First broadcast on BBC Radio 4, in November 2005, The Viking Way is David Aaronovitch‘s three part presentation exploring the world of the Vikings. The documentary is now available via RadioArchive.cc, the great public radio torrent site, HERE.
Part 1 – Ruling The Waves
This programme looks at who the Vikings were, where they came from, their social strata, their home life and why they were called Vikings.
It also examines their carpentry and boat-building skills: Norse craftsmen had a very sophisticated understanding of how to get the best out of wood, and used this knowledge in constructing their houses and ships.
In all nautical matters, Vikings were vastly superior to their contemporaries. Their navigational abilities alone are still being debated by historians and archaeologists: for how did they manage to navigate when out of sight of land?
Had they developed some kind of compass – and if not, what other methods did they use when travelling back and forth between places as far away as Iceland, Norway, and Greenland?
What were their fabled longships really like, and what was the effect of their appearance upon those the Vikings attacked?
…and did Viking warriors really wear those horned helmets?
Part 2 – A Danelaw Day
This programme explores what happened when the Vikings started attacking Anglo-Saxon communities in Britain .
Anglo-Saxon Britain was not a unified state – but it was a wealthy land, and much of that wealth was gathered in the monasteries. It had been gained largely by peaceful trade, but when the Vikings – or “north men” as they tended to be called – turned to raiding rather than trading, the various rival Anglo-Saxon kings found they had a common enemy.
Or did they? Our knowledge of the period is mostly due to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, written by the very people who were on the receiving end of that Viking approach to “free enterprise”. In addition, there are several different manuscript versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, written at different times and in different monasteries – and they don’t all tell the same story.
And what was life like under Norse domination? For those Anglo-Saxons who found themselves living in Danelaw – the area to the east of Britain ruled by the Danes – in what ways did their existence change? Would those at the bottom of the social scale have been better or worse off? Would they indeed have noticed much difference?
Part 3 – Inform, Educate And Entertain
After a hard day’s pillaging and plunder, what did a Viking do to relax?
Not surprisingly, alcohol featured a lot in their social activities – and picking a fight with a rival whilst emptying the goblets, was a commonplace occurrence. However, these were not just drunken brawls – for Norse society had a great love of poetry, and Viking warriors were practised at Insult-Poems: challenging eachother to aggressive poetic contests, each stanza followed by yet another drink…
The competitive element also emerged in a love of board-games, which have been described in such detail in Norse Sagas, that historians have a clear idea of the rules and stratagems used to play them.
However, Norse society’s chief creative contribution to the world, is the Saga. These secular narratives were filled with drama, action and adventure – and were as gripping for their audience as soaps are today. Not only did they provide massive entertainment, but they also demonstrated the Viking moral code: of bravery and loyalty, honour and vengeance, and the importance of kith and kin…
Posted by Jesse Willis
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