Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Children of Ash and Elm

Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings by Neil Price Basic Books: 8/25/2020
eBook review copy; 624 pages

Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings by Neil Price is a very highly recommended history and examination of the Viking Age, from 750 to 1050. This is a comprehensive history of the Vikings in which Price looks at who they really were as a people, how they viewed themselves rather than how other cultures defined them. They would not have recognized or identified themselves as "Vikings." In the past many histories that give a history of the Vikings view them through the eyes of another culture, and usually with the result of placing the contact culture in the positive light and the Vikings in a negative light. Price presents a more equitable picture. He draws on historical records, discoveries made at archaeological digs and burial sites across Europe, and the historical observations made by those who had contact with them at the time.
"The emphasis here is very firmly on who the Vikings really were, what made them tick, how they thought and felt. Their dramatic expansion will not be ignored, of course, but its context, its origins, are at the core of what follows. Where better to begin, then, than with the creation itself? The tale of the gods fashioning the first humans from stumps of wood, on the shores of the world ocean, has roots that extend very deeply into Norse mythology. For all the fearful confusion about their identity among those they encountered, in the Vikings’ own minds there was never any doubt at all: they were the children of Ash, the children of Elm."

The comprehensive history is divided into three parts.
"The first part explores this realm through the Vikings’ sense of self, and of their environment, and begins by delineating the contours of its landscape both on the ground and inside their heads. It explores their unique understandings of personhood, gender, and the place of the individual in the many dimensions of the cosmos. This also involves meeting the other beings with whom the Vikings shared these spaces."
"The second part goes back to the early 700s, but follows a different path to seek the major sociopolitical developments and demographic factors that slowly combined to trigger the Viking phenomenon itself. This was the time of the raids and their gradual escalation from isolated attacks to invasions of conquest, in the ever-present context of expanding trade networks. The maritime culture of Scandinavia, the rise of the sea-kings, and the development of uniquely mobile pirate polities are the focus here. The beginnings of the diaspora can be traced in all directions..."
"Part three moves the story to the mid-eleventh century, as the Viking phenomenon diversified across the northern world. Its consequences included an urban revolution in the Scandinavian economies and the reorganization of the countryside, paralleled by the consolidation of royal power and the rising influence of a new faith." Viking cities and power bases were established across the world at this time. The idea of separate identities of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden began and they started becoming a part of Christian Europe.

I have literally pages of notes from reading Children of Ash and Elm. Certainly I can't share everything, but I would encourage anyone who is interested in an equitable history of the Vikings to read Children of Ash and Elm. I was engrossed in the whole book and all the finds and research Price includes. It is a fascinating and extensive examination of the Vikings, children of the great ash tree Yggdrasill, their culture, explorations and sweeping travels. The final publication will include a 16 page color insert, maps, chapter notes, references, and index.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

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