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Year 8 Vikings: Everyday Life

A guide to support the Year 8 History Viking assignment

Source: Kristijan Arsov (2019)

Though we may think about Vikings only as warriors, they were actually a complex and layered culture. These resources will tell you more about the everyday life of the Viking people, from where they lived, what they ate, even to what games they played.

A Viking Town House similar to those in Jorvik

Source: The Vikings (2021)

Viking houses and furniture (Regia Anglorum, 2002, December 10)

The Saxons generally built their houses of wood although, after they had accepted Christianity, some of their churches were built in stone. Of course, at the time, people had been building in wood for thousands of years, so they would have known far more about making wooden buildings than we do today and they had far more timber to choose from. This article provides an overview of the different types of buildings in Viking settlements, including how they were made, and how they were heated and cooled.

The longhouse (The Viking Network, 2004, August 14)

Only a few Vikings lived in towns. Most of them lived in the country in Longhouses. The longhouse had usually one large room. The walls were made of wood, in areas where it was plentiful, and the roof was covered with turf. 

What colours did Vikings paint their houses? (Skjalden, 2020, October 17)

Have you ever wondered what kind of colours were used in Scandinavia during the Viking Age, and which kind of materials they extracted the colours from? If so, then continue reading, and you will be able to add the authentic Viking colours to your own palette.

What did Viking houses look like? (Skjalden, 2019, January 19)

During the Viking age, most people lived in the countryside around the world and that was of course also the case for the people in Scandinavia. These people lived in small villages that consisted of six to seven farms. A tight little community like this probably created some strong and close ties with their friends and family. This article describes what these villages and the houses and other buildings in them looked like.

Food and drink (Regia Anglorum, 2002, December 10)

The food the Vikings ate was very different to the type of food we eat today. This article talks about what foods the Vikings ate, how they grew them or imported them, and how they cooked.

Fishing (Regia Anglorum, 2003, March 31)

The consumption of fish was an important part of life in the early medieval period and therefore the catching, preparation, storage and cooking played an equally significant role in everyday life. This article talks about how the Vikings caught and prepared fish, and the impact fishing had on Viking life.

Feasting and fasting (Regia Anglorum, 2003, March 31)

A good party is something which was enjoyed as much by the people of the ninth to the eleventh centuries as is it today and the role of Feast-Giver was one to be enjoyed as well as admired. The feast hall was, in itself, a sight to behold. Great halls decorated with fine wall hangings; kept warm with fires, lamps and people; the colour and splendour of the clothes kept for such occasions all added to the atmosphere. This article talks about not only how and why Vikings celebrated with feasts, but also why they often fasted.

Oven building (Regia Anglorum, 2013, March 31)

Provides a description of how to build a Viking style oven and how Vikings would have used it to cook their food.

Make your own Viking food (The Viking Network, 2004, August 14)

The everyday life of the Viking family, every day, year in and year out, was a struggle to maintain life: to provide for a roof over everyone's head, to stay warm and to prepare food. During much of the year it was easy to get the food; but it takes a long time to prepare it, and one must think ahead and gather, dry it and put it away for the long winter. This website provides a list of Viking era recipes that you can try at home!

Archaeological finds of ninth and tenth-century Viking foodstuffs (Vassar College, 1999, May 19)

This website lists the archaeological digs were Viking food was found, and what these digs are able to tell us about what Vikings ate.

Drinking in Viking culture (Skjalden, 2018, June 4)

This article describes the different drinks in Viking culture, who drank them, and when. This includes water, beer, mead and wine. It also describes the role that drinking played in celebrations.

Clothes (The Viking Network, 2004, August 14)

This website describes the differences between how Viking men and women dressed and what they made their clothes out of.

Brooches, pendants and pins: Scandinavian dress accessories in England (University of Nottingham, 2020, July 6)

Nowadays it is common to see people wearing various accoutrements such as earrings, necklaces, pendants, or rings. The Viking Age was no different and Scandinavian fashion, both female and male, commonly featured the use of dress accessories which served a practical purpose of fastening clothing but also as a way to display wealth and status. This article provides a brief discussion on the use and place of Scandinavian brooches, pendants and pins in England.

