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13 February 2016 (Canada)  »

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Real Vikings: Age of Invasion  »

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CAD 400,000 (estimated)
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Striking
14 December 2016 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Who were the Vikings and why did they do what they did? This show aims to shed some light on the fearsome Scandinavians who, spears and axes raised, descended on Frankia -- the superpower of the Middle Ages -- to plunder and kill in the late 700s.

It's unclear what motivated their southern trek -- a climate change, a need to go elsewhere due to exile, or technological advances that left their dragon-prowed longboats as powerful across expanses of ocean as they were navigating rivers.

Whatever prompted them, they weren't playing around! This program shows how small bands of raiders, armed to the teeth, found a world completely different from their own when they attacked the scattered monasteries of Northumbria in what was later to become England. We get a glimpse in this documentary of St. Paul's Church, which is still a working place of worship 1300 years later.

They also took their fearsome boat fleets to the mainland of a Europe that was "slowly climbing out of the Middle Ages." They plundered Aachen, today the westernmost city in Germany. Back then it was a seat of the Holy Roman Empire, which had descended into civil war following the death of Charlemagne.

"Its crisis became the Norsemen's opportunity," we're told.

Vikings marauded through present-day Aachen, where ornately crafted, 1200-year-old doors remain on the cathedral -- undoubtedly because they were too heavy for the Vikings to lug back on their vessels.

The Vikings would storm down rivers in their amazing conveyances -- striking fear into townsfolk who sometimes had the benefit of fortifications left from the days of the Romans. We are shown one such wall that remains in the town of Le Mans, France (yes, the same place that has hosted a sports-car race since 1923).

"One of the things that is hard to imagine is just how terrifying it would have been to see an entire fleet coming up the river -- that dragon-headed prow coming around the river." We hear of really fearsome fighting strategies, and comparisons of the Vikings to modern-day terrorists -- people who didn't fight in the conventional way and threw Europe's defenders into disarray. We hear the description of one attack in which adversaries stood on both sides of a channel. The Vikings attacked the smaller force first -- capturing 111 combatants, hanging them and thus scaring away the fighters on the opposite bank. They sailed to their next prey with decapitated heads swinging from their masts! We learn that the Vikings believed their fate was decided at birth; in another parallel to today's terrorists, they hoped the gods would grant them a death in battle which meant an afterlife in the paradise of Valhalla.

After Aachen, the Vikings' next big prize was Paris, which went under siege in 845.

I was particularly interested in seeing this show because of my love of and interest in Iceland, a country that extols its own Viking heritage. Except for a few Gaelic monks, the volcanically craggy island between North America and Europe was uninhabited when Vikings started settling there in about 870. There was nothing to plunder, but they also found land to farm and a stunning environment.

This beautifully acted and illustrated show will be enlightening as a companion to the "Vikings" series. I've skipped the drama and still enjoyed it.


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