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by Nokki Nollason August 18, 2020 6 min read

Many of us enjoy wearing Viking jewelry. Its beautiful and unique looks make us stand out from the crowd nowadays. But, what do we know about Viking jewelry history? In today's article, we are going to cover some quite interesting facts about Viking jewelry you probably didn't know. Without further ado, let's begin.

As mentioned in our previous article, evidence found by archaeologists during the excavation of ancient Viking settlements proves that Vikings were much more than ordinary bandits. They were very organized people, with a surprisingly rich culture. As incredible as it may sound, the wood and metal industries were very developed in the Viking Age. And when they were not looking for new continents and places to plunder, Viking men and women were engaged in art, including jewelry making. 

They were exceptionally skilled in making decorative items and jewelry such as rings, pendants, brooches, necklaces, and viking bracelets etc. This fact is proven by the very complicated jewelry design they used. The details on the Viking jewelry were very precisely carved, usually featuring snakes and other things from Norse mythology. Many pieces of this beautiful jewelry are exhibited in museums nowadays and still represent a challenge and an inexhaustible source of inspiration for artisans in the field of jewelry making.

Did Vikings Wear Jewelry?

All the knowledge we have today about the precious ancient Viking jewellery comes from the archaeological excavations. Thanks to the archeologists, we know that both Viking men and women wore jewelry. We also know that men preferred to wear arm rings and neck rings, and in the somewhat later Viking Age, rings on their fingers. Also, due to a large number of specimens found, a pendant in the shape of Thor’s hammer - Mjolnir - is considered to be the most common piece of jewelry. 

When it comes to Viking women, they mostly wore necklaces and bronze brooches on their dresses. As with Mjolnir pendants for men, brooches are considered one of the most common ornaments Viking women wore. Moreover, brooches were even considered a part of their clothing.

Throughout the Viking Age, both Viking men and women wore jewelry on all occasions. Mostly jewelry was worn to complement their aesthetic appearance, showcase their wealth, and make them look more glamorous. 

The proof that the Vikings enjoyed jewelry is that they decorated not only their clothes and bodies with jewelry pieces, but also their houses, ships, and even weapons. In addition to decorative purposes, jewelry also served as a means of payment in trading. For example, silver jewelry was most often used as a currency and was called 'hack silver' due to its specific purpose. 

Since it was mostly made of precious metals, Vikings jewellery was very valuable. Precisely because of this, the Vikings often buried their jewelry (their wealth) to protect it in case of an attack. 

Silver and other precious metals appeared in Viking culture in the 9th century, due to contact with the Islamic world, precisely as a means of exchange. So far, over 100,000 Islamic silver coins dating back to the Viking Age have been found in Scandinavia. The money could be exchanged during the trade, but also during the conclusion of an agreement or truce between the Vikings and the people with whom they were in conflict. It is believed that the Vikings melted these silver Islamic coins, as well as the coins of many other cultures, and made their jewelry from them.

Depending on their wealth, the Vikings used different metals to make the jewelry they wore. Metals such as silver and bronze were not available to the lower class, which is why they made jewelry from animal bones and wood. Gold was reserved only for the wealthiest families from the Viking community, which is why gold jewelry was rarely found.

How Was Ancient Viking Jewelry Created?

To make the desired piece of jewelry, Vikings used previously made wax molds. These molds had to be carved carefully and in detail because the Viking jewelry's final look depended on them. 

When the wax mold was ready, molten metal was poured into it. After the metal in the mold had cooled, the mold was broken, and a piece of made jewelry was taken out of it. This way of making jewelry is called the "lost wax" method.

At the very beginning of making Viking jewelry, its design was very simple, but it became more and more complex over time. The reason for that is the encounter with other cultures, from which the Vikings took more and more ideas for jewelry design.

The curiosity of archaeologists to explore the ancient Viking world is quite strong, even today. However, despite their interest in the Vikings and the constant research of the Viking people, the most significant historical discoveries of jewelry from the Viking Age came quite by accident. So, let's see how and when the main discoveries of Viking jewelry were made.

