Think you know the Vikings?
According to a new BBC documentary, you might have to reappraise your views. For a long time, the Viking Era has been portrayed as a society of fierce macho warriors and intrepid male travelers. But recent discoveries have inspired a rethink and unearthed the incredible stories of Viking Age women.
For over a hundred years, a ninth century grave of an important warrior – known as the Birka warrior after the area of Sweden where it was discovered – was assumed by archaeologists to contain the remains of a male Viking until recent DNA evidence proved otherwise. It is this androcentrist view of Viking Age history that the documentary seeks to address.
An Taistealaiche/The Far Traveller’, a co-production by Stornoway based MacTV and Profilm Iceland for BBC ALBA, will retell the largely unheard story of Gudridur The Far Traveller, the most adventurous explorer of the Middle Ages.
Gudridur was born in Iceland of Scottish and Irish ancestry. Her grandfather Vifill accompanied another famous Viking woman, Audur The Deep Minded (Queen of Dublin), on her journey to Iceland. Fleeing Scotland after the death of her husband and son, Audur commissioned and captained a large Viking ship to take her to the newly-discovered country.
“Audur was an uncommon woman of her time,” notes Dr Andrew Jennings, who teaches Viking studies at the Institute for Northern Studies at UHI. “She had the bravery to set off and settle a new country and commanded the respect to order her own ships…To later generations, like Gudridur, her story may have been inspiring.”
Gudridur’s own story, told through a combination of interviews and drama re-enactment, is equally impressive. We follow her on treacherous voyages to Greenland; learn about her expedition to North America, where she gave birth to the first European child and had unprecedented meetings with indigenous peoples centuries before Columbus reached the continent; and hear the tale of her triumphant return to Europe. Never one to sit still, the sagas even relate a final pilgrimage to Rome at the end of her life.
“She is a very important person in the history of Iceland but also the history of North America,” says American author Nancy Marie Brown. “Her life, the most far-travelled of the Viking Age, truly is a remarkable one.”
Seumas Mctaggart, executive producer for MacTV, believes that Gudridur’s story deserves to be celebrated as much as the better-known achievements of male explorers. “She was a brave and intrepid character who pushed the boundaries of what women could do,” he declares.
The documentary not only represents an important step in the reappraisal of the role and exploits of Viking Age women, restoring their rightful place in the history books, but according to Margaret Cameron, Commissioning Editor BBC ALBA, as the first collaboration with Icelandic partners, is also a significant milestone in the company’s international co-production portfolio.
An Taistealaiche/The Far Traveller airs on BBC ALBA on Thursday October 1st at 9pm. It will be available on the BBC iPlayer for 30 days and an international version will be distributed by Cineflix.