project: Hristssaga

 Again, something I did before creating the 50-books lists. Let's see if it fits.

This requires a lot of finagling, because we have nothing much of the period. There's archaeology (always a strong point for me), the practices of Christianized Greenlanders three hundred years later and what they recorded, what a few period Christian sources have to say, and later myth and legend about Vikings. Me for the site reports and reconstructions.

As this is a popular period for re-enactors, consider web sources. The Viking Answer Lady may be just what you need, or a site on the voyage of an authentically constructed drakkar, down to adzing out the boards rather than using power tools.

 "In the past, the study of the Viking Age was based chiefly on written evidence. Since the early twentieth century, however, extensive studies have shown that many of the exciting stories about the Viking Age are more like 'historical novels' than accurate accounts; they were composed a long time after the events they describe, perhaps with the deliberate intention of glorifying a particular family in order to legitimize its rights to land, or to a kingdom, or to endorse a certain policy."

-- Else Roesdahl, The Vikings

Nor is Roesdahl the only authority to point this out. In general, anything from 1000 to 1200 or 1300 is shaky; anything between 1300 and 1900 is fiction. From 1900 to 1970 or 1980 it is more or less suspect. Unless it is a translation of sagas or chronicles, your reading is least wasted on things published after the Seventies boom in Viking archaeology. However, be wary: many current books are largely based on historians of the Sixties, and many are basing themselves and their theories entirely on antique written sources which amount to historical fiction, which they treat as irrefutable canon.

However, since the Hristssaga is historical fantasy, I wasn't always unhappy to find gaps in knowledge in which to build things that suited what I wanted to do. In straight historical fiction, the wiggle room can let you do something different.


Else Roesdahl, trans. by Susan M. Margeson & Kirsten Williams; The Vikings, 1987, 1991, Penguin Books, London. This covers life in their own places, not just out raiding, in marvelous detail revealed by the spade.

You also go to the university library, if one is convenient, and go through Scandinavian Studies from 1980 or 1990 forward, reading everything relevant.

 1). A general history of the time, not over 200 pages.
George Fox Mott & Harold M. Dee; An Outline History of the Middle Ages; 1933-1950; B&N, NY; which covers European history from 395-1564 CE.

2.) An "everyday life" book of the period.
Everyday Life Through the Ages (Reader's Digest)
; 1992; Reader's Digest Assoc, London. "Invaders Make a New Europe: Saxons, Celts, Franks and Vikings" pg. 128-133. The Norse village scene shows square buildings, alas. But photos include gaming boards, the portable scales and horse-bone skates mentioned in Roesdahl, and a few other goodies. The text includes unusual details on swimming contests and horse-fights.

3.) General transportation:
Hyland, Ann The Medieval Warhorse From Byzantium to The Crusades
; 1994 Sutton Books, Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire

4.) General costume
Boucher, François 20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment, Harry N. Abrams, NY. Also, the online resource, Costumers Manifesto, which is like a multi-volume costume encyclopedia by now.

5.) Specific transportation:
Gardiner, Robert (Editor); The Earliest Ships: The Evolution of Boats into Ships; Naval Institute Press; 1996; Hardcover, 143pp.; index, glossary. The temporally earliest volume of Conway's History of the Ship. Like the others, picture-rich, but a collection of articles by different hands sometimes leaves holes. It also has some things others don't. Covers the ancient Mediterranean, the early Central European, early NW European, Norse, and "Oriental" (Arabic and Chinese) traditions. Especially enjoy "Problems of Reconstruction and the Estimation of Performance." Note that everything is covered in less than 130 pages.

6.) Etiquette, and I don't mean morals for maidens.
We don't even have morals for maidens for this culture. Ya reads yer sagas and ya takes yer chances. I tend to play Vikings as outlaw bikers with a good attitude toward women.

7.) Spectator entertainments, whether theatre or sports, a general overview.
Sports. Funerals. Religious festivals. Else Roesdahl, trans. by Susan M. Margeson & Kirsten Williams; The Vikings, 1987, 1991, Penguin Books, London

8.) Self-entertainments, like card games, lawn games, and children's games.
Else Roesdahl, trans. by Susan M. Margeson & Kirsten Williams; The Vikings, 1987, 1991, Penguin Books, London

9.) Food and dining, including what sort of public dining was available.
Else Roesdahl, trans. by Susan M. Margeson & Kirsten Williams; The Vikings, 1987, 1991, Penguin Books, London.

