The Viking Age was stated to begin in 793 AD and go until 1066 AD. This consisted of people known as; Norsemen, Danes, Icelanders, Greenlanders, Rus, and Men Of Gremmirs warband,(which is another name for Odin). Scandinavian tribes (Sami people) did begin to speak a language called Donsk Tunga ``danish tongue.” This language is now known as Old Norse. The Viking age was roughly 300 years long. Certain things that have occurred in those 300 years have echoed through the years to current present day society. A few things
that occurred then that still occur today are things such as; Civil disputes, trading and farming, feuds, metal working, grooming and voyages. One of the biggest things that occurred during the time period, I say this due to the popularity of the term today, is the word “Viking!” Viking is a term that is used by numerous people today referencing the Norse faith or a “Northmen.” Just a big heads up folks, but you’re using the term incorrectly. By calling someone a Viking you’re calling them/yourself a thief/pirate. According to Dr. Jackson Crawford that is. So, other than raiding or going on a vikingr (voyage), what did our ancestors' daily life consist of?
As a child, at birth, you were inspected by your mother and then passed along to your father, to accept you. Your father accepted you by giving a gift, naming you, and then a ceremony called Ausa Vatni, meaning to splash with water, occurred. If fated to survive the child mortality rate, you would grow older and help with chores. A child was tasked with gathering eggs, retrieving water, and maintaining the fire inside of the home. The water was retrieved from either a fresh water source, or a well, which was a hollow tree trunk.
As a child, you were allowed some play time and on certain days, typically in the evening, an adult would even join in the fun. The Norse people had games such as Knattleikr; a type of ballgame, and Hnefatafl, which was a type of board game. We can't forget music. Everyone loved music, which would be played from fiddles, lyres, or harps. Also Poetry, since a big part of passing along some knowledge or history would have been in story form or a poem. As you tend to grow, with time, your role within the family would also grow. It would start to lean towards more permanent roles according to male or females.
A Woman's Role
A female's role according to the time period was mainly inside of the house. Women would tend to the home, cook, and take care of the family. Some women, depending on her social class, would milk cows and make cheese. Women would also brew the favored drink, such as, Ol-Ale, Mjodr (mjothr) mead, or vin-wine. Women were favored to be of pale complexion, meaning, they weren't always outside and able to accomplish indoor chores. If a Woman was single she wore her hair down and once she married she would tie it in a knot. A key would be worn as a brooch or pendant, signifying her home roles. Women would also sometimes gather berries, such as; raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Nuts would also be gathered such as hazelnuts (hnetr) or imported nuts such as the walnut (volhnot).
Once you got older and aged into manhood your tasks would change as well. The male population hunted, fished, farmed, raided (not all), or possibly fought if you were feuding with someone. Hunting would consist of bow and arrow, or spear perhaps for deer, otter or even bear. The population was very resourceful, using as much of the animal as possible. Therefore, hunting wildlife was a way of life. They would fish, mainly for trout, pike, salmon, eel, and shark. They would even eat Whales, utilizing the whale blubber for cooking oil. Occasionally they would butcher the life stock if needed. Pigs, sheep, cows, and goats were utilized on the farm for food, wool, and milk. Most meats were boiled into stew to make better use of food and to make it last longer. Meat could also be dried, salted, smoked, or pickled in a brine. The men could also be metal workers. Expert medal workers traded when it was more profitable. Most people these days prefer to have some facial hair, right? Well in the Viking Age it was socially acceptable for men to have facial hair. In fact, it was so acceptable that it was a borderline requirement in order to establish adulthood from childhood. So at this point, we have established some of the basics of what was normal for the clan. As mentioned previously, women were favored to be pale, displaying a lack of outside work while men were favored to have a rjodr complexion. Meaning, men were favored to have some “sun kissed” skin, displaying they worked outside.
People even got married during this time. Courting/Dating a woman meant you made a deal with her father. In doing so, as a man, you needed to make sure you had a certain worth. Meaning, you either have had to prove yourself worthy on either a Vikingr, raid, or to the rest of the clan, establishing the fact that you could provide for your desired wife. If the father didn’t feel these terms were met or you were unworthy, your courting could be prolonged by three years and possibly causing the father to want to seek other men for courting his daughter.
It was in the males favor if he had gained the title of Drengr while on a Vikingr if he was asking to court a lady and it would give him respect in the clan as well. Once a wedding, or hand fasting, had taken place it was traditional to have a huge feast that included drinking. On a side note, drinking alcohol was a very common occurrence, so much, that even children would be allowed to participate in some alcohol consumption. As much as this is frowned upon today, it was allowed during this age due to alcohol being able to kill bacteria, so it was considered a health precaution. If you were married as a man, you could ask your wife to groom your hair and possibly your beard , due to personal appearance and hygiene being an important concept.
Progressing in life
As life progresses life has consequences. Being said, when dealing with others you may develop a feud with a fellow clansman. If the Feud evolved into a more complicated situation, an Einvigi could be arranged. This is when the two men could duel in a fight with what weapons they possessed. The result of a win could potentially result in another feud, due to some believing it was an unfair fight. In attempts to avoid another feud, a wergild could be required. This means a “blood price” was paid to the family of the losing side. If a Holmgang was called there can be no redress after the fight due to this particular one being more formal.
This was a fight with swords and three shields to each combatant. Mortalities appeared to be lower with a Holmgang compared to an Einvigi. With society able to end feuds with violence there must be ways to settle them without violence right? “Thing!” Which was a gathering approximately once a year to discuss any laws and agreed upon new ones. The law speaker spoke at these gatherings and was also responsible for enforcing the laws from day to day. Along with their laws, the Norse people had religion and spiritual practices. They had holy places, such as trees, waterfalls, particular stones or boulders, or even the ocean. Much like today, they even had death rites. These rites were very important because if they weren't followed the dead could become a draugr and start haunting the living. The rites were things like, washing the body and face and cleaning the finger/toe nails of the body making sure they were trimmed down. Then according to status it depends on what items you were buried with. A poor man could be buried with his craft tools or maybe a pet companion. A rich man could be buried with a horse, perhaps weapons and armor, or a ship. A funeral Pyre was an option as well, meaning you could be cremated. After death if there was any debt a Sjaund could take place after seven days had passed in order for the heirs to pay off debt.
Hopefully this has given a glimpse into the daily life of the Norse clans. I do ask what happened to cause these 300 years to be called the Viking Age, when the Norse were doing the same thing they had been doing years before?
Youtube channel:Norse Daily Life by Dr. Jackson Crawford
Book: Vikings: A mystery of the Norse People By: Martin J. Dougherty