Textual Sources

The text below is an excerpt from the Völuspá, one of the poems preserved as part of a collection known as The Elder Edda. Although the text was first written in the 1200s in Iceland in the Codex Regius more than a hundred years after the Viking Age, the Völuspá nevertheless has an oral history dating back to the 800s CE.1 The original poet of the Völuspá is unknown, but the preserved text offers a poetic narrative of a seer or prophetess explaining what will happen during the end of the world, known in Old Norse as Ragnarok:

“How fare the Æsir?     How do the elves fare?
Jotunheim seethes,     the Æsir assemble;
at the stone doorways     of deep stone dwellings
dwarfs are moaning.     Seek you wisdom still?”2

This passage specifically is significant to my project because within my “Choose Your Own Adventure” project I wanted to connect between the physical world my character is interacting with (the land, the home, the ship, etc.) with possible social/cultural stories and myths that a Viking Age man may know due to the oral tradition. I also find the phrase, “Seek you wisdom still,” to be such a terrifying question in regards to what the seer is describing. It made me curious, what would it look like to put a character (i.e. a person) within this scenario of power and what choice would they make? Essentially, what does wisdom look like within the context of the Viking Age – ignorance or knowledge?

The next primary source I utilized to develop a theme in my project is The Life of Ansgar. This book follows the story of Ansgar, a ninth century monk (alive from 801–865 CE), and his work as an “apostle” or missionary across Scandinavia, particularly regions regarded as pagan (or in our contemporary eyes, “Viking”). While Ansgar was spent his early years in the areas of modern France and Germany, this changed at the beginning of the 820s, and he would spend much of the rest of his life “devotedly” traveling around Denmark and other areas in God’s name. The book was written by Bishop Rimbert, his protegé, fellow missionary, and successor. The text, as can be seen below, might be described as a “highlights reel” illustrating Anskar’s moral fortitude against monstrous pagans, illuminating his own Christian moral standard. Two passages from text that most relate to my project read:

“Our lord and master began also to buy Danish and Slav boys and to redeem some from captivity so that they might train them for God’s service.”3

“The enemy then seized the town and plundered it and its immediate neighborhood. They had come in the evening and they remained that night and the next day and night; and when everything had been burnt and destroyed they took their departure. The church there, which had been built in a wonderful manner under the guidance of the bishop [was] reduced to ashes.”4

At first glance this work could appear to simply be about Ansgar’s missionary work in a quaint juxtaposition to the mass murder and violence of the Vikings. However, it is critical here to recognize the bias within the piece (written by Ansgar’s successor as bishop). With that framework in mind, I couldn’t help but think about the duality of violence within the Viking Age, how no matter which god(s) you worship, there is blood on all hands. Often in the depiction of Vikings, there is an idea of brutality and violence inherent to them or the Christians/non-Vikings are depicted as evil or helpless (or both). I wanted to explore within my “Choose Your Own Adventure” project the moral gray area of both groups – of how each illustrates varying ideas of violence and harm.

Speaking of violence and harm, this brings me back to an additional theme I was interested in exploring within my work, albeit on a less obvious scale due to the dual demographics I would like my various projects to engage with—class violence within myth. This brings me to Jackson Crawford’s translation of The Saga of the Volsungs. Per his introduction, “The Saga of the Volsungs was first written in Iceland around AD 1250 by an author who had a strong familiarity with the traditional Scandinavian legends about these heroes, but the earliest manuscripts in which a copy of the saga survives was not written until ca. AD 1400.”5 The plot of the Volsungs is essentially following a family tree for one mythic Viking family for seven generations. Perhaps the why of the text (i.e. why write this) connects back to Crawford’s discussion of the values the varying stories illustrate, that the stories set a stage (or illustrate) a paradigm of behavior. For my project, I found the class discussion most relevant for my needs echoed some of Crawford’s own comments:

“Norse society also had rigid expectations of different social classes. … In chapter 12, Queen Hjordís exchanges clothes with her unnamed servant while they are in hiding, and orders the servant to pretend to be her. But Álf, who finds them, is suspicious that something is wrong, since the “servant” is more courtly and attractive than the woman he thinks is the queen, and his suspicions are soon confirmed.”6

This, in addition to the constant utilization of superlatives to describe characters (i.e. most beautiful, most intelligent, etc.) makes me think about understandings of class that cannot simply be illustrated by the quality of one’s clothing or number of animals they own. How does class inform social customs and ideals of humanness that would not be unveiled without The Saga of the Volsungs? How did individuals attempt to navigate or internalize these hierarchies? All of these questions inform my “Choose Your Own Adventure” story, thinking about how I wanted my main character to position themselves within society, myth, and our contemporary issues with class.

