Friday, July 04, 2008

Histories: Viking longships brought rape, pillage and cod
Just over a thousand years ago, a Viking chieftain named Ohthere paid a visit to England and the court of King Alfred. An intrepid mariner, Ohthere told the king about his homeland in Arctic Norway, and described long sea voyages around what are now Norway and Denmark. The learned king evidently listened intently, and instructed his scribe to note down the intelligence gathered from this visitor from the north. Today, the resulting late 9th-century manuscript, conserved in the British Library, is acknowledged to be the single most important contemporary account of a Scandinavian Viking-age traveller. But what inspired this rich chieftain to undertake risky voyages, and endure months at sea? If rape and pillage wasn't on this Viking's agenda, what was Ohthere up to?

"Crush your enemies, drive them before you, and hear the lamentation of the women. Oh, and bring cod, too."