:
At least the Vikings become rather civilized than barbaric thanks to these monks.

If you mean in the sense that they learned Greek, then yes. Happy

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Oct, 2014 4:00 am    Post subject: Re: 'How the Vikings Saved Europe and Got a Terrible Reputat         Reply with quote

J. Hargis wrote:

Hmm. Not sure how "civilized" religious states were or ever are. The fact that Vikings had what could be called a rather democratic legislature and society complete with more women's rights vs. the rest of the world, I say would say they were already fairly civilized.

Jon


This is something that keeps circulating around a lot, but I really wonder what exactly is the basis of it.

As far as I've read, nothing in particular about most of Norse societies were any more 'democratic' compared to the 'rest of the world'.

The institution of tribal assembly could perhaps hold a bit more significance for a long time, thanks to obviously isolated situation.

Different sex/gender tasks, responsibilities and rights were about the same as in other Germanic societies... About marriage, dowry, terms of breaking marriage, receiving back said dowry etc.


Generally, it's obvious that Viking raids, trade, colonies etc. played huge part in history of Europe, or it's parts in particular.

That much should be studied further, but recent trend of making 'Vikings' some apostles of ' social progress' in terms developed late in 20 century is pretty head-scratching, TBH. WTF?!
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Jeffrey Faulk




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Oct, 2014 8:56 am    Post subject: Re: 'How the Vikings Saved Europe and Got a Terrible Reputat         Reply with quote

Bartek Strojek wrote:

That much should be studied further, but recent trend of making 'Vikings' some apostles of ' social progress' in terms developed late in 20 century is pretty head-scratching, TBH. WTF?!


To be honest, quite a bit of science developed 'late in 20th century'. Methods of research have improved, mindsets have changed, and old data is being approached in new fashions. As long as the scientific method is followed-- formulating a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis in a controlled manner and being peer-reviewed-- there is no reason that previously accepted 'facts' of history can't be challenged or changed.

Describing them as 'apostles of social progress' is hyperbolic though, I agree on that...

In regard to the specific article, I have no problem with the idea that Vikings might have been more 'progressive' and less destructive than they have normally been portrayed. It's certainly quite possible that they were essentially slandered by the chroniclers of their time and that they were more or less opportunistic raiders and occasional conquerors who mostly farmed and traded as part of their larger socio-cultural-economic context. They do still have to fit within this broad historic context and you cannot assume that they were much more advanced than their peers without evidence to the contrary. The letter of their law is one thing, actually following it in the spirit thereof is quite another.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Oct, 2014 12:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's a little hard to believe that some monks wrote all these horrible stories about a bunch of guys who just set up some tables on the beach to trade ironwork and hack silver for chickens and fresh vegetables, eh? Do we think the Danelaw and Normandy were established by a bunch of hard bargainers and high rollers? Is "Varangian Guard" just the name of a marketplace in Byzantium? We don't seem to have accounts of the Vikings leaping off their ships with cries of women's rights and the benefits of democracy.

All seriousness aside, it's obvious that the vast majority of Scandinavians stayed at home in their farms and shops, and would have been amused or shocked to have heard themselves described as slaughtering devils. They had some different laws and customs, but every country did. And they were every bit as religious as the people they raided or traded with.

But yeah, biased monks and their poisoned pens...

Matthew
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J. Hargis




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Oct, 2014 1:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, it seems I have pushed a few buttons here.

I too think the "saved Europe" bit is a bit over-the-top. However we must keep the Vikings in the proper context to the world at the time. Clearly the Viking were more "progressive" and ahead of the game in many areas.
While not exactly a feminist advocate's agenda of today, there is certainly something to be learned here.

excerpt from :
The Role of Women in Viking Society, http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/society/text/women.htm
Quote:
On the other hand, women were respected in Norse society and had great freedom, especially when compared to other European societies of that era. They managed the finances of the family. They ran the farm in their husband's absence. In widowhood, they could be rich and important landowners. The law protected women from a wide range of unwanted attention. Grágás (K 155) lists penalties for offences ranging from kissing to intercourse.

and this excerpt from: Divorce: http://www.viking.no/e/life/ewomen.htm
Quote:
The woman did not fully become part of her husband's family when she married. She continued to be a part of her own family and if her husband mistreated her and the children, or he was too lazy to be a good provider or insulted her family, she could divorce him. To do it she called some witnesses. In front of these witnesses she first at the front door, and then at the couple's bed, declared herself divorced from her husband.

