On this page are
listed some of the more useful references available to the interested reader.
Many more references were used to create the Norse history pages in this document.
However, I've tried to list materials here that are useful for a
general reader, rather than for a specialist. I've also tried to avoid listing
materials which, although commonly quoted, fall short in scholarship or
readability, in my opinion.
The books are listed by topic:
In addition, we are pleased to make available a one-page
reading list for students and teachers.
History and General Coverage
There are a small number of readily available books that provide general coverage of
the Viking era. Any one of these books would provide a casual reader with a good
- Roesdahl, Else: The Vikings. Penguin, 1998. Roesdahl's
book is probably the most approachable volume on the Norse era.
It has a complete and readable summary of Norse history, culture,
daily life, and religion.
- Graham-Campbell, James, et al: Cultural Atlas of the Viking
World. Facts on File, 1994. This is a large format book, filled with
illustrations and covering a wide range of topics with well written prose.
- Haywood, John: The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings.
Penguin, 1995. Another nice summary of Norse history and
society, well illustrated with maps, drawings, and photos. In addition, it's also an
- Sawyer, Peter, ed. The Oxford Illustrated History of the
Vikings. Oxford University Press, 1997. A group of renowned
experts have put together this volume. Perhaps not as well illustrated
as the title might imply, and perhaps more dry in the history
chapters than some, it nonetheless presents a summary of the latest
available information, and provides interesting interpretations and viewpoints
differing from those in other sources.
These general references, while still recommended, are harder to find,
or less general in their coverage, or aimed more at specialists.
- Pulsiano, Phillip, ed.: Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia.
Garland Publishing, Inc. 1993. This is the definitive, authoritative
source on the region, with plenty of good, well-referenced information
on the Norse era. Out of print.
- McTurk, Rory, ed.: A Companion to Old
Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture. Blackwell Publishing, 2005. This
massive reference, covering literature and culture, is highly recommended. It
many ways, it is the modern, updated replacement for Pulsiano.
- Byock, Jesse: Viking Age Iceland. Penguin, 2001. Byock presents a
wealth of information about Iceland's history and society, from settlement to
the end of the free state.
- Foote, P.G. et al: The Viking Achievement. Sidgwick & Jackson,
1970. An older, but one of the better volumes on the Norse era. Fascinating
information and discussion appear here that is not repeated in other
references. Out of print.
- Almgren, Bertil et al: The Viking. Crescent Books,
1975. This large format volume, while very dated, still
makes an worthwhile introduction to the Norse era. While not very
deep in some areas, the text covers a very broad range of topics.
The best part, though, is the delightful line illustrations by Ĺke Gustavsson, some
of which bear close examination in order to find all the hidden
jokes and surprises. The illustrations also show the construction of many
artifacts of Norse society in sufficient detail to reconstruct the items. Out
- Page, R.I.: Chronicles of the Vikings. University of
Toronto Press, 1995. The author has compiled texts by the Norse
people and their contemporaries to produce a volume providing
fresh insight on the Norse society. In addition to his keen (and witty) comments, Page provides his own translations
of the Norse materials, which, in many cases, puts them in a new light.
- Roesdahl, Else, et al, ed.: From Viking to Crusader: The Scandinavians
and Europe 800-1200. Rizzoli, 1992. A remarkable collection of images,
text, and discussion of archaeological finds from across Norse lands and
throughout the Norse era. The book is the catalog for a Viking exhibition
that toured Europe in the early 1990's. Out of print.
- Jón Jóhannesson, Íslendinga Saga (A History of the Old Icelandic Commonwealth), Haraldur Bessaon, tr. University of Manitoba Press, 1974. Like
The Viking Achievement listed above,
this book is dated, but it provides information and explanations not found in other books.
Military and Nautical History
- Neersø, Niels: A Viking Ship. Breakwater, 1986.
This book describes the construction of the Roar Ege, a
modern reconstruction of a Skuldelev knörr.
- Crumlin-Pedersen: Viking Age Ships and Shipbuilding in
Hedeby/Haithabu and Schleswig. Schleswig and Roskilde, 1997.
The author, who is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable scholars
of Norse era ship building, summarizes what is known, based on
ship finds in Hedeby and Schleswig.
- McGrail, Ancient Boats in Northwest Europe. Longman,
1987. Subtitled The archaeology of water transport to AD1500,
the author summarizes what is known about boat building in Europe
over a range or periods, including the Norse era.
- Peirce, Ian G., et al.: Swords of the Viking Age. Boydell, 2002. A
worthy successor to Oakeshott's volume (below), focusing solely on Viking age weapons.
- Oakeshott, Ewart: Records of the Medieval Sword. Boydell, 1991. A
summary, with photos, sketches, and
commentary on a variety of examples of swords from the Viking period, as well as from
other parts of the medieval era. Also worthy of note is Oakeshott's earlier
text, The Archaeology of Weapons, available in a very inexpensive
edition from Dover Publications.
