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           a look at culture and daily life
                            by Kimberly Walters
               The Vikings were an
               Indo-European culture
Who were the   of travelers, raiders, and
               traders. Originally
 Vikings?      settling in Denmark,
               Norway, and Sweden,
               their population grew
               rapidly and they began
               to expand and colonize
               around the year 800.
               Their famous long ships
               reached almost every
               part of the known world
               and even discovered
               new places, particularly
               in North America.
                 Social Structure
• Society was divided into three
  classes, based on wealth and
  land ownership: thralls, karls
  and jarls. The lowest class,
  the thralls, were essentially
  slaves. Above the thralls
  were the karls, who were
  merchants, landowners,
  farmers and craftsmen. The
  jarls were the rich, powerful
• Viking countries were ruled by
  kings, supported by several
  earls and cheiftans.
                     The Vikings believed that the
The Law   law maintained the balance between good
          and evil in their society, and in fact, the
          english word „law‟ comes from the Viking
          language. Trials were held with a jury of
          twelve (or multiples of twelve if the case
          was important). A panel was randomly
          chosen to state their version of the truth,
          and the person was found either innocent
          or guilty. If he was found guilty he would
          be fined or made an out-law. Out-laws
          were forced to leave the town and became
          free-game for their enemies to hunt. A
          man could prove his innocence, however,
          by passing an “ordeal.” One common
          ordeal was to walk twelve paces on hot
          coals. If after three days his blisters were
          not infected, he was proclaimed innocent.
                    Disputes were commonly settled
          with duels, usually using only swords and
          shields. The looser was declared when
          one man‟s blood touched the ground. It
          was believed that gods always helped the
          “right” man to win.
Viking communities were
arranged in large family groups
that lived in simple farmhouses
usually made of wattle and daub
(some were built with stones or
wood). The bases were
rectangular and each had a hole
in the roof to let out smoke.
Most had a single room, but rich
households often had a small
entrance hall, a large main
room, a kitchen, a bedroom and
a storage room. Vikings hung
their belongings from the
ceiling and slept on benches at
the sides of the main room.
   • Because they had many
     voyages to distant lands,
     the Vikings had an
     extensive trade network
     around the world.
   • They traded silk, spices,
     slaves, fur, skins, amber,
     weapons, and food.
   • The Vikings used English,
     German, and Arab
     currency, as well as coins
     minted in Scandinavia.
                                              Food and Drink
                                           The Vikings ate two meals a day; one in
                                           the morning and one in the evening. The
                                           diet was quite varied and included meat
                                           from horses, goats, pigs, oxen, and many
                                           types of fish, and cultivated crops such as
                                           cabbage, peas, and onions. Vikings in the
                                           north hunted whales, deer, moose, seals,
                                           rabbits, walrus, polar bear, wild boar,
                                           goose, and even seagulls.
Women made cheese and butter using
milk from their animals and bread from
corn and grains. For parties and
festivals, the vikings brewed fruit wine
and beer, which they drank from animal
horns. They used wooden dishes and
spoons and drank from cups made of
 Like most other European clothing
   of the time, Viking clothing was
   most often made of linen, wool,
   and in the winter, animal hides.
 Wealthy Vikings (kings, earls, and
  merchants) also used silk, which
     they brought back from raids.
Bright colored dyes were extracted
 from plants and berries. Men wore
tunics and pants, and women wore
       long linen dresses, woolen
leggings, and shawls fastened with
    large metal brooches. Married
      women also wore tight fitting
 scarves on their heads. Shoes for
  both sexes were made of leather
Found in the Viking graves all over
Northern Europe, beads were clearly
much- appreciated objects to Viking
women. The most beads ever found in a
male Viking grave was three, but the
average number
                                                       but amber, semi-
for a female
                                                        precious stones,
grave is around
                                                       silver, and other
two hundred.
                                                       metals were also
Beads were most
often made from                                        commonly used.
                                                      Since making the
quartz and soda,
                                   beads was extremely labor-intensive,
                                they were expensive. Glass finger rings
                              and metal bracelets were also popular for
                            both men and women, as well as elaborate
                                 metal brooches used to fasten clothing.
Songs and dances were an
important part of parties and
religious festivals in the Viking
world. We know very little
about actual songs and tunes,
because the Vikings had no
way to write down music until
the 14th century, but we do
have evidence of the
instruments they used: lyres,
flutes, horns, and recorders, as
well as their own voices. Songs
often had a chant leader, who
would sing each stanza first,
and then everyone would repeat
it. This tradition is still
common in sea shanties and
spirituals.                           Viking tune written in the 14th century.
   As a culture that emphasized war, the Vikings naturally
thrived on competitive sports. Physical strength, speed, and
 endurance were tested in competitions of archery, javelin,
 skiing, swimming, and wrestling (usually between only two
  men: a champion and a challenger). The British ball game
                 knattleikr was also popular.
      Viking society had no
      formal school or
      system of education.
      History, geography,
      and navigation were
      taught through sagas
      of the gods and great
      Viking heroes, told by
      traveling story-tellers.
      Children also learned
      while helping their
      parents in the home.
Compared to most women in Europe, a
Viking woman had considerable power in
society. She had the right to property,
inheritance, and divorce and wore the keys
to the food chest at her waist as a visible
sign of power. “The lady of the household
had to see to it that the food lasted during
the long, dark winter. She made butter and
cheese, dried and smoked meat and fish for
storage and she was also expected to know
about herbs for making medicine and care
for the sick and wounded”* Sewing and
weaving were also important duties of a
Viking woman. Viking women could go on
raiding trips with the men, but the vast
majority chose to stay at home.

                           Death Rituals
   Before the arrival of Christianity, the Vikings were polytheistic worshippers of Odin,
   Thor, Frey and Enevia (along with many other gods and goddesses.) The Pagans were
     buried with anything they might need in the afterlife: armor, swords, horses, and
sometimes even human sacrifices that would accompany the dead man to the underworld.
  Women were often buried with cooking utensils and farming tools. Wealthy viking men
 were often buried in their ships, and women sometimes were buried in wagons. Some of
 the more eastern communities cremated their dead and buried the remains, but almost all
Vikings marked their graves with upright stones in the shape of ships. If a Viking warrior
          died in battle, he was placed with his weapons in a boat and incinerated.
•   Fitzhugh, William. Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga.
    Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000.
•   Flaherty, Thomas (Editor-in-Chief). Vikings: Raiders
    from the North. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life
    Books, 1993.
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•   http://www.internet-at-

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