In regards to class as well as issues regarding trade and gender, the final class primary source I will utilize is Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s “Mission to the Volga.” Writing during the tenth century, Ibn Fadlan writes about his experiences in present-day Russia with a group of Vikings (“Rus” as he calls them here). Writing in a style similar to modern day anthropologists, Ibn Fadlan writes down intricate details about the Rus in order to report back to Baghdad. It is essentially ten pages of him writing in horror about their poor hygiene, human sacrifice, and extravagant displays of wealth. This plays into ideas of class (and class was recognized) and gendered/structured violence, but (regarding hygiene) also illustrates the common everyday decisions and actions individuals made in this space. While the following excerpt can seem gross, it reveals patterns of behavior that I think are necessary to understand if I want to escape the two-dimensionality often featured within the “Choose Your Own Adventure” genre:

“They are the filthiest of God’s creatures. They have no modesty when it comes to defecating or urinating and do not wash their hands when intercourse puts them in a state of ritual impurity. They do not even wash their hands after eating.”7

All in all, the goal with all of my sources – not just the primary sources – is to look at the multidimensionality of the human experience and create a public recognition of those who lived in the Viking Age as fully human as you or I.

Material Sources

The objects primary to my project are featured in my Buzzfeed quiz and I created a separate document to cite/examine those resources. Thus, for this document I will discuss four material resources that inspired my “Choose Your Own Adventure” narrative, but may not come up explicitly in the text.

The first object is in actuality a reconstruction of a Viking ship: the Sea Stallion. Housed at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde (and discovered close by the museum as well), the Sea Stallion is a “reconstruction of the great longship Skuldelev 2” and utilized a vast amount of other materials (wood, fiber, etc.).8 Although the original ship (with its remnants now on display at the museum) was created later in the Viking Age (around 1040 CE) compared to much of my other evidence, it nevertheless provides a true physical and tangible Viking boat experience due to its multiple voyages.9 The reason I find the Sea Stallion reconstruction and Skuledev 2 so convincing is firstly their grand size (a crew of 60-70 people) and how the requirement for such a large crew and materials in the first reveals about a community’s priorities in regards to utilizing labor and goods.10 Additionally, just as my “Choose Your Own Adventure” narrative is a “reconstruction” of the past, the Sea Stallion works to try to understand parts of the past that can’t simply be achieved via non-experimental archaeology.

Similarly akin to violence or raiding is my second material source, “The Hostage Stone.” This stone, which we described in class akin to a child’s drawing, seemingly illustrates what it’s named for: a hostage situation. At least one of the individuals appears to be chained in the image. There appears to be arrows or another form of projectile in the air. There is a war ship with oars not dissimilar from the Sea Stallion up above. It is a chaotic scene with questions regarding slavery, violence, and moral agency. It connects back to the work of Ansgar, although he was not based in Scotland, regarding the moral grayness (or the lack thereof) in context of Vikings and the Viking Age.

Moving away from the doom and gloom of the Viking Age, both of my creative projects also look at more of a community and societal builder with (typically) net positive results: food. For my third material resource I am calling in sheep/animal bones. Although I will discuss the work of Professor Zori and colleagues in further detail in the Secondary Sources section of this paper, I think their research on animal detritus/bone collection at the Hrísbrú farmstead in Iceland provides powerful contextual work on diet and social formation. Who gets to eat what, where, and how much are powerful indicators of class and social commitments.11

My final material source extends even further the definition of a “material” as it is an entire house, following in the theme of experimental archaeology (and isn’t that what a Buzzfeed quiz about Viking history really is anyway?). Located at the Kulturen Museum in Lund,Sweden, the house I am considering, the Bosmala Croft, is from the mid-19th century in Sweden, almost a milennium away from the Viking Age.12 Why include it in this discussion? Because the ability to walk through a house and truly experience the nooks and crannies of what it would have looked like to live in this rural farmhouse is the exact same experience I want to convey in my Buzzfeed quiz and “Choose Your Own Adventure” narrative can achieve.

Secondary Sources

The first secondary source from the class my work engages in (although not necessarily directly stated in the adventure itself) is Neil Price’s Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings. For my purposes, Price’s work is less important in context of the Viking Age in general (or an attempt to define it) and more so connecting back to my usage of myth and saga. Particularly as my main character in my “Choose Your Own Adventure” narrative has an option to go to a raid/battle, Price’s examination of the role of the Valkyrie provided me an opportunity to direct this scene with an overarching mythic overtone:

“In the literature the Valkyries are servants of Odin and select the bravest warriors to die in battle. This might hardly seem positive but was, in fact, a compliment to those they chose because it meant they would join the war god in Valhöll. … The Valkyries are described as armed with spear, sword and shield, armored in mail, and sometimes helmeted. In the Eddic poems, Valkyries at times adopt an individual human hero, protecting him in combat and often falling in love.”13

Price continues here, expanding how Valkyries have often fallen under the “male gaze” via popular depictions of little clothing and “voluptuous bodies.”14 My work will in turn strive to fight against this established gaze and in turn reinterpret the Valkyrie through a mythic lens.

