A new narrative history of the Viking Age, interwoven with exploration of the physical remains and landscapes that the Vikings fashioned and walked: their rune-stones and ship burials, settlements and battlefields.
To many, the word ‘Viking’ brings to mind red scenes of rape and pillage, of marauders from beyond the sea rampaging around the British coastline in the last gloomy centuries before the Norman Conquest. It is true that Britain in the Viking Age was a turbulent, violent place. The kings and warlords who have impressed their memories on the period revel in names that fire the blood and stir the imagination: Svein Forkbeard and Edmund Ironside, Ivar the Boneless and Alfred the Great, Erik Bloodaxe and Edgar the Pacifier amongst many others. Evidence for their brutality, their dominance, their avarice and their pride is still unearthed from British soil with stunning regularity.
But this is not the whole story.
In Viking Britain, Thomas Williams has drawn on his experience as project curator of the British Museum exhibition of Vikings: Life and Legend to show how the people we call Vikings came not just to raid and plunder, but to settle, to colonize and to rule. The impact on these islands was profound and enduring, shaping British social, cultural and political development for hundreds of years. Indeed, in language, literature, place-names and folklore, the presence of Scandinavian settlers can still be felt, and their memory – filtered and refashioned through the writings of people like J.R.R. Tolkien, William Morris and G.K.Chesterton – has transformed the western imagination.
This remarkable book makes use of new academic research and first-hand experience, drawing deeply from the relics and landscapes that the Vikings and their contemporaries fashioned and walked: their runestones and ship burials, settlements and battlefields, poems and chronicles. The book offers a vital evocation of a forgotten world, its echoes in later history and its implications for the present.
About the author
Thomas Williams was a curator of the major international exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend in 2014 and is now Curator of Early Medieval Coins at the British Museum. He undertook doctoral research at University College London and has taught and lectured in history and archaeology at the University of Cambridge.
- ‘Fresh, vivid and impeccably researched … the most rip-roaring work of nonfiction I read this year’ Tom Holland, Observer, Books of the Year
- ‘Williams’ infectiously enthusiastic book gives you everything you could want from a history of the Vikings’ Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times, Books of the Year
- ‘A debut that pulses with the author’s passion for his subject and his mastery of written sources, archaeology and legend. Williams narrates a complex story in enjoyable, lusty prose’ Dan Jones, Sunday Times
- ‘Viking Britain [is] an engrossing account … Williams is scrupulous to avoid the easy pub-chat message. He writes fluently and with feeling’ Thomas W. Hodgkinson, Spectator
- ‘Williams is a master at conveying the atmosphere of Viking Britain … We are guests at a sensory feast, at times immersed … and at others guided by the comforting hand of firm historical evaluation. Viking Britain is a giddy ride … a real treat’ Philip Parker, Literary Review
- ‘Williams evocative prose puts flesh on sturdy academic bones. ‘Viking Britain’ is a pleasure to read… a lively, colourful book that explores in high definition what being a Viking really meant. Williams … succeeds where many have failed: to make the truth about the Vikings as entertaining as the fiction’ Giles Kristian, The Times
- ‘An exemplary work of popular history, at once full of the most up-to-date archaeology and international scholarly thought, and full of the literary flourishes which bring the past most vividly to life for readers: dramatic reconstruction, physical scene-setting and authorial intervention. It is a great success’ Ronald Hutton
- ‘A fundamentally new history of the Vikings in Britain: authoritative, at times controversial, and above all a personal journey through the byways of life under Scandinavian military occupation … A real pleasure to read’ Professor Neil Price, University of Uppsala