Again, something I did before creating the 50-books lists. Let's see if it fits.
This requires a lot of finagling, because we have nothing much of the period. There's archaeology (always a strong point for me), the practices of Christianized Greenlanders three hundred years later and what they recorded, what a few period Christian sources have to say, and later myth and legend about Vikings. Me for the site reports and reconstructions.
As this is a popular period for re-enactors, consider web sources. The Viking Answer Lady may be just what you need, or a site on the voyage of an authentically constructed drakkar, down to adzing out the boards rather than using power tools.
Nor is Roesdahl the only authority to point this out. In general, anything from 1000 to 1200 or 1300 is shaky; anything between 1300 and 1900 is fiction. From 1900 to 1970 or 1980 it is more or less suspect. Unless it is a translation of sagas or chronicles, your reading is least wasted on things published after the Seventies boom in Viking archaeology. However, be wary: many current books are largely based on historians of the Sixties, and many are basing themselves and their theories entirely on antique written sources which amount to historical fiction, which they treat as irrefutable canon.
However, since the Hristssaga is historical fantasy, I wasn't always unhappy to find gaps in knowledge in which to build things that suited what I wanted to do. In straight historical fiction, the wiggle room can let you do something different.
Else Roesdahl, trans. by Susan M. Margeson & Kirsten Williams; The Vikings, 1987, 1991, Penguin Books, London. This covers life in their own places, not just out raiding, in marvelous detail revealed by the spade.
You also go to the university library, if one is convenient, and go through Scandinavian Studies from 1980 or 1990 forward, reading everything relevant.
1). A general history of the time,
not over 200 pages.
2.) An "everyday life" book of
3.) General transportation:
4.) General costume
5.) Specific transportation:
6.) Etiquette, and I don't mean morals
7.) Spectator entertainments, whether theatre
or sports, a general overview.
8.) Self-entertainments, like card games,
lawn games, and children's games.
9.) Food and dining, including what sort
of public dining was available.
10.) Recipes for period food.
11.) Marriage and family.
12.) Specific dress styles, for your decade,
including specialty costumes for clerics.
13.) Religion for the time and place.
14.) A fat history book of the area and
century as an introduction.
In Europe at the time, the most influential states would have to be, ummm, ah ... It was a chaotic mess. Let's say the Frankish states of the fractured Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne, and the Norse Vikings because they used the chaos to go where they wanted and do what they liked when they got there. Denmark will have to stand for the rest, who were squabbling smaller holdings into kingdoms besides raiding and invading.
One could say Byzantium vs. the Caliphate, with this in a backwater. But that's like using Chinese kingdoms for irrelevance. The Varangian Guard hadn't yet been established, nor had the Rus moved into Slavic areas..
15.) A history of the most influential
country at the time (country A).
16.) A history of its rival (country B).
17.) A biography of the leader of country
18.) A biography of the leader of country
19.) A history of the country you are setting
20.) A history of the country you are setting
in, that era.
21.) A biography of the leader of the country
of your setting.
22.) An everyday life for the commoner/lower
classes of your time and place.
23.) An everyday life for the upper classes
of your time and place.
24.) An everyday life for the middle class
of your time and place.
25.) An everyday life for women of your
time and place,
26.) An auto/biography of someone like
your protagonist, or a book as much as possible focused on people
27.) A book on houses and furnishings of
the period, if possible.
28.) A book about courting, romance, and
sex of the time.
29.) A book for naming historical characters
30.) Medicine of the time and place.
31.) Climate, weather, and seasons.
The Cultural Atlas of the Viking World edited by James Graham-Campbell, at the time from Facts on File. Uses more contributors than most, but the usual excellent production from the Cultural Atlas series: maps, history, mores, culture, dress, technology. Maps especially useful for these wanderers! This is hard to beat for being dead on.
32.) Weapons & Warfare: R. Ewart Oakeshott, The Archaeology of Weapons, Arms and Armor From Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry; 1960 Lutterworth Press, London. Nicely covers Viking terms for fighting from horseback (yes, they did it) and touches on their female warriors.
33.) Weapons & Warfare: Robert Hardy, Longbow: a Social and Military History 1976, 1986, 1990, 1992 rev & enlarged Bois d'Arc Press, no locale, probably London. Covers viking archery.
34.) Viking Ships: William Ledyard Rodgers, vice admiral, USN, ret. Naval Warfare Under Oars, 4th to 16th Centuries. A Study of Strategy, Tactics and Ship Design 1940, 1967 Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD. Actually kind of weak on viking ships.
35.) History: anonymous, trans. James Ingram; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; 890, 1823. This covers the Viking Age in England.
36.) Norse Women: Jesch, Judith; Women in the Viking Ag; Boydell, Woodbridge, CN; 1991
37.) Norse: Byock, Jesse L.; The Saga of the Volsungs (Penguin Classics; University of California Press, 1990; 146 pg, no index, glossary. This isn't a prettified "re-telling," but a direct translation. The introduction and notes are extremely valuable, too. Non-linear (Brynhild and Sigurd meet for the first time more than once!), not deep nor sophisticated, but culturally necessary. If you read no other Norse literature, read this.
