In this blog post, we are sharing 19th-century architecture, music, and art that were inspired by increased interest in the Vikings, often called the Viking Revival, as well as some learning resources to enhance your Vikings hands-on learning kit. Are you looking for more Middle Ages hands-on activities? Check out our Anglo-Saxon box!
As you’ve been learning in Vikings Unboxed, the people who we call Vikings today did not call themselves ‘Vikings’ but rather Ostman, meaning ‘east men,’ Norsemen, and Danes. There’s a lot of uncertainty about where the term ‘Viking’ came from, and you can read about the one theory, but generally the root ‘vik’ is related to the sea or water. It is generally thought that ‘Viking’ is related to vikingr, meaning sea raider or pirate, more of a job description than an individual attribute or community group. It wasn’t until the 10th century that ‘viking’ came to encompass a group of people of Scandinavian origin. While ‘viking’ and its root words have been around for centuries, the modern connotation of the word ‘Viking’ as a Romanticized hero/barbarian was introduced into the English language in the 18th and 19th-century Viking revival movements.
Historic Revivals often refer to a ‘rediscovering’ or ‘re-imaging’ of a historical culture and its associated decorative and cultural motifs, commonly in conjunction with a surge in national pride, although not always. The culture is often Romanticized and various elements are used in household furnishings, art, music, and literature. There were many history revivals in the 18th and 19th-centuries, including a Viking Revival period which was at its height during the rein of Queen Victoria.
During this time, Viking inspiration can seen in architecture, poetry, literature, music, and so much more through Europe and the Americas. Prior to about the 17th century, the group of people known as the Vikings were thought to be savage, brutal pillagers, with little to no culture or civilization of their own. As Norse texts and archeological evidence made its way through learned circles in the 16th & 17th-centuries, this image began to change to a more nuanced and sophisticated culture. In the 19th-century, archeological remains of both villages and graves, combined with new scholarship and translations of the Norse Mythology and literature brought the Vikings into the forefront of Victorian society. Queen Victoria herself was thought to be descended from a Viking chieftain, and life at court brought translated recitations of Norse poems, as well as theatrical and music performances based on the Norse mythology and sagas. The Vikings were no longer seen as the raiding and pillaging pirates of the Middle Ages and Medieval time periods, but rather as farmers, musicians, artists, storytellers, and more. Those around the world, and especially those in Denmark and Sweden where the Vikings were from, were anxious to embrace their heritage and the Viking Revival was born.
A revival of interest in all things Viking began in earnest during the 19th-century. It was also during this time that scholars were writing about how the Vikings came first to the Americas, long before the English and the Spanish. In Norway, artists began looking to their national history for inspiration instead of to the European continent as the excavation of the Tune ship in Ostgard galvanized the study of Viking history. Swedish writers also began to use ‘Viking’ in a positive, albeit Romantic way, which changed the perception of Vikings as brutish fighters.
Architecture was a popular medium for the Viking Revival. This style was called ‘Dragestil’ meaning ‘Dragon style’ and included motifs such as dragons and serpents, and building styles were based on stave churches (which in turn were based on earlier Viking buildings), and archeological excavations of Viking ships.
Dalen Hotel, completed in 1894. Designed by Haldor Larsen Børve
Another popular way that the Viking Revival was expressed was through the arts. Richard Wagner, a German composer, wrote an opera called Der Ring des Nibelungen also known as ‘The Ring Cycle’ a group of 4 operas loosely based on Norse sagas and mythology. Watch a very short video about this opera and listen to some of the music.
Another popular medium during the Viking Revival was household furnishings and decorations. Even in America, the Viking Revival was popular. Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, a tobacco heiress, built a large mansion in Newport, Rhode Island in 1882, which she christened ‘Vinland’ after the area the Vikings were thought to first have set foot in America. She also commissioned a stained class window depicting Thor, Odin, and Frey over a boat full of Viking sailors.
Chair & side table, tapestry "Northern Lights" from The Fairy tale Room at Holmenkollen Turisthotel (II) in Oslo. Designed by Gerhard Munthe. Manufactured by John Borgersen.
Gerhard Munthe (1849-1929) was a popular Norwegian artist in the late 19th and early 20th century. He designed a suite of furnishings for The Fairy tale Room at Holmenkollen Turisthotel (II) in Oslo, which has since burned down and only a few pieces remain, like the chair and side table in the image to the left. He was also an illustrator who worked in a Norwegian or Viking influenced style. His most famous illustrations were for mythological Norse retellings and some were even made into large tapestries, as you can also see in the photo.
Hotel Valhalla: A Guide to the Norse World by Rick Riordan
Vikings: A Magic Treehouse Fact Checker by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce
The Dragon’s Hoard by Lari Don
The Littlest Viking by Alexandra Penfold
Halga Makes a Name for Herself by Megan Maynor
How To Be a Viking by Cressida Crowell
Middle Grade Books
How to Train Your Dragon (Series) by Cressida Crowell
The Last Shadow Warrior by Sam Subity
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaimon
Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: Book 1 The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
Books for adults/advanced readers
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaimon
The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings by Lars Brownworth
The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth
The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings by John Haywood
Whats So Special about the Vikings from TedEd
The Vikings! from Crash Course History