There was more to the Vikings than pillaging

Vikings! at the National Museum of Scotland. Picture: Neil Hanna
Vikings! at the National Museum of Scotland. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Horrible Histories is a viewing staple in our house, with the girls’ absolute favourite being the Literally Viking song celebrating the wild exploits of Norsemen. “We’re gonna paint the whole town red. Literally! With the blood of the dead.

Literally! We’ll take everything that you own, and get back on our ship, and go back home. Woah, oh oh (play that axe, Ragnor).”

In the interests of historical balance, we recently adventured en famille to the National Museum of Scotland Vikings! exhibition. It’s a fantastically well-curated selection of more than 500 objects, brought from the collections at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm to Edinburgh. And its key message is that there is much more to Vikings than the stereotypical image.

I confess, my parental alarm bells were sounding when we first entered a moodily lit room, complete with silent people gazing at cases. I needn’t have worried. As it turned out, when there is golden treasure to peer at, it seems my two can’t get enough.

We learned all about the Vikings’ farming lifestyle, what they would have worn, the death rituals, the mythology and other beliefs. We found out about the gods and how they lent their names to some of the days of the week, which resonates in our English words today – Tyr (Tuesday), Odin (Wednesday), Freya (Friday). The girls took great delight at spelling their own names with runes, before completing an interactive archaeological dig.

The significant role of women as the heads of the household interested me. Tiny statues depicting women symbolically holding keys to the home prompted me to check my pocket for mine, which I misplace with alarming regularity.

Then we took time out to listen to some recorded Viking myths before the girls competed against each other at a computerised Viking board game.

There’s such a range of objects on display that you will find something to intrigue you, from the assorted jewellery and metalwork to textiles, glass, bone, amber and religious artefacts. Our family favourite was the display of metal rivets that once held together a Viking boat, shown floating in mid-air.

Vikings! is at the National Museum of Scotland until 12 May, see for further information and the printable exhibition quiz. Adult tickets cost £9, concessions £7.50, children aged 12-15 pay £6 with under-12s going free. A series of events for half term is well worth a raid. Today and tomorrow from noon until 4pm, a free, drop-in session lets you add your own stamp to a fleet of longboats and create your own Viking helmet and shield with help from artist Jon Hodgson. Mon 11 – Sat 16 February, noon-4pm children can enjoy creating Viking-themed jewellery or longboat crafts; at 10:30am, 12:30pm and 2:30pm a free Viking gallery safari walk uncovers the best Nordic loot in the museum’s permanent collection.