In this blog, I explore aspects of Scandinavian culture which have captured my interest and curiosity over the past few months. The stories I have read and listened to feature connections and threads which endure over millennia. From vague school recollections to the the latest archaeology and history. It's been a reminder that Scandinavia has been a formative influence on the British Isles.
In his book and television series, historian Neil Oliver describes the origins of the culture and imagery which readily comes to mind when we mention the Vikings.
"Connections between Denmark and Jutland and the rest of Scandinavia are not only revealed by the trade goods. Especially evocative are the numerous rock carvings - made during the second millennium BC - of what can only be described at long ships.
Such imagery is common in southern Sweden, but also found in Denmark and Norway. The creation of rock art there seems to have been a preoccupation for hundreds of years and subjects include, people, animals, weapons, unidentified symbols and shallow circular depressions known as cup marks.
|The wheel is a recurring design, here with cup marks. Bornholm, Denmark.|
Most common, however, are depictions of seagoing vessels with high prows and sterns, crewed by a score and more rowers. They appear again and again, pecked into outcrops of bedrock - sometimes single ships but often entire flotillas.
|Rock art in Tanum, Sweden|
Inspired by these icons of Bronze Age Scandinavian explorers. I have created these original and decorative objects, hand crafted in Hayfield.
One cannot talk about the vikings for long without acknowledging their contribution to the literary arts. The sagas of Icelanders are narratives mostly based on historical events that took place in Iceland in the ninth, tenth, and early eleventh centuries, during the so-called Saga Age. Originally passed down as oral history, they were recorded around 300 years later, by unknown authors, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries
The success of the Vikings was not just a result of pillaging and raiding. Where they settled, they assimilated themselves into local culture. They even forsake paganism and converted to Christianity. Not out of revelation for the teachings, but with motivation to gain access to fresh lucrative markets and trade.
Many history texts conveniently cite 1066 and the Battle Of Hastings as the end of the Viking era. The vikings of this period were vastly changed from their early cultural roots in the Bronze Age. The more subtle reality is that by they gradually became different. So when the raiding stopped, Norsemen continued to live in Iceland and the north countries. They had become something else at the same time as leaving their legacy among us. And in this respect they remain unconquered.