How will these resources help you?

The popular image of the Vikings is of warrior raiders plundering their way across Europe. Little consideration is given to the wider aspects of Viking society. These resources aim to correct that balance, allowing students to understand Viking life, expansion and trade. Most contemporary sources on the Vikings tend to have been written by those who suffered at their hands. These resources provide a full analysis of this material: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Ibn Fadlan’s chronicle and the Russian Primary Chronicle are all set against runic evidence, as well as archaeological discoveries, in order to create a more rounded picture. The resources are also useful in casting light on the lesser-known Viking expansions into eastern Europe. 

Seeing the Vikings in a new way

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. 

Bringing the Viking world to life

Pocket Museum: Vikings

by Steve Ashby and Alison Leonard, published by Thames and Hudson, (2021), 9780500052068

This book offers a wealth of visual material, covering 200 of the best surviving Viking artefacts. Each object is shown with an illustration, a scale and a brief description. The authors suggest that artefacts ‘prompt us to ask questions that otherwise might not have arisen’. Jewellery, weaponry and everyday household items all offer rich opportunities for student research on the ‘Raiders and Invaders’ and ‘Settlers’ topics. The book is divided into three broad chronological sections: 500–899 AD, 900–999 AD and 1000–1500 AD. Students could choose items from each of these periods to illustrate Viking life, or track different types of objects across the time period. There are five sections for each of these eras, covering ‘society and household’, ‘art and adornment’, ‘politics and warfare’, ‘ritual and religion’ and ‘craft and economy’, which could allow students to focus on one of these areas across the three time periods, or to organise presentations in single discrete areas.

Illuminating the Vikings in the East

River Kings

by Cat Jarman, published by William Collins, (2021), 9780008353117

Jarman opens up the lesser-known Viking routes into the East, using a different Viking object to give shape to each chapter. Underpinned by scientific evidence from DNA and carbon dating, her work traces the trade routes pertaining to a small Carnelian bead found at the winter base of the Viking Great Army at Repton. Jarman tracks the bead all the way across Europe to the Middle East (or possibly India), showing how extraordinarily mobile the Vikings were. The fact that they could drag their ships overland was a ‘critical element of their success in eastern Europe’, and rivers became vital arteries for travel. Using maps of the main areas of Viking expansion, I would give students the chance to calculate how quickly Vikings could move around, based on Jarman’s calculations on river travel. Other useful details that could augment lessons are scattered throughout the book. For example a ship needed 5,000 nails and a sail needed 75kg of wool from 150 sheep and required 1,292 days of work to be stitched. This could lead to an interesting enquiry lesson investigating Viking urbanisation, slavery and organisation. 

Further materials

Vikings and Garfunkel by Horrible Histories, published by BBC, (2013) Watch this video
What was so special about Viking ships? by Jan Bill, published by TEDEd, (2023) Read this article
A brief history of the Vikings by Phillip Parker, published by History Extra, (2020) Read this article
Mark Robinson is a history teacher who has many years’ experience of teaching both History and Classical Civilisation. He has also been an examiner. He has written on a wide range of topics for the educational website TEDEd.

Text © Mark Robinson, 2021-2023