How did Viking Age people really look?


I have tryed to gather pictures enough to give an idea of how viking age people dressed and equiped themselves. Note “viking age”  (since the term is used)”Viking” is a proffession, not the ethnicity witch is “Norse”.
Only a small percentage actually went in viking (about 7% of the population).

Norse man.

Norse woman

Wool and linnen where usual materials.

Often cloakes, brooches, glass beads and pendants where added for decoration.The sleeves on this one suggests that it´s a bit later.

(via wyrdsister)

 Viking womanby ~VendelRus  Model: Cajsa

Viking womanby ~VendelRus

Model: Cajsa

Research by archeologist Annika Larsson has shown that imported clothes and fabrics where in use among those few that could afford it.

Norse man and woan with clothes of foreign influence.

”They combined oriental features with Nordic styles. Their clothing was designed to be shown off indoors around the fire,” says textile researcher Annika Larsson, whose research at Uppsala University presents a new picture of the Viking Age.

Vikings. The one in the fron is probably wealthy since he owns a sword.

When it came to arms the typical armor would have been padding or leather, if you could afford it maille (mistakenly referred to as chain mail by some) and a helmet with a nose guard or a mask like protection.

Weapons where the spear and an axe called “bearded axe” who could also be used as a tool.

Swords where unusual and would have cost as much as a whole farm.Those that one usually let it become a family heirloom.

The swords had the shape called a “spatha” but longer and actually, most Europeans used rather similar swords at the time (so the term “Viking sword” is not entirely correct).

The shield was round with a buckle in the middle.

Typical viking age helmet.

From the movie “Skaldmöld”From the movie “Skaldmöld”

Håkan Norhjelm showing viking age fighting techniques.Håkan Norhjelm showing viking age fighting techniques.

This guy has all the equipment you can ask for. If you look at Norman knights

and knights in general, not much changes for hundreds of years with the armor.

 When people think of Viking age weapons, they usually think first of the battle axe, and the image that forms in their mind is a massive weapon that only a troll could wield. In reality, battle axes in the Viking age were light, fast, and well balanced, and were good for speedy, deadly attacks, as well as for a variety of nasty tricks.  The axe was often the choice of the poorest man in the Viking age. Even the lowliest farm had to have a wood axe (right) for cutting and splitting wood. In desperation, a poor man could pick up the farm axe and use it in a fight. Axes meant for battle were designed a bit differently than farm axes. The photo to the left shows two reproduction axes based on 10th century finds, while the photo on the right shows a historic 10th century axe head. Axe heads were made of iron and were single edged. A wide variety of axe head shapes were used in the Viking age. The sketch to the right shows three different 11th century axe heads, while the photo to the left shows three earlier axe heads. In the early part of the Viking era, the cutting edge was generally 7 to 15cm (3-6in) long, while later, axes became much larger. The cutting edge of the largest of the axe heads shown to the right is 22cm (9in) long. The edge of this axe is made of hardened steel welded to the iron head. The join line is clearly visible in the sketch and in the historical axe head. The steel permitted the axe to hold a better edge than iron would have allowed. Some axe heads were elaborately decorated with inlays of precious metals, notably the Mammen axe head. The head is decorated on every flat surface with inlays of gold and silver and was found in a rich grave that dates from the year 971.When people think of Viking age weapons, they usually think first of the battle axe, and the image that forms in their mind is a massive weapon that only a troll could wield. In reality, battle axes in the Viking age were light, fast, and well balanced, and were good for speedy, deadly attacks, as well as for a variety of nasty tricks.

The axe was often the choice of the poorest man in the Viking age. Even the lowliest farm had to have a wood axe (right) for cutting and splitting wood. In desperation, a poor man could pick up the farm axe and use it in a fight.

 The spear was the most commonly used weapon in the Viking age. It was often the choice of someone who was unable to afford a sword.  During the Viking age, spear heads took many forms. The photo to the left shows a modern reproduction, typical of the late Viking age. The top photo to the right shows an 11th century spearhead, while the bottom photo to the right shows a 10thcentury spearhead. Earlier spearheads were about 20cm (8in) long, while later ones were as long as 60cm (24in). In chapter 55 of Laxdæla saga, Helgi had a spear with a blade one ell long (about 50cm, or 20in). He thrust the blade through Bolli’s shield, and through Bolli. The photo below shows an assortment of Viking era spear heads, illustrating the variations in size and shape. The top-most spearhead in the photo is 38cm (15in) long, giving a sense of scale.  In chapter 8 of Króka-Refs saga, Refur made a spear for himself which could be used for cutting, thrusting, or hewing. Refur split Þorgils in two down to his shoulders with the spear. Some spear heads, including all those in the photo above, had “wings” on the head, useful for a variety of tricks. These are called krókspjót (barbed spear) in the stories. Grettir used a barbed spear with a blade so thin and long that he was able to pierce all the way through Þórir and into Ögmundur with a single thrust, right up to the wings. Both men were killed by the thrust, as is told in chapter 19 of Grettis saga. The spear was the most commonly used weapon in the Viking age. It was often the choice of someone who was unable to afford a sword.

