Hello, fellow Viking. Did you know that our ancestors, although generally known in the world as fearless warriors and farmers, loved to wear jewelry?!
Both men and women wore jewelry, which was mostly handcrafted of precious metals back in the Viking Age. The Vikings made many different types of jewelry, such as silver arm rings, neck rings, armbands, wedding rings, bracelets, normal rings, and many other decorative items that were most often fashioned of gold and silver.
Although the Norsemen usually had a number of silver and gold items in their jewelry collection, neither of these precious metals originated in Scandinavia. It is believed that most of the silver and gold used to craft jewelry came from the coins received during trade with other countries.
Also, a fascinating fact is that Viking jewelry often had a dual purpose.
For example, silver armbands, in addition to being worn by the Vikings as an ornament, were often used as currency during a trade. Viking men who wore silver armbands would simply rip off a piece of silver from their armband and use it to pay for the goods they bought.
Another popular type of Viking jewelry was rings.
The Vikings gladly wore rings on their hands, but this type of jewelry had other significance as well. For example, rich lords gave their warriors valuable rings during the war in hopes of ensuring their loyalty.
Thor's Hammer Pendant
Furthermore, it is believed that certain types of jewelry had religious significance. The pendant in the shape of Thor's hammer (Mjolnir) is undoubtedly the most popular jewelry with a religious symbol, and it is usually made of silver. And when we talk about the religious significance of jewelry, the Viking people also sent their dead to the afterlife with a lot of jewelry, because they believed that it would allow them to have a more comfortable afterlife.
Now that we have scratched the tip of the iceberg, let's dive in a bit deeper.
Who Makes the Jewelry for Vikings?
We have already mentioned how Viking jewelry had many purposes, so let's take a closer look at those now. In my opinion, there were five primary purposes of jewelry back in the day:
- Improving the aesthetic appearance,
- Means of payment for goods or services,
- Religious protective symbols,
- Indicator of economic status,
- Fastening clothes.
Just like today, the value of the jewelry was determined by the materials used to craft it. And the material from which Viking jewelry was crafted largely depended on the class to which the individual belonged. So, the wealthy Vikings usually ordered their jewelry from local artisans. These jewelry pieces were mostly handmade of silver, gold, or bronze. Furthermore, wealthy Norsemen were able to decorate their jewelry with precious stones, pearls, or various crystals.
On the other hand, Vikings who belonged to a lower class mostly produced jewelry of base metals, and they used amber and glass details as a jewelry decoration.
How Was Ancient Jewelry Made?
As we said at the very beginning of the text, the old Norse people, always wore jewelry in order to bring a dose of glamour into their world. They were engaged in jewelry making even at the very beginning of the Viking era (around the year 800). The jewelry that the Norsemen initially made was of a simpler design, but over time Viking jewelry became more detailed and sophisticated.
The most commonly used materials for making jewelry were metals, such as bronze, silver, and even gold (available only to the richer Vikings). Furthermore, different kinds of beads and precious stones were used as decoration, which were incorporated into jewelry in rare situations.
It is clear that the jewelry Vikings crafted and wore was very diverse. All the types of jewelry that we know today were also popular and used in the Viking Age. So, let's take a look at the most popular jewelry types back in the day, and learn how they were made.
Viking silver ring
Wearing silver arm rings was very popular in the ancient Viking culture. A ring on the hand of a Viking was an unavoidable detail. Silver, as one of the favorite materials for making jewelry, was the most used material when it came to making rings.
There were so many different ring designs, but most of them had one thing in common: the craftsmen made each ring easily adjustable so it could fit fingers of different thicknesses with ease. It looks like Vikings were practical even while making rings.
Necklaces and neck rings
In addition to the already mentioned metals that were used to make Viking jewelry, Vikings also used various natural fibers and iron wire of different lengths to make their necklaces.
Necklaces were decorated with various pendants, which were usually made of glass. Most of the pendants that were used in the Viking Era had sentimental meaning. They were mostly obtained and used as gifts, various souvenirs, or religious symbols from Nordic mythology.
