ikings: Life and Legend review – a stirring tale of shock and oar
The British Museum showcases the poetry, boats and bling of the marauding 11th-century Norsemen who, above all else, understood curves…
Three of the Lewis Chessmen, c.1150-1200, discovered on Lewis, Shetland, and thought to originate from Norway. Photograph: British Museum
Anyone who has even dipped a toe in the briny sagas of the Viking kings will know that the stag outing the itinerant Norsemen prized above all others always began something like this: "On Saturday the fleet-lord throws off the long tarpaulin, and splendid widows from the town gaze on the planking of the dragon ship. The young ruler steers the brand new warship west out of the Nio, and the oars of the warriors fall into the sea… " Those lines come from the 11th-century court poet Þjóðólfr Arnórsson, and they describe the characteristic actions of the fleet of Harald Hardradra (Harold the Hard Ruler), the last great Viking king, who fought unsuccessfully to extend his Norwegian monarchy to Denmark and then Britain. He died at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 along with his poet.