Together with the boys, and Hatty and 2 of her daughters, went to the British Museum, again, on Friday, for the Viking exhibition. Though there were times during the train journey, we wondered if we’d make it. Because the exhibition is proving to be tremendously popular, the tickets are timed, so you have to choose the time slot you want when you buy the tickets. I’d booked ours for 3pm, plenty of time to get into London – our train was due in at 12:20 – have lunch, and make our way over to the museum. Everything was going fine until we got to Southampton, where we sat for longer than usual before the guard announced that the line by Woking was blocked, and we’d be delayed for a while. The next announcement informed us that, once the 11:30 train was coupled onto ours, the train would be going direct to Waterloo, so those who needed stations in between had to get off. Our route went via Havant – the long way around; instead of 12:20, we got into Waterloo at 2pm! We found out that the ‘trouble’ at Woking was a fatality – someone had been knocked by a train, awful.
Instead of a leisurely lunch, we only had time for a quick bite before making our way into the exhibition. Personally, I thought it was worth every penny. Beautiful artefacts and so many, well laid out with just enough information, snippets of Viking poetry and prose on the walls … it took us just over 2 hours to cover it all. There was a real effort to get us to see past the clichéd view of Vikings as only plundering, murderous thugs … they weren’t merely warriors, they were also farmers, they traded with other peoples, they settled in other parts of the world, and integrated with the locals. More than just a two-dimensional view, which I think is more interesting. Yes, there was blood and gore and violence, but that was the way the world was back then.
'They journeyed boldly
Went far for gold
Fed the eagle
Out in the east,
And died in the south
In Saracenland.' ~ Gripsholm Castle rune stone, Sweden, 11th century
Near the end was the star of the exhibition, ‘Roskilde 6’, the biggest Viking ship that’s ever been found. It’s huge – 37 metres long – but only a small part of the hull is the original timber, the rest has rotted away. It’s cradled in a spectacular metal framework that’s been built to resemble the reconstructed hull.
The usual number of oars in a Viking ship was about 20 pairs, but this giant held over twice that number. It didn’t require much to imagine the sight of the real thing, literally, flying through the water … neither was it difficult to imagine the horror of it bearing down on you ...
'Men will quake with terror
Before the seventy sea oars
Are given deserved respite
From the labours of the ocean.
Norwegian arms are driving
This iron-studded dragon
Down the storm-tossed river
Like an eagle with wings flapping.'
Here's an interesting snippet of information; Viking ships didn't have a rudder at the stern, this was introduced after the Viking age. Instead, the ship was steered with a large oar, called the 'styrisbord' or steering oar, which was normally placed on the right-hand side of the ship. This is where the modern English term 'starboard' originates.
As usual, with these exhibitions, photography was not allowed. But, as usual, I treated myself to the book of the exhibition, which is edited by Gareth Williams, Peter Pentz and Matthias Wemhoff… these pictures are just a fraction of the images that are in the book, which I only include to give those who don't get a chance to get to the exhibition, a glimpse of the Vikings...
Items found from a female burial, 1050-1100
Simple domestic pin, with dragon's head, 950-1000
Slave collar, 10th-12th century, Dublin, Ireland
Pre-Viking brooch; the inscription is in Old Norse and the runic alphabet - 'Maelbrigoa owns this brooch' - the name, however, is Celtic. Ayrshire, Scotland c.700
Valkyrie brooch, 9th century
Inlaid axehead, 1000-1050
Wooden shield; very rare for anything wooden to survive. Late 9th century
Mass grave from Weymouth, Dorset, early 11th century; the bodies were decapitated. Some of these remains were on display; they were, mostly, young Scandinavian men, and some of the bones bore defensive wounds. Can't put my finger on the reason why, but there was something poignant about the remains.
Spearhead with silver-inlaid socket, 11th century
Sword chape; the metal fitting at the tapered end of a scabbard, 10th century
Miniature armed horseman, 11th century
Pair of stirrups, 10th century
Pair of spurs, 900-950
Thor's hammer pendant, 900-950
Dragon head, 300-600
Afterwards, the boys went off to the Enlightenment Room, Greece, and Ancient Egypt – I love their company, but it’s great that they can go off and do their own thing, even somewhere like the British Museum, so long as they have their phones with them :) Hatty, the girls and I went to ‘Medieval Europe’. I’ve only been there the once, the first time we went to the museum; by the time we went again, it had been closed for refurbishment.
Thalia, the muse of comedy, 'graceful and tender'
Chaucer's astrolabe; the date on the back is 1326, making it the oldest dated European astrolabe
Richard II's quadrant, engraved with a crowned and chained white hart, the badge of Richard II
This is one of my favourite items, the shield of parade; not for use in battle, but most probably a gift or prize
The legend on the scroll above the knight's head read 'vous ou la mort' ('you or death'); with the skeletal figure of Death behind him, it suggests that the knight would rather die than prove unworthy of his lady's love.
The lady is wearing a Flemish pointed headdress
The memorial brass of Sir John Langston, who died in 1506. Memorial brasses were a cheaper alternative of commemorating the dead than tomb effigies.
The Sutton Hoo burial helmet, which was badly damaged when the burial chamber collapsed
This is a complete replica, made by the Royal Armouries, showing how the original would have looked
The back view of the replica
The Cuerdale hoard, part of a large Viking silver hoard found in a chest beside the River Ribble in Cuerdale, Lancashire. Made up of 7500 coins, 1200 pieces of bullion, and weighing about 40kg, it's the largest known Viking hoard from Western Europe
This is a brooch! Can you imagine wearing something so huge? And making sure you don't put your eye out ... or somebody else's!
Detail of ceiling tile by entrance
Stairs leading up to first floor
Happy to say, our journey home was incident-free. Exhibitions are all well and good, but they are so tiring! Still, we had a great day out.
For obvious reasons, wanted to post about this, but can’t guarantee when I’ll be back to posting regularly … hopefully, will be sooner rather than later.