Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Scandinavian Woman in Viking Age

Viking grave site, Lindholm Høje, photo:GB

The Viking Age is often displayed as a violent time, dominated by  men who conquered countries and built kingdoms, but the image has changed during the latest 20 years. Archaeological finds from Scandinavia and the Continent bear witness  about the Viking women's daily activities, their power and status from slave to queen.

The daily Life of a Viking woman.

Hjerl Hede, photo:GB
Silkeborg Bymuseum, photo:GB
Most people in  Viking Age were farmers -  or they lived in farms. The management was maintained by a household: the family, some slaves, farm workers and servants, although the knowledge about a Viking household like this is limited today. The economy of the farm was (in Dk) based upon livestock, agriculture and production of textiles and other things for own use. All members of the house took probably part in the daily doings - the archaeological finds show that the production of textiles and metal objects and timber work were gender based for respectively women and men.

Textiles, Silkeborg Bymuseum, photo:GB

textiles, photo:GB
Women could work as craftsmen in the cities, often with the production of textiles for trade, and  they might also take part in doing the trade on behalf of the family. It seems that some women were specialized textile workers since the production- techniques were complicated. The production and trade of textiles were an important part of the economy.

The daily life in the city and on the farm was lived both inside and outside the house. Women took care of the children and of the elderly, they made food and conserved food, like dairy-products and other processing of raw products. The textile production included also processing of wool, spinning and weaving. Unfortunately the textiles from Viking Age are rarely preserved up till today, but some small fragments are found and they show a wide width in the techniques they used and in the quality of the textiles.

The gender roles via the burials of the Vikings tells something. Men and women were often buried in
Højstrup viking graves, photo: GB
their prettiest clothes with grave goods and eventually with sacrificed animals. During the 9th century and in the first half of the 10th century wealthy women wore a dress held together with two oval clamps on the shoulders and with more grave goods  like broches and pearl necklaces and spindle-things - often also with small chests containing textile equipment. Keys are also a common thing in women-graves - maybe marking the status of a house wife. But rich women-graves and rich men- graves were in general rather few. The rich graves seem reserved to the highest class in the social hierarchy. Common people were buried with one or two objects or nothing.

Silkeborg Bymuseum, photo:GB
The ideal Viking woman was a woman between 16-40 years of age. At 16 she was ready to marry and have children and she could take part in the physical hard life on the farm.She enjoyed to some extent more freedom than women in other parts of the medieval contemporary Europe. Written sources represent the Scandinavian woman of Viking age as independent and with rights. Runic inscriptions, especially from Mid Sweden, bear witness about the woman's right to dispose over her property and her rights to inherit. The married couple was jointly responsible for the household and had to trust the partner's willingness to cooperate. An apparently good relation was between a Swedish couple, Holmgaut and Odendisa, since Holmgaut let carve runes in a memorial after his wife "no better housewife will come to Hassmyra to look after the farm" This inscription describes the woman's role in the management of the farm, the organisation of the household and maybe the control of people, animals and ressources. If the husband was out on a Viking expedition the responsibility of everything at home fell to the woman.

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