'Viking Age Iceland' makes as much sense as 'Victorian America'. The Viking Age began, as far as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was concerned, in 789, when the port-reeve of Dorchester saw three strange ships in Portland harbour and rode down to collect harbour-dues, as he had presumably done many times before. But on this occasion he discovered, fatally for himself, that the rules had been rewritten: raiding had replaced trading. Four years later the famous monastery of St Cuthbert on Lindisfarne, exposed and undefended, was destroyed without warning by seaborne raiders, the Pearl Harbor of the Dark Ages. Charlemagne's English minister Alcuin wrote to the survivors in consternation, to say there had never been such a disaster in Britain before, and that no one would have thought such an attack possible. The Viking victory was longer-lasting than the Japanese one. The Viking Age lasted for more than a quarter of a millennium, ending, again as far as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was concerned, when Harald harðręði, the giant King of Norway, was killed by his namesake Harold Godwinsson at Stamford Bridge, on 25 September 1066, just 19 days before the Battle of Hastings.
LRB 20 September 2001 | PDF Download