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Famous Vikings - A Masterclass Mini-Guide with Dominic Sandbrook

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

Recently we ascended the mountain of knowledge to consult with the oracle of history that is Dominic Sandbrook. We wanted to ask this veritable literary legend all of the Viking-related questions that our workshop participants and readers asked, nay demanded, an answer to. Over the next few days, we’ll be revealing what we learned about the Vikings from Dominic in a series of mini-history guides on the run-up to the release of his latest history book for children, teenagers, and grown-ups, Adventures in Time: Fury of the Vikings.

The question we posed Dominic: Who is your favourite Viking and why?

What we learned:

“Can I give you three Vikings?” Said Dominic.

“But of course,” said I, like the distinguished gentleman about town that I am.

Ragnar Lobrok as played by Travis Fimmel in the TV show, 'Vikings'

Ragnar Lodbrok

Ragnar Hairy-Breeches is a great character for any story of the Vikings because he’s half mythological and half real. He got his nickname because he put on a pair of hairy leggings to protect him against the poison of a dragon.”

Hairy leggings? I wear a pair of those for my yoga class. Oh wait, I wear shorts.

Same thing really. Either way, there are hairy legs involved.

Thankfully Dominic ignored my incoherent interruption and continued, “It was his sons that are supposed to have attacked England. He had all sorts of mad adventures; he was supposed to have attacked Paris and was meant to have been killed by being thrown into a pit of snakes in York.”

And the second?

Erik the Red from Arngrímur Jónsson's Grönlandia

Erik The Red

“Erik the Red. Erik is kicked out of Iceland as an outlaw, he goes on this incredible voyage to Greenland. He hears garbled reports that there might be an island there, so he goes to discover it and then goes back to Iceland. I like Erik the Red as he’s clearly a brilliant salesman. He calls it Greenland and it’s not very green. He comes back and he tells everyone that it’s fantastic, very beautiful and very warm. He manages to persuade all these people to come with him and found two settlements. He’s a great example of the Vikings as an explorer."

And the third?

The Battle of Stamford Bridge, from The Life of King Edward the Confessor by Matthew Paris.

Harold Hardrada

“Harold Hardrada, who is often described as the last Viking. He has the most amazing story, a story that really is true, but you could not invent it. He has to flee Norway as a boy – his family is kicked out after a battle – and he flees all way down the rivers through what is now Russia and Ukraine. He fights through Kyiv and becomes Captain of the Guard there."

"He then goes down to Constantinople and becomes captain of the Imperial Guard. At one point he’s arrested by the Empress and thrown into prison. Now, there may or may not have been a giant snake in the prison. Then he escapes, becomes King of Norway, and then launches this last doomed attempt to conquer England, and is finally killed at the battle of Stamford Bridge. Harold Hardrada feels like he really is the last great Viking."

What an awesome selection of vicious Viking delight! My favourite is Harold Bluetooth because he invented wireless connectivity between different technological devices. Oh wait, what’s that fact-checker? Ah, what I just wrote ‘probably’ isn’t true. Still, someone invented Bluetooth and named it after Harold because he united Denmark, just as Bluetooth unifies your phone with a speaker.

Our final Viking mini-guide with Dominic is all about Ragnarök - It will be on the site real soon, so keep those peepers pealed!

In Adventures of Time: Fury of the Vikings, prepare to meet the most terrifying raiders the world has ever known, as historian Dominic Sandbrook plunges us back into the thrilling drama of the Viking Age.

We'll encounter gods and giants, axemen and shield-maidens, from the warlords rampaging through King Alfred's England to the sea-captains who first glimpsed the mountains of Iceland. For even in the most glittering cities on earth, no one is safe from the Northmen's fury.


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