Back in the late sixties, Dorset Press put out a series of books about everyday life in different cultures, mostly in ancient times. Included in this series was a book about everyday life in the Viking Age by Jacqueline Simpson. Dr. Simpson is a researcher and author on folklore and legend from the United Kingdom. She studied English Literature and Medieval Icelandic at Bedford College, University of London and has served as Editor, Secretary and President of the Folklore Society. The time frame of this book is from the eighth to the mid-eleventh centuries and covers the expansion of the peoples of Scandinavia and their life at sea, at home and in their colonies.
As her sources, Simpson uses the abundance of early Scandinavian and Icelandic literature that exists paired with archaeological discoveries such as the excavated settlements of Jarlshof, Oseberg, Hedeby, Gokstad and others. The books starts out with an explanation of who the Vikings were and the sources for their history. Simpson gives an overview of the expansion of the Vikings and then discusses their life on land and at sea. She has chapters on the merchants, weapons and warriors, the family and society, their games, arts, poetry, religious practices and funerary rites. An interesting point she makes regarding the funerary rites it that the sending of a burning ship out to sea is fairly rare and was only used by the upper echelons of society.
Perhaps the best feature of this book is the plethora of photos and drawings that are included. For many of the historical points given, there is a corresponding illustration. There are numerous representations of gods and their stories, depictions of rune stones, photos and drawings of everyday implements and tools. She gives a detailed explanation of how the formidable Viking ships were built, what their dimensions were and how they used oars and sails. There are portrayals of Viking clothing and floor plans of their housing. I really enjoyed the description of animal husbandry and how the merchant colonies operated.
Dr. Simpson’s writing is imminently readable. The illustrations are priceless and there is an excellent section of suggestions for further reading. Reading this book along with Jonathan Clements “A Brief History of the Vikings” is a great introduction into Viking history. I learned a lot from this book and highly recommend it.
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