29 March 2015

Viking Ireland

Here’s another informative article from the National Museum of Ireland. This article specifically mentions the world famous sword blades of the Frankish blacksmith Ulfbehrt, who signed his blades just below the haft. For those with an interest in these incredible pattern welded blades, made over 1000-years ago by a blacksmith in present day southern Germany, I have included a link, Viking sword, for your further reading pleasure. This link will take you to the web page for Hurstwic, where you will find everything you ever wanted to know about the Viking sword, and much else. (Ed.)


Although the Treasury includes a number of Viking objects, this exhibition explores the Viking Age in Ireland in greater detail. The first recorded Viking raids on Ireland took place in 795 AD, when islands off the north and west coasts were plundered. Later on, Viking fleets appeared on the major river systems, and fortified bases for more extensive raiding are mentioned from about 840 AD. The principal targets of Viking raiders were monasteries, which could supply loot and slaves. Among the exhibits on display is a replica of a Viking fishing vessel that is similar in most respects to larger Viking warships. The original was found with a larger vessel in a boat burial at Gokstad, Norway. Timbers from Viking ships have been found in Ireland, as have sketches of ships on planks, model or toy ships in wood and lead fishing weights in the shape of ships.
Ninth-Century pagan Viking burials at Kilmainham and Islandbridge, Dublin, contained the personal possessions of the deceased. Warriors were interred with long swords of a type vastly superior to native Irish swords, and the presence of weights, scales, purses, tongs and hammers suggests that some of the dead were merchants and blacksmiths. Oval brooches of typical Viking type worn in pairs by women have been discovered alongside other finds such as a whalebone ‘ironing board’, spindle whorls and bronze needle case, demonstrating that Scandinavian women were also buried in the cemetery.

While towns were established by Viking settlers in the 10th Century, Irish society was overwhelmingly rural, and a mixed farming economy was practiced in the countryside. Ballinderry crannog, Co. Westmeath, the homestead of a prosperous Irish noble, provides a picture of life in a rural settlement between the late ninth and early 11th Centuries.

Photo from Hurstwic.org
A Viking sword obtained by trade or as loot is the finest surviving example from Ireland. It has a silver-mounted handle and an elaborate pattern-welded blade inlaid with the name of the sword-maker 'VLFBEHRT', whose blades were exported from the Rhineland during the Viking Age. Other exceptional objects from the same site include a silver kite-brooch, a bronze hanging bowl, a wooden bow and a decorated wooden gaming board that may have been used to play the Viking war game Hnefatafl. Most finds from Ballinderry and other native sites reflect everyday activity and include tools used in spinning, weaving and sewing, shoes and other leather items, and tools and utensils of wood, iron and bronze.

Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford and Cork trace their origins to the Vikings. New trade routes into the rich markets of Byzantine and Muslim central and western Asia were opened up by Viking traders, who amassed silver coins and bullion that were melted down later to make a variety of brooches and arm-rings. The range of personal ornaments found in Dublin reflects the wealth and trade contacts of the city, which produced objects of amber, glass, jet, bronze, silver and gold. Bronze ringed pins and stickpins were produced in great numbers in Dublin, where high-quality metalworking was concentrated in the Christchurch Place area. The discovery of motif-pieces adjacent to this area shows that the production of these patterns was in some way related to metalworking activity.

Houses in Viking Age Dublin had walls of post-and-wattle, which were probably daubed with cow dung or mud.

Wood was used in house construction, ship building and furniture making, and was also used to make domestic utensils such as bowls, plates, cups and barrels, in addition to toys and board games. Wooden handles were fashioned for iron tools made by local blacksmiths, who also made hinges, hasps, locks, keys and harness fittings, while implements such as shovels and weavers’ swords were sometimes made of wood.

By the end of the 10th Century the Vikings in Ireland had adopted Christianity, and with the fusion of cultures it is often difficult to distinguish between Viking and Irish artefacts at this time. The term Hiberno-Norse is used to describe the culture of the inhabitants of the Viking towns in the 11th and early 12th Centuries. Irish art was strongly influenced by the later Viking Ringerike and Urnes styles, present on ecclesiastical metalwork of the period such as croziers, bell shrines and book shrines. Important reliquaries of the 12th Century include the Cross of Cong, a processional cross made in the 1120s by order of the high-king of Ireland Turlough O’Connor to contain a relic of the True Cross.

24 March 2015

Where would you find the Vikings?

I think you will find this article from Medievalists very informative. Many people with an interest in the medieval Vikings focus on a particular area of interest rather than the whole history of the Vikings. This article includes several links for further reading, and I believe by reference to the several maps that are included you will be surprised to find out the extent of their explorations and/or raiding. (Ed.)
MARCH 22, 2015

We created this short guide to explain all the lands that the Vikings came to – either to raid, trade or settle in – which stretched from Russia to North America.

