Who writes history?

In contrast to Scandinavia, it was commonplace in Christian and Muslim areas to record events in Annals (year books), chronicles, biographies (life histories) and travelogues.

The Vikings appear in some of these accounts. The Vikings were, however, most often a secondary subject and the accounts were told against a background of political, military and religious confrontations with them. A few are eye-witness accounts (i.e. the writer experienced the events he or she is writing about), but many are, like the Scandinavian/Nordic sources, based on legends and stories handed down by word of mouth.

The following tasks are based primarily on the sources we know from Great Britain and Ireland, but also the Muslim Ibn Fadlan's description of the Viking's washing habits is fun to include.

  • Which sources do we have today which can tell us about the Vikings' presence in England and Ireland?
  • Who was responsible for writing the written sources concerning the Vikings in England and Ireland?
  • Discuss how the authors' background could have had an influence on his or her description of a series of events. Try comparing the evidence from several sources.
  • Imagine that you lived in Viking times and were a monk in the monastery at Glendalough. Write a page in the monastery's annals about the day the Vikings came. Consider what is important for you to include for posterity. What would you write if it was your private diary? What would you write in your diary if you were an Irish farmer at the market in Dublin in the 12th century or if you were a Scot in AD 1263 in the Battle of Largs.
  • Did views of the Vikings change with time?
  • Evaluate the evidence from the various sources concerning the battles at Stamford Bridge and at Hastings. Who wrote them and do they take sides?
  • Are there differences between what can be concluded from written sources and an archaeological source? And why/why not? Perhaps you could discuss the Viking hygiene.