Biggest Viking show in 30 years aims at new appraisal revealing Nordic seafarers as traders – and, latterly, museum visitors
“There’s no reason why, when you’re hacking someone to death, that you can’t hack them to death stylishly,” suggested Gareth Williams, perfectly reasonably, as he announced details of the first big Viking show at the British Museum for 30 years.
Williams was explaining, about this fresh appraisal of the Vikings, that the exhibition will not depict them as simply brutal rapers and pillagers. Nor will it concentrate on the “fluffy bunny” wing of Viking scholarship, he said, referring to a stance that emphasises their peaceful trade and beautiful craft skills.
“We are trying to provide a balanced view. It is not either or. They are raiders and marauders and they are traders and explorers and craftsmen. Fundamentally they are travellers – and travellers with open minds.”
The exhibition will be staged next spring and has been created in collaboration with national museums in Denmark and Germany. It aims to cast new light on what was an extraordinary expansion between the late 8th century and early 11th century. From their Scandinavian homelands the Vikings managed to get as far as Newfoundland, Morocco and central Asia.
The exhibition will also be the first to be staged in the museum’s new Sainsbury exhibitions gallery, part of a £135m extension that will open fully in 2014 and be known as the World Conservation and Exhibitions Gallery.
The new space allows the central London museum to show what will be the exhibition’s remarkable centrepiece – the surviving timbers of the longest Viking warship ever found. At 37 metres (121ft), it is longer even than the Mary Rose.