10.) Recipes for period food.
On my wish list: Food and Cooking in Viking Times (Cooking in World Cultures) (Cooking in World Cultures) by Clive Gifford

11.) Marriage and family.
See the list at #50.

12.) Specific dress styles, for your decade, including specialty costumes for clerics.
Our best source is the Viking Answer Lady. This is a remarkably difficult period to research.

13.) Religion for the time and place.
I would like "the Norse religion," but besides that we're talking different but related cultures, and a multiplicity of religions, little is preserved. The Icelandic stories are those remembered and recorded by Medieval Christian Icelanders. However, there's a book I need to get, Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs by John Lindow

14.) A fat history book of the area and century as an introduction.
Thank heavens for the Durants (Will Durant; The Age Of Faith: A History Of Medieval Civilization, Christian, Islamic, and Judaic from Constantine to Dante AD 325-1300 (The Story of Civilization v. IV), 1950.). This is sometimes called the darkest part of the Dark Ages. I prefer to think of it as the Age of Migration at one of its peaks of migration. This is always hard on records.

In Europe at the time, the most influential states would have to be, ummm, ah ... It was a chaotic mess. Let's say the Frankish states of the fractured Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne, and the Norse Vikings because they used the chaos to go where they wanted and do what they liked when they got there. Denmark will have to stand for the rest, who were squabbling smaller holdings into kingdoms besides raiding and invading.

One could say Byzantium vs. the Caliphate, with this in a backwater. But that's like using Chinese kingdoms for irrelevance. The Varangian Guard hadn't yet been established, nor had the Rus moved into Slavic areas..

15.) A history of the most influential country at the time (country A).
Nicolle, David, PhD; plates by Angus McBride; The Age of Charlemagne (Men-at-Arms)
, 1984, 1995 Osprey Publishing Ltd., London This actually runs from 700 to 1066, so it does cover the later emperors and kings of his line. These are the ones who had to deal with Vikings.

16.) A history of its rival (country B).
Saxo Grammaticus; The Danish History, Books I-IX, and Thomas Carlyle, Early Kings of Norway, which is a nice cook-down of the Heimskringla for those not ready to deal with Medieval Norse chronologies.

17.) A biography of the leader of country A
I transcribed (keyed in) early bios of Charlemagne for the Medieval Source Book, but stuff on his son is overwhelmed by his image.

18.) A biography of the leader of country B
Snorri Sturluson, trans. Bjarni Athalbjarnarson, (ed.) Heimskringla, or The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway. This is relevant because I'm centering out of western Norway. Sagas of: Ynglinga, Halfdan the Black, Harald Harfager, Hakon the Good, King Harald Grafeld & of Earl Hakon Son of Sigurd, King Olaf Trygvason, Olaf Haraldson (St. Olaf), Magnus the Good, Harald Hardrade, Olaf Kyrre, Magnus Barefoot, Sigurd the Crusader & His Brothers Eystein and Olaf, Magnus the Blind & of Harald Gille; Sigurd, Inge, & Eystein, the Sons of Harald; Hakon Herdebre ("Hakon the Broad-Shouldered"); Magnus Erlingson.

19.) A history of the country you are setting in, general.
Gwyn Jones, A History of the Vikings; 1968, Oxford, Oxford U Press

20.) A history of the country you are setting in, that era.
Sawyer, P. H. Kings and Vikings: Scandinavia and Europe AD 700-1100 <sic>; 1994 Routledge; B&N reprint, NY

21.) A biography of the leader of the country of your setting.
There was no leader. The place was tiny lordships and independent villages all over the place. Instead, let's throw in Salmonson, Jessica Amanda; The Encyclopedia of Amazons; 1991; Paragon House, NY. Going Viking with one's brothers was not an odd hobby for young women of the upper class.

22.) An everyday life for the commoner/lower classes of your time and place.
Anna Ritchie,Viking Scotland; B. T. Batsford Ltd/Historic Scotland, 1993. A strongly pictorial book, it has a great deal to show about the Norse free farm family throughout the Viking world, as a contrast to the village of serfs.

