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12 Bizarre Aspects of Every Day Life In Ancient Viking Culture

Updated September 23, 2021 211.3k views12 items

Whether your name was Snorri or Erik, your daily life as a Viking was a meat-filled, chess-playing, human-sacrificing experience. Contrary to what you might think, daily life for Vikings didn't always involve going out to sea or violently conquering new lands. In fact, these Nordic seamen and their families had to keep up a certain lifestyle back at home.

What was it like to be a Viking? If you were a man, you would farm by day, sleep in one big room with your entire family (and your goats) at night, and occasionally pop over to the local chieftan's longhouse for a feast with some lovely honey mead. If you were a woman, you were in charge of keeping the domestic side of things running smoothly. But don't worry if your marriage didn't work out - you were probably able to divorce your husband, even if the practice wasn't common. Vikings of both sexes went about on skis in the winter and the literati jotted notes in runes - maybe recording their brutal slavery practices. It's shocking, but such was Viking life.

Read on to discover more about Viking daily life.

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  • Humans And Animals Lived Together In One Room

    Viking houses usually consisted of just one big room, which humans and animals alike shared. If you were lucky, that one-room house might be split in two, so you and your family could sleep next to, but not underneath, the hooves of your sheep.

    As time went on, richer Vikings got bigger homes with more space - meaning they had more room for food, livestock, and people. The largest single room, the "longhouse," would be a hall with a hearth and cooking pit.

  • Photo: Public Domain / via Wikimedia Commons

    Women Could Divorce Their Husbands

    Women did not have it easy in the pre-modern society, but they did have some rights. They ran households, kept the larder stocked, wove and mended sails, and were also bosses of their own families.

    While laws were written by men for men, they did allow women to divorce their husbands in a relatively simple process.

  • Photo: Alessandro Grussu / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    They Played A Lot Of Chess

    In their down time, Viking men and women played hneftafl, a Germanic strategy game similar to chess. A striking ancient chess set from twelfth-century Norway is on display at the British Museum. Called the Lewis Chessmen, the pieces were carved from whale teeth and walrus ivory.

    Even Norse sagas featured heroes and kings playing the game. One poem, called Saga of King Olof the Saint, featured a match between two historical figures: Cnut the Great, king of England, Norway, and Denmark, and one of his nobles, a man named Ulf.

  • Photo: insidious and subtle M / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Literate Men And Women Wrote In Runes

    If you were a Viking looking to jot down a grocery list, you'd use Futhark, a runic alphabet, to do it. Containing 24 letters, it was used to write out Germanic languages (and perhaps for mystical purposes) and appeared on numerous stones throughout Northern Europe.