Asgård Viking Ship
Viking Ship c. 1900-1920. Photo by John Henry Harvey (1855-1938) via State Library Victoria

Well, not literally Asgård; but the Vikings: Beyond the Legend exhibition at the Melbourne Museum.

In Norse myths, Odin the all-father has two ravens Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory) who bring him the Midgård gossip. And as Australian juvenile ravens start forming flocks around my birthday, I’ve always been fond of them and Norse mythology. Mind you; ravens are prominent as messengers of other assorted gods too.

I grew up with myths, legends and fairy tales, so I’ve always been interested in gods and mythic creatures. For those who didn’t, the History Channel’s Vikings, has made them popular (especially in the Game of Thrones off-season). But before you get too excited, this exhibition is more along the lines of The Almighty Johnsons. If you like mythic sagas, you might also enjoy American Gods.


Before we go too far, the first thing to note is that “Vikings” were not a unified country, tribe, or ethnicity. They were just a bunch of people that shared the Scandinavian Peninsula. And while we tend to think of them united in the worship of the Norse panoply of gods, we don’t know if they were the same gods, let alone whether they were shared.

And if you don’t already know, Viking is more of a job description than nationality. It does mean raiding, but it also means trading, and it’s possible that raiding was a way of picking up stuff to sell as well as well as a way of gaining new territories. And for Vikings aficionados, there is a mention of Rollo, the first king of Normandy.

THE Krampmacken sits at the exhibition entry; it’s a longship replica that sailed from Gotland to the ancient Miklagård (Istanbul) during 1980-85. The ship recreates one dug up in Sweden in the 1920s, with sails based on carvings on picture stones. This ship is much smaller than you imagine a raiding ship would be. Almost as exciting as seeing the Kon-Tiki.


The exhibition includes a spooky but fascinating ghostly rivet skeleton of a longship that adds a new dimension to ship burials. For the ladies, grave goods include beautiful beaded necklaces, tweezers, combs and keys symbolising your power and control of the land you worked. For the men, razors, combs, jewellery, and armoury. So much for hairy barbarians!


Also in the collection is a pendant billed as one of the finest Thor’s Hammer (Mjölnir) ever found! Though it seems that historians aren’t sure whether the pendants/amulets were decorative or had magic properties to protect the wearer. I consider that many of mine have protective properties, so I expect it’s the latter.


I enjoyed the reproduction sword; you can lift it, and so I discovered it’s surprisingly light and well balanced – even for little old me. I imagine you could build up a reasonable level of forceful momentum with minimal effort swinging it in battle. Weirdly, I hadn’t considered the ergonomics of armaments before visiting the exhibition.


Despite the boats and weapons, the exhibition is more about the daily lifestyle of a Viking Era (700 – 1100 CE) farming community; what they ate, what they wore, what they believed, and their craftsmanship. It includes mixed media presentations, some beautiful examples of craftsmanship, runes, and (amazingly) magnifying glasses.

On Display in Melbourne Until August

These and more than 400 other tiny artefacts from the Swedish History Museum are on display at the Melbourne Museum until August 26, 2018. If you get the chance, I encourage you to see it.


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