And an excerpt from: Viking-Age Laws and Legal Procedures, http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/society/text/women.htm
Quote:
A system of laws was set up whereby people were governed by consensus and where disputes were resolved through negotiation and compromise. That is not to say that violence was not employed. Feuds and violence were permissible and even required in order to maintain one's honor in some instances. But adherence to the law was highly regarded, as observed by Njáll in chapter 70 of Brennu-Njáls saga: "With law our land shall rise, but it will perish with lawlessness."

I do not think that Viking trade can be under estimated. To this forum's central topic recall the source for a preponderance of Viking sword blades, generally it was not Scandinavia. Please recall the influence the Viking sword design had upon various regions of sword making. Viking commerce, perhaps over stated in this article, was clearly a big influence on Europe. The mere fact that Vikings settlements were so widespread speaks to that opinion.
This is not to mention the enormous range of Viking exploration and it's impact in many other regards.

I plan on buying the book, which will give me more from which to form my opinions.

Thanks, Jon

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J. Hargis




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Oct, 2014 1:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Boris R. wrote:
I am sorry to say this but this is all pseudoscience at best and an outright forgery of historical facts at worst. Vikings were not saviours of Europe, they were fairly unimportant aside to northern Europe and British Isles. New found evidence? What new found evidence? Give me hard, cold facts. And speaking of traveling merchants, the only known merchants that traversed the whole of silk road between the far east and western Europe up until Marco Polo were Jews. They were known to have lived in Kaifeng, China as early as the 7th century.

I believe some facts have been presented, I'm pretty sure the acclaimed Prof. Anders Winroth:
http://history.yale.edu/people/anders-winroth
has included citations and sound methodology within his book. And certainly academics make plenty of mistakes and often are agenda driven, but until one can back up such harsh words I recommend reviewing his work before making such statements. And granted, 'saved Europe' seems like an enthusiastic over statement, but the devil is in the details. I just ordered the book and will check first hand ... now $19.98 at Amazon.

As for the Silk Road, I do not see where Winroth says the Vikings traveled the whole of the Silk Road, does Boris? Here is what the Silk Road Encyclopedia has to say about the Vikings:
http://www.silkroadencyclopedia.com/silkroadtravel-ipekyolu/V.htm
Quote:
Because the Vikings were international traders, they traded silk for other items in Constantinople (Istanbul). From the North, they brought furs, skins, and walrus tusk ivories to be traded in Western Europe. The Vikings established trading cities in Scandinavia: Birke, Ribe, Hedeby, and Skiringsal. They founded Dublin, Ireland as a trading city. They also made York a very important trading town in England (historic records in York confirm that the Vikings brought silk from Turkey to York). The Vikings, who kept open the trade route between Byzantium and the west, may also have played a role in trade between western Europe and the rest of Eurasia, as Viking coins have been found as far as Samarkand in Central Asia.

more here: http://www.skwirk.com/p-c_s-56_u-473_t-1287_c...E-History/
Quote:
Merchants also travelled down the River Dnieper and across the Black Sea to Miklagard (modern-day Istanbul), which was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. This was an exceptionally dangerous journey. Not only did the merchants have to contend with being attacked by locals, they also had to negotiate their way around incredibly turbulent rapids. From Miklagard, the Vikings continued to travel further inland than any other Europeans. They even traded in Jorsalir (Jerusalem) and Sarkland (Baghdad)

Thanks, Jon

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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Oct, 2014 6:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J. Hargis wrote:
While not exactly a feminist advocate's agenda of today, there is certainly something to be learned here.

excerpt from :
The Role of Women in Viking Society, http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/society/text/women.htm
Quote:
On the other hand, women were respected in Norse society and had great freedom, especially when compared to other European societies of that era. They managed the finances of the family. They ran the farm in their husband's absence. In widowhood, they could be rich and important landowners. The law protected women from a wide range of unwanted attention. Grágás (K 155) lists penalties for offences ranging from kissing to intercourse.


Well, I can't quote laws from other countries, but that doesn't sound much different from what I've heard about the rest of Europe. There were always laws protecting people, and they could be very detailed regarding the gender and social classes involved. I'd be surprised to find *any* peasant woman who couldn't run a farm, or a merchant's or nobleman's wife who couldn't run their own household. That's just what being a wife included, back then.

Granted, I suspect divorce was MUCH less common in Christianized areas! But it was quite common in pre-Christian Europe. So in that regard Viking-era Scandinavia could actually be seen as backwards (just to prod the hornet nest!).