Plant dye colours in the Viking age (Skjalden, 2020, November 16) 

Our knowledge of the colours that were used during the Viking Age derives from excavations of burial sites, where the archeologists have been lucky enough to find remains of textiles. The people buried at these sites were mostly from the upper class, and therefore it is anyone’s guess if the common people wore colourful clothes. This article describes how Vikings would have likely dyed their clothes and what colours they could have possibly made.

What did Vikings wear? (Skjalden, 2018, April 28)

In the Viking Age clothes did not just have a practical purpose, but many of them also dressed with the intent to show their social status and to appeal to the other sex. This article lists the kind of clothes different sections of Viking society would have worn and why.

Viking Age hairstyles, haircare, and personal grooming (Viking Answer Lady, n.d.)

This article describes the grooming habits of the Vikings, with lots of references to primary source materials and lots of images.

Viking beads and necklaces (Viking Answer Lady, n.d.)

Beads (along with pottery, nails and knives) are the single most common items found in pre-Christian Viking graves. However, since making beads by hand is extremely labor-intensive, beads were valuable and expensive. Beads were passed down to one's younger relatives, gathered up during raids, and eagerly purchased at the great market towns such as Haithabu (Hedeby).

Viking embroidery and designs (Vassar College, 1997)

An extensive look at the embroidery and designs used by Vikings. It includes pictures of common designs and patterns.

An archaeological guide to Viking men's clothing (Vassar College, 1997)

This article, originally put together to help actors make historically accurate costumes, gives an in-depth look at the clothes Viking men would have worn.

The clothing and jewellery of the Vikings (National Museum of Denmark, n.d.)

Finds of clothes from the Viking period are rare. These often consist of small pieces of material preserved by chance. Our knowledge about Viking clothes is supplemented by written sources, as well as clothes depicted on small figures and tapestries.

How the healing herb became (Regia Anglorum, 2003, March 31)

This article talks about how Vikings viewed illness and medication, based on evidence from ancient poems.

Medical care in the Viking age (Viking Answer Lady, n.d.)

We have very little information at all about Viking medical practices. It is thought that women were probably the primary medical practicioners. This article lists the information we do have about medical practices, mainly from the sagas.

Health and medicine in the Viking age (Hurstwic, n.d.)

In addition to magical arts, the medical arts were also practiced in the Norse era. Classical herbal remedies appear to have been known, along with local herbs specific to the Norse region. Medical treatments consisted of: lancing; cleaning wounds; anointing; bandaging; setting broken bones; the preparation of herbal remedies; and midwifery. 

Anglo-Viking coinage and other currency used by Scandinavians in Leicestershire (University of Nottingham, 2018, October 2)

This article discusses the types of money used by Vikings, and what archaeological finds of coins can tell us about Viking culture.

Woodworking in the Viking age (Viking Answer Lady, n.d.)

Woodworking would have been a common skill at least at the level of being able to execute simple repairs, as even modern homeowners know today. Some more skilled craftsmen, as with the Mästermyr artisan, would have been more of a general "handyman" and perhaps were itinerant craftsmen at times. Specialists in various wood arts did exist, however, for the Old Norse literature records specialized boat-builders as well as expert homebuilders and carpenters. This article describes the different types of woodworking Vikings would have used. 

Viking traders (DK Find Out, n.d.)

The Vikings were great traders, travelling far and wide buying and selling goods. This interactive website shows what a trader would have looked like, and lists some of the items they may have traded.

Hnefatafl - the Viking board game (The Viking Network, 2004, August 14)

This Viking Game must rank as one of history's great board games. It was at its most popular during the Dark Ages in Northern Europe. This was a period when very few records were kept and when populations were always moving. Like so much of the history of the Dark Ages our knowledge of the Viking Game is patchy. The mystery of the game is now half solved as a result of archaeological research.

