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by Nokki Nollason August 24, 2020 6 min read

Living in poor conditions did not prevent Vikings from standing out in the world. Nations throughout the world felt great awe towards the Vikings due to the cruel raids that the ancient Viking people were prone to. However, the rich Viking culture and the tradition of making beautiful jewelry, and especially Viking bracelets, have left the cruel side of the Vikings in the background today.

Today, we are going to talk about Viking bracelets.

The Vikings made jewelry from the earliest years of their time. Vikings knew everything about jewelry making. They knew how to craft both simple pieces of metal jewelry and decorative objects of fantastic design and craftsmanship. And if we take into account that Viking jewelry was made more than 1000 years ago, we realize that the Vikings were truly unmatched when it comes to jewelry making.

The most popular jewelry among the Vikings were bracelets, also known as armbands, or arm rings. Unlike today's bracelets, this kind of jewelry was mostly worn by men. The bracelets were made in several different styles and played a very important role in Viking society.

If you are interested in why bracelets were so famous back in the day and what purpose they had in the Viking society, keep on reading. You will get answers to all your questions very soon.

What were Viking Bracelets Used For?

Silver Viking bracelet featuring Fenrir

Silver Viking Bracelet Featuring Fenrir

In whatever form they were made, Viking bracelets were divided into:

  • Bracelets that had a decorative purpose and
  • Bracelets that had a commercial purpose.

Bracelets with Decorative Purpose

The bracelets, which had many different details and decorations on them, were used as jewelry that the Vikings wore every day. The most common metals for making bracelets were bronze and silver. Gold was highly valued in the Viking Age, but at that time, only wealthy Vikings were able to afford it.

The bracelets that the Vikings wore as jewelry were most often called arm rings because they looked precisely like rings, just made for the wrist's size. With a beautiful design, decorative patterns, and carved animal figures, the arm rings contributed significantly to the powerful Viking look.

When it comes to making arm rings, it is interesting to know that they were made to fit all wrist sizes - they were adjustable. In that way, the arm rings were easy to adjust to the joint's appropriate width.

Bracelets with Commercial Purpose

The bracelets used as currency were not so visually appealing. Still, they were also very valuable, and most importantly, they were practical. By that, we mean that it was easy to tear off a part of the bracelet and pay for the goods with it when buying something. The bracelet intended for trading was long enough to wrap around 90% of the hand and was worn by almost every man during the Viking Age.

Silver was mainly used to make bracelets whose purpose was solely a means of payment. It was a rarity to have details carved on the bracelets that served as a substitute for money in the Viking era. Mostly it was just thinned silver ribbons, designed for easy tearing off of parts during the trade. We have learned all of this thanks to the archeological sites where many easily flexible and spirally twisted strips of precious metals were found.

As we've said before, bracelets in the shape of arm rings were the most common type of bracelets in Viking times. It is believed that arm rings were among the most used ways for Vikings to express their social status and wealth. However, this piece of jewelry had a much deeper significance for Viking society and culture.

For the Vikings, arm rings were not just an ornament on the hand, but much more than that.

So let's see what this type of jewelry meant for the ancient Norse people.

The Meaning of Arm Rings for the Viking People

The Oath Between Viking Leaders and Warriors

Jormungandr Viking Arm ring made of silver on a black background

Jormungandr Viking Arm Ring

Viking leaders and warriors used to swear allegiance and loyalty to each other until death. Usually, during this oath, leaders would give their warriors arm rings as a binding factor of the oath. The exchange of arm rings created an unbreakable bond that both sides respected at all costs.

The oath with the gift of arm rings was most often practiced during the initiation of new warriors in order to ensure unwavering loyalty. Although it seems like a small thing, in Viking times, loyalty was invaluable. That is why even a small gesture, such as giving arm rings, was an incredibly valuable act.

The Ritual of Growing Up

Due to the extremely difficult living conditions and the frequent absence of adult men from the family, male Viking children often had very important roles to play in their communities. As future men, leaders, and protectors of those communities, boys played an important role in Viking society.

When a boy has grown to become a man, he received an arm ring as a gift. The gesture of giving arm rings to boys was an important ritual in Viking culture. From this moment forth, the boy was gone, and in his place stood a man allowed to join his brothers in their pursuit of wealth and glory.

Sentimental Significance

The previously mentioned way of life that the Vikings led, sometimes included several months of seafaring. And that meant that maybe more than once a year, Viking men were separated from their families for several months.

For this reason, the Vikings often made arm rings for their wives as a symbol of love with special markings and engraved details. The arm rings, which were given as a gift to the wives, were a silent sign between the spouses by which the husband asked the wife to remain faithful to him until he was next to her once again.

It is clear that the bracelets were of great emotional significance for the ancient Nordic people. But in order to fully understand why it is necessary to know the entire history of Viking jewelry. You need to truly appreciate and understand how the Vikings came to the resources necessary to make their jewelry in the first place.

Where Did Vikings Find Materials for Their Bracelets?

Aggression is not the only thing that describes the Vikings and their naval expeditions. In the Viking age, some people had too much wealth, and others had almost nothing (quite similar to today, don't you think?). The majority of Vikings belonged to the second group, and when they realized that outside of their world lies another world with unimaginable wealth (at least for the Vikings), they decided to act and take a part of that wealth for themselves.

The Most Interesting Discovery of Viking Bracelet

So far, a large number of Viking bracelets have been found. Most were found during archeological excavations of ancient Viking settlements. However, a significant number of bracelets were found accidentally by ordinary people.

One such exciting discovery of a precious silver Viking bracelet happened in April 2012. Along with his son-in-law, David Taylor worked on removing stones from a field on a farm in the village of Kircubbin (Down North Country). Beneath one of the rocks he had removed, Taylor noticed a dusty metal object. Thinking it was something valuable, he put the item in his pocket. Although his wife thought it was a worthless thing, Taylor did not listen to her and took the found object to the local museum.

An expert examination revealed that it was a Viking bracelet, which was 90% made of silver, with traces of copper and gold. The bracelet is believed to have been made in Scotland between 950 and 1100 AD.

Although one piece of jewelry that is accidentally found is usually a part of a large buried treasure, this was not the case. The bracelet that Taylor found in the village of Kircubbin is the only Viking jewelry piece found at the site.

Conclusion

The centuries-old transformation that Viking bracelets have undergone until today has not made the Viking idea of ​​this piece of jewelry disappear. Moreover, Viking bracelets are still popular today in all parts of the world, only with a new and a bit more modern design that continues to change over time.

Until our next meeting,

Skål!


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