The Viking homeland consists of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Some historians have suggested that a growing population in the countries led young warriors to decide that they needed to make their fortunes by raiding neighbouring lands.

22 March 2015


From the National Museum of Ireland, the following article on what is happening in Dublin with the continuing excavations in that city insofar as medieval Viking archaeology is concerned. a good follow-up to my prior post on the same subject. (Ed.)



Prior to the commencement of archaeological excavations at High Street, Dublin, in the heart of the Viking city, the Museum acquired objects found in the digging of street cuttings and building foundations, that were an indication of the wealth of the archaeological deposits available for investigation. The soil conditions turned out to be ideal for the preservation of archaeological remains. Wood and other organic materials were well preserved, leading to the discovery of a range of structures such as houses, workshops, outbuildings, property boundaries and walkways.

Dublin developed into the most important trading town in the western Viking world and the Museum's excavations uncovered evidence of this by recovering finds that demonstrated the craftwork, manufacturing, trading and commercial activities of the Dublin Vikings. Much of the town’s wealth depended on the skills of its mariners and the importance of ships and boats is indicated by the survival of sketches of ships on planks as well as model or toy ships in wood and lead fishing weights in the shape of ships. A variety of ship timbers have also been found, usually re-used as building material for dock walls, drains and pathways. Ships were also important for fishing and hunting marine mammals, evidence of which is shown by the discovery of iron fish-hooks, bone net needles, wooden net floats, lead alloy line sinkers and iron harpoons.

Silver was the great medium of exchange and it is likely that the silver found in Irish hoards was mediated through the port of Dublin. Much of the silver that made its way to Ireland began as Arabic coins. The earliest coins used in Dublin originated in England, however, about 997, King Sitric of Dublin started minting his own silver pennies.

Woodworkers, carpenters, coopers and basket weavers were active, producing a range of objects such as wooden bowls, plates, pails, buckets, barrels, tubs, spatulas, platters, cups, spoons, mortars, trays, baskets and boxes. In addition to wooden vessels, soapstone vessels were used that may have been imported from the north of Scotland, or further afield. Wood carved for furniture or house fittings of various kinds was often decorated with elaborate designs in the Ringerika style.

Evidence for ironworking comes in the form of blacksmith’s tools such as tongs, hammers, knives, saws, chisels, punches, files, whetstones and grindstones. The manufacturing of iron locks and keys indicates that valuables had to be safeguarded against theft. Fine metalworking using lead alloy, copper alloy, silver and gold is evidenced by moulds, gold and silver ingots, gold wire and filigree, crucibles, heating trays, motif pieces, enamel, molten copper waste and slag.

An amber worker's house was identified at Fishamble Street, where the floor was strewn with several hundred waste flakes and tiny spicules. Pieces of raw amber were found and finished amber objects included pendants, finger rings and beads. Glass beads were also fashioned in Viking Dublin and beads, bracelets and rings were also made from jet or lignite.

The production of textiles was an important activity and the excavation uncovered weavers and spinners equipment such carding combs, spindles and spindle whorls, loom weights, weaver's swords, weaving tablets, cloth smoothers as well as the remains of yarn, thread and textiles. Shears that may have been used for cutting textiles were also found. Leather workers produced objects such as shoes, sheaths, scabbards and bags, examples of which have survived. Some leather worker’s tools have also survived - awls, punches, scorers, and at least one wooden last – as has a considerable amount of waste leather fragments.

Craftsmen working in antler, animal and whalebone, horn and walrus ivory produced a range of objects including combs, pins, spoons, weaving tablets, motif pieces and gaming pieces. Board games were popular and the typical conical gaming pieces that would have been used on them are more frequently found than the boards themselves. Children’s toys in the form of a wooden sword and model boats are also known

The Viking town had an agricultural hinterland that sustained it, and many agricultural tools were found in the course of the excavations included wooden shovels, iron spades, planting tools, iron plough socks, billhooks and sickles. The discovery of a wooden churn dash shows that butter making took place within the town. In addition to being excellent mariners, the Vikings were also skilled horsemen. Finds associated with horse riding include stirrups, spurs, harness bells, harness mounts and saddle pommels.

Personal ornaments were indicators of wealth. The typically Scandinavian oval brooch with linking strings of beads was worn commonly during the early part of the Viking Age. Necklaces made of amber, glass and stone were worn in the 10th and 11th Centuries. Antler and wooden amulets and Thor's hammers were also worn. Finger rings were made of amber, jet, copper alloy, silver and gold. Twisted copper alloy, gold and silver wirework as well as jet were also used for rings and bracelets. Ringed pins and stickpins were produced in great numbers. Ringed pins were very popular in Dublin where the native kite brooch, and the English lead alloy disc brooch also found favour. Sometimes people wore little copper alloy toilet sets, comprising tweezers and nail- or ear picks.

