Book Talk: How Much Viking Lore Is True?

Archaeologists have confirmed key details in Norse oral histories (but not the dragons, elves, and trolls). The Vikings had “a long oral history going back centuries,” says Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough. “It’s very hard to separate the facts from the fiction.”

The Best Books on Vikings: A Five Books Interview

Five Books, March 2017

The Vikings discovered America and traded slaves in Baghdad. They sometimes buried their dead in ships, but probably did not burn them. And they did not wear horned helmets. Historian Eleanor Barraclough separates myth from reality and recommends books on the medieval Norse pillagers who have fascinated everyone from Hollywood to Hitler.

Oxford University Press, 2016

In the dying days of the eighth century, the Vikings erupted onto the international stage with brutal raids and slaughter. But this is far from the whole story of medieval Norse activities abroad. The Norse travelled to all corners of the medieval world and beyond; north to the wastelands of Arctic Scandinavia, south to the politically turbulent heartlands of medieval Christendom, west across the wild seas to Greenland and the fringes of the North American continent, and east down the Russian waterways, trading silver, skins, and slaves. Beyond the Northlands explores this world through the stories that the Norse told about themselves in their own words, through the Old Norse-Icelandic sagas. But this is a history that goes far beyond historical facts. What emerges from these tales is a mixture of realism and fantasy, quasi-historical adventures and exotic wonder-tales that rocket far beyond the horizon of reality. On the crackling brown pages of saga manuscripts, trolls, dragons, and outlandish tribes jostle for position with explorers, traders, and kings. To explore the sagas and the world that produced them, I took my own trips through the dramatic landscapes that they describe, including Greenland, Arctic Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Orkney, Rome and Istanbul. Along the way, I illuminated the saga accounts with other sources including archaeological finds, runestones, medieval world maps, encyclopaedic manuscripts, and texts from as far away as Byzantium and Baghdad. I wanted this to be a book not just about history, but about the stories people tell about themselves, their past, and their place in the world. I wanted to show how the world was experienced, remembered, and imagined by this unique culture from the outermost edge of Europe so many centuries ago.

University of Alberta Press, 2016

Edited with Danielle Cudmore and Stefan Donecke

‘Turning to face north, face the north, we enter our own unconscious. Always, in retrospect, the journey north has the quality of dream.’ (Margaret Atwood, ‘True North’.)

In this interdisciplinary collection, sixteen scholars from twelve countries explore the notion of the North as a realm of the supernatural. This region has long been associated with sorcerous inhabitants, mythical tribes, metaphysical forces of good and evil, and a range of supernatural qualities. It was both the sacred abode of the gods and a feared source of menacing invaders and otherworldly beings. Whether from the perspective of traditional Jewish lore or of contemporary black metal music, few motifs in European cultural history show such longevity and broad appeal.

What Nordic Culture Is Really Like?

Idyllic social equality or countries ridden by alcoholism? Eleanor Barraclough visits the Nordic to bust the myths for a radio 3 documentary.

Top Ten Books About the Vikings

February 2017

It’s not all raiding and looting – these stories and histories range from family dramas to political thrillers, not to mention man-eating trolls and bawdy gods.

Global City: Oslo

BBC World Histories Magazine, December 2017

From Neolithic hunters and Viking sailors to Arctic explorers and pioneering painters, Oslo’s inhabitants have left a diverse legacy. Eleanor Barraclough explores the sights of the Norwegian capital.

Vikings at Large in the Countryside

BBC Countryfile, January 2018

Waves of Vikings brought terror to the British Isles over 1,000 years ago and they left a deep mark on the landscape, as Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough discovers for a new BBC Radio 4 programme.

Vikings: Warriors of No Nation

History Today, April 2018

Norse travellers reached every corner of the known world, but they were not tourists. The ‘racially pure’ Vikings of stereotype were, in fact, cultural chameleons adopting local habits, languages and religions.

Ancient Forests

BBC History Magazine, June 2018

Charlotte Hodgeman and Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough explore Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, an ancient woodland that for centuries nourished both body and imagination.

Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir: Far-Travelled Icelandic Pioneer to America

BBC World Histories Magazine, July 2018

Old Norse sagas laud the exploits of Erik the Red and Leif Eriksson, but their real hero is female. Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough introduces the First Lady of Viking Vinland.

Medieval Farming

BBC Countryfile Magazine, September 2018

In medieval times, the feudal system dominated the land until the Black Death changed everything, says Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough.

Museum of the World: The Franks Casket

BBC World Histories Magazine, August 2018

This is testament to the astonishing wealth of cultural and historical influences circulating in England.

Dark Age Britain

BBC Countryfile, September 2018

After the end of Roman Britain, the land became a melting pot of Britons, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings – all of whom variously shaped the character of our countryside.

Forests of the Mind

BBC Countryfile, November 2018

Haven in troubled times or lair of magic and monsters, the forest beguiles and frightens in equal measure. Eleanor Barraclough explores our relationship with the deep dark wood through legends old and new.