Music in the Viking age (The Viking Network, 2004, August 14)

Singing and playing music were important to the Vikings, both in everyday life and for festive occasions. They sang songs when they were happy and when they were sad. They danced, sang songs and played their instruments when they had celebrations of some kind. They had songs to accompany them when working, making the work easier. They sang love songs, and lullabies for their children. This website provides links to articles about Viking music and to samples of what Viking music might have sounded like.

Viking art styles in the East Midlands (University of Nottingham, 2021, February 16)

Traders, raiders, and artists? When Vikings are conjured in the popular imagination they clasp swords rather than chisels, but many of the Viking Age objects found in the East Midlands demonstrate intricate craftsmanship that still survives after a thousand years. This article looks at the art of Vikings in the East Midlands area.

Viking instruments (Skjalden, 2018, August 8)

Music has since we were cavemen been part of our culture, and that was of course also the case in the Viking age. Today we can still find the remains of the musical instruments in our soil that the Vikings used during their lifetime. The archaeologists have found a wide range of Viking instruments, and many of them still look like musical instruments that are being used today in some parts of Eastern Europe. This article lists some of the instruments we know the Vikings used.

What did Vikings do for fun? (Skjalden, 2018, April 8)

What kind of games did the Vikings play, when they were not busy with their daily routines? Just like today, life in the Viking age was not just all about work. There have been undertaken many excavations at Viking burial sites by the archaeologists, and not everything they have found has been was weapons, clothes, and treasures, but also games and entertainment from the Viking age. This article lists some of the things Vikings would have done for fun.

The Vikings and the law (The Viking Network, 2004, August 14)

This website provides a basic summary of Viking law and government.

Social classes in Viking culture (Skjalden, 2018, August 17)

The Viking society was divided into a hierarchy of four social classes. At the bottom were the slaves, above the slaves where the Karls, in the middle where the Jarls, and at the top where the royals, such as the Kings and Queens. This article describes the four classes and the mythology behind their creation.

Slavery and Thralldom - the unfree in Viking Scandinavia (Viking Answer Lady, n.d.)

Like most medieval peoples, the Vikings had a rigidly stratified caste system. At the bottom of the social order existed those who were unfree: these were termed þræll or "thrall", which means literally, "an unfree servant." This article describes the practice of slavery in Viking society and how slaves were treated.

Language (Regia Anglorum, 2003, March 31)

This article talks about names in the Viking world and the writing of Old Norse language. 

Listen to the language of the Vikings (The Viking Network, 2004, August 14)

Eight year old Gisli from Reyjavik, Iceland, talks to you in his native language, the genuine language of the Vikings.

Younger Futhark - how to pronounce the runes (Skjalden, 2021, April 13)

The runic alphabet that was used during the Viking Age is called Younger Futhark. These runes can be found on hundreds of runestones throughout Scandinavia. This alphabet does not consist of many runes, and that is because the Norse language evolved a lot during the Iron Age, which meant that the runic alphabet was reduced from 24 to 16 runes. Each rune has its own name and sound. Some of the runes are used to spell the same letter, for instance, the Týr rune is used for the letters “t” and “d”, and kaun is used for “g” and “k”. The article includes a list of the runes and a video on how to pronounce the runes.

Jellinge-Style Disc Brooch

A copper-alloy Jelling-style disc brooch found near Tetney, Lincolnshire. This Viking cast copper-alloy disc brooch is decorated with a Jellinge-style moulded zoomorphic motif comprising a knot of beaded lines. Brooches of this type are widespread in Scandinavia, with a particular concentration at Birka, the trading and military site in Sweden.

Copper-Alloy Disc Brooch

An Anglo-Scandinavian copper-alloy disc brooch found near Burton and Dalby, Leicestershire. This Anglo-Scandinavian copper-alloy disc brooch has small traces of silvering on both surfaces. It is decorated in Borre-style interlaced knotwork matching the East Anglian type II. 