38.) Frankish Warfare: Delbrueck, Hans; Medieval Warfare: History of the Art of War, Volume II; University of Nebraska Press, 1990, trans. Walter J. Renfroe, Jr.; orig. 1923; 711 pg, index. Extremely cogent dissection of the concept of the "peasant levy," showing it a means of raising cash (taxation not being well-developed) as the troops it would have raised if actually used would have been herds of inefficient mouths, given unsuitably insubordinate ideas, when the peasant was otherwise being ground down into passive and unarmed serfdom. Begins with a list of the cost of Carlovingian war-gear in cows, and proceeds to do a lot of rational analysis and myth-busting, rather than gulping poetic accounts thoughtlessly, as if they were modern objective reports. Viewpoint is that of the sources (Frankish and Anglo-Saxon) but he is an early discrediter of body counts, so that you will not have hordes of 20,000 when you should have bands of 300.
39.) Ireland: McManus, Seamus; The Story of the Irish Race; Devon-Adair Company, Old Greenwich, CN. Because Ireland is one of the places you raid, as an early Viking.
40.) Ireland: Joyce, P. W.; A Social History of Ancient Ireland;1968. A lovely fat two-volume exploration of all the minutiae of life. Would there were such a book for every geographical and temporal cultural group: writers' lives would be so easy. One chapter alone, "Food, Fuel, & Light," gives the names of food, drink, and utensils, methods of cookery, arrangement of seating, the colours and varieties of ales, the most popular source of wine (Poitou), and the date of first mention of whiskey (1405), among much more. Get together with MacManus, and you almost have to invent a story in Ireland just to use all the information to hand. There is also a compact and more affordable version, A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland. Alternately, you can go for the freebie, On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish v.I by Eugene O'Curry (London, Williams and Norgate, 1873); v. II, v. III, v. IV. Yes, free is usually old.
41.) Religion: Anwyl, Edward , M.A. Celtic Religion In Pre-Christian Times; 1906; London; Archibald Constable & Co Ltd.. To construct an ancient survivor.
42.) Voyaging: Jones, Gwyn; The Norse Atlantic Saga: Being the Norse Voyages of Discovery and Settlement to Iceland, Greenland, and North America; 1986, Oxford University Press.
43.) Horse care: Svinhufvud, Anne Charlotte; A late Middle English treatise on horse; Stockholm, Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1978. Mostly on philology, but p. 248-270 is the translation of a partially surviving work probably from somewhere in 1380-1420. Mostly on veterinary treatment, complete with the proper incantations. This was the only thing I could find between 350 BC and the Renaissance, and it took hitting the university library. Doctoral theses are your friends.
44.) Costume, Furniture, Tents, Armour, Weapons, Jewelry, et al: Viollet-le-duc, Emmanuel; Dictionnaire raisonné de mobilier Français de l'époque Carlovingienne a la Renaissance; Paris, Morel, 1874 (multi-volume). So you don't read French. So didn't most of the people I've known who owned a set, but the illos are so good you often don't need to. F'rinstance, the Viking tents that started showing up at Pennsic Wars came from illos in this. Remember, the French for Northman is "Norman." So this includes Viking stuff. t. 1. Meubles (furnishings, and the tents) t. 2. Ustensiles. Orfèvrerie [sic] Instruments de musique. Jeux, passe-temps. Outils. Outillages (games, pastimes, musical instruments, various utensils) t. 3 & 4. Vêtements, bijoux de corps, objets de toilette (costume) t. 5 & 6. Armes de guerre offensives et défensives (weapons & armour)
45.) Invasions: O'Cuiv, B., editor; The Impact of the Scandinavian Invasions on the Celtic-Speaking Peoples, c. 800-1000 AD <sic>, Dublin, 1962
46.) Ireland, Wales & Alba: Dillon, M. & N. Chadwick; The Celtic Realms: The History and the Culture of the Celtic Peoples from Pre-History to the Norman Invasio; Phoenix, 355 pages, 64 plates. Masterly survey of the history and culture of the Celtic peoples covers the whole period from their prehistoric origins to the Norman invasion of Britain.
47.) Blacksmithing: Bealer, Alex W.; The Art of Blacksmithing; Castle; 438 pg, 500 drawings. Covers everything with traditional tools (but see Buehr for when they were adopted) and gives techniques for forging armor (see ffoulkes, too), tools, and various other items. Needed for a section involving svartelfs.
48.) Weapons: Walter Buehr; Warrior's Weapons; Crowell, NY, 1963; illustrated by author. Covers primitive smelting in bonfires and clay kilns, early steel and the pragmatic purpose of damascene or sprinkling powdered gems over red-hot blades. Scandinavia was a great source of iron.
49.) Viking Travels: Jordan, Robert Paul; "Viking Trail East"; National Geographic Magazine, March 1985, pg 268-288. An interesting basic article for the Rus and Varangians, if you haven't decided yet where in the Viking world you are going. Emphasizes the traders and mercenaries. The paintings by Michael A. Hampshire are inspiring. The map has the artistic intelligibility that separates classic NGS work from most of the mechanically accurate but intellectually disorganized maps out there. Photographs of objects may be instructive, but Jim Brandenburg can only shoot landscapes of what's there now.
50.) Men, Women, Sex, Courting:
Clover, Carol J
Jacobsen, Grethe; The Position of Women in Scandinavia During the Viking Period. MA Thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1978
Jochens, Jenny M.
Karras, Ruth M.; "Concubinage and Slavery in the Viking Age,"; Scandinavian Studies 62 (1990): 141-162
|If you need something else for your particular story around this time, maybe Historical Novelists Center can help with their Viking pages.|
Check the Near History sample guides. There's more to read, but mostly lighter stuff, as well as lots more in video. A few appropriate movies from a year are much easier to get through than a detail biography of a president and will tell you more about ordinary life.