We are all connected in this world through the simple act of being born as part of the human race. The ages do not discount this act of God, so welcome fellow travelers to the life and times of the Vikings. The next few paragraphs are only a glimpse of who they were, how they lived, loved and died, and in doing so we hope that you will learn that we are all part of the world of man no matter the country or culture. We live as true kinsmen of the heart and soul. 

Viking Characteristics

The Vikings worshiped strength in their warrior heroes and written poems often describes their excitement at traveling in a fast Viking ship on the open sea, the sudden attack of a village, the share of a robbery, and the drinking revelry they used to have afterwards. They were often seen as pagans or blood-thirsty monsters, however, they saw themselves as heroes, which explains some of their actions. Luckily, not all Vikings were hostile. After awhile, space for land became limited for the Vikings in Scandinavia. The soil could not keep up for more than one generation and as a result of what they had seen abroad, many decided to settle in countries like England, Ireland and France.

Viking Country  

Viking Voyages & Land Contacts

Winters were long and can be extremely cold in Scandinavia, particularly in Norway and Sweden. Snow and ice may last for months. The Vikings lived spread out in tiny villages and the houses were built in shelter along the coastal fjords. Soil and fishing were often good in these locations, and the harbors were secure. The western coastal strip of Norway is blessed with the Gulf Stream, which makes these waters ice free during the long and cold winter months and the climate much less hostile than for the rest of Norway.

Viking Families  

Viking Village Family Life

Parents, grandparents and children lived and worked under the same roof, often along with the servants and livestock. The actual house usually had only one room, which included a fire pit in the middle and a hole in the roof for the smoke to escape. Other buildings such as for the women's weaving, animal byre or a separate cooking place for instance, were attached making traveling from one room to the next easier during the long winter months. Regulations governing questions of family and inheritance had a prominent role in the laws. Land was kept within the kin so spouses were excluded from a share in it. A widower or widow kept their lands and a sibling would inherit from another. The individuals, even if they were warlords, were seen as guardians of the kindred. The kin had a duty to help and support its members in need.

Love and care was important to Vikings, and living together like this gave them a strong feeling of family bonds. This included extended families and the custom of "Fosterage" where a family would exchange children to be taken in and raised as their own. A way of cementing strong family alliances and ties, these "foster brothers, sons or daughters" were as strong as any blood relationship. Servants, like "thralls" (slaves), did much of the work, both in and out but it was also considered proper for a master or mistress to work as well. A thrall could buy him or herself, out of slavery and many did to become farmers on their own with land given by former masters as a gift, as loyal retainers or go elsewhere to live and work. There was no condemnation by other Vikings of being a former thrall. Farmhands and some servants were "bound" by an agreement of return. Land was important and kept within the kin.

Viking Hunting and Fishing  

Viking Hunting & Fishing

Vikings were good fishermen and the fish was eaten raw or sun dried. During the winters the dry fish was very important, as an easily to kept food, but the men also hunted wild animals and birds. The children would help by collecting wild bird eggs and hunting as well. Traps were commonly used to catch birds, rabbits and other small animals. However to hunt larger animals, like the reindeer and moose, they relied on their archery skills. They were accomplished enough at archery to make kills up to 300 yards or more. Hunts would be organized with spearmen and sometimes archers. Vikings also grew different kinds of crops like wheat, rye and oats that were ground in hand crock-type urns. Cabbages, peas, onions and garlic were among some of the vegetables grown. Cress, wild apples, hazelnuts, herbs like cumin, mustard and horseradish are to name a few. Cherries, plums, elderberries, blackberries, raspberries, and in Hedeby, strawberries, were consumed. The children were often sent out in the woods to collect wild onions, mushrooms and berries.

Viking Clothes  

Viking Crafts & Clothing

Every Viking house had a weaving loom and the women were extremely skilled in making clothing. Flax would be collected and soaked to turn the fibers into linen for light smocks, tunics and other uses. Part of a woman's dowry was to weave several pieces of this cloth to put away in carved chests. Embroidery was a highly prized skill and many existing pieces of clothing show the finely detailed work. There were smaller "tablet looms" to make the elaborately designed "tablet braid" for edging or to be worn by itself. The Oseberg tapestry gives us an idea how elaborate others may have been, but have not survived. These were woven to decorate the walls with designs or stories from Sagas or Religion.

