12 Bizarre Aspects of Every Day Life In Ancient Viking Culture
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.
- Photo: Johan Peter Raadsig / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
They Kept Slaves And Practiced Human Sacrifice
The Vikings captured prisoners on their many sea raids and brought them home to Scandinavia, turning them into slaves called thralls. The warriors sailed across Europe, from Spain to Byzantium, and raided these lands, perhaps in part to traffic women in an elaborate slavery network. Archaeological sites have yielded numerous iron slave collars; there's also evidence for plantations populated by thralls in Sweden.
Clearly, human life was hardly sacrosanct to the Vikings, but apparently they regarded it highly enough to sacrifice it to their gods. Christian chroniclers recount horrific slaughters of victims, while numerous ritual mass burials have been discovered across Scandinavia. The bodies contained in them had likely been placed there for religious purposes.
Dead Men Were Put On Boats And Set On Fire
Viking warriors, renowned sailors that they were, got pretty epic cremations. A corpse would be put on a ship, ranging in size from a rowboat to a warship. Along with them went important items that they'd need in the next life, like jewelry, their animals, and weapons. The boat was then set on fire - probably while still on land - so that the man would go to the afterlife in a blaze of glory. Most of these ship burials were for men, although a few ladies got this honor.
Sadly, the "grave goods" put on these burning boats often included slaves. The Vikings ran a slave economy, and high-status individuals would often have had their human attendants killed and sent to the afterlife with them.
They Got Around By Skiing, Sledding, Or Skating
Winters got quite frigid in Scandinavia, and the ground would freeze over. How would the Vikings hunt, or even manage to get around? Simple: they slid on top of the ice. More than one hundred skis made of pine wood have been found and preserved in northern bogs.
Skates were also popular, and crafted from the bones of moose or horses. Sledges have also been found in the graves of high-status Viking women.
They Wore Reverse Mullets
When the Vikings hit England, they were notable for their unique hairstyle. They wore a sort of reverse mullet, keeping it long and shaggy in the front and clipped short in the back. The Church wasn't too fond of this style, which was echoed by the Normans who invaded England (they were also descended from Vikings).
- Photo: Udo Schröter / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
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.
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.