- Hand, Stephen and Paul Wagner: "Talhoffer's Sword and Duelling Shield
as a Model for Reconstructing Early Medieval Sword and Shield Technique".
Spada Anthology of Swordsmanship, Chivalry Bookshelf, 2002, pp. 72-86.
The authors present a fascinating new interpretation of the use of Viking age
sword and shield based on later manuscripts.
- Talhoffer, Hans: Medieval
Combat, Mark Rector, tr. Greenhill Books, 2000. Talhoffer's manual has been
our best source for later techniques that can be adopted to Viking age sword and
shield. This translation has been indispensible.
- Meyer, Joachim: The Art
of Combat, Jeffrey L. Forgeng, tr. Greenhill Books, 2006. Meyer's manual
from 1570 is the key to understanding the German medieval longsword material.
Short, William R.: Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques. Westholme
Publishing, 2009. An introduction to the weapons of the Vikings and speculation
on how they were used.
Society and Culture
- Sigurður Nordal, Icelandic Culture, Vilhjálmur
T. Bjarnar, tr. Cornell University Library, 1990. Sigurður
Nordal, scholar, author, diplomat, and the dean of Icelandic culture, illuminates the Icelandic literature from a
different angle than other texts. This is a fascinating and eye-opening volume.
- Dennis, Andrew, et al, tr.: Laws of Early Iceland: Grágás.
University of Manitoba Press, volume 1: 1980; volume 2: 2000. This set is the
first English translation of the entire text of Grágás
and is an invaluable reference for students of Icelandic culture and law. It
provides fascinating insight into the society of the time. In
addition, the translation contains a helpful reference section in the form of an
- Jochens, Jenny: Women in Old Norse Society. Cornell University Press,
1995. An indispensable summary of old Norse society and the role of women in
- Wolf, Kirsten: Daily Life of The Vikings, Greenwood Press, 2004. A
nice summary of life, culture, and material culture of the Viking people.
Short, William R.: Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas.
McFarland & Company, 2010. The book is a companion to the sagas, introducing
modern readers to the people of the sagas, and their history, culture and
- Glćsel, Nille: Viking Drakter, Dress, Clothing, Nille Glćsel, 2010.
An excellent reference for someone wanting to make
their own Viking-era clothing. The book includes detailed instructions,
full-sized patterns, and clear instructions for making a variety of clothing for
men, women, and children. In the debit column, the book is costly, with some
awkward English translations and editing oversights.
Language and Literature
- Viðar Hreinsson, ed.: The Complete Sagas of Icelanders.
Leifur Eiriksson Publishing, 1997. This five volume set is a monumental
work: a new English translation of the entire set of Icelandic family sagas. But in addition to the sagas, it has several articles of
note, on Icelandic history, Norse ships, Icelandic farming practices,
Icelandic law, and other topics that make it a valuable general
reference. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from the Icelandic family sagas
used in the articles on this site come from this translation.
- Örnólfur Thorsson, ed.: The Sagas of the Icelanders,
A Selection. Viking, 2000. The magnificent translation described above is
now being reprinted in a series of more affordable volumes. This is the first
volume of the series.
- Faulkes, Anthony, tr.: Sturluson, Snorri: Edda. Everyman,
1987. The standard English translation of Snorri's texts.
- Larrington, Carolyne, tr.: Poetic Edda. Oxford University
Press, 1996. This is a new English translation of the Elder
Edda. There are three readily available English translations. Each has its
felicities. Each has its
problems. Of the three, I like this one the best.
- Terry, Patricia, tr.: Poems of the Elder Edda. University
of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. A translation that's in between the more literal translation of Larrington, and the verse
version of Hollander.
- Hollander, Lee M., tr.: The Poetic Edda. University
of Texas Press, 1962. He tries to maintain the rhythm of the original
Norse poetry in his English translation. That's nice, since it
gives a flavor of the meter of the original, but it makes the
English translation difficult to follow.
- Dronke, Ursula, tr.: The Poetic Edda. Clarendon
Press, Volume 1: 1969; Volume 2; 1997. An edition, translation, and
discussion. The model to which all others must be compared. One only hopes
that volumes 3 and 4 are published soon.
- Hollander, Lee M., tr.: Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla.
University of Texas Press, 1964. The standard translation of Snorri's monumental
history of Norway.
- Jónas Kristjánsson: Eddas and Sagas. Hiđ íslenska bókmenntafélag, 3rd edition, 1997.
This book is the best general introduction to medieval Icelandic literature of
which I am aware. It's clearly written, nicely translated, and covers the topic
in just the right depth for a general audience. Its only disadvantage is that it
was written for Icelanders, so it presupposes some knowledge of Icelandic
history and culture.
- Vésteinn Ólason: Dialogues with the Viking
Age. Heimskringla, 1998. Another excellent general introduction to the saga literature.
- McTurk, Rory, ed.: A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and
Culture. Blackwell Publishing, 2005. A more advanced reference text with
articles by leading scholars in the field.