For winter cloths, wool and hides were used. The wool would be dyed using local plants and some existing pieces show how bright these may have been. Common colors used were Woad Blue, Madder Red, Lichen Purple, Saffron Yellow, Walnut Shell Brown and Iron Black. Gold and Silver thread was usually reserved for embroidered trim on tunics and aprons, and only for those that could afford such an expense. .  Occasionally, they would have studs or even a type of sequin. The style of trim patterns called for Chevrons, Lozenges and a stair-stepping technique. The Vikings mostly used Silver trim, whereas, the Franks and Saxons preferred the Gold. 

The women are even known to have ironed the cloths by warming up a glass ball to iron blouses and other clothing on a flat whalebone. Far from being "dirty", the Vikings did keep themselves clean and many bathhouses, wash basins, combs with fine teeth have been found in numerous homes and in trade centers where these were made from antler and bone. It was said the Anglo-Saxon women preferred the Vikings, instead of their own, because of the Vikings habit of keeping themselves clean and groomed. Other cultures of the time were known not to bathe for months at a time. Viking Age Icelandic homes had many hot water pools close by to use. Wells were dug for fresh water or carried from nearby streams or rivers.

Viking Jewelry  

Viking Earring find

Gotlandic Box-Brooch from the Viking Age
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Viking Earring find

Vikings were clever in making jewelry of silver, bronze and bones. The large quantity and variety of Gold and Silver objects that have survived bear witness to the high status of these smiths in Viking Society, easy access to the metals and outside contacts that served as a source of inspiration and innovation. Not just for Kings, Jarls and other rich merchants but also for the wealthy farmer as well. A large portion of the goldsmith's work was to make high status objects like neck and arm-rings. Some were no more than a flat band or made up of many twisted rods. Chains and Beads were also highly prized. Using a variety of techniques for manufacture and decoration, these included casting, forging, filigree and granulation, chasing, niello, gilding, plating, and inlay. 

Many former Jewelry making sites have been found with discarded casting forms, die plates, bone 'trial pieces" and other tools of their trade. It was also a form of portable wealth to be hidden away in bad times as many such hoards, large or small, can attest to. Most women wore necklaces of colorful glass beads combine with pendants of gold and silver or made from broken up jewelry parts either traded or brought back from a raid by their men. Oval, round or tri-armed finely decorated Brooches were common and had a double function in the Viking Age because, besides being jewelry, they kept the clothing in place. It was in fact common for men to wear jewelry also, in addition to the wearing of fine belts and decorated weapons, the clothing had to fit as well. Fine helmets were common, chieftain's wore the best of course, even though they didn't have horns as some believe. It was also common to wear godly figures by both males and females, for example, Thor's hammer was a common object to wear.

Viking Trading  

Viking Trade Coin

Merchants from Spain, The Middle East and even India came to trade with the Vikings in places like Hedeby in Denmark, Birka in Sweden and Kaupang in Norway. The Vikings traveled to far places as Tunis, Turkey, Russia and the Middle East. Slavery was common in those days, and women and children caught by the Vikings were often sold to far away places like these. It's even known that Vikings sold their fighting expertise and support for a certain period of time.  

The Vikings were the international tradesmen of their time. In Constantinople (Istanbul) they traded silk and spices for slaves that they had brought from Russia. Amber they found in the Baltic area. From the north and Greenland in the west, they brought furs, skins and walrus tusk ivory to the trading towns in western Europe.

The Vikings founded trading cities in Scandinavia such as Birka, Ribe, Hedeby and Skiringsal. In Ireland they founded Dublin and in England they made York flourish to become the most important trading town outside of London.

At a time when old trade routes between east and west through the Mediterranean were closed or unsafe, the Vikings kept the trade route between Byzantium and the west open by way of Kiev and Russia.

Viking graves often contain Arab silver, Byzantine silks, Frankish weapons, Rhenish glass, and other products of an extensive trade. Silver coins from the caliphate and Anglo-Saxon coins from England flowed into the Viking lands and further stimulated economic growth.

viking Ships  

Viking Ship

Viking Ship

They traveled by ship, and the Viking ships were extremely seaworthy and strong. Built of split oaken planks in the overlapping "clinker" style, carefully carved and matched to fit and often highly decorated, these ships were tremendous to behold. They used a simple squared sail made of wool or linen, which was carefully sewed together piece by piece. These pieces were diamond shaped and actually a kind of a wing itself, and the Viking ship would easily out-sail any seagoing vessel. A typical Viking merchant vessel was about 65-82 feet long and about 16-18 feet amidships. Usually these ships didn't set into the sea more than 30-40 inches and could carry as many as 50-80 people along with food and other necessary equipment. These were called "Knarrs". A long-ship (warship) though, was usually much longer and slimmer, they usually had a length-to-breath ratio of 7:1, while the merchant vessel had a 4:1 ratio. They would usually have a length upwards of 115 feet though some longer have recently been found. They would use a sail, when there was wind, and oars and a rudder, when there was none. Several have been found in former harbors like Roskild and many reproductions have been made over the last few decades. One of the first to be built and to be tested was a replica of the Gokstad Long Ship found in 1889. The replica was built and sailed in 1893 and proved to many whom scoffed at just how swift handling they were.