During the Viking era, helmets typically were made from several pieces of iron riveted together , called a spangenhelm style of helm. It’s easier to make a helmet this way, requiring less labor, which may be why it was used.During the Viking era, helmets typically were made from several pieces of iron riveted together , called a spangenhelm style of helm. It’s easier to make a helmet this way, requiring less labor, which may be why it was used.

TViking Swords  More than anything else, the sword was the mark of a warrior in the Viking age. They were difficult to make, and therefore rare and expensive. The author of Fóstbræðra saga wrote in chapter 3 that in saga age Iceland, very few men were armed with swords. Of the 100+ weapons found in Viking age pagan burials in Iceland, only 16 are swords. A sword might be the most expensive item that a man owned. The one sword whose value is given in the sagas (given by King Hákon to Höskuldur in chapter 13 of Laxdæla saga)was said to be worth a half mark of gold. In saga age Iceland, that represented the value of sixteen milk-cows, a very substantial sum. Swords were heirlooms. They were given names and passed from father to son for generations. The loss of a sword was a catastrophe. Laxdæla saga (chapter 30) tells how Geirmundr planned to abandon his wife Þuríðr and their baby daughter in Iceland. Þuríðr boarded Geirmund’s ship at night while he slept. She took his sword, Fótbítr (Leg Biter) and left behind their baby. Þuríðr rowed away in her boat, but not before the baby’s cries woke Geirmundr. He called across the water to Þuríðr, begging her to return with the sword.  He told her to “take your daughter and whatever wealth you want.”She asked, “Do you mind the loss of your sword so much?”“I’d have to lose a great deal of money before I minded as much the loss of that sword.”   “Then you shall never have it, since you have treated me dishonorably.”  The photo to the left shows a reproduction of a Viking era sword. The original on which it is based was found in east Iceland and dates from the 10th century. The sketches to the right show some of the variations in size and shape that existed in Viking era blades and hilts. The photo below shows five Viking era sword hilts, illustrating the variations in guards and pommels that existed during the Viking age. The hilts are generally classified using a system devised by Jan Petersen and published in 1919. Since a given style was in use only during a given period, the hilt style can be used to help date a sword.  The crossguard of the middle hilt has been pulled up to reveal the details of the shoulder, where the blade narrows to form the tang. reproduction swordTViking Swords

More than anything else, the sword was the mark of a warrior in the Viking age. They were difficult to make, and therefore rare and expensive. The author of Fóstbræðra saga wrote in chapter 3 that in saga age Iceland, very few men were armed with swords. Of the 100+ weapons found in Viking age pagan burials in Iceland, only 16 are swords.

n the Viking age, fighting men used large, round, wooden shields gripped in the center from behind an iron boss. A reproduction shield is shown to the left, and a historical shield from the Oseberg ship to the right. Shields represent one of several instances where the literary sources and archaeological sources do not agree on how Viking weapons were constructed. The Norwegian Gulaþing and Frostaþing laws specify the construction of a shield. The shield should be made of wood with three iron bands and a handle fastened to the back side by iron nails. A later revision of the law says that the shield should be made of a double layer of boards (tvibyrðr), and the front should be painted red and white.  A few shields have survived from the Viking age, notably the shields from the Gokstad ship, which date from the 10th century. The ship was equipped with 32 shields, several of which survive intact. They were made from a single layer of planks butted together, with no iron bands, and the fronts were painted black and yellow. Typical Viking shields were 80-90cm (32-36 inches) in diameter. Some were larger, such as the Gokstad shields, which were 94cm (37in) across. Based on surviving remnants, some of the smaller shields appear to have been as small as 70cm (28in) in diameter. All the surviving examples are made from solid butted planks, although literary evidence, such as the 10th century Frankish poem Waltharius, and the Gulaþing laws, suggests that shields were made of laminated wood. No archaeological evidence supports this style of construction during the Viking era in Norse lands. Surviving shields are made from spruce, fir, or pine. Again, literary evidence contradicts and suggests that shields were made with linden wood (Tilia, commonly known as basswood in North America). The word lind (linden) is used to mean “shield” in poems such as Völuspá , and the term lindiskjöldr (linden shield) is used in some sagas. Linden certainly has advantages over other species of wood for shield use. It is lightweight and does not split as readily under impact as do other types of wood. The Gokstad shields were approximately 7mm (1/4in) thick near the center and were chamfered so they were thinner at the edges. Most surviving shields are in the range between 6mm (1/4in) and 12mm (1/2in) thick, although shields thicker than 30mm (1-1/8in) have been found. n the Viking age, fighting men used large, round, wooden shields gripped in the center from behind an iron boss.

I hope this has given a picture of the ancestors a bit clearer than that of the fantastic and romantic remnants of the Victorian era.