The collections also house large numbers of Viking Age antiquities from other native sites, especially from crannogs located in the midlands that seem to have been engaged in trading and commercial activities with Viking Dublin. It is often difficult to distinguish between Viking and Irish artefacts at this time and the term Hiberno-Norse is used to describe the culture of the inhabitants of the Viking towns in the 11th and early 12th Centuries. Irish art was strongly influenced by the later Viking Ringerika and Urnes styles. Trade increased with Britain and the Continent and the importation of luxury goods such as silver and copper alloy bowls, finger rings and pottery vessels increased also. Ecclesiastical metalwork of the 11th and 12th Centuries shows the fusion of Scandinavian and Irish art styles at the close of the Viking Age.

15 March 2015

Viking Warriors and Treasures are Buried Beneath Dublin

Viking archaeological finds in Ireland, especially Northern Ireland, will quite likely never dry up, as indicated in the following interesting article from Irish Central. (Ed.)

IrishCentral Staff Writers @irishcentral February 20,2015 01:00 AM

There are a great number of Viking warriors buried beneath Dublin say archaeologists. Photo by: Getty

A massive research project, 15 years in the making, has revealed that beneath Dublin’s modern streets lies a trove of buried Viking warriors and artifacts.

Archaeologists say the number of Viking warrior burials in Dublin is astounding. A project cataloguing these burials was began in 1999. Now nearing its conclusion, the project will result in the publication of an 800-page tome titled ‘Viking Graves and Grave Goods in Ireland.’
“As a result of our new research, Kilmainham-Islandbridge is now demonstrably the largest burial complex of its type in western Europe, Scandinavia excluded,” says Stephen Harrison, who co-wrote the catalogue with Raghnall Ó Floinn, the director of the National Museum of Ireland. The museum houses a Viking exhibition, which includes a ninth century Viking skeleton with sword and spearhead, found in the War Memorial Park, Islandbridge in 1934.

Between the late 18th century and 1934, at least 59 graves were discovered in the Kilmainham-Islandbridge area. Some are still turning up.

The vast quantities of artifacts, dating from between AD 841 and AD 902, found indicate the importance and wealth of Dublin at the time.
Says Harrison: “Not every Viking was buried with artefacts. These are aristocratic burials.”

“There is something phenomenal happening in Dublin,” archaeologist Linzi Simpson told the Irish Times. “The annals record these vast numbers of warriors coming to Dublin, and recent work is now matching that with the archaeology. We used to think the annals were prone to exaggeration, and maybe the Vikings weren’t so bad. But now there is a swing towards, ‘Jeepers, they were fairly catastrophic.’”

The bodies were buried on both sides of the Liffey and along the Poddle. In 2003, Simpson excavated four Viking warriors in South Great George’s Street, with three believed to have been buried from about AD 670-AD 882 and the other sometime later.
Vikings were first spotted off the coast of Ireland in AD 792. 

“They heard about this little island that was full of gold and people, and the raiders flooded in,” said Simpson. “Dublin becomes a trading capital of the ninth century.”

“Ireland is not on the periphery of Europe as Brussels might see it today. From a Scandinavian viewpoint, it is central to the approach to Europe,” said John Sheehan, University College Cork archaeologist.

Despite the strong Viking presence, not much Viking DNA has been found by geneticists in Ireland. Cathy Swift, of the University of Limerick, is involved in a  UK-Irish project called Genes of Celts, Vikings and Normans.
She is looking for Viking surnames that were included in townland names, as she believes these families may have strong traces of Viking ancestry in their DNA, says the Irish Times.
“What we are now doing is testing the DNA of people with those surnames,” she said. “As an archaeologist, it is difficult to believe that the Vikings didn’t come in large numbers. A wide range of things not Irish suddenly appear.”

“Everything we thought we knew about the Vikings was wrong,” said Eamonn Kelly, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum. “The belief that Viking activities were concentrated on the Irish Sea area but largely absent from the west of Ireland is wrong, and it is simply not the case that there wasn’t a Viking presence in Ireland outside Dublin, Waterford, Wexford and Limerick. Vikings settled the west coast and integrated with the native Irish.”

One of the earliest Viking raids occurred  on Inishbofin in AD 795, which followed raids on Rathlin and Inishmurray.
“I believe these were exploratory raids along the north and west coasts with a view to assessing the prospect of establishing settlements,” said Kelly.
“It was a win-win: Vikings came with new technology and introduced long-distance trade. And they integrated into the local set-up.”

10 March 2015

Vikings: Brutal and Bloodthirsty or Just a Misunderstanding?