Viking Food

Viking Foods

Viking Foods

Viking settlements have produced vast amounts of bones showing the kind of meat that was consumed -- pig, cattle, sheep, goat, hens, ducks and geese. The most common way was to boil it with herbs and root vegetables. Spits were also used and flat pans that could be hung over fires or grills would be used. Riveted iron cauldrons, pottery, iron long handled "skillets" have also been found. Some livestock was killed during fall and smoke-dried, to supply enough food for the winter season. Wild berries, mushrooms, and eatable roots grew everywhere. However, such supplies were only available in the late summer season. The huge forests of Scandinavia also had wild hogs and pigs, and both deer and moose were common along with the reindeer. Fish was a common meal and often eaten in a dried condition and could be stored and eaten during the long winters. The fish was hung so the sun could dry it before storage was possible, smoked or also pickled in brine or whey. Often the women boiled both fish and meat in a big kettle over the open fire pit. They would use seasoning like salt, wild onion, wild plants and roots. Birds and small animals were often barbecued at the end of a wooden stick on open fire, or even on an iron plate.

viking Homes  

Viking House

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Viking Stave Church Viking House

They lived in a large long-house, built to accommodate people and cattle. The walls were generally made of turf and stone. The palisade walls, sunk directly into the ground, were not an uncommon site. To seal off the new home, they made a mixture of mud and animal hair that would tighten the walls. To protect against the winter cold some even built walls that were two or three layers thick. The roof skeleton was made of a lumber structure or even thick planks. Usually nothing covered the floor, and there was only one big room and a door, which was kept tight by placing a thick carpet of wool in front over the doorway. Some used flat stones to cover parts of the floor, like the entrance and other places that were heavily used. Windows weren't used to avoid drafts and winter cold. Some homes were made using daub and wattle" like those found in Birka and Hedeby. The Vikings were adept at using local materials to make their homes comfortable.

Viking Entertainment  

Viking Contemplating - Fundera

Viking Entertainment

Whenever Vikings socialized they used to compete in friendly games. Running, wrestling or horseback riding were all common. Acrobats and entertainers, like tale and poem tellers, were popular as well. Vikings knew about skating and during the winter season, lakes and rivers were frozen and skating became a popular event. They used bones from animals to make skates, which they then sharpened. They even played a game similar to "Hurling" called "Knattleikr". Other games like "Kingibatt" (rather like a Ping-Pong game using shields), Board games like "Hnefatafl", a chess-like game, and "Halatafl" (Fox and Geese) were popular. In Scandinavia and especially Iceland, literacy was held in high regard in both runes and otherwise. In Iceland, many of the Eddic and Saga manuscripts that have been collected are dark from years of soot and attest to the long readings from these to others next to a turf fire or oil lamps.

Viking Funerals

Viking Femail Burial
Female Burial

Viking Funeral
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Viking Male Burial
Male Burial

They believed in a life after death, or at least a life from the actual moment of death and until they reached ever lasting rest . Until the arrival of Christianity in the 11th century, Scandinavians practiced both cremation and burial. Before Christianity all dead were buried with their clothing on and supplied with plenty of food, tools and the weaponry they could need on their last journey to the final rest . This burial was known as "Mounding".  Following on from the earlier practice of burials in ship-like graves, in the Viking period (beginning in the 9th century) the deceased was placed in a ship which was either buried in the earth or burnt on a funeral pyre, or towed out to sea and then set on fire.  

The "classic ship burnings" were also done in various places. Recent excavations in the former Swedish "Rus" settlement near Staraja Ladoga in the Ukraine have been found where small boats with their inhabitants were burned and buried. Both men and women were buried this manner. It seems like no one believed that life ended at death, but merely that life changed in some other way.  Death was seen as a journey and the deceased was accompanied by all the goods., which would be useful in the afterlife, including weapons, animals and servants.  Not all had a grand burials though, in fact, very few did. When Christianity became a part of Viking culture Mounding ended and burials without personal objects were performed.