23.) An everyday life for the upper classes of your time and place.
Else Roesdahl, trans. by Susan M. Margeson & Kirsten Williams; The Vikings, 1987, 1991, Penguin Books, London

24.) An everyday life for the middle class of your time and place.
Harrison, Mark ; plates by Gerry Embleton Viking Hersir 793-1066 AD (Warrior) <sic>;1993 Osprey Publishing Ltd., London

25.) An everyday life for women of your time and place,
Jenny M.Jochens; Women in Old Norse Society; Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY; 1995. However, see #50 for the collection I went through.

26.) An auto/biography of someone like your protagonist, or a book as much as possible focused on people like that.
Heath, Ian; plates by Angus McBride; The Vikings, 1993, London Osprey Publishing Ltd.; Elite #3.

27.) A book on houses and furnishings of the period, if possible.
.Illustrated History of Furniture from the Earliest to the Present Time by Frederick Litchfield (1903; London: Truslove & Hanson Limited; New York:; illustrated by John Lane 1892-1903) will get you through a lot of the basics for free, but they don't cover this. Look at the interiors painted by McBride. It's very simple, very sparse. In the raided areas, I needed Henri Stierlin, ed., Architecture of the World: Romanesque; Taschen, 192 pg; Between Classical Roman buildings with fluted pillars (end by 500 in Europe) and Gothic buildings with flying buttresses (not until 1100's), the style of churches and other large buildings is Romanesque in the south where the vikings go raiding. Less specialist books often slight this style because it is restrained and looks spare.

28.) A book about courting, romance, and sex of the time.
No one knows what Viking marriage ceremonies were like. We have only bare bones of "they decided to get married and they did" from Icelandic sagas. See #50.

29.) A book for naming historical characters properly.
Holly Ingraham, People's Names: A Cross-Cultural Reference Guide to the Proper Use of Over 40000personal and Familial Names in Over 100 Cultures , 1997, McFarland. The Norse chapter, but I also needed Franks and ancient Irish and Anglo-Saxons, and Frisians ...

30.) Medicine of the time and place.
Cockayne, Thomas Oswald, 1807-1873; Apuleius, Barbarus; Placitus, Sextus, Papyriensis; Dioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos; Leechdoms, wortcunning, and starcraft of early England. Being a collection of documents, for the most part never before printed, illustrating the history of science in this country before the Norman conquest (1864) London : Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green. This at least gets us in the neighborhood. V. 1 is Classical stuff. The other volumes give a basis to develop something for the Norse. v. 1. Preface. Herbarium of Apuleius. Continued from Dioskorides, etc. Medicina de quadrupedibus of Sextus Placitus; all from Brit. mus. ms. Cotton. Vitellius C. III. Leechdoms from fly leaves of mss. Charms (in part)--v. 2. Læce boc: Leech book, from Brit. mus. ms. Reg. 12. D. XVII. Glossary. Index of proper names.--v. 3. Recipes, from Brit. mus. Harl. 585. Of schools of medicine, Harl. ms. 6258. Prognostics. Starcraft. Charms. Durham glossary of names of plants. Saxon names of plants. Glossary. Index. Names of persons. Historical fragments

31.) Climate, weather, and seasons.
The Viking expansion coincided with a warm spell of a couple of centuries that kept their fjords ice-free more of the year, gave better crops (more food normally equals a population upswing), and allowed places like Greenland to be settled and farmed. Interestingly, this coincides with the great Polynesian expansion, and the first settling of the Hawai'ian Islands. The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations by Brian Fagan is aimed at 800-1300.

Period Maps

The Cultural Atlas of the Viking World edited by James Graham-Campbell, at the time from Facts on File. Uses more contributors than most, but the usual excellent production from the Cultural Atlas series: maps, history, mores, culture, dress, technology. Maps especially useful for these wanderers! This is hard to beat for being dead on.

 32.) Weapons & Warfare: R. Ewart Oakeshott, The Archaeology of Weapons, Arms and Armor From Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry; 1960 Lutterworth Press, London. Nicely covers Viking terms for fighting from horseback (yes, they did it) and touches on their female warriors.

33.) Weapons & Warfare: Robert Hardy, Longbow: a Social and Military History 1976, 1986, 1990, 1992 rev & enlarged Bois d'Arc Press, no locale, probably London. Covers viking archery.

