When you think of Vikings, the first thing that comes into mind are savages with swords, long spears, and heavy armor. However, Norse people also made unique and intricate jewelry with a variety of materials including iron, gold, bronze, silver, resin, and amber. Early in the Viking Era, which was about 800 CE., these adornments were simple, but as time went by, the pieces became more ornate. Are you ready to learn more about Viking jewelry? Let’s go!
Viking Use of Jewelry
By occupation, Vikings were warriors and farmers. Both men and women of Viking culture would wear a wide array of jewelry items and shiny metal objects to add glamour to their dark world.
It was an overwhelming situation for the Vikings who loved metals like gold and silver but could not source the from Scandinavia, and most metals, other than iron, were from foreign lands. It’s believed that most of the silver and gold would come from coins traded overseas by the Viking merchants and traders. It’s probably this that helped fuel the admiration of jewelry in Viking times. Silver, in particular, was a favorite of the old Norse people.
Not all Viking jewelry was metal. Norsemen also wore beautiful ornaments using beads, made from precious rocks and stones. Nonetheless, it was rare for Vikings to set stones in their jewelry even though this art form was popular before Viking times.
Designed often for both function and aesthetics, silver armbands, brooches, and bracelets were not only used for adornment, but also as currency for buying goods from the local market, or to establish one’s status and worth. During the Viking Era, wearing jewelry was the safest way to protect it.
Viking Jewelry Items
The Vikings created many different types of jewelry including rings, earrings, necklaces, armbands, pins and brooches. The commonality in most Viking jewelry was the detailed and intricate craftsmanship and style depicting animal designs.
Necklaces and Neck Rings
During the Viking era, necklaces were made from a variety of materials such as glass beads, precious stones, metal charms, amber, and resin. They were built around a metal wire or a natural fiber in several lengths and sizes. The pendants on the necklaces were often Nordic religious symbols, keepsakes, or gifts that held personal meaning to the wearer.
According to the archeological evidence, Vikings wearing torc necklaces is more prevalent in contrast to the evidence on neck-rings. Most neck-rings across Europe were found in hoards and not at a grave site. Neck rings created in gold, silver, and bronze were believed to be worn by both genders as a display of affluence and as a form of currency in commercial transactions.
Pendants and Amulets
In Viking jewelry, the word pendant signifies a broad category of items from Mjolnir pendants, Yggdrasil pendants, Valknut pendants, and more. As much as the ancient Norsemen used many distinct pendants, Thor’s hammer, known as Mjolnir, appears to be the most frequently worn of them all. Other examples include small weapons such as axes and arrowheads, perforated coins, the tree of life, crosses, and Valknut symbols. However, these charms have been found in very few graves, suggesting that they were not commonly worn. Cross pendants were the rarest archeological findings, which indicates that only a few Vikings accepted Christianity during this time.
Rings and Earrings
Rings were famous among the Vikings. There have been several discoveries of rings in grave sites. They typically had an uneven width, with most of them being open-ended, possibly to allow them to fit on different-sized fingers with minimal effort.
Earrings were the least common form of Viking jewelry. They did not exist in Viking culture until they were unearthed in hoards amongst other types of jewelry. Nordic earrings were quite elaborate and could be worn over the entire ear in contrast to the modern ones.
Beads and Brooches
Viking beaded jewelry was typically made of amber or glass and were some of the most common additions on necklaces. Archeological evidence from Viking graves suggests that these treasures were rare and not worn by many. Moreover, these Viking ornaments only had one, two, or three beads maximum. Finding more than three beads on a neckpiece was extremely rare, which suggests that they were valuable, perhaps symbolizing one’s wealth and status in society.
Viking brooches were very popular and an essential everyday item, used for fastening and holding clothing and cloaks in place. They came in an assortment of styles and details, with two primary types used by the Vikings. The first one was the Penannular or ring brooch, typically worn by Viking men. The second was the oval brooch which was favored by Viking women and was used to fasten aprons, dresses or cloaks. These oval brooches were typically much more ornate and detailed. However, they are believed to have gone out of fashion at around 1000 CE and were replaced by more fanciful designs of brooches.
Arm Rings and Arm Bands
Arm rings and armbands were in massive demand in Viking culture. Arm rings were very intricate and detailed, crafted from precious metals such as gold and silver. They represented societal standing and were a display of wealth.
Like neck rings, armbands served a dual purpose – ornamental and commercial. They came in numerous shapes and designs. Some were spiral in design, wrapping themselves several times around the arm while giving a firm grip, and making it easier for the wearer to tear a piece of the end during an economic transaction. Other arm-rings were only long enough to wrap around three-quarter of the arm.
Vikings were not the barbarians as most people assume, they were sophisticated people with a rich culture that has more in familiar with most other cultures of their era.
What kind of Viking jewelry would you wear?
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