Recommended books

A lot of people reach out to ask about good books on the Viking Age and Old Norse mythology. Scroll down to find some of the books that I recommend.

Books about the Viking Age

The Viking World by Stefan Brink and Neil Price (eds.). This book is an all-inclusive tome of knowledge about the Viking Age. It has short, but dry, academic-style texts about pretty much every subject concerning the Viking Age. The articles in the book are written by scholars who are experts on their particular subject, and the entire anthology has been edited by Stefan Brink and Neil Price.

The Vikings by Else Roesdahl is a good, general presentation of knowledge on the Viking Age written in an accessible language. Roesdahl presents most themes related to understanding the Viking Age, providing an easily digestible introduction to the period based in scholarship.

The Vikings and Their Age by Angus A. Somerville and R. Andrew McDonald provides a solid introduction to the Viking Age with basic information about a multitude of topics. The information is presented well and in a manner that is accessible to newcomers. This is also a good introduction to source criticism in context of Viking Age studies.

The Viking Age: A Time of Many Faces by Caroline Ahlström Arcini is a refreshing, different approach to learning about the Viking Age. Arcini introduces us to the “average” Scandinavian in the Viking Age, to disability, the proliferation of diseases, immigration from other parts of Europe, and health. This book is a fascinating read.

Women in the Viking Age by Judith Jesch is a classic in research on the Viking Age. By compiling evidence in a cross-disciplinary approach, Jesch gives us a deep dive into the lives of women in the period. While the female sex accounts for roughly 50% of any population, the sources to the Viking Age—and therefore quite often also scholarly representations of it—are generally focused on men and male activities. Jesch’s study on women in the Viking Age gives us another perspective that is much needed.

BOOKS ABOUT OLD NORSE MYTHOLOGY AND RELIGION

Edda. Snorri Sturluson translated by Anthony Faulkes is the best translation of a primary source to Old Norse mythology. Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson in 1220 is the most comprehensive prose account of Old Norse mythology. Snorri was a Christian and he had received some level of formal education, but he was not as such a man of the church. His purpose with writing down Old Norse mythology was to make it accessible to the poets of his time, who still used tropes based in the old beliefs. Anthony Faulkes manages to convey the meaning and writing style of the text as close as possible to its source in his translation.

The Poetic Edda translated by Carolyne Larrington is the superior translation of the Eddic poems that Snorri Sturluson and other authors in the 1200s used for their prose renditions of Old Norse mythology. Some of the poems are probably from the late pagan era in Iceland and Norway, conveyed orally through generations until they were written down by unknown scribes. The Eddic poems can be difficult to access even in translation, because they are so far removed from our modern reality, but Larrington does a better job than most other translators in making their content accessible to us.

Saxo Grammaticus. The History of the Danes translated by Peter Fisher is another must-have for the student of Old Norse mythology. Saxo’s use of Old Norse mythology in his construction of a history of the Danish kings is an overlooked source to Nordic mythology and religion. Saxo presents different versions of some of the myths that Snorri Sturluson put in his Edda, and in some cases, Saxo even tells us myths that are found nowhere else. Saxo wrote his history of the Danes slightly earlier than Snorri in the period 1190 to 1208.

Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs by John Lindow is a useful handbook written in an easily digested language. Lindow introduces concepts, figures, and narratives from Old Norse mythology in alphabetical order, making it a simpler task to engage with, for instance, Eddic poetry and understand the culture that produced the mythology.

Pre-Christian Religions of the North by Anders Andrén, Jens Peter Schjødt, John Lindow, and Margaret Clunies Ross (eds.) is a four-volume mastodon of solid scholarly insight into Old Norse mythology and the history of religion in northern Europe. It is a high-level academic publication that you should only get if you can’t help but nerd out to the max over Old Norse mythology. It is worth every penny, though, so I would recommend it to anyone who is serious about their knowledge about Old Norse mythology and Nordic religion.

Nordic Religions in the Viking Age by Thomas DuBois is another, solid deep dive into the cultural and ethnic complexities of Old Norse mythology and Nordic religion. DuBois focuses on cultural exchange and interactions between Germanic-speaking Scandinavians and the Sámi neighbors. This book as, in my opinion, expanded our basic understanding of what Old Norse mythology is and emplaced it in its most appropriate context in Scandinavian history.

The Viking Way: Magic and Mind in the Late Iron Age by Neil Price is a comprehensive look into the practices of magic in Viking Age society. Price gives us a solid overview of the role of magic and how it connects to both ritual and Old Norse mythology. This book should be required reading for anyone who wants to know about rituals practiced in the pre-Christian Nordic world.

BOOKS ABOUT RUNES

Runes. A Handbook by Michael Barnes is a good introduction that will give you a solid foundation for understanding runes as a writing system.

Runes, magic and religion: A Sourcebook by John McKinnell, Rudolf Simek, and Klaus Düwel introduces the sources to rune magic in the timespan between the first century and the medieval period. Anyone interested in the actual history of rune magic should check this book out!

Photo by Mathias Nordvig

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