The Main Discoveries of Viking Jewelry

1. Discovery of Viking Gold Ring at Blackwater River

During the 1980s, due to a dredging project, part of the Blackwater River (Ulster, Ireland) was drained. One of many curious people, Glenn Crawford, took advantage of the drained riverbed to set off in search of the hidden treasure using his metal detector. He found an invaluable treasure in the form of a Viking gold ring. It is believed that the ring had been made in the 9th century AD. Since the Vikings attacked the city near the river in 832, it is believed that it was during this campaign that the ring fell from the hand of an ancient Nordic warrior.

2. Discovery of Ancient Viking Jewelry (the Huxley Hoard)

Almost at the same time, in 1989, in the vicinity of Huxley (Cheshire, England), Steve Reynoldson also discovered precious Viking jewelry with his metal detector. In contrast to the discovery mentioned above at Blackwater River, a lot of rings have been found at this site. More precisely, 21 silver arm rings were discovered, which are believed to have originated in the first decade of the 10th century AD. The design of the rings was very sophisticated, and what is interesting is that they were all flattened before burial. It is assumed that the reason behind this is that they were intended for re-melting and making jewelry or were supposed to be used in parts as currency.

3. Discovery of Ancient Viking Jewelry (The Silverdale Hoard)

A third very significant discovery occurred in 2011 near Silverdale (Lancashire, England). 

A large warehouse of ancient objects from the Viking period was found at this place, originating around 900 AD. Like the previous two discoveries, this area's research was also not organized, but it was a matter of curious human nature.

With his metal detector, Darren Webster scanned the area where the warehouse was found several times, but with no signs of treasure hiding there. Just as he was crossing the field for the last time, the light on his detector indicated that there was something buried in the ground. And, my fellow Vikings, indeed it was.

Over 200 pieces of jewelry and coins, which belonged to the old Vikings, were buried in a metal basket. The jewelry basket weighed about one kilogram and contained the following pieces of jewelry:

  • Two finger rings,
  • Ten armrings,
  • Six parts of Viking brooches, 
  • Fourteen ingots made of silver,
  • Twenty-seven coins (Viking, Middle Eastern, and Anglo-Saxon),
  • One wire braid,
  • One hundred forty-one chopped fragments of armrings and ingots.

Viking Jewelry Nowadays

Some of the most beautiful pieces of Viking jewelry can be found in museums around the world. One such museum is the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, where the Víkingr exhibition is showcased. Here, Viking culture fans can see the most glamorous objects from the Viking period (780-1050 AD).

The two most prominent pieces of jewelry you can see at the Víkingr exhibition are:

1. The Braided Bracelet

This one is pure beauty. Although the Vikings often made and wore bracelets, they were rarely made of gold. The Museum of Cultural History in Oslo exhibits a bracelet that is woven from gold threads and weighs about 400g. Although this bracelet is impractical to wear these days, its fascinating design has served as an inspiration to many jewelry designers around the world.

2. The Red Carnelian Pendant

It is known that the Vikings got ideas from various cultures when they made their jewelry, and this pendant is the best example of how one piece of jewelry changed over time. 

The central part of the pendant is a red carnelian engraved in Roman times (around 200 AD). Centuries later, the stone was owned by Charlemagne (around 800 AD) and imprinted in the central part of the golden Carolingian pendant. And finally, around the year 900 AD, this pendant fell into the hands of the Vikings.

Conclusion

The Vikings may have been cruel warriors, but that is only a small part of Viking heritage. Above all, Vikings were a brave and proud people, who fought for their survival. The world and the conditions in which the ancient Nordic people lived were harsh, but they still tried to get the best out of everything. They nurtured their culture, developed industry, engaged in art. They decorated their bodies and clothes with beautiful jewelry, as they simply wanted to look good, just as we do today.

Until our next meeting,

Skål!


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