Vikings: Life and Legend

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The Lewis Chessmen (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
© The Trustees of the British Museum
The Vale of York Hoard (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
© The Trustees of the British Museum
The Longship (© National Museum of Denmark)
© National Museum of Denmark
Penrith Brooch (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Silver-inlaid Axehead (© The National Museum of Denmark)
© The National Museum of Denmark
Sword (© The National Museum of Denmark)
© The National Museum of Denmark

The British Museum’s new Sainsbury Exhibition Gallery opened in March, launching with the museum’s first exhibition on the Vikings in more than 30 years.

Artefacts dating between the late eighth century and the early eleventh century are on display, including all the treasures from 2007 Vale of York Hoard and a life-size replica of the Roskilde 6 longship that consists of a stainless steel frame and 20 percent of the original timbers, conserved and reassembled.

The contrast between ostentatious jewellery and other items of personal grooming (check out the gold ear-wax spoon) and brutal-looking weapons – plus skeletons bearing evidence of their ferociousness from a mass Viking grave in Dorset – paints a more nuanced picture of Viking life than the standard rape-and- pillage stereotype.

Expect to read lots of captions if you want to get the most out of the show, although the big-reveal moment provided by the replica ship, which fills the huge new gallery, is pretty dramatic and conjures vividly the terrifying image of a boatload of invading Vikings surging ashore.


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Curated London

A thousand years after the ‘Viking Age’ ended, we’re still just as awe-struck by the legend surrounding this fearsome group. In the three decades since the last Viking exhibition at the British Museum, vast amounts of new evidence and material have been uncovered across Scandinavia. As a result, our understanding of the Vikings has evolved dramatically.

The first room of the exhibition takes the viewer on a journey of Viking life, culture, custom and belief. The voyage of discovery is beautifully illustrated with archaeological finds, including swords and shields, jewellery, coins and religious ephemera, many of which are publicly exhibited for the first time.

The second room contains what’s left of a 30-metre-long Viking longboat. Roskilde 6, as she’s known, was excavated from the Danish coast in 1997. Only around 20 per cent of the original timbers remain and, despite painstaking reconstruction, they add very little to the experience. The timbers sit in a full-size steel frame mock-up of the original vessel, which does at least give a useful sense of scale. The thoughtful and varied interpretation that accompanies Roskilde 6really does bring it to life though. The over all effect is really impressive.

The British Museum’s blockbuster exhibitions get bigger and bigger every time. They’ve become so big they had to build a new exhibition space just to house them. The fabulous new Sainsbury Gallery, in which Vikings is set, is a real treat to visit. Its completion has also created more space in the main building and made the whole place more enjoyable. Even with all this extra space, though, the exhibitions have become a victim of their own success - the crowds are horrendous. It’s worth waiting until the mid-point of the show, coming on a weekday and getting in early to have a chance of seeing anything up close. 

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Agnes B

Been waiting for this exhibition for months. And as expected it was amazing. Spent over 2 hours for walking trough. Really busy, massive queues. But that is the only negative side. The exhibition is just mesmerizing. A real must see. I've been expecting a bit more about the mythology but even like this I think this was one of the best excibition what i visited since long months.