Being of good Viking stock, I am ashamed of myself. I’ve been watching the second episode of Vikings on BBC2, presented by the rather gorgeous Neil Oliver (note that the link to iplayer won’t work once the BBC remove it).
I had never thought about how far East and South the Vikings travelled. I’m familiar with their exploits around the North and Irish Seas, and the Atlantic too. Having lived in Lincoln for a while, I’m well educated on Danelaw and Norse place names. But I visited the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul a few years ago, and felt a very long way from home. To discover Viking runes are carved there is remarkable. The lovely Neil told me that the Hagia Sophia was already a couple of hundred years old by the time the Vikings arrived in the 800’s. It’s also interesting that the Vikings were seen as traders, rather than invaders (although that may have had something to do with vast open spaces, as opposed to the settled lands of the British Isles, which already had plenty of people).
The programme showed a collection of objects found in one house near Stockholm- a Buddha from India, a Coptic baptism scoop from Africa, and a Bishop’s Crozier from Ireland. We think of the Vikings as full of violence and bloodlust, yet they appreciated beauty and luxury. We think of ourselves as living in a global village – but maybe my amazing forebears thought the same.