Friday, 4 December 2009

FACTUAL REVIEW: The Hammer and the Cross - Robert Ferguson


For those living outside Scandinavia, the Viking Age effectively began in 793 with an attack on the monastery at Lindisfarne. The attack on Lindisfarne was a characteristically violent harbinger of what was in store for Britain and much of Europe from the Vikings for the next 300 years, until the final destruction of the heathen temple to the Norse gods at Uppsala around 1090. Robert Ferguson is a sure guide across what he calls ‘the treacherous marches which divide legend from fact in Viking Age history’. His long familiarity with the literary culture of Scandinavia – the eddas, the poetry of the skalds and the sagas – is combined with the latest archaeological discoveries and the evidence of picture-stones, runes, ships and objects scattered all over northern Europe, to make the most convincing modern portrait of the Viking Age in any language. The Hammer and the Cross ranges from Scandinavia itself to Kievan Rus and Byzantium in the east, to Iceland, Greenland and the north American settlements in the west. Beyond its geographical boundaries the book takes us on a journey to a misty region inhabited by Hallfred the Troublesome Poet, Harald Bluetooth, Ragnar Hairy-Breeches, Ivar the Boneless and Eyvind the Plagiarist, in which literature, history and myth dissolve into one another.


Whilst we have historical documents that survive long into the future from bygone era’s the viewer has to read between the lines to try and gain a glimmer of the truth behind the events within as the whole veracity of the piece is dependent upon the author of the original document.

Perhaps this statement is no truer than for the life and times of the marauders from the North, the Vikings. Yet whilst we all know about their bloodlust as well their love of flighting (basically lying and daring others to challenge their honour), very little is actually known besides the basic history lessons that we’re all taught at school

However, what is presented within this offering from Robert Ferguson, is an even handed view of the Norse Culture weighing their own writings against that of their opponents of the day to give the reader a book that is not only hugely engrossing but one that presents the reader with a more even handed representation of the historical context. Well researched, beautifully presented its an offering, that whilst pricey, is something that will be treasured for years by many readers and delved into time and again for either tip bits or inspiration. A great release from Penguin.

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