|relief, Tømmerby church|
The viking had both table and chair, things like table cloth and plates were known, and he used spoon and knife, but not fork. It arrived later. It was supposedly usual to eat twice a day, a meal in the morning called davre and a meal in the evening called nadver. It was told that king Harald Hardrada only had one meal a day. He had it brought, before others came to the table, and when he had finished his meal he knocked on the table with his knife handle and ordered the food removed, while people were still hungry, following the food with sad eyes. The king was not to be opposed. I guess they had their head cut off if they quarrelled.
Were the Vikings cleanly? Some say yes, some say no, some say they were cleanly if they had to, others that if it wasn't necessary, then they relaxed. Well, at least they had combs and razors and all the things needed to take care of themselves. The literature from the Saga-period indicates that the Icelanders and the Norwegians were cleanly. One of the first stanzas in the Hávámal says about the guest: "he needs water at the host's table, a greeting and a handkerchief". Later is said: "Clean and satisfied should every man ride to the Thing, even though he has not got fine clothes". One of the weekdays, Saturday, was named after wash. An Icelandic physician Skuli Guðjonson draws the attention to that a mountain was sacred and that no one must turn an unwashed face to it.
The Arab Ibn Talad gives a drastic description of the Swedish Rus-people's bad uncleanliness. When he visited the districts by Volga (ab. 920), he noticed this more closely . "They are", he says, " the most unclean of God's creatures, they do not clean themselves after excrements or urination, they do not wash after ejaculation, and they do not wash their hands after meal. They are like savage donkeys". He describes their morning-toilet, which is done in a common washbowl, where the water is as dirty and as unclean as you can imagine. "The girl comes each morning with a big bowl with water. She gives it to her master; he washes his hands, his face and hair, he both washes and combs his hair in the bowl. Then he blows his nose and spits in the bowl. He leaves no dirt outside the water. When he has finished, the girl carries the bowl to the next man, and he does the same as the first. She keeps on carrying the bowl from one to another, until each one in the house has used it, spitting and blowing their nose and washing face and hair in the same bowl."
This does not sound very cosy, but it is counterbalanced by some nice statements from another Arab, Ibn Rustad, who describes and praises the Vikings for their hospitality, their courage , their just decisions after a fight, and their burial rituals. "Their bodies are slim, they are good looking, they are frank and honest. They wear wide trousers; to each pair is used 100 meters (!) material. They put them on by rolling the fabric around their knees and fasten them there. Their clothes are clean, and the men like to wear bracelets in gold. They treat their slaves well and give them exquisite clothes. They honor their guests and treat the strangers well who seek refuge and everyone who come visiting. They do not allow their guests to be attacked by anynone, they help and defend them . They have got *sulaimanisc swords. If a group is called out for war, they all go out. They stick together like one man against their enemies until they have won victory". That was a nicer story!
* sulaimanisc swords are from Iran / Persia.
|finds from the Viking town under Århus|
|comb from the Viking town under Århus|
It is not known if the Vikings knew about soap. In coarser laundry they possibly used staled cow-urine like they did later on Iceland. The ammonia was a fine cleaner.
|Viking dress, King Aethelstan (900s)|
The medicine was primitive, but they might have had some experience in treatment of wounds. They were often in fight and got some heavy wounds. The Icelandic physician Skuli Goðjonson says that Snorre's tale about Stiklestad (1030) is an interesting piece of medicine. Thormod Kolbrunarskjald dies after having drawn out the arrow from his heart himself. "I have not yet fat in my heart-roots," he says, while he is watching the shreds, hanging from the barbs of the arrow. Snorre tells about the lazaret in the barn at Stiklestad, where the women heated the water (possibly sterilisation) and dressed the wounds, possibly partly antiseptic. Then they prepared a fluent porridge of onion and herbs and let the wounded man eat it, whereafter they examined, if they could smell the onions from the abdomen, undoubtedly in order to find out, if there was a hole in the guts. If so it was perotinitis, and they knew this meant death. They used the onions to make a diagnosis like we today give test meals.
|Viking board game, Wessex|
|relief, Tømmerby church|
An example of a chief's family in the 1000s: The family-feeling in the large families from that time did not reach only parents, children and siblings, but also cousins, uncles and aunts, nephews and grand nephews. The family had friends and faithful companions too. Under the family were different serving people and slaves and maybe also military - like the farmers, who lived on the family estate, being attached to them in both work and war. All this formed something difficult to namecall. It might be called a Family Union , but also a 'clan' like in Scotland. In that period was often used the latin term 'familia', which might be interpreted like a 'large household'.
The Nordic Viking was open for satire and sarcasm. He himself was scared ot the power of an evil tongue. Hávámal sometimes speaks with a delightful serene irony, when it is about the phenomenon "hospitality without riscy generosity ".
"Some would invite me to visit their homes,
But none thought I needed a meal,
As though I had eaten a whole joint,
Just before with a friend who had two".
The Viking had a sharp eye for the flaws and peculiarities in his fellowman. The custom of giving nick-names was common. They loved to hand out nick names, especially to kings and chiefs. Harald Bluetooth, Sweyn Forkbeard, Harald Fairhair. Many nick-names point at blemishes, like Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, Ivar the Boneless, and names like Catback, Crowfoot, Juice Roach, (who might have had some rash on his head, or maybe he liked to drink plant-juices) - and on Iceland was Egil Skallagrimsson (= ugly roach). It is said about Egil that he exhibited berserk behaviour, and this, together with the description of his large and unattractive head, has led to the theory that he might have suffered from Paget's disease. This is corroborated by an archeological find of a head from the Viking era which might be Egil's. At the same time there is a capriciousity in the nick-names. They meant sometimes the opposite of, what they actually meant, like "Tord the Short". It is known that he was a very tall man. So it is not easy to guess, what a Viking's nick-name really meant.
Hagar the Horrible
Johannes Brøndsted, Vikingerne, Gyldendal 1960; Arkæologisk magasin Skalk, 1/1989, 2/1965, 4/1995. Danmarkshistorie, bd. 3, Da Danmark blev Danmark, (700-1050), Peter Sawyer, Gyldendal og Politiken. "Thi de var af stor slægt", Marianne Johannesen og Helle Halding.