Book Review: “Viking Age: Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen” by Kirsten Wolf

Viking age life book cover

Lately I’ve been in search of good books regarding the Vikings and the Viking Age, especially about their everyday life and most especially about viking women. From the title, this book seemed to fit the bill. I had recently read and reviewed “Everyday Life in the Viking Age” by Jacqueline Simpson which was written in the late sixties. I was eager to compare what the two authors had to say on the topic and if there were any changes.

Interestingly, Wolf’s book confirmed everything in Simpson’s book. I was delighted when the first chapter dwelt mostly on women and their role in Viking Age society. Wolf was very specific in describing domestic life, marriage, kinship, childbirth, children and old age. Next is a chapter on economic life and Wolf tells us a great deal about Viking Age trade. The section on the trading centers (emporia) was very appealing. In the chapter on intellectual life, she goes into great detail about language and writing which was very technical and little hard to understand but Wolf’s specialty is Scandinavian languages. The other sections on education, literature, science and health and medicine are fascinating.

I really liked the section on material life. Here Wolf describes Viking Age housing, domestic furnishings, men’s and women’s clothing, and food and drink. Wolf describes the different styles of visual art, i.e. Broa, Jelling, Mammen, Borre, etc. And of course there is the requisite segment on Viking Age ships and other types of boats as well as how the vikings traveled by sea and by land. This is really the heart of the book and the most enjoyable chapter.

The chapter on political life explains the social structure of society, from slaves up to the aristocracy. Wolf talks about the process of unification broken down by country, Denmark, Sweden, Norway. I especially liked the history sections of this chapter, giving short paragraphs on how the Vikings colonized different areas of the world. Wolf gives a breakdown of the law codes, warfare and weapons.

The final chapters are devoted to recreational life, religion, myths, death and burial practices. She has a brief explanation of how the Scandinavian countries were Christianized. There are many beautiful illustrations. Overall, I found the book to be enlightening and pleasurable read. I would highly recommend it. This book is one in a series by Sterling Publishing Company regarding the everyday life of ancient historical cultures, the others being Greece, Egypt and the Middle Ages.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: “Viking Age: Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen” by Kirsten Wolf

  1. You should also look at the book The Vikings by Magnus Magnusson, a famous BBC broadcaster of Icelandic origin. I discovered that I am descended from Viking genes, so that kindled my own interest. Overall, the Vikings have been stereotyped by (mainly British) history and the new thinking is that they were remarkably artistic, inventive and adventurous: their violence, pillage and rapine was in the context of the Dark Ages in which they lived. In some ways they were nomads who settled, and with settlement, their power diminished or transferred to other cultures – similar in some ways like the golden Horde of the Mongolian Khanates.
    PS For Americans – it was the Vikings who brought lacrosse to the Americas – it was not an Indian game.

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