Scholars have long debated the exact beginning and end dates of the Viking Age. While circa 800 to 1050 is technically an approximation, scholars have suggested that it is the most commonly accepted range of dates for when the period occurred in Scandinavia (Nordeide & Edwards 2019). Whether you accept or reject these proposed dates, it remains a fact that material remains from the Viking Age are limited. While much of the material Viking World has not survived, the visual analysis of objects, or close looking, is key to our understanding of the Viking Age.

Figure from Lejre, DK.
Silver with niello inlay.
1.8×2.0×1.3 cm.
(source: Wikimedia)

As you probably expect, reconstructing a sense of the Viking Age through material remains gets harder the farther back you go. As a result, one might be tempted to turn to textual sources to fill in questions raised by archeological evidence. When it comes to Norse mythology, however, starting with our earlier textual sources may not be wise. The predominant belief systems of the Viking World can generally be split into pagan or Norse mythology and later Christianity. A consequence of this order is that the existing textual sources on Norse mythology were written after the rise of Christianity in the Viking World.

While texts are critical to reconstructing a sense of Norse mythology, the information they contain can be difficult to separate from later Christian influences. Because of this, we hope that you will engage with the artifacts on this website first before digging into textual sources. While the Lejre figure will be the main example we use to guide you through this new method of learning, it is one that you can apply to any of the artifacts displayed on this site. As we think through the Lejre figure together, we encourage you to keep the words of Princeton Professor Beatrice Kitzinger in mind: “Objects do not ‘illustrate’ text; nor do texts necessarily explain objects.” Working from this concept, how might our understanding of Norse mythology in the Viking age shift?

Nordeide, Sæbjørg Walaker, and Kevin J. Edwards. 2019. The Vikings. Leeds: Arc Humanities Press.

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