Children of Ash and Elm by Neil Price

Children of Ash and Elm by Neil Price

By the time Children of Ash and Elm released to some acclaim (I saw it recommended from several sources), I had already finished my Norse-inspired work. Nevertheless, I eventually intend to return to the Ragnarok Era, so I purchased a copy and finally dove in.

Price comes at the topic of the Viking Age from the perspective of an archaeologist, with a deliberate attempt to remove any sort of politicization from the conceptions of ancient Scandinavians. It’s a purely scholarly work, although written to be, more-or-less, accessible to non-archaeologists. And to be fair, on occasion, I felt he veered too far in the direction of deep dives into archaeology. For those interested more in the conclusions to be drawn from digs, we only need but so much detail on those digs and process itself.

Which said …

The book is excellent. Price presents a lot of familiar information (to those well read in the field), but combines it with new insights and recent discoveries. He also makes a very important point that I think cannot be emphasized enough: in the modern world, ancient cultures are well-worth studying, but we ought not to romanticize our conceptions of them.

They were warlike people in conflicted times, and their ideologies were also to a marked degree underpinned by the supernatural empowerment of violence. This could take extreme forms, manifested in such horrors as ritual rape, wholesale slaughter and enslavement, and human sacrifice. We should not read the Vikings backwards from our own time, but anyone who regards them in a ‘heroic’ light needs to think again.

—Price, Neil S. . Children of Ash and Elm (p. 37). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

Furthermore, conceptions of Viking Era Scandinavia as a singular culture, much less an all “white” one, are misguided.

The Viking world this book explores was a strongly multicultural and multi-ethnic place, with all this implies in terms of population movement, interaction (in every sense of the word, including the most intimate), and the relative tolerance required. This extended far back into Northern prehistory. There was never any such thing as a ‘pure Nordic’ bloodline, and the people of the time would probably have been baffled by the very notion.

—Price, Neil S. . Children of Ash and Elm (p. 36). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

This is a definite must-read for anyone wanting a historical, scholarly, yet approachable education to life in the so-called Viking Age.

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