The Vikings

Gwyn Jones

Introduced by Magnus Magnusson

Gwyn Jones dispels the myths of an empire built on terror and tyranny, in The Vikings; now in its seventh Folio Society printing.

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Far from being merciless barbarians who tore through the continent in a reign of unrelenting terror, the Vikings were an ambitious but largely peace-loving race who brought massive social and cultural change to northern Europe. Three hundred years in the making, the Viking Age still enthrals over 1,000 years later; so much so that our edition is now in its seventh printing and remains the definitive title on the subject.

Production details

Bound in buckram, blocked in gold

512 pages

16 pages of colour plates

Printed endpapers

Blocked slipcase

10˝ x 6¾˝

Twelve thousand years of preparation

‘A vivid and living picture of the Viking adventure’ 

  1. Times Literary Supplement

The Vikings launched their first British raid at Lindifarne Abbey in 793 but to start the story here would mean bypassing centuries of Scandinavian history. Gwyn Jones’s chronicle begins 12,000 years prior, when the ancient clans of Sweden, Denmark and Norway hunted, tracked and fished for survival, honing their boat-building and marksmanship skills. So, when the prosperous population needed more arable land, the seafaring Norsemen had a weapons cache and sturdy vessels ready to launch, and their first port of call was Northumbria.

An era of exploration and empire-building

Subjugation is rarely achieved through peaceful negotiation, but during an age of raiding and pillaging, there was nothing exceptional about the Vikings’ colonising tactics. Their bad press is largely due to bad timing: the religious scholars who first recorded the antics of the Norsemen were themselves victims of Viking raids and their unflattering accounts of wanton violence and tyranny remained unchallenged for centuries in a largely illiterate British Isles.

Sifting the historical evidence from centuries of speculation and prejudice, Jones presents the authentic facts of the Viking discovery of America, Greenland and the Faroes, Svein Forkbeard and his conquest of England, and the trade in silks, weapons and slaves that extended through the whole of mainland Europe. Best of all, he shows the significance of Norse art and culture: their comprehensive myth-system and its influence on the Viking world-view; the beliefs that encouraged them to cross the oceans and risk their lives with such abandon.

Journalist, writer and television presenter Magnus Magnusson wrote the introduction to our edition, his anecdotes of Jones revealing both his exuberant personality and scholarly learning. There are 12 maps and plans throughout – plus a stunning endpaper map – that display attacks, settlements and ancient provinces. Twenty-six beautifully reproduced colour plates display treasures and sites from the Viking Age: the intricately carved, towering Runic stones from Jelling, a keepsake of a Valkyrie virgin warrior who chose those destined to be slain in battle, and detail from a Hylestad wood carving where the legendary Sigurd tastes the blood of a dragon’s heart.

About Gwyn Jones

Gwyn Jones was a distinguished Welsh writer and scholar, the son of a miner. Jones taught at the University of Cardiff for many years, but during this time he was also working on writing and translations, notably Four Icelandic Sagas (1935), Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas (1961) and The Norse Atlantic Saga (1964). His book A History of the Vikings (1968) remains one of the great texts on the period. Jones was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Falcon in 1963 and was appointed CBE in 1965. He died in December 1999, aged 92.  


Icelandic translator, writer and journalist Magnus Magnusson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1929. He lived most of his life in Scotland where he became well known for his work as a television presenter, in particular, the BBC quiz programme Mastermind. Magnusson hosted the programme for 25 years. Aside from presenting, he also translated Old Norse texts and sagas into English, and co-translated others, including King Harald’s Saga (1966). Magnusson was awarded an honorary knighthood in 1989. He died in January 2007.


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