Quote:
And an excerpt from: Viking-Age Laws and Legal Procedures, http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/society/text/women.htm
Quote:
A system of laws was set up whereby people were governed by consensus and where disputes were resolved through negotiation and compromise. That is not to say that violence was not employed. Feuds and violence were permissible and even required in order to maintain one's honor in some instances. But adherence to the law was highly regarded, as observed by Njáll in chapter 70 of Brennu-Njáls saga: "With law our land shall rise, but it will perish with lawlessness."


Well, weren't most villages in Europe generally run by a council of elders? Something like that? They took care of day-to-day disputes and problems, though the local landlord could be dragged in if necessary. Certainly I wouldn't call that "democracy" as such, but it's how things were done because that's what the people generally expected. They simply had no concept of equality as we do, so their social/political/judicial systems reflected that. Scandinavia had kings and nobles, too! I recall that the Germans elected their kings, and Saxon England had their Witan. Just different layers and degrees of "voting rights", as it were.

Quote:
I do not think that Viking trade can be under estimated. To this forum's central topic recall the source for a preponderance of Viking sword blades, generally it was not Scandinavia. Please recall the influence the Viking sword design had upon various regions of sword making. Viking commerce, perhaps over stated in this article, was clearly a big influence on Europe. The mere fact that Vikings settlements were so widespread speaks to that opinion.


Agreed! Though I think trade and international commerce are underestimated in general, by many people.

Quote:
This is not to mention the enormous range of Viking exploration and it's impact in many other regards.


Though the *immediate* impact of their explorations westward is debatable. The settlements in Canada were generally believed to be fictional until they were discovered in the 20th century.

Quote:
I plan on buying the book, which will give me more from which to form my opinions.


Good! A more admirable course than my lobbing sarcastic rocks from the sidelines, ha!

Matthew
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Oct, 2014 4:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On the basis of the discussion the book mentioned here seems to have a lot of unsubstantiated claims and sensationalism in it. If anyone is interested in reading something that's more factual and substantiated I'd like to suggest a book entitled The Vikings A History written by Robert Ferguson.
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Mikko Kuusirati




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Oct, 2014 4:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Speed wrote:
On the basis of the discussion the book mentioned here seems to have a lot of unsubstantiated claims and sensationalism in it. If anyone is interested in reading something that's more factual and substantiated I'd like to suggest a book entitled The Vikings A History written by Robert Ferguson.

Well, to be fair, I think the article - which is really what we're talking about here, not the book itself - is sensationalistic and probably very misleading. I don't think it actually has any bearing on the book or anything to do with the author.

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Oct, 2014 5:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="Mikko Kuusirati"]
Ken Speed wrote:
Well, to be fair, I think the article - which is really what we're talking about here, not the book itself - is sensationalistic and probably very misleading. I don't think it actually has any bearing on the book or anything to do with the author.


Very good point!

Matthew
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J. Hargis




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Oct, 2014 8:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Speed wrote:
On the basis of the discussion the book mentioned here seems to have a lot of unsubstantiated claims and sensationalism in it. If anyone is interested in reading something that's more factual and substantiated I'd like to suggest a book entitled The Vikings A History written by Robert Ferguson.
Sir, the question remains, how do you know there is "lot of unsubstantiated claims"? Have you read the book in question to see if Winroth's claims really are unsubstantiated?
We must always be open to new historical research & views, otherwise we can simply claim 'it's all settled' and close the history departments.

Thanks, Jon

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J. Nicolaysen




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Dec, 2014 7:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Jon, and anyone else who may have actually read the book by now...

Was it any good? Would you recommend it as a decent general history? Anything particularly new and noteworthy?

Despite the overblown claims made around the book's publication, it'd be nice to know how useful it is. Book marketing can be just as bad as other marketing.

Thanks,
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J. Hargis




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PostPosted: Tue 02 Dec, 2014 10:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J. Nicolaysen:

I'm reading it now and have found some interesting research that does much in debunking some of the stereotypical myths about the Vikings. I will posts some quotes soon.

Thanks, Jon

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J. Hargis




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PostPosted: Thu 04 Dec, 2014 3:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here we go, the first of my installments.

Straight away in the introduction we read what is probably of little surprise to most of you here and was mentioned in the review presented in my OP. A formal reference is now given.
Quote:
The modern cultural imagination captures only aspects of the Vikings. and what we think we know is skewed, exaggerated, or simply misunderstood. Their iconic horned helmets, for starters, never existed, or at least not before the premiere of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung in1876. 3

3. Roberta Frank, "The Invention of the Viking Winged Helmet," in International Scandinavian and Medieval Studies in Memory of Gerd Wolfgang Weber, ed. Michael Dallapiazza (Trieste,2000), 199-208.

Jon

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