The Vikings have been known throughout the world as explorers, traders and perhaps first and foremost as fierce warriors who ruled the seas of Northern Europe in their now iconic Viking longships - one of the most feared and efficient weapons of their time. This is the first comprehensive book in English to explore the Vikings in one of their main homelands, Norway. "Viking Norway" departs from the usual approaches to the causes of the Viking Age and delves into the history of its first true 'child'; the dramatic birth of Norway and its development until the 11th century. The author details and explains the domestic background of this unique civilization hoping that new insights and a greater understanding of the Vikings will emerge. The book is lavishly illustrated, reproducing some of the most celebrated drawings and paintings from the 1850s and after, depicting the Viking Age.
The Norwegian American Weekly (USA):
By Christy Olsen Field
The Vikings have been known throughout the world for their exploration and trade, but also as fierce warriors who sailed the seas of Northern Europe in their longships, one of the most feared and efficient weapons of their time. “Viking Norway” is the first comprehensive book in English to explore the Viking society in the context of Norway.
“Viking Norway” is written by Dr. Torgrim Titlestad, Ph.D., who is a professor of history at the University of Stavanger in Norway. Dr. Titlestad is one of the leading Scandinavian experts on the Viking age and the Old Norse sagas. Dr. Titlestad’s extensive knowledge of the Vikings allows him to cover 250 years of Viking history with authority.
Books on Vikings generally focus on one or a combination of the political, cultural, religious, social, and economic structures of the Vikings, and cover their Vikings’ expansion and achievements in greater Europe and beyond. However, little space is given to understanding the impact of the Viking Age in the Viking mainlands of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. “Viking Norway” departs from the basic level of issues surrounding the Viking Age, and delves into the internal developments in the Norwegian Viking area. The book focuses particularly on highlighting the leading personalities and the nature of their power and politics, especially in the final stage of the Viking era.
This 406-page book is divided into ten sections to provide a framework of studying the Vikings. Titlestad first introduces the early foundations of the Vikings, followed by the beginnings of the Viking Age and the birth of Norway. It then covers four of the most significant personas of the Viking era, and then an evaluation of the Vikings’ downfall. Complete with a full section of appendixes, a bibliography, and references, “Viking Norway” gives an excellent insight into the rise and fall of the Vikings in Norway.
With stunning illustrations and carefully researched content, “Viking Norway” deserves a spot on the bookshelf for any Viking enthusiast.
Saga Publishers International is a publishing house specializing in books about Vikings and Old Norse sagas. The publishing company was founded in 1995 in Norway as Saga Bok, and it opened a branch in Chicago in 2009 to promote its work in the United States.
Brandiwine Books (USA):
I wouldn’t ordinarily review a book that can’t be purchased in this country (though you can get it through this web site, if you’re willing to pay the freight and can pick your way through the Norwegian), but I think this book is genuinely important in its field—and not merely because it has a picture of one of my novels on page 296.
Viking Norway, by Torgrim Titlestad (Professor of History at the University of Stavanger) is important because, to the best of my knowledge, it’s the first English-language book aimed at presenting to a popular audience some “new” theories about Norway and the Viking Age that are being debated in Scandinavia today.
The book attempts to refute two views that have been standard up till now, and offers a new theory about Viking Age Norwegian politics. The first contested view is the long-accepted story of Norway’s origins as a nation, as learned until recently by every school child in the country. This standard story (derived largely from Snorri Sturlusson’s [wonderful]) 13th Century book, Heimskringla) tells how Harald Finehair, a petty king from Vestfold in the east of Norway, set out to conquer the other petty kingdoms along the “North Way” sea route. In fact, as historians have been noting for some time now, the earliest testimony we have to Harald’s career, the poems of his skalds, has nothing to say about Vestfold or eastern Norway at all. In fact, it’s now believed that eastern Norway was under the rule of Denmark at that time. It now appears that Harald (though he may have had Vestfold roots) was a king in Vestland, the part of the country an American looking at a map would call the southwest. That would make Vestland the original power center of Norway, and that is central to Titlestad’s thesis. The second contested view concerns the reasons for the sudden explosion of Viking raids, “out of the blue,” as it seemed, at the end of the 8th Century.
Most books you’ll read on the subject will mention first of all the theory that there was a population explosion in Scandinavia, and that young men without hope of inheritance were forced to look for plunder overseas.
Titlestad points out that not only is there no archaeological evidence for this theory, in fact the data seems to contradict it. He explains its popularity by the fact that it’s essentially a Marxist theory, one that appeals to leftist historians.
He looks further back, to a theory once propounded by both David Hume and Edward Gibbon, that the original Viking raids were in fact a calculated “preemptive strike,” provoked by the aggression of the Emperor Charlemagne.
In 782 Charlemagne won a decisive victory over the heathen German Saxons at the Battle of Verden. Afterwards, according to most accounts (there are some historians who deny it happened), he had thousands of prisoners (4,500 according to some accounts) marched to the river, baptized by force, and beheaded.
It was only eleven years later that Vikings sacked the monastery at Lindisfarne, marking the “official” beginning of the Viking Age (though it’s likely there were earlier raids).
According to this theory, the Scandinavians, under the leadership of Denmark (which shared a border with Charlemagne’s empire and was feeling pressure from him) attacked Christian monasteries precisely for the purpose of sending a message—that if Charlemagne wanted a holy war, they knew how to play that game too.
(I’ve known about this theory for a number of years, but have always rejected it, assuming it was born of that reflexive hostility to Christianity that’s so common in today’s academia. I didn’t know that it had 18th Century roots, and that impressed me.
On the other hand, it seems to me it demands that I believe that Scandinavians of that age were organized and cohesive enough, across tribal borders, to cooperate on such a large-scale project. It also depends on the existence of a Franco-English alliance at the time, which has not been proved.
Nevertheless, I’m impressed with the argument as presented here, and will have to give it more respect in the future.)
What this works out to in the general scheme of the book is a view of the Viking Age not as a three-century frat party, but as a period of resistance, by a basically freedom-loving, decentralized culture and political system, to the aggression of a monarchical, top-down ideology that had no love for freedom.
This leads to the new theory about the origins of the Norwegian nation (which is to say, Norway in the Viking Age). Titlestad traces (sometimes, it must be admitted, through generous speculation in the absence of hard evidence) the slow retreat of the old, democratic tradition before the ever-increasing pressure of kings determined to re-make the country according to the European model.
Titlestad’s hero in this story, the defender of traditional rights, the man who stood in the path of history, crying “Stop!” to borrow a conceit from William F. Buckley, was Erling Skjalgsson of Sola.
Who’s the hero of my Viking novels.
And this is precisely how I’ve seen Erling too, since long before I ever read Titlestad.
So I like this book, and want it to succeed.
Another nice thing, in my opinion, is that (unlike most big Viking books published nowadays, and there are a lot of them), the publishers have chosen to illustrate this book with dramatic paintings and photographs, both old and modern. I like pictures of museum exhibits, but I've seen them all before, many times).
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