Let’s travel in time together, a thousand or so years back, and meet Viking women in their hearth-lit world.
How did these medieval viragoes live, love and die? How can we encounter them as flesh-and-blood beings with fears and feelings – not just as names in sagas or runes carved into stone?
In this groundbreaking work, Lisa Hannett lifts the veil on the untold stories of wives and mothers, girls and slaves, widows and witches who sailed, settled, suffered, survived – and thrived – in a society that largely catered to and memorialised men. Hannett presents the everyday experiences of a compelling cast of women, all of whom are resourceful and petty, hopeful and jealous, and as fabulous and flawed as we are today.
I was surprised by the sense of adventure that began the book. An engaging storytelling style that promised the Viking escapade and grandeur we all imagine.
The first story struck me hard. The tale of “Melkorka: Concubine and Slave” an Irish princess taken as a slave during a Viking raid. The hopelessness and loss of autonomy was immediate and powerful. Interspersed with this fictional tale were the academic facts and knowledge of slavery in the Viking Age.
My next favourite was a complete opposite to the opening tale. One of the most fascinating parts of Icelandic sagas, “Bergthora: A True and Stalwart Wife” which tells the story of a feud between two powerful women of influential households and the escalation of relation for slights that couldn’t be allowed to stand. The men are the ones who bear the brunt of the feud and in the end tragedy can only occur.
My third favourite “Breeches-Aud: Cross-Dressing Women” is the fictionalised tale inspired by a famous archaeological burial of a Viking warrior. Recent investigations have shown the burial is that of a biologically female warrior buried with the Viking warrior customs which showed the possibility that some Viking women were actively involved in warfare.
Throughout Viking Women, Hannett pauses in the stories to explain the historical and cultural context. These tales provide a sense of real characters, lives and empathy to these amazing Viking women.
Hannet has brilliantly navigated the complex tales of Icelandic Sagas to uncover the lives of everyday women in the Viking Age. Some women are extraordinary and wield the power of their household status while others are powerless and stripped of identity as slaves. This remarkable book spans the academic and historical fiction genres with aplomb. Hannet is to be congratulated.
A highly recommended read for anyone interested in Viking Age history and culture. This is an amazing book that binds history and fiction in a skilful, entertaining and exciting way. Looking forward to the next book!