Returning back to the already discussed foodways at the Hrísbru Farmstead in Iceland, Zori and colleagues analyzed via isotopic data and bone collection not only a high cattle bone ratio (i.e. the people were eating more beef than one would expect) but how this once again communicates an interest in creating and maintaining a high social status.15 This goes back to concerns regarding class, agency, and community labor that I am trying to prod at within the “Choose Your Own Adventure” narrative.

Further secondary sources from class that provided context and helped shape the Buzzfeed Quiz and “Choose Your Own Adventure” include: Charlotte Rimstad’s work on textiles,16 Madeleine Walsh’s discussion of dressing for Ragnarok,17 T. Douglas Price and colleagues’ work on the Salme Boat Burial,18 and Olwyn Owen and Magnar Dalland’s work on another burial.19

It is crucial also to recognize the “non-academic” sources that helped create the skeleton of my project. Firstly, Edward Packard’s Viking Raiders (Choose Your Own Adventure 128) was instrumental in how to build a story and maintain narrative continuation. Although debatable in regards to historical accuracy, the book provided the narrative cannon for me to move concurrently and parallel to in my own work.20 Similarly, Life as a Viking: An Interactive History Adventure21 and The Middle Ages: An Interactive History Adventure added additional structural and story contextualization.22


1 Jackson Crawford, “What is the Poetic Edda?” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_H6FistfHc

2 Patricia Terry, trans. “Völuspá,” in her Poems of the Elder Edda, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990), 5.

3 Rimbert, Life of Anskar, in Anskar, the Apostle of the North, trans. Charles H. Robinson (London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1921), ch. 15, p. 56.

4 Rimbert, Life of Anskar, ch. 16, pp. 57–58.

5 Jackson Crawford, trans., The Saga of the Volsungs (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2017), ix.

6 Crawford, Saga of the Volsungs, xxv.

7 Aḥmad ibn Faḍlān, “Mission to the Volga,” in Two Arabic Travel Books: Accounts of India and China, trans. by James E. Montgomery, ed. by Philip F. Kennedy and Shawkat M. Toorawa (New York: New York University Press, 2014), 163–297, at 243.

8 Viking Ship Museum, “The Sea Stallion from Glendalough 2000 – 2004.” https://www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/en/visit-the-museum/exhibitions/the-five-reconstructions/the-sea-stallion-from-glendalough-skuldelev-2

9 Viking Ship Museum, “Skuldelev 2 – The Great Longship.” https://www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/en/visit-the-museum/exhibitions/the-five-viking-ships/skuldelev-2

10 Ibid.

11 Davide Zori, Thomas Wake, Jon Erlandson, and Rúnar Leifsson, “Viking Age Foodways at the Hrísbrú Farmstead,” in Viking Archaeology in Iceland: Mosfell Archaeological Project, ed. by Davide Zori and Jesse Byock (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014), 163–79.

12 See the Kulturen website at https://www.kulturen.com/welcome-kulturens-museums/

13 Neil Price, “The Home of Their Shapes,” in his Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings (New York: Basic Books, 2020), 31–63.

14 Ibid.

15 Zori et al., “Viking Age Foodways.”

16 Charlotte Rimstad, “Early Medieval (mostly) Textiles,” Dr. Alexandra Makin (blog). https://alexandramakin.com/2021/06/30/early-medieval-mostly-textiles-13/

17 Madeleine Walsh, “Dressing for Ragnarök? Commodifying, Appropriating and Fetishising Vikings,” in Digging into the Dark Ages: Early Medieval Public Archaeologies, ed. by Howard Williams and Pauline Clarke (Oxford: Archaeopress Publishing, 2020), 65–73.

18 T. Douglas Price, Jüri Peets, Raili Allmäe, Liina Maldre, and Neil Price, “Human Remains, Context, and Place of Origin for the Salme, Estonia, Boat Burials,” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 58 (2020): 1–13.

19 Olwyn Owen and Magnar Dalland, Scar: A Viking Boat Burial on Sanday, Orkney (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1999).

20 Edward Packard, Viking Raiders, Choose Your Own Adventure 128 (New York: Bantam, 1992).

21 Allison Lassieur, Life as a Viking: An Interactive History Adventure, You Choose Books (North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2011).

22 Allison Lassieur, The Middle Ages: An Interactive History Adventure, 2nd ed., You Choose Books (North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2016).