- Turville-Petre, G.: Origins of Icelandic Literature.
Clarendon Press, 2nd edition, 1975. This is the classic
text summarizing the history of the Icelandic literary genres.
- Clover, Carol: The Medieval Saga. Cornell University Press, 1982. A
fascinating discussion of the structure of sagas.
- Page, R. I.: Runes. University of California Press,
1987. This is a no-nonsense description of runic writing by a
skeptic, with many examples of historical runestones, and without
any of the new age magic silliness.
- Barnes, Michael: A New Introduction to Old Norse, Viking Society for
Northern Research, 1999, 2001. This three volume set has replaced Gordon as
the definitive text for English speakers seeking to learn old Norse.
- Gordon, E.V.: An Introduction to Old Norse. Oxford
University Press, 2nd edition, 1956. This text, first
published in 1927, has been the primary text for students of old Norse.
The illustrations are by J.R.R. Tolkien, of Lord of the Rings
fame (who was a scholar of old Norse literature). Gordon's introductory
remarks contain a concise summary of Norse history, culture, literature,
poetry, manuscripts, and runes. The book does not provide any
lessons in the Norse language per se. Instead Gordon provides
a dictionary, a grammar, copious notes, and a set of readings
in old Norse.
Religion and Mythology
The primary sources are short enough that one should go to
them early in one's study. (In translation, I recommend Larrington's Poetic
Edda and Faulkes' Snorra edda, cited above.) However, since the
primary sources can be confusing, incomplete, and conflicting, a casual reader
might want to begin with one of the summaries.
- Crossley-Holland, Kevin: The Norse Myths. Pantheon,
1980. The author retells (and embellishes) the Norse stories in
modern English prose. This is a good place for a casual reader
to get an overview of the Norse mythology and a flavor of the
- Page, R.I.: Norse Myths. University of Texas Press,
1990. Instead of reading my dull and tedious summaries of the
Norse myths in this web document, one should read Page's delightful,
pithy, and witty summaries in this book.
- Lindow, John: Norse Mythology. Oxford University Press, 2001. An
encyclopedic work with articles (and thorough references) on a wide range of
topics related to Norse mythology.
- Turville-Petre, E.O.G.: Myth and Religion of the North
- The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. Holt, Rinehart, and
Winston, 1964. This scholarly study of the Norse religion remains
the standard against which other texts are compared. By using
literature from the period, along with other contemporary reports,
modern studies of other Indo-European religions, and archaeological
evidence, the author reconstructs much of what is known about
the Norse pagan religion. In addition, the author describes the
history of Norse religious beliefs and suggests how those beliefs
may have changed during the Norse era.
- Jón Hnefill Ađalsteinsson: A Piece of Horse Liver: Myth, Ritual, and
Folklore in Old Icelandic Sources, Terry Gunnell and Joan Turville-Petre,
tr. Háskólaútgáfan Félagsvísindastofnun, 1998. This collection of
articles and presentations draws out some fascinating insights into the old
Norse religion from a variety of historic material.
Books for Younger Readers
This first group includes books that are readily available.
Suggested age and grade levels are approximate.
- Manning, Mick et al: What a Viking!. R&S Books, 2000. A picture
book for young readers (ages 4-8) which, in telling the life story of Björn,
covers a wide range of Viking age topics. Captions to the Illustrations
provide additional information, as well as the gross-out details that kids
- Margeson, Susan M.: Viking. Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. One of the Eyewitness
series, this book is heavy on detailed photographs, but light on explanatory
material. It provides a good introduction to Viking age topics. Ages 9-12.
- Crossley-Holland, Kevin: Viking! Myths of Gods and Monsters. Orion
Children's Books, 2002. A retelling of the Norse myths based on material from the author's previous book
(above) modified to make it suitable for intermediate and young adult readers.
These books are highly recommended but are more difficult to
- Civardi, Anne, et al: Viking Raiders. Usborne Publishing, 1997.
Part of the Time Traveler series. A well-illustrated general
introduction for ages 7-12.
- Pearson, Anne: The Vikings. Viking, 1993. Part of the See
Through History series. Another well-illustrated general introduction
for older readers, ages 12-16.
- Claire, John D.: The Vikings. Gulliver Books, 1992. Part of the Living
History series. My favorite of the general introduction books for
children. Ages 12-16.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the best books
of all for children interested in the old Norse stories: the children's editions
published for Icelandic children. There are (to my knowledge) four in print: Jüri Arrak, et al: Sagan af Gretti Sterka, Mál og
menning, 1995; Brynhildur Ţórarínsdóttír et al: Njála. Mál og menning,
2002; Brynhildur Ţórarínsdóttír et al: Egla. Mál og menning, 2004; Brynhildur Ţórarínsdóttír et al: Laxdćla. Mál og menning,
the help of an adult who either knows the stories or who can translate them,
English speaking kids finds these picture books fascinating.