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The Viking revival (Septentrionalism) was an increase in popular and scholarly interest in and enthusiasm for the history and culture of the Vikings and other Norsemen of the Viking Age. The revival proper was part of 19th century Romanticism. In Scandinavia it took the form of a Romantic nationalism called Scandinavism. Interest was also widespread in Great Britain, in both the Vikings and the Danelaw and in Anglo-Saxon history and language.

Early modern publications dealing with Old Norse culture appeared in the 16th century, e.g. Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (Olaus Magnus, 1555) and the first edition of the 13th century Gesta Danorum (Saxo Grammaticus), in 1514. The pace of publication increased during the 17th century with Latin translations of the Edda (notably Peder Resen's Edda Islandorum of 1665).



The rediscovery of the Viking past began in Norway during the 19th century when Norway saw a rise in nationalism. Having been under Danish rule for 400 years, then falling under Swedish rule, Norwegians started looking back to their Viking kings and sagas. In 1880, the Tune ship was excavated in Vestfold, Norway. It was the first Viking ship to be discovered. The ship provided new knowledge about the Vikings and their culture. The excavation of other ships and artefacts led to a higher consciousness about the Viking past in Norway. For example, the only Viking helmet ever to be found was also excavated in Norway.


According to the Swedish writer Jan Guillou, the word Viking was popularized, with positive connotations, by Erik Gustaf Geijer in the poem The Viking, written at the beginning of the 19th century. The word was taken to refer to romanticized, idealized sea warriors, who had very little to do with the historical Viking culture. This renewed interest of Romanticism in the Old North had political implications: A myth about a glorious and brave past was needed to give the Swedes the courage to retake Finland, which had been lost in 1809 during the war between Sweden and Russia. The Geatish Society, of which Geijer was a member, popularized this myth to a great extent. Another author who had great influence on the perception of the Vikings was Esaias Tegnér, another member of the Geatish Society who wrote a modern version of Frithiofs Saga, which became widely popular in the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Great Britain

There had been a similar wave of enthusiasm for Northern culture in Britain, centered on George Hicke, who published a Linguarum vett. septentrionalium thesaurus in 1703–5. In the 1780s, Denmark offered to cede Iceland to Britain in exchange for Crab Island (now Vieques, Puerto Rico), and in the 1860s Iceland was considered as a compensation for British support of Denmark in the Schleswig-Holstein conflicts. During this time, British interest and enthusiasm for Iceland and Nordic culture grew dramatically, expressed in original English poems extolling Viking virtues, such as Thomas Warton's "Runic Odes" of 1748:

Yes — 'tis decreed my Sword no more
Shall smoke and blush with hostile gore
To my great Father's Feasts I go,
Where luscious Wines for ever flow.
Which from the hollow Sculls we drain
Of Kings in furious Combat slain.


  • Karl Litzenberg, The Victorians and the Vikings: A Bibliographical Essay on Anglo-Norse Literary Relations, University of Michigan Contributions in Modern Philology 3 (1947)
  • Andrew Wawn, The Vikings and the Victorians: Inventing the Old North in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Cambridge: Brewer, 2000, ISBN 0859916448

See also


External links

"The Viking Revival" by Professor Andrew Wawn. BBC Homepage.


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