Thorunn’s Ghost and Grave in Vikings Season 5 Part 2


In Episode 14 of Vikings Season 5, the fourth of part 2, the pregnant wife of Helgi goes missing. At night, in a thunderstorm, her ghost approaches Floki when he sits alone outside beside the fire and tells him who murdered her, how it happened and where are remains lie. I’m no expert in the Icelandic family sagas, but I did at least recognise that this scene embodies in a sincere way clear inspiration from the ghost story elements of Icelandic medieval tales. The ghost is not a wispy presence, but a very corporal ghost – a draugr. Yet rather than a force of malign violence and death, this draugr comes to Floki in the flesh to speak of her death, displaying her death-wound, and point the way to her grave and thus her killer. Thorunn even names her killer. It feels very much like a good mix of Icelandic…

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The Vikings: Farewell Einar


I want to post briefly about the sad passing of actor Kirk Douglas, aged 103, who played Einar in the iconic 1958 film The Vikings. See his interview about the film from 1958 here.

Einar’s funeral scene remains one of the most memorable and influential filmic death-scenes from any Hollywood historic adventure film. His body is processed aloft on a bier whilst the entire army watch, before being loaded onto a longship and sent out to sea from a rocky coastline flanked by torch-bearing warriors. A single flaming arrow is shot at the longship whilst it is still beside the coast, setting fire to the mast. Next, a group of warriors fire a salvo of comparable flaming arrows, some hitting the ship, others the water, as the vessel mysteriously moves out over the calm still sea. We see a close-up of Einar with flames around him, and then…

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The Archaeology of Death in ‘Vikings’


A friendly and receptive audience welcomed me yesterday evening to my first-ever medievalism seminar, organised by the fabulous Dr Simon Trafford of the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. There was tea, wine, debate and conversation around my image-rich presentation surveying the pagan Norse funerals which are integral to the plot of the 6-series hit History Channel show Vikings.


My talk thus explored my latest thinking on the way Vikings portrays death and the dead, building on 43 blog-posts (it says 42 on the slide, but I blogged about Vikings yesterday too) and a series of publications.

Slide51As well as addressing what I think the show ‘gets right’ and what it ‘gets wrong’, I considered why this widely viewed show might be a form of public archaeology, engaging mass audiences with archaeological evidence. As such, I considered how it was relevant to broader discussions of the intersection between…

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ASC Rewind: Writings on the Calendar by the Venerable Bede

University of Glasgow Library Blog

This series revisits our Book of the Month archive to highlight some of our favourite articles and explore the ASC collections they describe with new eyes.

This article was originally published on January 2001 by Julie Gardham and the full article can still be found on our website in the Book of the Month archive.

Today we’re taking another look at MS Hunter 85 (T.4.2) with Easter in mind. This vellum manuscript is a compilation of several works mainly concerning the use of the Calendar, by the Venerable Bede, Abbo of Fleury, Hyginus, and others and was written in Durham by a number of scribes during the second quarter of the twelfth century.

Born in about 673, Bede was placed under the care of Benedict Biscop, Abbot of Wearmouth, at the age of seven. A few years later he was sent to the foundation of Jarrow under Abbot…

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Hreða – the goddess of the vernal equinox

Leaves from a Book of Shadows

Prunus cerasus LC0133.jpgYes, I know the vernal equinox is dubbed “Ostara” by many, but it’s a bit of a misnomer, as that’s a derived Old High German word for the Christian festival. And if you think there was an Anglo-Saxon/Germanic goddess Eostre, there may not have been. And, in any case, Eostremonth in the old Anglo-Saxon calendar occurred in April, not March. If you’re interested to learn more try this excellent article.

So this is for the real goddess of the spring equinox, whose month – Hreðamonth – is roughly equivalent to modern March (allowing for a lunar calendar).

The seasons turn; I see white flowers:
Those harbingers of longer hours
Of daylight, and without delay
The days stretch forth to pave Her way.

On clear nights She spans the skies;
The constellations are Her eyes.
Her cloak deep indigo within;
Without the barn owl’s feathered skin.

She wards cold winter…

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Kentigern, Serf and the Loch Leven Mystery

Wizard of the North

‘Priory remains on St Serf’s Inch’ Pic: William Starkey Wikimedia Commons licence

Sir Walter Scott, writing in his 1817 novel, ‘Rob Roy‘, describes the first meeting of the novel’s two main characters, Rob Roy and Francis Osbaldistone, in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral; itself one of the finest examples of Scottish Gothic architecture, built between the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, to have survived the Reformation. One of the primary casualties of that Reformation, in the region of Strathclyde at least, was the Shrine of St. Kentigern, the first recorded Bishop of the ancient North British Kingdom of Alclud; whose dynasty was closely linked to that of Dark Age Rheged in the south; a kingdom which stretched from Cumbria and the Scottish Borders in the north, right the way down to South Lancashire at its southernmost proximity. Before the foundation of the See of Strathclyde, the Kingdom of…

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The Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell

The Digital Gallery Blog

In early April I purchased The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. I knew within the fist few pages I would be reading the entire Saxon Tales series. I went through the first three in a short time. The series inspired me to do some historical research in to 9th century Britain and Alfred the Great’s struggle with the Danes.

Each book has a “Place Name” guide listing the ancient place name next to the modern. It sure makes the story easier to follow. I was thrilled to find a custom Google Map with place markers for all the place names in the series.

The books also end with an “historical notes” section that discusses some of the actual historical characters featured in the book. He explains which events mentioned in the book actually happened and which ones are fiction. Bernard Cornwell seems pretty knowledgeable about history and seems to…

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The Virgin Mary in a 10th Century Anglo-Saxon Poem


Random art Shot: the Virgin Mary (with Unicorn accessory) from The Annunciation with the Unicorn (c. 1480) Warsaw, National Museum

Another older essay (and one of my favorites): an examination of the Virgin Mary in the Anglo Saxon Crist, Advent Lyric IX, lines 275-347. Abstracted:   The Advent Lyric’s Virgin offers a unique vision of Christ’s mother. Conventional wisdom in the early Church held the Virgin Mary in esteem for her purity, maternity, mercy, and, above all, her passivity in conforming to God’s will, and the Old English Advent Lyrics celebrates each of these characteristics; in the early lyrics she is wondered at for her chastity, for which Christ chooses her as a mother; she is conflated with–some might say objectified as–the precious holy city of Jerusalem; and she is presented as a weeping virgin lamenting her betrothed’s doubt over her pregnancy. In each of these, the Virgin illustrates the idealized vision of demure femininity, yet she grows progressively stronger–and…

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Chosen Peoples and the Universal Church in the early Middle Ages

Ecclesiastical History Society

You do not have to delve very far into the historiography of early medieval Christianity to start finding statements that such and such an author thought their people had been selected by God as a new Israel or chosen people. This idea is particularly common in discussions of the Franks and the Anglo-Saxons, but you also find it said on occasion about the Irish, Britons, Visigoths and others. I first came across it when working on Bede, whose Ecclesiastical History of the English People, according to an influential line of interpretation, presented the Anglo-Saxons as a new chosen people. But this made no sense to me.

My research was on Bede’s vast corpus of theology, most of it scriptural commentary, and in that there was absolutely no evidence for such an outlook. In fact, Bede constantly hammered home the point that all peoples spread throughout the world had been…

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