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The Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings

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Children of Ash and Elm illuminates the brutal realities of Viking raids, of course, but its revelatory power comes from its focus on the culture that built and launched those ships, an industrial feat more impressive than the pillaging. Others feel more like staged clues to a murder mystery: a boatload of dead Swedish warriors, their bodies strewn with gaming pieces, and the “king” gaming piece inserted into the mouth of one of the men. If the merits of the book ended here, it would still be well worth the read as the latest word in Viking age history.

Gems, ivory, and lizard skins from Sri Lanka, India, and Bengal, were imported to Scandinavia, 550–750 CE.For a millennium, though, their history has largely been filtered through the writings of their victims. What follows in subsequent chapters is the progression from raiding to invasions, conquests and settlements, in the context of the piratical sea-kings and large-scale trading networks that were opening up across the world. On occasion, specific source difficulties – particularly in the textual record – can get glossed over, and regional differences elided. This was a fascinating and wholly engaging book, and an easy recommendation for those looking for a modern history book on the Vikings focusing on how they lived, and why they engaged with the world as they did. I highly recommend this book but appreciate that not everyone will like it, those who somehow think that the Vikings were some sort of pure ethnic group for example (they never were), or those who are only focussed on their macho image; they were much, much more than either of those portrayals.

Verwacht dus geen verhalen van bloeddorstige plundertochten maar eerder een mooi overzicht in de denkwereld en tijdperk van de Vikingen. I really had no idea about the socio-cultural impact the Vikings had throughout history and how they've influenced modern society.

Reason for the 4 stars- at times I lost interest and wanted to skip through some sections (but I didn't! Polygyny, concubinage, and perhaps female infanticide left an underclass of young men without inheritance or marriage prospects. Many of the slaves and their descendants, wherever they came from, were eventually absorbed into their respective section of Viking society. Land in the north was several meters lower 1000 years ago: the land is still springing back from the disappearance of the immense weight of the ice-age icepack. Such an approach has strong modern-day resonances: a multi-gendered, multi-ethnic account of the era that embraces diversity in the mental landscapes of human nature, telling a story of cultural transformations and influences criss-crossing in many directions.

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