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Vikings, then and now

A thought-provoking chat with Professor Clare Downham

So far, 2024 has been exciting for us at Vikingology, and our good fortunes continue with this chat we had with Professor Clare Downham of the University of Liverpool. She is the leading scholar in the world regarding Vikings in Ireland, but as you’ll see we talked about much, much more.

From what drove Clare to study medieval Ireland in particular to issues of gender and ethnicity both then and now, we ran the gamut. And when you get three historians together, there’s bound to be a philosophical twist regarding how we interpret and engage with the past, so we went there too.

But we started in Ireland. Did you know the quintessentially Irish city Dublin was a Viking creation? Vikings are recorded in Ireland in the early years of the Viking Age, so Clare explained why it was an attractive target to them to begin with and what they did when they got there.

We also explored the matter of female Viking warriors, particularly in light of the bombshell discovery that was published in 2017 about a Swedish grave. Finally a true shieldmaiden? Or just a figment of our modern hopes and desires? We asked Clare for her thoughts on the topic and just why it ended up being so controversial.

Grave Bj581, Birka, Sweden. Hjalmar Stolpe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

We then talked about what the Viking Nordic world was actually like, based on the latest science and evidence, versus what some in the modern era wish it was like. Clare set the record straight about the truth of the diverse and multi-ethnic world that was medieval northern Europe during the Viking Age.

There was so much more we wanted to discuss — including lots of questions C.J. has about Viking connections in Ireland and France! — but in the end we had to agree to meet up again to finish the conversation, so stay tuned!

Thanks so much Clare! It was a real privilege and honor. We very much look forward to part two of our chat soon!

Clare is the author of two books on Vikings: Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ivarr to AD 1014 and Medieval Ireland AD 400-1500, with another on Viking Age Britain and Ireland forthcoming from Penguin Classics. You can also find many of her articles available on her page at

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Vikingology Podcast
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Terri and C.J. are first and foremost educators passionate about the Viking Age and Viking history. Theirs was a meeting foretold in the myths of old. Both are historians of Viking history, both live in Oregon in the U.S., and both share the same birthday. It seemed only natural they team up for something epic. The Norns have woven this fate.