The Vikings were an ancient Scandinavian culture that has inspired countless stories and legends. Their tales are what gave us the myths of dragons, giants, Thor's hammer, and Odin, among much more!
See our Thor Hammer collection.
Vikings mainly drank out of"drinking horns," which were carved from animal horns. They often drank what is referred to as mead - a type of alcohol you would make by fermenting honey with water, spices like nutmeg or ginger, and yeast! Of course, they also frequently drank Ale (which the lower classes usually had access to).
The Vikings were what we would call a warrior society. They fought each other frequently to gain territory, resources, and power because there was no central governing body or kingdom at the time. Each Viking village had its chief who ruled over its people but often fought and raided rival villages.
Because of this, there were many different styles of drinking vessels, depending on what village or region they came from! For example, those in Denmark often used horns with elaborate animal carvings, but the Vikings who lived further north would use simple cups made out of wood instead of metal like their southern counterparts.
Types Of Drinking Vessels That The Vikings Used
The Vikings were big on variety when it came to drinking vessels. They used horns, cups made of wood or clay, and even glass. They would decorate what they drank out of to show status.
This meant that you could tell what kind of Viking certain people were just by looking at what they drank from. If someone was wealthy, their drinking horn or cup might have been made of silver, but the poorer Vikings either used wooden cups or even clay ones instead!
The Vikings had their specific way to drink from these vessels, which differed depending on what class the person belonged to! The higher-class Vikings (typically men) enjoyed drinking Ale straight from silver cups or horns, whereas a vast majority of people (mainly teenager warriors, women, and children) would drink from wooden cups.
Understanding what the Vikings drank out of can help us to understand what kind of society they had. It's an interesting look into what they used as drinking vessels:
Cow and auroch horns are the most known and symbolical drinking horns of the Viking culture. Each medieval period drinking horn is thought to have been an important piece of any household, especially during festivities and important ceremonies. A few studies on the ancient Viking drinking horns found horns with different decorations. Here are some of the popular decorations found on most medieval horns discovered in Viking age burial mounds.
- Mouth fitting decoration - just at the tip of where they'd (Vikings) have drunk off from the drinking horn.
- Terminal decorations - usually a form of a beast head, suspension chain, mall copper alloy eyelets, a ball, or cylinder usually mounted at the body towards the smaller tip end for the hanging of the drinking horn.
- Metal mounts - these were rare as they were not from the Viking culture. They were rather insular imports that came back with warrior Vikings.
The size of the horns depended on what it was to be used for, but in general, they were about a foot long and could hold between three pints (an English pint is equivalent to 0.57 liters) or one liter when full! The following is one of the unique Viking drinking horns grave discoveries.
Odin, Thor – and the Three Holy Kings
Åge Hojem | Artifact on display in NTNU University Museum
This drinking horn has a bright brass fitting around the mouth and is embellished with Latin letters with an inscription of the names of the three holy kings Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.
Such medieval horns were also known as memory horns and were used to honor the deceased in the same manner as in the late Iron Age. The difference was that now it was drunk to the memory of Christian figures instead of Odin and Thor.
Medieval period drinking horns from the late middle ages were well preserved since they were passed down through generations. Several of the horns, usually made of ox horn, have been found during grave excavation. The Norse culture would place items in what they called a howe or burial mound to help you on your way into the afterlife.
There are no written sources of what items were usually placed in the grave, but archaeologists have often found unique drinking horns with beautiful decorations inside – several of which are art pieces in universities and museums around Sweden.
Glass beakers were the most prestigious and luxurious drinking vessels in the Viking Age. Wealthy men in the higher classes mostly used them. They were extremely valuable, and a glass beaker could cost more than what an average peasant would earn in several years.
According to archeology studies, there are very limited traces of local glassworking evidence within Norway. This means they were probably imported from the rest of the Continent or Britain. Due to the extreme care given to the glass vessels, some could be used for a very long time.
The Vikings were also skilled craftsmen, and glass was one of the materials they mastered. They usually made small jars and funnel beakers. Viking beakers were usually made of "white" or clear glass, but they'd give a slight yellowish look in the sunlight since some impurities remained. They usually used imported glass from northern Europe.
Lathed Wooden Cups Without Handles
Wood was a common material, and it made sense that they'd use what they easily had access to carve out drinking materials during the late middle ages. While they were considered kitchenware for the commoner, some were used as a status symbol with refined, unique patterns and designs.
The cups, which were more like bowls, had to be held/gripped with the entire hand & palm, rather than just the fingers.
Wooden Cups With Handles
Like the lathed cups, these cups were also made from hardwood but had a handle that was easy to grip with fingers. The handle made them easier to carry and also helped with grip.
This type of cup was a form of pottery that was made from treated clay. It was a common drinking vessel in the Viking Age but because of its low resistance to heat. Since they were easily breakable, ceramic cups weren't used often, even during large gatherings where many people would bump into each other.
Steatite is what the Vikings called soapstone. Steatite cups were very rare, and only a few have been found over time. This type of pottery was used by people who lived in what's known as Trøndelag, Norway (a thriving region during the Viking Age). Because of its rarity, steatite cups were probably used on special occasions like feasts and rituals.
What Did the Vikings Drink?
Besides water, Vikings had several alcoholic drinks that they consumed daily or on special occasions. These included Ale, beer, and mead.
Mead was made from blending honey, water, and other flavorful or medicinal plants.
Mead was not an everyday beverage because it required lots of honey which was challenging to find & harvest. It was used mainly for celebrations and momentous occasions.
Ales and beers were the common Viking drinks. They were brewed from boiled grains, usually barley, then kilned over a fire to create a brown, slightly smoky-colored, and flavored drink.
Viking horns carry a long history and can be heard throughout many customs that remain alive in existence today. Danish drinking horns have a wonderful tale based on the Viking gods. The drinking horn is a beautiful piece for drinking mead, but it also is a crucial and historical chalice.
Viking horns can be found in museums across the world to buy and drink meads museums across the world - including museums and on television and the Internet.