Archaeology Show Premiers on BBC

Raiders of the Lost Past is not, as it turns out, the anticipated 5th Indiana Jones film but rather a BBC Two archaeology show which premiered last week. Hosted by Oxford scholar Dr. Janina Ramirez, the first season showcased finds from Suffolk, England, Mexico and even a 40.000 year old work of art discovered in Nazi Germany in 1939.

While neither Anglo-Saxons (Sutton who?), Olmecs or Upper Paleolithic cultures are of particular interest to Eastern Viking enthusiasts, the show is well-worthwhile, offering as it does a different take on history than usually presented. In the second and current season, Dr. Ramirez begins with the Palace of Knossos in Crete, which is here seen to be a Minoan administrative centre rather than a royal dwelling.

The next couple of episodes features two subjects dear to our hearts, Vikings and Turkey. The second episode, which premieres this weekend, sees Dr. Ramirez going to Norway, navigating the various hurdles arising from the pandemic, to explore a Viking ship. This is probably the Gjellestad ship previously discussed on these pages, or else an earlier find such as the Oseberg ship.

The third and final show of the season takes us to modern day Turkey, not to explore the Byzantines, sadly, but a 9000 year old city. No doubt this will turn out to the the Neolithic Çatalhöyük, but there is in fact a small Byzantine settlement nearby. Fingers crossed it gets a mention.

For those who want to check out the Janina Ramirez take on the Vikings, you can have a look at BBC Two – Raiders of the Lost Past with Janina Ramirez, Series 2, The Viking Ship

Sadly, the iPlayer only works in the UK.

 

Last Chance for World’s Largest Online Viking Festival

Everyone knows that a Thing was the old Norse name for a meeting place where disputes were settled, trade concluded and weddings arranged. The name is reflected in modern Icelandic in Alþingi, or the Parliament. Thing in English also means (apart from that Marvel superhero) some “thing.” Having fun with the name is the That Jorvik Viking Thing, held annually in old Jorvik, present day York in England.

This year, the event has moved online, running from February 15th to 20th, with some events available for longer. Among the highlights is a performance by Einar Selvik from the band Wardruna, who plays on representations of old Viking instruments.

There is also crafting, mead making and the annual Poo Day, which explains why archaeologists have such a love for old poo which can act as a window to the past. You can even make your own poo but purists be warned, the ingredients are representations and not the real thing.

Some Eastern Vikings did make it to the market in Jorvik, one of the more notable being Egill Skallagrímsson who raided in the east and traded in the west, although he also managed to do some fighting in the latter.

For information and tickets, click: What’s on – That Jorvik Viking Thing (jorvikthing.com)

Realism in Viking Movies

Our very own Neil Price, archaeologist and Viking expert, went through some of the biggest Viking films of all time. As was to be expected, he found much inaccuracy in the details but nevertheless felt that most of them captured something of the feel of Vikings, which is no small praise coming from someone who is one of the world’s leading authorities on the Viking mind (and author of a book of the same name).

For our purposes, perhaps most interesting is The 13th Warrior from 1999, starring Antonio Banders as Ibn Fadlan, the famous Arabic chronicler of the Vikings. The film is admittedly very loosely based on his accounts, and Neil does point out some of the flaws. Nevertheless, he says that it captures some of the cultural exchange that did take place along the Volga 1100 years ago, with various cultures conversing through interpreters. The Arabs, being the main protagonists, here speak English as cinema Vikings are wont to do. In this case, however, the Norwegians speak modern Norwegian. Shouldn’t they have gone for Icelandic instead?

Neil even has a kind word to say for the Marvel Universe Thor films, pointing out that it’s fascinating that people are still interested in stories first told around 1500 years ago, however much has changed in the retelling.

But the best and the worst is reserved for one of the first big-budget Viking films in Technicolour, the aptly titled The Vikings from 1958. While he says that the Vikings are  dressed unhistorically as cavemen, he is impressed that the hero is shown jumping between oars to show is prowess, a feat attributed in the Sagas to Olaf I. of Norway and here shown for the only time in cinema.

The story is not about the famous Olaf, however, enthusiasts of whom should be directed to the Icelandic film White Viking from 1991. The Vikings recounts the story of Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons, lately seen in the TV series of the same name. The aging Ragnar is played by Ernst Borgnine but the leading role goes to one of his sons, played by Kirk Douglas. Kirk himself is a Rus of sorts, being born Issur Danielovitch to Belarusian parents in New York. Everything always leads back to the Rus.

