h i s t o r y become peaceful Christian farmers. This time there would be no petty piracy, just full-scale invasion, leading ultimately to King Cnut’s creation in the 11th century of an Anglo-Scandinavian empire. King Æthelred’s famously foolish policy of paying the invaders vast sums of money to go away simply guaranteed that they kept coming back for more.
The Northmen’s Fury is a detailed study that succeeds in conveying the impact of the Viking Age. Moreover, it is fully up to date with recent archaeological discoveries and DNA findings in the Viking colonies. In all these respects, it is a fascinating read, but one cannot help concluding that it is market timing, rather than the fact of having anything particularly new to say, that has prompted this study.
This being the case, one might reasonably have expected the book to be free of errors, which it is not, most notably in references to the Old Norse language. For example, on a single page, the Icelandic saga categories of konungasögur, Íslendingasögur and fornaldarsögur are all misspelt. Throughout, Parker fails to distinguish correctly between Old Norse ð and Þ, and uses diacritics inconsistently. The inference that Parker is somewhat out of his comfort zone when it comes to Old Norse may not matter to, or even be noticed by,
the general reader, but serious students are likely to wonder just how much of Parker’s narrative comes from first-hand study of the sources. These readers are likely to stick with Gwyn Jones’s history, for Jones was an Old Norse expert who could readily judge the reliability or otherwise of source material. Future print runs will need careful proofing – and while the author is about it, he may also want to address statements such as ‘Eirik the Red discovered Iceland’, because, as he discusses at some length in Chapter 5, Eirik the Red discovered Greenland. To order this book for £20, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 29
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Men in Boats The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World
By Lincoln Paine (Atlantic Books 744pp £30)
on what ships carried and facilitated – trade, ideas, peoples, religions, languages, legal systems – and how these contributed to the development of societies and civilisations. If there is one overarching theme, it is that of convergence: ships are the engines of globalisation.
In twenty neatly parcelled chapters he takes us from the first known images of ships – Norwegian rock carvings of hunters in boats chasing swimming reindeer, dating from around 4200 BC – to the trucking magnate Malcom McLean, whose invention of containerisation in
Lincoln Paine launches this major new maritime history with a bold mission statement: ‘I want to change the way you see the world.’ His thesis is that the contribution of seafaring to world history has largely vanished from our field of vision, as the ships themselves have. He chides other big-picture historians, such as Jared Diamond and J M Roberts, for having missed a vital dimension. A hundred years ago it would have been otherwise: merchant fleets and navies were at the heart of many national identities. Now the stacked containers that carry 90 per cent of the world’s goods are transported in ghost ships manned by international skeleton crews and flying flags of convenience. The seafaring life has been industrialised to the point where it is now invisible to the vast majority of people; the cosmopolitan bustle of ports has been replaced by the automation of warehouses. In the process we have lost sight of a huge tranche of human history. To correct this imbalance Paine does not offer a traditional account of ships and ship design – though these do have a place in his book. Instead his approach is multidisciplinary. He focuses
‘Giant Demon Attacks a Ship’, from ‘ The Annals of Sripal ’, 17th century the 1950s revolutionised the maritime world and launched a new, global torrent of goods. In the process, Paine switches our angle of vision, arguing that Europeans didn’t start to dominate maritime activity until 1500, a period he covers in the last quarter of the book. For nearly two thousand years the epicentre of world trade lay further east, in the monsoon seas of the Indian Ocean and beyond – a place to which it is now reverting. Before Europeans found a way into the Indian Ocean, these waters comprised a dynamic trade zone that allowed China to receive the goods of Rome via Persia, and Islam to spread, not at the point of the sword but in the hold of a dhow. At
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