34.) Viking Ships: William Ledyard Rodgers, vice admiral, USN, ret. Naval Warfare Under Oars, 4th to 16th Centuries. A Study of Strategy, Tactics and Ship Design 1940, 1967 Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD. Actually kind of weak on viking ships.

35.) History: anonymous, trans. James Ingram; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; 890, 1823. This covers the Viking Age in England.

36.) Norse Women: Jesch, Judith; Women in the Viking Ag; Boydell, Woodbridge, CN; 1991

37.) Norse: Byock, Jesse L.; The Saga of the Volsungs (Penguin Classics; University of California Press, 1990; 146 pg, no index, glossary. This isn't a prettified "re-telling," but a direct translation. The introduction and notes are extremely valuable, too. Non-linear (Brynhild and Sigurd meet for the first time more than once!), not deep nor sophisticated, but culturally necessary. If you read no other Norse literature, read this.

38.) Frankish Warfare: Delbrueck, Hans; Medieval Warfare: History of the Art of War, Volume II; University of Nebraska Press, 1990, trans. Walter J. Renfroe, Jr.; orig. 1923; 711 pg, index. Extremely cogent dissection of the concept of the "peasant levy," showing it a means of raising cash (taxation not being well-developed) as the troops it would have raised if actually used would have been herds of inefficient mouths, given unsuitably insubordinate ideas, when the peasant was otherwise being ground down into passive and unarmed serfdom. Begins with a list of the cost of Carlovingian war-gear in cows, and proceeds to do a lot of rational analysis and myth-busting, rather than gulping poetic accounts thoughtlessly, as if they were modern objective reports. Viewpoint is that of the sources (Frankish and Anglo-Saxon) but he is an early discrediter of body counts, so that you will not have hordes of 20,000 when you should have bands of 300.

39.) Ireland: McManus, Seamus; The Story of the Irish Race; Devon-Adair Company, Old Greenwich, CN. Because Ireland is one of the places you raid, as an early Viking.

40.) Ireland: Joyce, P. W.; A Social History of Ancient Ireland;1968. A lovely fat two-volume exploration of all the minutiae of life. Would there were such a book for every geographical and temporal cultural group: writers' lives would be so easy. One chapter alone, "Food, Fuel, & Light," gives the names of food, drink, and utensils, methods of cookery, arrangement of seating, the colours and varieties of ales, the most popular source of wine (Poitou), and the date of first mention of whiskey (1405), among much more. Get together with MacManus, and you almost have to invent a story in Ireland just to use all the information to hand. There is also a compact and more affordable version, A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland. Alternately, you can go for the freebie, On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish v.I by Eugene O'Curry (London, Williams and Norgate, 1873); v. II, v. III, v. IV. Yes, free is usually old.

41.) Religion: Anwyl, Edward , M.A. Celtic Religion In Pre-Christian Times; 1906; London; Archibald Constable & Co Ltd.. To construct an ancient survivor.

42.) Voyaging: Jones, Gwyn; The Norse Atlantic Saga: Being the Norse Voyages of Discovery and Settlement to Iceland, Greenland, and North America; 1986, Oxford University Press.

43.) Horse care: Svinhufvud, Anne Charlotte; A late Middle English treatise on horse; Stockholm, Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1978. Mostly on philology, but p. 248-270 is the translation of a partially surviving work probably from somewhere in 1380-1420. Mostly on veterinary treatment, complete with the proper incantations. This was the only thing I could find between 350 BC and the Renaissance, and it took hitting the university library. Doctoral theses are your friends.

44.) Costume, Furniture, Tents, Armour, Weapons, Jewelry, et al: Viollet-le-duc, Emmanuel; Dictionnaire raisonné de mobilier Français de l'époque Carlovingienne a la Renaissance; Paris, Morel, 1874 (multi-volume). So you don't read French. So didn't most of the people I've known who owned a set, but the illos are so good you often don't need to. F'rinstance, the Viking tents that started showing up at Pennsic Wars came from illos in this. Remember, the French for Northman is "Norman." So this includes Viking stuff. t. 1. Meubles (furnishings, and the tents) t. 2. Ustensiles. Orfèvrerie [sic] Instruments de musique. Jeux, passe-temps. Outils. Outillages (games, pastimes, musical instruments, various utensils) t. 3 & 4. Vêtements, bijoux de corps, objets de toilette (costume) t. 5 & 6. Armes de guerre offensives et défensives (weapons & armour)

