The Vikings William Morrow
The Viking World
“The Vikings” 1980, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 4, 1980 to January 4,1981
The Vikings are upon us again, and this time with none to echo a prayer as endlessly plausible as it was ever unverifiable: “From the fury of the Northmen, O Lord, deliver us!” For this is a peaceful re-entry, which began as an exhibition in the heart of London, of sudden advent but long preparation, and by design revelatory of our ancient despoilers in all their manifestations at home and abroad, domestic as well as martial, cultural as well as destructive, openers-up of trade-routes, word-hoards, and world-pictures, as well as of purses and jugulars. This laudable design is reinforced by the appearance of two new books on the subject, one of them, The Vikings, by James Graham-Campbell and Dafydd Kidd, intended to serve as the exhibition’s catalogue. The other, James Graham-Campbell’s wideranging survey The Viking World, is no less welcome, for it is high time for a popular or, rather, public reappraisal to follow the established scholarly one. This may involve a loss of folklore along with the historical gain, but the two are not so exclusive of each other as is sometimes supposed.
A word first about the very considerable advances in Norse-Viking studies conducted in the English-language world during the last quarter of a century, most of them commanding a high degree of public interest. Some events like the nine-hundredth anniversary of the epochal victory and defeat at Stamford Bridge and Hastings reinforced a widening interest. Others like the uncovering of Norse Dublin and the excavation of the Anglo-Norse town at York had both a local and national appeal. The raising of five medieval Norse ships which had been sunk to block the channel at Skuldelev (Peberrenden) in Roskilde Fjord, Denmark, and the building and putting to sea of faithful replicas of the Norse longship brought a new awareness of the realities of Viking seamanship and sea power. Of particular interest to Americans was the increasing evidence of a Norse presence in the Western Hemisphere. The excavations at Brattahlid in southwest Greenland of Norse homesteads and “Thjodhild’s Church” confirmed that the right sort of colony was there at the right time to lend substance to saga accounts of Norse voyages to the North American continent c. 1000 AD.
In the Sixties the Vinland Map achieved world fame with what everyone hoped would be the first portrayal on any map of any part of the New World in general, and that part of it we now know as Canada and the United States in particular. In the Seventies the fame changed to notoriety as one more vellum bit the dust, but these setbacks happen, have happened before, and will happen again. Altogether more important was the steady homing-in on northern Newfoundland as the possible, then probable, then certain site of Norse settlement. The decisive archaeological reports appeared in 1977, and the historical survey is expected to appear later this year. There could be no more golden welcome for “The Vikings” exhibition in New York.
Briefly, who …