In addition to classic necklaces, the Vikings also crafted neck rings, which, according to archaeological research, were still less represented than necklaces. Also, archaeologists believe that both men and women wore necklaces as an expression of wealth.
Pendants are a separate category of jewelry, which included an extensive range of decorative items. Vikings rarely wore pendants, if we take into account that a very small number of these objects were found during archeological excavations.
Pendants were often in the shape of Thor's Hammer (Mjolnir), miniature weapons, arrows, Valknut symbols, trees of life, but also crosses could be found, despite the fact that the Vikings were a pagan people.
Brooches were very popular In Viking culture. Many different styles of brooches existed, but the most popular was Penannular - for men, and oval brooches - for Viking women.
Silver was mostly used to make brooches that were used as decoration, but also to fasten dresses, aprons, and robes. To make the brooch look more beautiful, women wore stringed colored beads with it.
Beads were most often handmade of glass and amber and were used as an addition to necklaces and other jewelry types. During their research, archaeologists rarely found more than three beads on a necklace. Based on that, archaeologists came to the conclusion that the number of beads was not just a feature of social status, they thought that the beads were a sign of person's achievements and age.
Earrings were the least popular Viking jewelry, which is why they were very rare. What is known about the earrings from the Viking period is that they were of a very complicated and unusual design, and that both men and women wore them all over their ears.
As a special type of Viking jewelry, we would single out bracelets, (AKA arm bands), which were extremely popular among Vikings. So let's see why bracelets were so important.
What were Viking bracelets made of?
Viking bracelets were a very significant jewelry piece in the Viking Age. They were more than just an ornament.
The bracelets on the arm of a Viking signified his strength and wealth. And if the chieftain gave his warrior a bracelet, it meant paying tribute to the warrior for his bravery.
Like all Viking jewelry, the bracelets were also mostly handmade of gold, silver, and bronze, but also leather. The Vikings found inspiration for the design of their bracelets in nature. Thus, various geometric shapes, animals, the sun, the moon, and many other elements from the natural environment could be found on Viking bracelets. And every detail that was carved on the bracelets depicted one emotion.
The bracelets were made with holes on one side so that they could be adjusted for different wrist thicknesses. At the place where the hole was, there was usually a carved image of a snake, which signified calmness or a dragon's image to show the fearless Viking nature. The spiral-shaped bracelets could be wrapped around the wrist several times, while some were even long enough to wrap around almost the entire arm.
The details placed along the entire length of the bracelet were of great value and served as a trading currency. So, instead of carrying their money in a wallet or purse, like people do today, the Vikings simply carried it around their arms.
Just as they enhanced their appearance with various jewelry, the Vikings also took care of their clothing style. So let's take a look back at what the Viking clothes looked like.
How Were Viking Clothes Made?
Since they lived in colder climates, the most important thing for the Vikings was that their clothes were warm enough.
The most commonly used materials for making clothes were linen and wool. Linen was used for clothes that go against the body as it was more comfortable. The wool was used for other clothing items, which protected the Vikings from the cold. There were also silk clothes, but silk was a material that only a wealthy Vikings could afford.
The men wore mostly trousers with belts on which were silver or bronze buttons, as well as long and wide tunics. On cold winter days, they would wear thick coats made of animal fur as well.
Viking women wore long dresses handcrafted of linen or wool, depending on the weather. Women, like men, wore leather belts, with which they tightened their dresses. Also, they gladly wore metal brooches with which they additionally strengthened their clothes. Between the brooches, the women decorated the dresses with various beads and other jewelry types.
When it came to children, their clothes did not differ from the ones worn by their parents.
In case you wish to learn more about Viking clothing, don't miss this article.
And for the end...
Although frequent fights and hard physical work characterized the daily life of the Viking people, they tried very hard to bring as much glamour as possible into their world. Because of their love for precious metals, they wanted to include them in their everyday life. This is precisely what they achieved by making all the beautiful jewelry that we described earlier in the text.
Whether they used their jewelry to be more aesthetically appealing or as a form of currency or social status, it is clear that the Vikings were quite sophisticated after all.
Until our next meeting,