The Hagia Sophia in International Politics

In late July, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke on the phone about the Turkish decision to change the Hagia Sophia from museum to mosque. Putin had previously criticized the Greek-Macedonian name deal that led to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to change it’s formal title to Northern Macedonia. But last summer, the heads of the two orthodox countries found much to agree on, apart from the status of Constantine’s church.

This autumn, they seem to be drawing yet closer as Putin has recognised Greece’s claims to an exclusive economic zone in the Aegean Sea, contested by Turkey. The support was reiterated by the Russian Embassy in Athens via its Twitter account. The title of the account might be confusing to Medievalists. At the top, it say “Rus embassy, Greece.” The Rus are not known to have sent an embassy to the Greeks for roughly 700 years.

When exactly in 2021 is Putin coming to Greece?

Did the Vikings Have Standardized Godhouses?

IKEA is a popular, if not always beloved, Scandinavian indoor furnishing company know for the standardisation of its furniture. A recent archaeological discovery in Norway suggests that Vikings may also have had standardised temples of sorts.

In the village of Ose in southwestern Norway, the remains of a 8th century “godhouse” have recently been unearthed. While being the first such find in Norway, it closely resembles similar structures excavated in Tissö, Denmark and  Uppåkra, Sweden. This is seen as the best example of such a place yet.

The godhouse is thought to have been used for midsummer and midwinter solstice ceremonies in honour of the gods. Remnants of meat cooked for Odin, Thor and Freyr, thought to have been represented by figurines while the feast was eaten by the human participants, have been unearthed. The figurines are still missing, but in 1928 a phallus stone was found in the same spot.

If the standard godhouse design reached to the lands of the Rus awaits further discoveries. Meanwhile, the first functioning hof, or pagan temple, to be constructed since the Viking Age awaits completion in Reykjavik. Land has been donated to the Asatru society by the city of Reykjavik on the Öskjuhlíð Hill and a design by architect Magnús Jensson was selected, looking a little like an upturned longship. The sun’s path and the number 9, representing the 9 worlds of the old religion, are will be reflected in the structure. However, the project has had various delays, including the banking collapse of 2008 and the refusal of a bank loan in 2019. Construction began in 2015 and was planned to take a year but little progress has been made. Perhaps it will take 9 years, all in all, for the new hof to the old gods to rise.

For more on the Ose find, see here:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/norse-godhouse-site-found-norway-180976075/

For more on the Hof, here is an article from 2015:

https://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/news/2015/01/27/asatru_temple_rises_in_2016_2/

The Next Frontier in Viking Studies

In his very interesting online talk, Dr. Neil Price of the University of Uppsala suggested that the Eastern Vikings are the next frontier in Viking studies. Whereas 20 years ago it was unproven that they had gone east of the Urals, it now seems that they went as far as Central Asia and even to western China. Dr. Price even mentioned that the Chinese character in season 4 of the Irish/Canadian TV show Vikings was not at all unpalatable.

He further said that one of the reasons why the eastern Vikings have been under researched so far was due to the Cold War. It was very hard for western scholars to be granted access to the Soviet Union and even to communicate with people there, which has led to an overemphasis on the raids, trade and settlements in the west, rather than on a Viking worldview that stretched from North America to China.

Among his other points was that the first documented Viking raid took place not in Lindisfarne in England in 793 but on the Estonian island of Saaremaa in 750. What we now call the Viking Age probably had its roots in around 500 CE, with the major shifts that occurred with the end of the Western Roman Empire.

For more information, his book Children of Ash and Elm is widely available and the Facebook page for the talk can be found here

Viking Lecture with Neil Price Online

The inimitable Neil Price will be giving an online lecture on Wednesday, October 7th, at 13.30 Co-ordinated Universal Time, which is happily also Iceland time (although for some reason the atom clock is set by Greenwich and not Reykjavik). The lecture is hosted by the Institute of Northern Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland.

Dr. Price will base his lecture on Children of Ash and Elm: A New Look at the Vikings, which is his latest work. Price is also associated with the Legends of the Eastern Vikings program, for further information see his profile on “The Project and Its Participants” page. For residents in Iceland, the book is available in the University book store (Bóksala stúdenta), which remains open although the University library and most of the premises are closed due to Covid.

The lecture will take an hour and a half and is free of charge. If you want to join, please sign up here.