The Last Vikings

Book Review

Margaret Brown, last updated: 4th August 2010

The Last Vikings: The Epic Story of the Great Norse Voyagers by Kirsten A. Seaver

(I.B. Tauris), 2010

277pp., £18.99, hard, ISBN 978-1-84511-869-3

There has been a proliferation of studies of the Vikings in the past decade most of which has focussed on their impact on Britain and mainland Europe.  This excellent and well-written study extends the geographical frontiers of Viking experience by considering the Norse Viking exploration of the North Atlantic from Iceland to Greenland and eventually around 1000 to North America, five hundred years before Columbus.  Yet by 1500, Greenland had been abandoned and the achievements of the Norse explorers and settlers receded into the realm of myth. 

Kirsten Seaver focuses on Greenland and in doing so seeks to disentangle myth from reality.  What comes through her compelling study is the variety of Norse experience.  They were explorers but also committed to making good homes for their families; they were pioneers of market economics through their vast trading network but could also be ruthless pirates; and they were epic poets whose sagas provide an invaluable, if for the historian difficult, source of their lives.  

Kirsten Seaver weaves the complexities of modern archaeology, the evocative sagas and her understanding of broader focuses on the five hundred years between the voyages of Eric the Red to the end of Norse settlement and developments in these centuries into an authoritative history of the Norse Greenlanders.  It will prove essential reading for teachers and students who want to extend their understanding of Viking achievement beyond the confines of Europe.