TOPIC: Memory Machines: Material Frontiers of Religion, Conversion, and Violence in Viking-Age Scandinavia
Neil Price is Distinguished Professor of Archaeology at Uppsala University, Sweden. A leading expert on the Viking Age, his fieldwork, teaching, and research has taken him to more than 40 countries. His publications have appeared in 20 languages, and he is a frequent consultant and contributor to television and film.
The so-called Viking Age of Scandinavia, c. 750-1050 CE, saw some of the most profound social and political transformations in European history: a shift from small, regional polities to unified nation states, and the gradual replacement of complex, polytheistic Northern beliefs with the doctrines of Christianity. Two factors were central to this process, namely the active use of material culture, and the deep-seated role that war played in world-views of the Norse. This talk will explore the media for these messages, through the archaeology of burial in the Viking Age. Mortuary behaviour was a technological mechanism, and the resulting funerary monuments were effectively machines for the perpetuation of memory. We will encounter the war sorcerers of the Vikings, the ‘weapon graves’ of the social and military elites, and consider the gendered construction of warriorhood against the background of religious change. The Christians also activated material culture in their mission of conversion, coupled with the acquisition of political power. Using the increasingly popular medium of runic memorials, they articulated new concepts of the ‘good’ person, contrasting sharply with the valorisation of aggression promoted by the old beliefs. As they crossed these frontiers of religion, technology, and war, the diverse peoples of Scandinavia navigated an altered, different world.