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River Kings by Cat Jarman

Again, another excellent read suggested by the @historybookgrp (History Teacher Book Club – well worth a follow for anyone just interested in the world, not just history teachers!).

River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Road.

What is it about?

Explores the history of the Vikings through artifacts and gravesites found, initially, in England and then from there follows the sources of the artifacts further East, as far as modern-day Turkey and central Asia. In so doing Cat Jarman tells the tale of how the Vikings not only reached the Americas (Newfoundland) but their reach, via the Rus’ peoples, extended as far as the Middle East and Central Asia. A remarkable story.

Key takeaways:

• The Vikings extended their influence throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia into modern-day Russia. The people known as the Rus' (not surprisingly) seem to have a split heritage. Many are Slavic in ethnicity, but this book presents convincing evidence about their Scandinavian connections. Of note is the tradition of Vikings serving in Constantinople in the Byzantine Varangian Guard – the bodyguard to the Emperor and an elite fighting unit.

• Medieval Europe was fascinated by items from the Middle East, particularly jewelry, silk, and coins featuring the Islamic crescent of the Middle Eastern empires. Some Viking graves have been found containing coins like this, but more interesting than even this is that metal analysis shows that some of these coins were made locally – suggesting there was a sort of ‘knock-off Islamic artifacts’ trade in Medieval Europe.

· There was a siege of Constantinople by Rus’ forces in 860 in relation for Byzantium building a fort in the Northern Black Sea/Russian coast that sought to tax and limit Rus’ trade.

· The trade routes into Europe came through modern-day Crimea and up through the river sisters of Eastern Europe – not as I previously imagined, only via the Mediterranean.

· The Vikings had some seriously intense funeral ceremonies involving the ritual killing of slaves to accompany the dead into the afterlife. It wasn’t pleasant.

Follow Cat Jarman on Twitter at @CatJarman


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