 

Our heritage, ANY heritage is worth preserving or understanding.

Without a past how can we navigate towards a future?

fuckyeahnorsemen:  Viking ship at Gudvangen, Norway (by scott photos)

Viking ship at Gudvangen, Norway (by scott photos)

5 thoughts on “How did Viking Age people really look?

  1. rautakyy says:

    I really liked this post. It is so rare and good thing when people make the effort to understand history. Not just history as series of events, but as culture. So, that the people of ancient times are seen as having faces. I especially liked that you arised the fact that viking is not representing ethnicity, as this is a subject widely misunderstood.

    Here in Finland, we speak generally about viking age, though we have only wery little of evidence that some finns did go to “viking” expeditions. On the other hand we have a lot of swordfinds (more than Sweden, I believe). Since in graves with swords in them, there are always spears in them too (in fact, it is more likely to find several spears in a grave if it has a sword in it) the spear was the main weapon even if you could affor a sword. Our ethnicity is not norse, but our economic culture was much the same as in Scandinavia.

    I have my doubts about the reproductions Annika Larsson has made. They seem wery specific and extravacant to be representative of the agrarian culture of the Norse. Though I have not read her study.

    • When it comes to Annika, she does her research for the museum of Uppsala, but i belive it is still in it´s infancy so it´s still very much theory.
      She doesent build everything on Scandinavian finds though but on clothing traditions in Europe (and beyond) where vikings travelled and from where they imported.

      Either way, normal Scandinavians wouldnt dress that way anyway.
      It would be far to expencive for almost anyone.

      Since you are from Finland i´m not surprised you take our history , and especially the “mechanics” of it, seriously.
      I am Swedish and Forn Sedare (Asatru) and the way our cultures are sometimes even in semi serious, academic circles, picked appart and divided into things like “politics, culture” and “religion” as if these terms had any bearing on a 1000 years old culture.
      As you say , things here where very integrated and religion not some separate entety from the rest of life.
      In the same way life as we live it now is just an extension of what came before us.

      What i find, however, most pressing is to take away all the silly viking worship that often makes it´s way in to some circles of Heathens and at least make sure people outside of the north has a BASIC understanding of European and Nordic history, since it is often theirs too (one way or another).

      I can imagine that areas of todays Finland was well off economically and had chieftans in enough number with a good power base.
      It could also be that you have been lucky enough to find some very important graves ( i would like to read more about Finnish archeology).

      Western Finland has shores connecting to Swedish Uppland and Gotland (Swedish, Danish and simply Gutish), both important trading places and i´m only guessing that there was probably some important town, fort or similar for merchants on the Finnish side too (actually, Finnish history is the next thing i will study….and it´s all you fault. Kiitos! 😀 ).

      Keep in touch, i need somone who knows Finnish history around! 😉

  2. rautakyy says:

    Tack så mycket. Thank you for your reply. Yes, I will stay in contact with pleasure, and look into your other articles as well. Some time ago I wrote about this same subject, and I think you might enjoy my article on much the same issue as yours:

    http://rautakyy.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/viking/

    I did not include as many pictures as you did, but now I see how the effort you have made looking for pictures has made your article all the more informative. As they say, one picture is worth thousand words. By the way, it is me in the only picture rowing a reconstructed ship of late viking age.

    If you are interrested in finnish viking age, I would recommend archeologist Pirkko-Liisa Lehtosalo-Hilander and from her published works the “Luistari – A History of Weapons and Ornaments”. It is an archeological study in english, but it also holds rather good general info of the results of her years of research into the finnish tribal culture by means of archeology. If anyone, she is the one who can tell what the finns looked like in the viking age. There is no doubt she is our leading archaelogist in this particular era. There are a lot of excavated items that show the connection by the Baltic sea. In fact in many ways the sea was not a separating barrier, but a “highway” connecting people all around it.

    In respect of religion I hold in high regard the fact that the Asatru is one of those religions which do not deny the existance of other gods or the right of other religions to exist. I see myself as one of those “worst kind of pagans” as described by Ansgarius “the apostole of the North”. He said they were the men who did not participate in any rituals. “Men of their own power” was the specific name he called them by. You scandinavians are fortunate, that your ancestors religion still lives, but our finnish gods and rituals are not well known anymore. There are some finns who try to revive what is left by the scriptures of priests who dispised those gods, but sadly most of our forefathers gods are left to us only by their name and possibly a hint what was their respective role for the society.

    I have to say, it was heartwarming you chose to write: “our history”. There are so many people who like to draw lines between nations, that it is important to remember we have common history.

  3. You use one of my pictures without permission:
    “Trelleborg Viking Market_08 (by René Eriksen”.
    I’ve removed the picture from flickr, after a request from the characters in the picture. But my photo is apparently also on this url: http://29.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l9qmilXHxe1qe23mao1_500.jpg

    So I must ask you to remove the picture from your blog. All my pictures on Flickr are licensed © All rights reserved Rene Eriksen
    Thank you in advance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s