Fascination with the Viking Age seems to be at an all-time high, though it has never really gone out of fashion. There is something irresistible about the Vikings, a civilization dedicated to exploring the edges of the known world, forging an empire from north America to Kiev, which dominated the political and economic landscape from the Fall of Rome to the First Crusade. Writers, artists and musicians such as Richard Wagner and J. R. R. Tolkien have found inspiration in the stories, legends, and sagas of the Vikings, and modern culture too has successfully mined the canon for the inspiration behind blockbusters as “Vikings,” “Game of Thrones” and the Marvel films.
But few scholars have delved-exclusively into the world of Viking women until now. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir
’s recent book, Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World
(Bloomsbury, 2020) is a deeply satisfying exploration of the lives of Viking women. Valkyrie
is skillfully arranged around the skeleton of the life cycle of a woman—from birth through childhood, adolescence, marriage, and old age. But this skeleton is expertly fleshed out with cogent examples drawn from archaeology, contemporary accounts, and the rich literary vein of the Old Norse sagas. The result is a gripping read, which plunges us into the world of the Viking women as they grapple with the emotional rollercoaster that is adolescence, weather transactional marriages, and navigate old age.
The Viking Age (793-1100 CE) was a time of exceptional opportunity for social mobility. Viking raiding and trading had the potential to create substantial wealth for those of comparatively humble origins. “Valkyrie” looks at this phenomenon, too: charting the role women played in running successful enterprises, and sometimes even ruling countries. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttiralso explores the emotional lives of Viking women, and their capacity for protecting their loved ones as fiercely as they exact vengeance for wrongs done to them.
“Valkyrie” is that rare academic book that reads like an action-packed thriller and is sure to appeal to serious scholars of early Scandinavian history as much as it will to those who are eager to learn more about the women behind the great men of the Viking age. This is a book that gives the hitherto unseen Vikingwomen a chance to take centre stage and emerge as powerful agents for change in their own right.
Friðriksdóttir earned attained her PhD from the University of Oxford and has held teaching and research positions at Yale, The Árni MagnússonInstitute for Icelandic Studies, and Harvard. She is currently based at the National Library of Norway in Oslo. She is the author of Women in Old Norse Literature: Bodies, Words and Power, The New Middle Ages. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Find out more about Johanna at her website, vikingwomen.org
Jennifer Eremeeva is an American expatriate writer who writes about travel, culture, cuisine and culinary history, Russian history, and Royal History, with bylines in Reuters, Fodor's, USTOA, LitHub, The Moscow Times, and Russian Life. She is the award-winning author of Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow and Have Personality Disorder, Will Rule Russia: A Pocket Guide to Russian History.