Thursday, June 23, 2011

The awkward age

I was in Copenhagen at the weekend. The Dr had been there for a week shadowing a new Egyptology exhibition and I joined her for the last couple of nights.

On Saturday, with my birthday hoving into view, we trained out to the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, with five different kinds of longship on display and lots of other cool stuff.

I liked how much they used the Bayeaux tapestry to show how these people once lived: gleaning from the comic-strip history vital clues about colours, tools and shapes, even the haircuts of different groups of people.

A panel on the history of the Vikings describes them getting over their 'awkward age' (i.e. marauding round other countries, raping and pillaging) in time to lead the Europeans on their crusades (i.e. marauding round other countries, rapings and pillaging).

But it also gave the lie to the Vikings as burly savages, showing the sophistication of their work. The ships were made from flexible, bendy planks, and then expanded over the fire to make them longer and lighter. That made strong, flexible and nippy crafty, ideal for stealth operations. But larger ships could carry plenty of cargo, and (as in Jonathan Clements' Brief History of the Vikings) there was a lot of emphasis on the friendly trade that was much more the norm than the pillaging.

Having read the Sagas of the Icelanders last year, it was good to see lots on the multicultural mixing of the time. As I explained to the Dr, the history of the Vikings is inextricably mixed up with the history of the UK.

As well as the original ships, expertly preserved, there was also a lot on the experimental archaeological project to rebuild a longship and sail it across the North Sea and circumnavigate the UK. This meant lots of footage and panels about sea-sickness, which at best disrupted watches and basic ship duties and at worst took out a third of the crew. Watching the crowded boat sitting so low in stormy and dark water, I got a sense of why the Vikings might not have been in the best moods when they arrived anywhere.

In the drizzle outside the museum there were tourists in horned helmets (though the Vikings didn't wear horns) rowing for themselves, and various beardie people at stalls selling hand-crafted Vikingish tat. I settled for a chicken sandwich - and was delighted to discover that the Danish word for chicken is 'kylling'. And just by the museum is a small fast-food place: Viking Pizza.

The Dr also took me round the prehistoric bits of the National Museum, and had clearly had a lovely week exploring other museums in the week. Copenhagen's a friendly, bustling city crammed full of people on bikes. I had a lovely time and only saw a small fraction, so am hoping to go back again.

1 comment:

Le Mc said...

Sounds fascinating, we were just doing a collective wondering about the Vikings at the last Back2theWhoture viewing.