Scotland’s own Inspector Norse, Neil Oliver of Coast fame, served up another dollop of Viking action this week, globetrotting to cities as far-reaching as Istanbul, St Petersburg and Dublin to examine how the Vikings established a business empire across Europe.
Oliver begins his journey in Stockholm, considering the impact of the maligned Viking maidens, assessing the bespoke artefacts used to spin wool and make shoes developed by these women.
Deep in the icy backwaters of the Baltic region, he demonstrates how Vikings would roll and heave their wooden boats over land using logs with a team of volunteers covered head to toe in Viking garb. Sounds like too much like hard work to me, but then I have been sanitised by the relative simplicity of modern travel. It’s quite admirable really.
The impact of the Vikings stretched far beyond Scandinavia. We learn that Russia’s moniker is of Nordic origin, and the Vikings navigated its vast waterways, setting up trading posts and colonies along the way. We’re treated shots of St Petersburg snowscapes, enough to test the most warm-blooded of creatures, but Oliver barely seems to notice the freezing conditions. I suspect all that time spent broadcasting from wind-lashed coastlines has rendered him immune to subzero temperatures.
Oliver ventures as far south as Turkey to rock up in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, scouring the local markets for exotic spices and silk, lots and lots of silk. The Vikings, we’re told, would trade their Scandinavian hand-crafted goods for these Turkish delights, as well as embarking in a spot of slave trading.
Dublin was founded by Norwegian Vikings in 841 AD, not, as widely presumed, to raid Ireland’s reserves of gold and silver, but once again for slaves. Quite brutal were these Vikings. Once they’d conquered Ireland they set about homing in on Britain’s Anglo-Saxon-ruled turf, displaying levels of brutality that would make Charles Manson blush.
Despite the cacophony of violence we’re told of, we’re not shown any reconstructions, and there’s something soothing about Oliver’s breathy Scottish vowels, I reckon he could develop a lucrative sideline voicing meditation tapes.
At an hour in length, the programme does feel a little overcooked, and archaeology isn’t the most compelling of subjects, but it’s worth a watch if you’re looking to expand your Nordic knowledge.