Pendant with an Odin Motif

A cast silver, gilded pendant featuring an image which has been interpreted as representing the one-eyed god Odin and his two ravens Huginn and Muninn. There are a number of close parallels which establish the wide currency of this subject group. These include numerous examples from Russia and two from Sweden, including some with silver gilding. A silver pendant with a related, but distinct design is known from Sjælland, Denmark. With some exceptions, pendants were generally worn by women as part of their Scandinavian dress.

Anglo-Scandinavian Strap-End

An Anglo-Scandinavian copper-alloy strap-end found near Hinckley and Bosworth, Leicestershire.

Drinking-Horn Terminal

A cast copper-alloy drinking-horn terminal found near Stragglethorpe, Lincolnshire. This probable drinking horn terminal has a hollow conical socket with three rivet-holes at the attachment end. The socket is ribbed and at the top it has an integral animal head in the form of a mythical creature, most likely a dragon.

Saltfleetby Spindle Whorl

A lead spindle whorl found at Saltfleetby St Clement, Lincolnshire, and inscribed with runes. The dating of the spindle whorl is uncertain, and dates in the late Viking Age, the early eleventh century, or even the twelfth century, have been suggested. The spindle whorl is inscribed with Scandinavian runes that appear to mention the Norse gods Odin and (possibly) Heimdall. The object is likely to have been produced locally, though the runes demonstrate contacts with the Scandinavian world of the time, perhaps especially Norway.

Thor’s Hammer Pendant

A silver hammer-shaped pendant found in Grave 511 at Repton. This is the grave of a man who appears to have died violently, taking a vicious cut to his loins. These may have been worn to show devotion to the god Thor, or to secure the god’s protection, although there is little evidence to support this interpretation. Pendants like this have been found made of lead, copper alloy, silver and gold, showing that many different strata of society could have worn them.

Samanid Silver Dirham Pendant

An Arabic silver dirham minted c. 905-906 (Hijra 293) for the Samanid ruler, Isma’il ibn Ahmad (849-907), that has subsequently been pierced and gilded so that it could be worn as a pendant. It was probably minted in Balkh, Afghanistan. The Vikings often repurposed items like this. The dirham was a unit of weight used across North Africa, the Middle East, and Persia, with varying values which also referred to the type of coins used in the Middle East during the Viking Age. These coins were extremely prized possessions not only for their silver value but as a way of displaying one’s wealth and vast trade connections. Millions of Arabic dirhams would have been imported throughout the Viking world and are mostly found in hoards.

Coin of Cnut the Great

This Short Cross Type silver penny was minted in the name of King Cnut between 1024 and 1030 in the Derby mint by the moneyer Swartinc. The location of discovery is unknown.

Minting coins was a way of controlling the means of exchange within a kingdom and which created a more easily administered standardized system of trade. Moreover, the coins themselves were often used as propaganda, portaying symbols and statements that gave off a desired message. The Vikings later used the minting of coins to legitimize their own rule.

Cast Lead-Alloy Gaming Piece

A complete cast lead-alloy early medieval gaming piece. This and similar pieces have also been interpreted as weights although the gaming piece interpretation is more secure. Pieces like this would have been used to play hnefatafl and/or Nine Men’s Morris, both of which are known to have been played in Scandinavia in the Viking Age.

Ring-and-Dot Pin

This copper alloy pin with a ring-and-dot pattern on the head was used for fastening cloaks. It was found on the site of Little Chester Roman fort. Pins like this were common in Ireland and the western British Isles, and spread further afield under Viking influence.

Stamped Finger-Ring

A stamped copper-alloy finger ring decorated with four double ring-and-dots in a lozengiform arrangement. Ring-and-dot was a decorative technique used at various periods from the later Iron Age onwards, but which enjoyed a Viking Age revival. Rings like this with knotted ends are typically Scandinavian.

Glass bead

This monochrome glass bead is blue coloured and has a decorative edging in a reed like pattern. Similar beads have been found in other Anglo-Scandinavian contexts. Glass beads were, generally, used in necklaces or similar jewellery and were highly prized among Scandinavians.