45.) Invasions: O'Cuiv, B., editor; The Impact of the Scandinavian Invasions on the Celtic-Speaking Peoples, c. 800-1000 AD <sic>, Dublin, 1962

46.) Ireland, Wales & Alba: Dillon, M. & N. Chadwick; The Celtic Realms: The History and the Culture of the Celtic Peoples from Pre-History to the Norman Invasio; Phoenix, 355 pages, 64 plates. Masterly survey of the history and culture of the Celtic peoples covers the whole period from their prehistoric origins to the Norman invasion of Britain.

47.) Blacksmithing: Bealer, Alex W.; The Art of Blacksmithing; Castle; 438 pg, 500 drawings. Covers everything with traditional tools (but see Buehr for when they were adopted) and gives techniques for forging armor (see ffoulkes, too), tools, and various other items. Needed for a section involving svartelfs.

48.) Weapons: Walter Buehr; Warrior's Weapons; Crowell, NY, 1963; illustrated by author. Covers primitive smelting in bonfires and clay kilns, early steel and the pragmatic purpose of damascene or sprinkling powdered gems over red-hot blades. Scandinavia was a great source of iron.

49.) Viking Travels: Jordan, Robert Paul; "Viking Trail East"; National Geographic Magazine, March 1985, pg 268-288. An interesting basic article for the Rus and Varangians, if you haven't decided yet where in the Viking world you are going. Emphasizes the traders and mercenaries. The paintings by Michael A. Hampshire are inspiring. The map has the artistic intelligibility that separates classic NGS work from most of the mechanically accurate but intellectually disorganized maps out there. Photographs of objects may be instructive, but Jim Brandenburg can only shoot landscapes of what's there now.

50.) Men, Women, Sex, Courting:

Clover, Carol J

"Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe"
Studying Medieval Women, ed. Nancy F. Partner. Cambridge: Medieval Academy of America. 1993. pp. 61-85.
"The Politics of Scarcity: Notes on the Sex Ratio in Early Scandinavia"
Scandinavian Studies 60 (1988): 147-188

Jacobsen, Grethe; The Position of Women in Scandinavia During the Viking Period. MA Thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1978

Jochens, Jenny M.

"Consent in Marriage: Old Norse Law, Life, and Literature."
Scandinavian Studies 58 (1986): 142-176
"Gender and Drinking in the World of the Icelandic Sagas,"
A Special Brew: Essays in Honor of Kristof Glamann. Odense: Odense Univ. Press. 1993. pp. 155-181
"The Illicit Love Visit: An Archaeology of Old Norse Sexuality,"
JHS 1 (1991): 357-392.
"Men, Women, and Beasts: Old Norse Sexuality."
Handbook in Sexuality. ed. Vern Bullough. New York: Garland Press. 1995
Old Norse Images of Women
Philadelphia. University of Philadelphia Press. 1996
"Old Norse Magic and Gender: Thattr Thorvalds ens Vidforla,"
Scandinavian Studies 63 (1991): 305-317
"Vikings Westward to Vinland: Problems of Women and Sexuality."
Cold Counsel: the Women of Old Norse Literature and Myth. ed. Karen Swenson and Saray May Anderson. New York: Garland Press. 1995
"Voluspa: Matrix of Norse Womanhood,"
Journal of English and Germanic Philology 88 (1989): 344-362

Karras, Ruth M.; "Concubinage and Slavery in the Viking Age,"; Scandinavian Studies 62 (1990): 141-162

If you need something else for your particular story around this time, maybe Historical Novelists Center can help with their Viking pages.

  copyright Holly Ingraham




50 Books for:

The Peloponnese, 396 BC 

 Early Viking, c. 850

The First Crusade, Outre-Mer 1098 

 The Hundred Years War, France1352

Richelieuan France, 1630

Pirate Caribbean, 1670 

 Napoleonic London Highlife 1803

Regency London Highlife 1817

Mexico, 1846-8

 London Low-Life 1870

 Gilded Age New York 1898

Check the Near History sample guides. There's more to read, but mostly lighter stuff, as well as lots more in video. A few appropriate movies from a year are much easier to get through than a detail biography of a president and will tell you more about ordinary life.

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