The Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings
by Neil Price, published by Penguin, (2022), 9780141984445
This book is the place to start in order to acquire an up-to-date understanding of the Vikings. Price has avoided a simple chronological narrative and shows that there was a lot more to the Vikings than just raiding and pillaging. Underpinning the book is his claim that the Vikings brought ‘a period of social transformation’ that has shaped northern Europe ever since. There are three sections: on the Viking sense of self, on the Viking diaspora up to the tenth century, and on the politics of the eleventh century. The book offers plenty of detail on each of the exam specification topics, with particularly useful sections on Viking beliefs and rituals. Price is not afraid to identify the Viking age as ‘a time of horrifying violence and equally awful structures of institutionalised, patriarchal oppression’. This could lead to a purposeful discussion on the nature of Viking society and its impact.
All the geographical areas of Viking activity are covered. Price suggests that the best way to see the leadership is as a ‘hydrarchy’, a multi-headed leadership, which was impossible to oppose as there was no coherent single leader. This image might lend itself to an engaging lesson task where the different ‘heads’ of Viking leadership (in the ninth century for example) could be identified. With regard to Viking military skills, Price suggests that in the ninth century, ‘where raiding had once been an activity … it … became a lifestyle’. I would use this as a means of assessing Viking expansion into England, France and beyond. Students could draw up tables of costs and benefits, with one investigation devoted to raiding, and another to full-scale invasion.