Comb Pendant

The pendant is decorated with two inturned zoomorphic heads executed in Ringerike-style ornament. These comb-shaped pendants are closely paralleled in the area around the Baltic Sea such as northwest Russia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania, with rare examples from Estonia and Sweden.

Pendants were a popular dress accessory in Norway and Sweden and sometimes were worn with beads between a pair of oval brooches. In England, pendants did not have the same popularity and there do not seem to be any contemporary Anglo-Saxon pendants.

Silver Gilt Brooch

A circular silver gilt plate brooch with chip carved decoration of a winged creature. The creature may be a griffin. It is enmeshed in fine spiralling interlace. The reverse features a U-shaped catchplate and pin with a spring. This decoration is Mercian in style.

Frankish Zoomorphic Brooch

The design of this brooch suggests that it was of Frankish manufacture and dates to roughly 600-700 AD. It is possible that it made its way to England prior to Viking incursions but it is equally likely that the Vikings brought this brooch with them as plunder after raiding in Frankia.

Silver Arm-Ring

This arm-ring fragment is made from strands of wire wound together into a single twisted or cabled strand with a cast zoomorphic terminal. This object was considered together with a group of fragments of ingots and hack-silver of probably contemporary date which were found nearby (NLM-1B0476). However, the mass of this object did not correspond closely to any of the systems of measurement thought to have been used for bullion transactions at that time.

The Vikings arriving in England had a bullion economy where they paid for goods with silver that was weighed to an amount agreed between the buyer and the seller. Hacksilver and silver ingots are the most common evidence for their bullion economy. It took some time for the Scandinavian settlers to adopt a monetary economy like that of the Anglo-Saxons, and both systems were used simultaneously for a while before they fully adopted the new system. They were familiar with monetary economies but they treated coins as just another form of silver before adoption of a monetary economy

Copper-Alloy Tweezers

A pair of copper-alloy tweezers found in Bassetlaw, Nottinghamshire. These feature a ring-and-dot stamped pattern with a tube at one end to accommodate a suspension loop. They would have been carried suspended from a brooch or belt. Tweezers were common personal items that people would have carried with them. They could be highly decorated.

Silver Wire Embroidery

This silver wire was found in Mound 11 at Heath Wood, Ingleby, Derbyshire. This burial mound contained fragments of the remains of an adult human together with the cremated remains of animals, including a small dog, a horse and sheep. The burial was accompanied by this silver wire, an iron spade shoe, some small iron nails and some corroded metalwork.

The silver wire was found in two parts with traces of carbonised fibres attached. This suggests that it was probably attached to a piece of cloth. Silver and gold embroidery are known from a number of Viking Age graves, including from nearby Repton, Derbyshire, as well as further afield, e.g. Birka, Sweden. At Birka, wire embroidery was found on caps and headbands, although there is no reason to think that it was only used on headgear at all times.

Hrísbrú Longhouse

The Hrísbrú longhouse unearthed during the 2008 season is in many ways a classic Icelandic Viking Age longhouse with bow-sided walls built from turf and stone, a tripartite internal room division, and doors opposite ends of the long axis. On the other hand, the house is of an unusually large size and contained more high status finds than most other contemporary longhouses in Iceland. The house, having internal dimensions measuring 25 x 5m, is one of the largest Icelandic longhouses. Furthermore, the 2008 excavations brought to light unusually clear remains of the superstructural support system in the longhouse that contribute substantial new evidence concerning Viking Age house construction.

In 2008, the excavation of the inside of the longhouse revealed the layout and organization of the house’s internal space. The house contained extremely well-preserved floor deposits, allowing for stratigraphic excavation of dozens of individual floor layers that revealed spatial and temporal differences in household activities. Each of these floor layers was excavated on a 1m sample grid and 100% of the soil was sifted through a flotation machine for maximum artifact and ecofact recovery. The recovered finds show the comparative wealth of the Hrísbrú household and inform us about the economy of the farmstead.