The Risala of Ahmad ibn Fadlan is a tenth century travel narrative of an emissary of the Caliph to the Iltäbär of the Volga Bulgars. He described his encounters with many peoples on his journey, but the Risala is most famous for his account of the Rus and their funeral rites, who probably were Norse people who had settled along the Volga. If these were indeed the Norse, ibn Fadlan gives one of the most detailed contemporary descriptions of the Norse before they started writing down their own stories some centuries later. He was not the only Muslim to have encounters with the Norse, as Judith Gabriel explains in Among the Norse Tribes. Another 10th Century description of the Norse was by the Jewish al-Tartushi from Al-Andalus. Michael Crichton used the Risala as the basis for his novel Eaters of the Dead, which later was made into the movie The 13th Warrior. Both book and film left something to be desired in terms of historical accuracy.
Fans of history, mythology, language, and music: allow Metsatöll's Lauri Õunapuu to present his arsenal of traditional Estonian instruments. Then continue below the fold for an introduction to the world of folk metal. [more inside]
What tools did the Vikings use to construct their ships? During the early years of the Song dynasty, while Sridhar Acharya's concept of "zero" was making it's way westward and a pair of anonymous Anglo-Saxon poets was committing the tale of Beowulf to animal skin, a Viking craftsman lost his tool chest. It is speculated that the chest fell overboard off a ship or through the ice into what was then a swamp on the modern island of Gotland, Sweden. The chest was unearthed in 1936 when a chain attached to the chest got caught on a farmer's plow. In it were the tools a Viking blacksmith/ship builder would need to ply his trade. Named the Mästermyr chest its discovery was a boon to archaeologists, historians, re-enactors, woodworkers and blacksmiths. The original tools (catalogue of the items) were restored and put on display. Numerous copies and tributes of the chest or selected tools have been made over the years including a complete replica of both the chest and contents made using period techniques as a 'net project of a blacksmiths and woodworkers. [more inside]
The Battle Of Maldon is an Old English poem (here in the original Old English, here in a modern translation) retelling the events of a battle that took place in England in 991, in which a small army of Saxons attempted to halt an invading Viking force only to suffer a crushing defeat. This battle, and the disastrous rout suffered by the Saxons, led to the introduction of the Danegeld, the payment of silver in tribute to the Vikings to buy off their invading forces. [more inside]
Did the Scots visit Iceland? New research reveals island inhabited 70 years before Vikings thought to have arrived
Did the Scots visit Iceland? New research reveals island inhabited 70 years before Vikings thought to have arrived. This appears to be the first physical evidence that confirms the stories of celitc monks being on the island when the Norse arrived.
Norman Centuries is a new podcast by Lars Brownworth, best known for his podcast series 12 Byzantine Rulers (previously). Norman Centuries, as the name suggests, recounts the history of the Normans, those literal vikings who gained Normandy and then England, Sicily, Malta, Antioch and, well, a whole heck of a lot of other places too. They were a conquering bunch. First two episodes are out with more to follow. [iTunes link]
People with a History is "an online guide to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans history." Ranging from the first stirrings of civilization to the modern day, People with a History gathers together original sources and academic articles dealing with queerness throughout history. To give you a feel for the wealth of material on the site, here are a few pages that caught my interest: The Vikings and Homosexuality, Coptic Spell: Spell for a Man to Obtain a Male Lover, an acount of a gay marriage ceremony described by Michel de Montaigne, But Among Our Own Selves (an 18th Century gay ballad), a chapter from The Life of St. Theodore of Sykeon, a 7th Century Byzantine monk and bishop, which mentions adelphopoiesis, or the rite of brothermaking, Wu Tsao, 19th Century Chinese lesbian poet, and finally Polari: The Lost Language of Gay Men.