For the 13 minute video, click here:

Viking Expert Breaks Down Famous Viking Movies & TV Shows – YouTube

Icelandic Viking Conference Announced

The Sigfús Blöndal Memorial Conference on Varangian Studies is scheduled to be held on 21-22 October of 2021 as a part of the research project Legends of the Eastern Vikings at the University of Iceland.

It will take place at the university compound at lovely Laugarvatn (around 80 km distance from the capital Reykjavík). The participants will be able to stay at the university residences at this location during the conference. Busses will transport participants from Reykjavík and back again.

Laugarvatn is a popular resort town, known for its geothermal steam baths, and they also use the hot earth to boil (yes, boil) bread. It is also known for its boarding school, whose main building is a nice example of Icelandic interwar architecture.

The participants at the conference will be the research team for the project, including all MA students who have finished theses related to the project. In addition, three affiliated scholars and three invited guests will take part in the proceedings.

Laugavatn HÍ og KHÍ_05.jpg

A Treasure Trove of Viking Stuff Discovered

Climate change is terrible news for just about everyone but one upshoot is that it’s doing wonders for archaeology. The Lendbreen glacier in Norway’s Breheimen national park has been melting at a terrifying rate and now measures just 30 percent of what it was 30 years ago. A decade ago, the area caused a sensation among archaeologists when a 4th century wool tunic was discovered, largely intact. This may have been removed by some poor soul at the moment of freezing to death, when paradoxically the body feels very warm.

Since then, a treasure trove of finds have been made. These span the period from the 3rd century to the end of the Middle Ages, peaking at around the year 1000 at the height of the Viking Age. The artefacts are assumed to be from a mountain pass which connected various parts of Norway and perhaps places further afield. The Cambridge Review of World Archaeology says:

“That the dates cluster in the Viking Age, particularly around AD 1000, is unlikely to be coincidental as it was a time of high mobility, emerging urbanism and increasing political centralisation in Scandinavia, and a period in which markets around the Irish, North and Baltic Seas were growing.”

Perhaps an ancient trade route of the Eastern Vikings has been discovered? In any case, archaeologist Lars Pilø has recently discussed the six most interesting items in Artnet News. Among these are a Viking Age tinderbox, a horse snowshoe and a strange kitchen item which may also have been used as a tent peg. The route was abandoned in the late Middle Ages, perhaps as a cause of worsening climate or the Black Death. Covid-19 has made it difficult to travel to the site lately, so it can be said that climate change and pandemics connect our times with those of the finds in more ways than one.

The top six items:

A Viking Archaeologist Shares 6 of the Most Fascinating Finds From a Slew of Recent Discoveries Made in Melting Ice (artnet.com)

The full story from Cambridge:

Crossing the ice: an Iron Age to medieval mountain pass at Lendbreen, Norway | Antiquity | Cambridge Core

Saga Heroes in Byzantium

Professor Sverrir Jakobsson is interviewed in Morgunblaðið this week about his new book The Varangians: In God’s Holy Fire. He also talks about the Legends of the Eastern Vikings project and says that the Icelandic Sagas, including the Varangians, has been his main interest for the past 30 years, or more or less since he started university. Already in secondary school, Sverrir was known in Iceland for participating on his school team in the annual quiz show Gettu Betur alongside his twin brother Ármann, himself a now professor of Icelandic literature. The competition was broadcast on TV and needless to say, they won.

In the interview, Sverrir talks about the connections between the Icelandic Sagas and the Varangians. Among famous Saga personalities that served at the court of the Eastern Emperor are Kolskeggur (which translates as Blackbeard), who was the brother of the main hero Gunnar in Njáls’ Saga, and Bolli, one of the main protagonists of Laxdæla Saga, was a renowned Varangian too.

Interestingly, while the Byzantine Emperor’s Nordic troops are called “Varjagi” in Slavic chronicles, the term is not used in the oldest Icelandic sources from the 12th century, although veterans from Constantinople are mentioned. The moniker “Væringjar” first seems to come into use in the 13th century in Iceland, at a time when the Varangians, or at least their Nordic element, was in decline in Constantinople and the cohort was increasingly being constituted of Englishmen. The term “Varjagi” can be found in later Arabic sources, but comes later into the old Norse being used in Iceland at the time.

Morgunblaðið newspaper is of a rather later vintage but is Iceland’s oldest functioning newspaper and was founded in 1913. The full interview can be found (in modern Icelandic) on mbl.is.

“Áhugamál mitt í næstum þrjátíu ár.” Þriðjudagur, 19. janúar 2021.

Heathens Against Trump

As the Trump presidency reaches its final minutes, it’s time to remember the storming of the Capitol that took place a mere two weeks ago. One of the most notable figures in that event was Jake Angeli, also known as the QAnon shaman. It’s hard enough for anyone to make sense of the QAnon world view, but as well as Christian and Wild West imagery, Angeli was seen sporting symbols supposedly representing a valknut, Thor’s hammer and even the world tree Yggdrasil.

