Neil Oliver, Cheltenham Literature Festival
Hebe Hamilton caught up with Neil Oliver after his talk.
Did you discover anything different about Vikings to what you had initially expected?
"I didn't realise how much influence the Vikings had on Russian heritage. I knew that they had set up a trade network as far away as Istanbul and Baghdad in the Middle East, but in many ways they influenced the development of modern Russia. They travelled from Scandinavia to the Volga River and even influenced the name 'Russia' because these Vikings on the Volga were known as the 'Russe' or the 'men who row' ".
Which was the most significant site for Viking research, and why?
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"I think Birka, in Sweden, was very significant because it was a major centre of trade during the Viking age, and I did lots of my research there as a result of the huge burial mounds site which is also on the island. St Petersburg was another significant place as, up until the 18th Century, the city had been Swedish – there's lots of Viking heritage there".
What do you think is the most important contribution the Vikings brought to the lands they conquered?
"Probably the Adventurers' Spirit. This was particularly inspiring to the Scots and Picts who eventually explored foreign lands, as far away as what is now Nova Scotia".
Perhaps this spirit of adventure would eventually influence the growth of the British Empire centuries later?
Neil Oliver's book, Vikings, is now on sale.