Ancient Norse seafarering Vikings were well-known as explorers, traders, and warriors. But when they got down, they weren't messing around. Sure, Norse Sagas tell of epic voyages, and etymological studies have granted insight into the lands to which they traveled and settled. Archeological evidence has revealed records of weapons and armor they fought with. But what our current perception of the Vikings sometimes overlooks, and shamefully so, is that, in addition to thrilling expeditions to far-flung lands, Vikings had some pretty wild festivities. Maybe you're wonder "What were Viking parties like?"
Viking parties were some of the grandest get-togethers in human history. What did they entail? Great food (lots of it), the occasional sacrifice, and days upon days of live music, party games, and feats of strength. Vikings partied with the best of them, and Viking party facts below will leave you exhausted and hung over by association tomorrow.
What's a Party Without Human Sacrifice? Or at Least a Few Dead Goats
Vikings used parties as a way to show deference to gods and the mysterious forces they believed controlled the world. This meant holding ritual sacrifices. There were at least four fixed blót sacrifices each year, with the changing of the seasons. A blót was a quid pro quo sacrifice - the gods get a dead animal, the Vikings get something like good weather or luck in battle.
Additional sacrifices were performed when Vikings required aid from the gods for a particular purpose, such as a harvest. Harvest festival? Time for some blood letting. Among the sacrificed were plenty of birds, goats, and horses. By some accounts, Vikings may even sacrifice the occasional human, if they believed it would earn them favor with the gods.
Massive Public Gathering Halls Were Converted to Party Central for Days on End
You know parties are serious business when you hold them in designated structures. The Vikings did just that in their mead halls. These grand buildings were often on the estate of a powerful lord, and were large enough to contain awesome festivities. Archeological digs have revealed some halls measured as long as 50 meters, nearly half the length of a soccer field. One building found is 14 meters (about 46 feet) wide, and had four entrances and a fireplace. The building is similar to those described in Beowulf. Epic literature, epic parties.
Some Viking Parties Lasted Almost Two Weeks, and Went Nonstop
These days, you consider a party that lasts all night impressive. The Vikings would've laughed at our feeble attempts to celebrate - even their minor feasts lasted for days. These were typically held after an expedition or wedding. Major feasts, such as the one used to mark the winter solstice, may have lasted 12 days. The long winter celebration, known as Yule, was a source for many present day Christmas traditions.
"Honey, what do you wanna do for Christmas this year?"
"How 'bout 12 day of hardcore drinking and death games in a giant wooden hall?"
Viking Feasts Were Basically Just Giant Booze and Meat Orgies with Vegetable Fluffers
Vikings understood a party with no refreshments is no party. They stocked feasts with food and drink that far outclassed a daily meal, offering guests a variety of roasted meats, among which poultry, horse, and beef were particular favorites. They had side platters of greens, fruits, and buttered vegetables. Vikings also encouraged imbibing alcohol in quantity. Beer, ale, mead, and fruit wines were among some of their favored drinks. During the copious drinking bouts, they made toasts—some to the Æsir, their gods, others to kings or men who had performed noble deeds.
So basically the holed up in giant huts for weeks on end and loaded up on so much meat, booze, and veggies they didn't have to leave. Yes please.
They Rocked Out to Music So Harsh Visitors Couldn't Stomach Listening to It
Like us, Vikings enjoyed live music. Archeologists have recovered flutes, hornpipes, and various stringed instruments from their settlements. According to stories from Arab travelers who may have visited Viking lands, their songs, sung in a state of drunken revelry, were harsh on the ears (makes sense, if you know anything about Scandinavian metal).
One such account, from Ibrahim Ibn Yacoub Al Tartushi, compared their singing to wild animal calls. During parties, they would also listen to poetry recited by skilled artists known as Skalds. Many of these poems recounted the great undertakings and long history of the Viking people. Which also kinda sounds like Scandinavian metal.
Activities Included Board Games, Rap Battles, and Excessive Drinking Contests
What celebration would be complete without party games? To pass the time indoors, Vikings rolled dice or played early forms of chess. They also had their own strategy board games. like Hnefatafl.
Viking sagas tell of a drinking game called flyting, in which men and women teamed up and took turns reciting poetry. They boasted of their exploits and denigrated their challengers, like a rap battle. They would also sometimes participate in straight-up drinking challenges, seeing who could last the longest while drinking to excess.
Inebriated Sword Fighting and One-on-One Tug of War Took the Party Up a Notch
Outdoors, Vikings engaged in tests of strength and skill. They had weight-lifting contests to see who could hoist the heaviest stones, wrestled, and held archery and sword fighting competitions. Another game, called toga-honk, was a twist on tug of war. Researchers don't know all the details of how toga-honk worked, though one modern interpretation involves men sitting on the ground, facing another, feet pressed together, knees bent. Each pulls on a rope, trying to straighten his legs and flip his opponent over.
Drunken Revelry + Brutal Party = Mass Casualties
Many Viking party games had an inherent element of risk. Hnútukast involved revelers throwing leftover bones at one another with the express purpose of inflicting pain. Feats of masculine strength resulted in serious injury, as did a full contact ball-and-bat game. A swimming contest involved holding opponents underwater for as long as possible,
Bear in mind these games could have been played during or after days of excessive drinking. So drunk, full contact baseball. Yeah, no harm in that. Neither in drunken drowning games.
Other Viking challenges were so physical participants routinely suffer grievous bodily injury, and sometimes death. At least one story tells of a man having his ribs crushed during a wrestling duel. Other tales reference team ball games devolving into bloody feuds, complete with broken bones and axes driven into unsuspecting skulls.