Pagan associations in the US were at pains to disassociate themselves from Angeli or anything to do with the attack on the Capitol the very next day, who does not seem to have ties to any of them. The Icelandic Asatru society has not seen any reason to comment.

Heathens respond to “Q-Shaman” and Norse Imagery in Capitol Riot | News, Paganism, Politics, U.S. (wildhunt.org)

Happy New Year (again)

It’s the third day of the New Year, at least for those who follow the Julian calendar like the orthodox church does. The Julian calendar, named for Julius Caesar, was used throughout Europe until 1582 when it was found to be two weeks out of step with the lunar calendar and the changing seasons. Western Christianity went with the new calendar, but the old one was retained in orthodox lands until the 1917 revolution.

In the Soviet Union, Christmas was found to be too Christian for an atheistic country and probably Santa Claus became too capitalist. The new New Year which began at midnight on January 1st was free of religious connotations and hence became one of the main events of the year, Father Frost and the Snow Girl arriving and bearing gifts.

However, for the orthodox church, Christmas Day remains on the 6th of January and hence New Year’s Day is on the 14th. The orthodox New Year’s is not so much a time for celebration as for reflection. All of this should be good news for those who feel that the beginning of 2021 has been…well, weird. The first two weeks don’t really count. And if the second half of January gets even weirder, we can look forward to another reset on February 12th when the Year of the Ox begins according to the Chinese calendar.

Hey Pandas, What's Your Favorite Meme So Far In 2021? (Closed) | Bored Panda

The Return of The Vikings

2020 is about to leave us and no one will be sad to see it go. Of course, it’s been 10 days since the solstice and so technically a new year has already begun. The day grows longer by a few minutes each day and soon it will be time to plant the crops again. But for the Vikings (probably) the equinox was the first day of a 12 day feast and when the party’s over, a new year begins. And so it is to this day, more or less.

More importantly, today marks the premiere of the final series of The Vikings, the History Channel series that has been running since 2013. Although increasingly anachronistic, this is as close to history as the History Channel gets these days.

The series begins with the raid on Lindisfarne in 793. This is led by the probably mythological Ragnar Lothbrok, though even the myths don’t credit him with the raid, as he is said to have lived somewhat later. By the present and 6th series Ragnar is dead but his sons have come into conflict with Oleg of Novgorod, thought to have reigned from 879 to 912, although inevitably scholars dispute the chronology and some put him a few decades later. In any case, both Ragnar and his sons seem to have reached Old Testament ages, according to the show.

The first part of the 6th season ended with Oleg invading Scandinavia, which is not only historically but also geographically inaccurate. A Rus invasion of the Nordic countries would probably have been as unthinkable militarily as it was politically, although longships certainly did sail back and forth. The Slavic steampunk look with hot air balloons and all does little for authenticity.

Still, Eastern Vikings scholars can have some fun spotting other famous Rus figures, such as Igor and Askold, but the greatest fun to be had is in pointing out the inaccuracies to non-specialists. If they will have as much fun is another matter, but if not, they are advising us to spend New Year’s Eve alone anyway.

Happy New Year.

Vikings Season 6B | Official Trailer | Prime Video – YouTube

A Very Varangian Christmas

A very happy Christmas from the Eastern Vikings. Enjoy the holidays and don’t forget to clash your weapons loudly in honour of your Emperor-King, for it is written:

“In describing the imperial banquet at Christmas and its attendant ceremonies, the author tells us that before the actual dinner the officials in their several sorts and ranks came to the dining hall to chant their polychronion to the emperor,
that is, they prayed in ceremonial forni that the emperor might live many years.

To each party the appropriate official replied : ‘ Our Lord the Emperor bids you many
years.’ First came the officials of the palace, each class distinguished by special robes
then in order, the Genoese of Galata, more functionaries, the Pisan colony, then the
Venetians, and after these distinguished foreigners came the Varangians. They gave
their greeting in their own language, and this was English-clashing their weapons with a loud noise.

But whether the language was really English, or whether it was Norse, and Codinus says English because there were so many English Varangians, must be left uncertain. To the Greeks all barbarous languages were much the same; and Freeman judiciously says: ‘We must remember that any distinction between English and Danish would disappear in the latitude of Constantinople.’  An acclamation was made by another set of men in the Persian language, a choir sang the Christmas canticle of Romanos, and then the banquet was served.

(from Dawkins, The Later History of the Varangian Guard.)

The Later History of the Varangian Guard: Some Notes on JSTOR