(Kansas City, Missouri) - Start with this: Vikings never wore the horned helmets now so firmly affixed to their identity.
The famed Norse seafarers maintain a grip on our imagination but, as Yale University historian Anders Winroth maintains, their image is too often distorted by medieval and modern lore. It's true that they pillaged, looted, and enslaved. But they also settled peacefully and developed a vast trading network. They roamed far from their homelands in swift and sturdy ships as much to explore as to raid.
Winroth dismantles the myths, delivering a flesh-and-blood look at the Vikings and their complex society and culture in a discussion of his new book, The Age of the Vikings, on Thursday, January 29, 2015, at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. The presentation begins at 6:30 p.m.
The Age of the Vikings captures the Vikings' innovation and daring without glossing over their destructive heritage. Winroth examines their assaults but argues that they were no more bloodthirsty than other warriors of the period. He looks, too, at Viking endeavors in commerce, politics, discovery, and colonization, and reveals how their arts, literature, and religious thought evolved in ways unequaled in the rest of Europe.
Vikings seized on the invention of the longship, using it to venture to Europe for plunder, to open new trade routes, and to settle in lands as distant as Russia, Greenland, and the Byzantine Empire.
"There is this general idea of the Vikings as being exciting, as something that we can't understand from our point of view," Winroth told National Geographic late last year. "... One starts to think of them in storybook terms, which is deeply unfair."
In reality, he says, "the Vikings were sort of free-market entrepreneurs."
Winroth, a 2003 MacArthur Fellow, is the Forst Family Professor of History at Yale. He specializes in the history of medieval Europe — especially its religious, intellectual, and legal history, as well as the Viking Age — and is the author of The Conversion of Scandinavia: Vikings, Merchants, and Missionaries in the Remaking of Northern Europe and The Making of Gratian's Decretum (on the first scholastic canon law textbook produced in the Middle Ages).
Admission is free. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available in the Library District parking garage at 10th and Baltimore.