When the Vikings had a day out in Birmingham: the 2014 Midlands Viking Symposium

Posted on Thursday 8th May 2014
The Sun Voyager, Iceland

Apparently the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle doesn’t have much to say about the presence of the Vikings in the West Midlands in the 9th century. In recent years, however, Viking scholars have regularly appeared in Birmingham. 26 April 2014 saw the third visit of the Midlands Viking Symposium to Birmingham. This was probably the largest of the ten symposia held so far with just over 70 in the audience and seven researchers giving talks.

The ‘MVS’ is an event shared by the universities of Nottingham, Birmingham and Leicester with the aim of presenting new research to an interested public via this one-day event. This year’s symposium was organised by Dr Chris Callow in University of Birmingham’s Department of History with Dr Callow and one of his PhD students, Bernadette McCooey, among the speakers.

The morning session of the symposium focussed on aspects of the Vikings’ connections with England. Philip Shaw (Leicester University) discussed the oral traditions which connected the Old English poem Beowulf with the Old Norse Saga of Hrolf kraki. Cat Jarman (Bristol) presented early results from her PhD on the people buried at the ‘viking’ cemetery at Repton; this complicated archaeological site probably does include burials of Scandinavian migrants. Gareth Williams (British Museum), meanwhile, demonstrated how our understandings of 9th century Viking camps like that at Repton is changing so that we can no longer see them as small, simple military fortresses.

In the afternoon Slavica Rankovic (Leeds) showed the saga of Grettir Asmundarson – one of the most Viking-like of the heroes in the Icelandic sagas – carefully constructed his downfall via its careful use of literary formulas. Christina Lee (Nottingham) presented issues relating to ‘Sick Vikings’, or more specifically, a careful interpretation of what the primary sources on disability and illness in the Viking world can and cannot tell us. The day finished with the two Birmingham researchers presenting on different issues centring on archaeological evidence. Bernadette presented new interpretations of aspects of the buildings making up ‘Norse’ farms in Iceland; Dr Callow spoke about his research on the burial of slaves in Viking graves – in his view slaves aren’t as obvious to spot in the archaeological record as some scholars have suggested.

Anyone interested in attending the next Midlands Viking Symposium should pencil it in for Saturday 25 April 2015 at Leicester University.