Originally posted on Goodreads.com.
As the title implies, Robert Ferguson’s The Hammer and the Cross tracks the earliest interactions of Scandinavian and Danish vikings with the usually Christian post-Roman Europe. Following events from the 8th century attack on the Lindisfarne monastery in what would become NE England to the founding of Normandy in NW France, from viking expeditions to Spain and northern Africa to their establishment as the Varingian Guard in Kiev, Ferguson shows how the vikings shaped much of what became medieval and Renaissance Europe.
Presenting viking paganism and post-Roman Christianity in a cultural, often political, back-and-forth, Ferguson follows the eventual acceptance (and often full embrace) of Christianity by viking leaders from Denmark to Norway to Sweden. Taking the perspective that such oral cultures–usually written of by both antagonistic and, more often than not, sympathetic Christian writers–often carry more myth in their history than literal event. While he seeks to cut through the exaggerated stories of viking legends to describe the real men and women in them, Ferguson nonetheless sees a poetic value and usefulness in such legends, and he by no means attempts to reduce the size such figures have in the stories, then or now.
I had some idea of the influence the vikings had on European history, but I did not know that influence was so extensive and, after reading Ferguson’s book, so visible. One cannot study medieval history without studying the vikings, and whether one is a history buff or merely a fan of “Vikings” the show (which, though taking liberties with time and interpretation, ends up being quite based in the culture’s history and key figures over the centuries), Ferguson’s The Hammer and the Cross is an excellent read.