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by Nokki Nollason November 03, 2020 7 min read

Suppose you've thought that today's wedding ceremonies and the customs that accompany them are too complicated. In that case, you probably don't know what wedding traditions looked like back in the Viking Age. Everything that you considered complex when it comes to organizing weddings nowadays is nothing compared to preparing for a wedding in Viking culture.

In today's article, we've included all the available information about the Viking wedding tradition. Keep reading and take a peek at how a traditional Viking wedding ceremony really looked like.

So let's get started.

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Planning of a Viking Wedding

Viking coins

Pre-wedding financial negotiations were of the utmost importance

The wedding ceremony of the Viking man and woman involved detailed multi-month planning. It would not be so unusual if the most important part of that planning was not the financial negotiations between the future spouses' families.

As you can already guess, Vikings rarely got married because of their emotions. In most cases, marriage was required for one may achieve financial benefits.

So what did the marriage between a Viking man and a woman mean then?

In Viking culture, marriage was more like one big business agreement. You can think of it as an alliance between two families. For this reason, the planning of a Viking wedding mainly revolved around legal negotiations between the families of the future newlyweds. Only when an agreement was reached that satisfies both families could the wedding ceremony itself be prepared.

What is a Traditional Viking Wedding?

To better understand the tradition of Viking weddings, we need to know why Viking marriage was so precious. Believe it or not, the reason is very rational and has nothing to do with emotions and love.

The main reason why the Vikings attached so much importance to the marital union is a reproduction, that is, obtaining as many offsprings as possible.

For Vikings, more children meant two things. 

More hands to work on their farms and more future warriors who could bring them more wealth. However, for all this to be possible, a Viking man needed a strong woman who would be able to give birth to his heir and take care of their household. On the other hand, Viking women needed a husband who would respect and protect them in the harsh times in which they lived.

When it comes to premarital negotiations, they started with a potential groom accompanied by influential people from his community coming to the house of the future bride, offering marriage. In most situations, Viking women didn't have any choice as the marriage was approved by their family. When the girl's parents agree to the marriage proposal, they would negotiate the "price of the bride" with the groom.

In the Viking tradition, the price of the future bride included three transactions:

  1. Price of the bride (mundr) was paid by the groom to the bride's father for all the years he cared for the future bride,
  2. Dowry (heiman-fylgia) was the part of the bride's father's wealth that she was entitled to after the marriage,   
  3. Bride's morning gift (morgden-gifu) was a gift that the groom gives to his wife the morning after the wedding.

Does it seem to you that the Vikings had well-regulated legal rules when it comes to marriage union, considering that they were often related to as barbarians? Either way, the Vikings strictly upheld their long tradition.

Let's go back to wedding planning.

After the amounts for the payment of the transactions mentioned above were determined, the time of the wedding and other critical accompanying elements (food and drink, accommodation for the guests, etc.) were agreed upon.

As for the weather, Norse weddings were mostly held in the summer due to the freezing Scandinavian winters. Since the Viking wedding feast could last up to a week, it was necessary to provide large quantities of food and drinks for family and friends, and accommodations for all the guests. These Norse celebrations offered the best entertainment as guests could feast, dance together, wrestle or even join one good-natured insult contests.

The perfect day for a Viking wedding ceremony was Friday. Friday was considered the happiest day for a wedding because it was considered the day of the Goddess Frigg, the Goddess of marriage. In the Viking era, Friday, as we know it, was referred to a Frigg's day.

Now it was time for the last-minute wedding preparations. These preparations involved undergoing certain rituals, both for the future couple.

How Did Vikings Get Married?

Before the wedding ceremony, the couple had to go through a so-called "cleansing" ritual.

So, the day before the wedding, the bride would go to the bathroom with her mother, married sisters, and married women from the family. According to tradition, only married women could accompany the bride to the bathroom. There, she would take off her girl's clothes, as well as the "kransen" (the crown that was her sign of innocence). The clothes and the crown that she took off were put in a box and kept for her future daughter.

