Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean

Article excerpt

ANN CHRISTYS, Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean. London: Bloomsbury. 2015. xiv + 134 pp. ISBN 978-1-47421-375-2.

In her Christians in Al-Andalus, 711-1000 (2002), Ann Christys showed herself to be an expert in sifting out the truth from under the layers of elaboration that cover the history of Early Medieval Spain. In studying Vikings in the South she embarked on a topic overlain with no less fantasy and supposition than the mozárabes. Analysing the tales about the Vikings in Spain has required close expertise in interpreting textual evidence written in Latin and in Arabic, plus accounts translated from Norse and Celtic; the first appendix here is a 'Glossary of Histories and Historians', containing sixteen histories in Arabic, nine in Latin (including from France and from Scandinavia), one in Spanish (the Estoria de Espanna) and one in Norse. Her skill in interpreting and analysing the many Arabic sources is immensely impressive, and such is the density of the information in this book, presented with a complete absence of padding, that most sections need to be followed slowly and with care. The result is an overall picture that is unlikely to be improved on, even though several topics are left requiring further research.

Most of the surviving tales of Vikings in the Peninsula were written by historians distant, sometimes far distant, from the events concerned, in both time and space. The writers of the age had no clear maps and little idea of what was where. We are told, for example, that Vikings sailed up the Ebro and attacked Pamplona, with neither the writer nor his readers realizing how unlikely this was. Peninsular writers, North and South, must have often been unsure where sea raiders came from, and pirates of all sorts could be referred to as 'Northmen' as the default description. Memories based on reality would then get embellished over time; 'the more detailed the stories of Vikings are, the less we are inclined to believe them' (95), which unfortunately makes it hard to establish any details. Sadly, the stories of the Viking cheese-makers in Sevilla come into this mythical category. …

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