This article from a post by Medievalists concerns the popular TV show, Vikings. The show has rightly sparked debate about certain aspects of its depiction of the Vikings, some of it from me. I wrote the producer directly about their placement of the Viking ship's rudder on the port side rather than the starboard side. No Norse ship has ever been found with the rudder on the port side. They did not take the time to answer, so I just let it go. Obviously they couldn't care less about authenticity, just entertainment.
Let's face it folks, nobody, and I mean nobody knows what motivated the people that we call Vikings, what they thought, or for the most part, what they did. Certainly the producer made mistakes, but the show is entertaining and that is their intent, to entertain us. Read the following in that light. (Ed.)
By Larissa Tracy
During its first two seasons, the popular History Channel series Vikings triggered a vigorous debate among scholars and amateur historians about the show’s authenticity—particularly the gore and violence. But separating truth from fiction, it turns out, is harder than it sounds.

The image of the savage Viking, covered in the blood of his enemies, reveling in the slaughter around him, has been a staple of modern media representations of medieval Scandinavian raiders since the 1950s.
In recent years, there has been an attempt to rehabilitate the Viking on screen. Often branded “revisionist” by critics and scholars, this view pays closer attention to the influence of medieval literary sources, including thirteenth century Icelandic sagas, challenging the bloodthirsty image of the “visceral Viking”.
Of the more recent adaptations that have attempted to capture the nuances of Viking Age society, none has done so with more acclaim than the Vikings. Rather than glorify violence as a social norm, as earlier films were wont to do, Vikings attempts to present bloody acts within their social context—in a more metaphorical frame of human behavior. Vikings emphasizes the capacity for brutality in every society.
Creator/director Michael Hirst set out to craft what he thought was the most authentic portrayal of the Viking world on screen. He is on record explaining that while the violence was not meant to be gratuitous, for authenticity the show needed excessive levels of brutality. But the series presents horribly gruesome acts as regrettable and rare, rather than as common sadistic pleasures.
The most striking and controversial scene of violence in the series, thus far, takes up a significant portion of “Blood Eagle,” Season 2:Episode 7. The “blood eagle” punishment is performed on Jarl Borg (Thorbjørn Harr) for attacking Ragnar’s village, killing many of his people, and driving his family into the wilderness while Ragnar is in England. When he is taken, Borg is sentenced by law to be executed in this way—an anachronism itself because capital punishment was a relatively rare feature of medieval Scandinavian law.
“I think that I’d decided quite a long time ago that Jarl Borg would die from blood-eagling because Ragnar would never forgive him for attacking his children,” Hirst told Daniel Fienberg of HitFix in 2014. “We’ve kind of established that Ragnar is a guy who loves his family and the worst punishment of all in the Viking world is the blood-eagling.”
But is it? Is this simply the most brutal punishment in a catalog of Viking atrocities, or a modern presumption? This is where Hirst’s authenticity suffers from modern misconceptions about actual practice.
The blood eagle is not usually among the catalogue of violence attributed to the Vikings; it only appears in a small selection of texts, almost all of which have to do with the legendary Ragnar loðbrók, who is said by chronicles and sagas to have been active in the ninth century as a raider, a king, and a conqueror of England. This association may be what led Hirst to believe it would be an authentic action for his Ragnar.
http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=medievalistsn-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B00MEX5DKSFor decades, however, scholars have debated the accuracy of reports that this form of punishment was used—and have largely failed to come to any definitive conclusions. According to Saxo Grammaticus in his Danish History, the Icelandic Ragnars saga loðbrókar, and Ragnarssona þáttr, blood-eagling is the punishment meted out to King Ælle of Northumbria by Ragnar’s sons in return for having Ragnar thrown into a pit of poisonous vipers. Ælle is subjected to variations on this horrific execution in the many versions of the Ragnar texts as revenge.
It is entirely possible that this ritual was a feature of Viking society; it is equally possible that it is simply a literary motif where the worst criminals are treated to the worst punishments the mind can imagine. The textual evidence is contradictory and often subjective—especially in relation to the blood eagle. There seems to be little evidence that it did happen, or if it did, that it was common practice.
The “blood-eagle” scene in Vikings is done with care and with feeling, but it is likely based on a fantasy.
So while the series Vikings strives to represent a more nuanced view of Viking society, one that is neither exclusively bloodthirsty nor excessively passive, it still plays into what has become an indelible image in the modern imagination—that of the stoic Viking who embraces the worst possible brutality when necessary. But the textual and historical evidence suggests that needless cruelty was not woven into the native fabric of Viking society.
Really, if you want to see that, watch Game of Thrones.
Dr. Larissa “Kat” Tracy, Associate Professor of medieval literature at Longwood University in Virginia. She is the author of Torture and Brutality in Medieval Literature: Negotiations of National Identityhttp://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=medievalistsn-20&l=as2&o=1&a=1843842882.
Viking Trailer