Once the bride took off all the signs of her maiden life, she would bathe in warm water to symbolically wash away her maiden life. The ritual of "cleansing" ended with the bride entering cold water, which would close the pores on the body, and her new life could begin. Throughout the ritual, married women who were with the bride would give her advice and guidelines regarding her future marriage.

The groom also had to go through the ritual of "cleansing". However, before this ritual, the groom traditionally had to break into a grave and retrieve his ancestors' sword. Obtaining the sword would symbolize that the groom has faced death as a boy and came reborn as a man. Only after that, the groom went to a bathroom with his father and married men and went through the same rituals as the bride.

The next day, a wedding ceremony was held and it was time for more Norse rituals. Viking's wedding vows consisted of a groom giving a sword that he ritually took out from his ancestor's grave to his soon-to-be wife. She would keep the sword for their firstborn son. The bride also gave the groom her father's sword, which symbolized the transfer of her protection from her father to the future husband. The newlyweds then exchanged rings that they offered to each other on the handles of previously exchanged swords. After the exchange of rings, the marriage vows were sealed. 

Viking couple

Viking couple

Now, it was time for a feast, and in some cases, celebrations lasted for a week!

There is another interesting Norse ritual that the Vikings practised after the wedding. The ritual is known as "bruð-hlaup", or "bride's race." In this ritual, the bride and groom's families raced from the place of the wedding to the place of celebration. The ones who arrived last had to serve drinks to the winners for the rest of the celebration.

Another exciting fact is that during the feast, the couple would drink mead, also called "wedding ale." They were drinking ale from the same cup (a cup of love), which also symbolized their union.

As for the first wedding night, according to the Norse tradition, there had to be at least 6 witnesses in the same room with the newlyweds. So, the couple would have to make love in front of witnesses to prove that their marriage is consumed.

This is actually quite unthinkable nowadays, isn't it?

The next morning, the bride tied her hair and put a "hustrulinet" (linen head covering) on ​​her head, a symbol of a married woman. After that, she would go to the main hall of their home to receive a "morgden-gifu" (a morning wedding gift from her husband). In the end, the husband would provide his new bride with the keys to their new household. This would give the bride a new authority as the mistress of the house.

Since the Vikings were known for making jewellery, this text would not be complete without a slightly more detailed story about wedding rings.

Did Vikings Wear Wedding Rings?

We have already stated that the bride and groom traditionally exchanged rings at their wedding. In the Nordic tradition, the exchange of rings on swords was a symbol of the new community. In this way, the Vikings showed the importance of family honour in Norse culture. So the Viking wedding rings were, in a way, a seal that signified that "an alliance" between two families had been made.

Viking wedding rings, like other jewellery, were mostly made of silver and bronze, rarely of gold. The design of the rings was inspired by Norse Gods and history, geometric shapes, runes, and animal totems.

Clothes For a Viking Wedding

The clothes at the Viking wedding were not so important. Instead of clothes, the Vikings paid more attention to their hair. Viking brides adorned their hair to emphasize their sexuality. The dress worn by the Viking bride on her wedding day was inherited from her mother.

Furthermore, on the wedding day, the brides wore a crown that could be made of any material. In most cases, the bridal crown was decorated with various beads and other available decorative details. The bride also inherited the wedding crown from her mother.

Like the bride, the groom's clothes at the wedding were not important, but that is why the hair and weapons were. The groom's hair was carefully decorated, but the most significant focus was on the sword he wore. This is entirely understandable as the sword symbolized that the boy has now become a man.

And For the End…

Viking weddings were made up of many beautiful and exciting pagan rituals involving both bride and groom, but also of some rituals that seem unthinkable to us in modern culture. We hope that you will find this introduction to the customs of a Viking wedding interesting.

Until our next meeting,

Skål!


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