What would a Norseman in the early 11th century have worn as daily clothing?

What would a Norseman in the early 11th century have worn as daily clothing?

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Most of the Norse clothing we know about seems to come from burials. However, in many cultures, bodies dressed for burial are wearing either "good" clothes, or special clothes for the dead. Is there any evidence to suggest that ordinary, everyday wear for Norsemen (or, indeed, Norse women) was different to that which we see in excavated graves?

I passed the question to Cathy Raymond. Although she does not earn her living in either history or in textiles (due, I suspect, to her preference for a non-gruel based diet), I've read her research for a couple of years, and I've come to trust her opinion. One of the reasons I place faith in her opinion is that after answering the question, she offered the responsible academic caveat that "just about all of what we 'know' about Viking clothing is deduction from slender evidence."

It would probably depend on the weather. IMO:

In warm weather: A linen shirt and linen trousers, probably linen underpants shaped like knee-length boxer shorts, probably with a leather belt and leather shoes.

In cold weather: same as above, but with a wool tunic and wool trousers being worn over the linen ones (or instead, depending on an individual's level of wealth). Some kind of wool footwrapping or stocking (this part is pretty speculative but there is support for it, and it makes a lot of sense given the climate), a wool, fur, or wool-and-fur hat, and a wool cloak for traveling or other prolonged presence outdoors where one wouldn't be working. The style of the wool tunic probably varied by culture; the farther east you went, the more likely a wrapped jacket (shaped kind of like a modern Japanese gi) would have been used instead of a closed tunic.

A very rich Viking man might have a silk tunic for special occasions, or at least a fine quality wool one trimmed with silk or silver-or-gold-brocaded ribbon, but you asked about daily clothing. :-)

Hurstwic's article is pretty good but it concentrates heavily on western Vikings (Norwegians and Danes, mostly, including the ones that stole… er settled land in the British Isles) instead of the eastern ones (Swedes, including the ones that stole, er… settled land in what's now Russia).

In short, the general profile of menswear among the 11th century Vikings/Norsemen is pretty similar to what you'd put on in the morning--i.e., pants and a shirt. But the details--shape, fiber, modes of fastening, how shoes were made and worn--have changed a lot in 1,000 years.

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The Viking Age was a period of considerable religious change in Scandinavia. Part of the popular image of the Vikings is that they were all pagans, with a hatred of the Christian Church, but this view is very misleading. It is true that almost the entire population of Scandinavia was pagan at the beginning of the Viking Age, but the Vikings had many gods, and it was no problem for them to accept the Christian god alongside their own. Most scholars today believe that Viking attacks on Christian churches had nothing to do with religion, but more to do with the fact that monasteries were typically both wealthy and poorly defended, making them an easy target for plunder.

. monasteries were typically both wealthy and poorly defended, making them an easy target for plunder.

The Vikings came into contact with Christianity through their raids, and when they settled in lands with a Christian population, they adopted Christianity quite quickly. This was true in Normandy, Ireland, and throughout the British Isles. Although contemporary accounts say little about this, we can see it in the archaeological evidence. Pagans buried their dead with grave goods, but Christians normally didn't, and this makes it relatively easy to spot the change in religion.

As well as conversion abroad, the Viking Age also saw a gradual conversion in Scandinavia itself, as Anglo-Saxon and German missionaries arrived to convert the pagans. By the mid-11th century, Christianity was well established in Denmark and most of Norway. Although there was a temporary conversion in Sweden in the early 11th century, it wasn't until the mid-12th century that Christianity became established there. As part of the process of conversion the Christians took over traditional pagan sites. A good example of this can be seen at Gamle Uppsala in Sweden, where the remains of an early church stand alongside a series of huge pagan burial mounds.


Knife Edit

Two distinct classes of knives were in use by Vikings. The more common one was a rather plain, single edge knife of normal construction, called a knifr. These are found in most graves, being the only weapon allowed for all, even slaves. Smaller versions served as the everyday utility tool, while longer versions were likely meant for hunting or combat or both. Weapon knives sometimes had ornamental inlays on the blade. [4] The construction was similar to traditional Scandinavian knives. The tang ran through a more or less cylindrical handle, the blade was straight with the edge sweeping upward at the tip to meet the back of the blade in a point. [4] The knife apparently played an important role for all Scandinavians. This is evidenced by the large number of knives found in burial sites of not just the men, but the women and the children too. [5]

The other type was the seax. The type associated with Vikings is the so-called broken-back style seax. It was usually a bit heavier than the regular knife and would serve as a machete- or falchion-like arm. A wealthier man might own a larger seax, some being effectively swords. With the single edge and heavy blade, this somewhat crude weapon would be relatively simple to use and produce, compared to the regular sword. A rather long tang is fitted to many examples, indicating they may have had a longer handle for two-handed use. The smaller knife-like seaxes were likely within the fabrication ability of a common blacksmith.

The Seax was in widespread use among the Migration period Germanic tribes, and is even eponymous of the Saxons. It appears in Scandinavia from the 4th century, and shows a pattern of distribution from the lower Elbe (the Irminones) to Anglo-Saxon England. While its popularity on the continent declines with the end of the Migration period, it remained in the British Isles where it was taken up by the Vikings. The large, sword-like seaxes are primarily found in connection with Viking settlements in England and Ireland, but do not appear very commonly in Scandinavia. [3]

Sword Edit

The Viking Age sword was for single-handed use to be combined with a shield, with a double edged blade length of up to 90 cm. Its shape was still very much based on the Roman spatha with a tight grip, long deep fuller and no pronounced cross-guard. It was not exclusive to the Vikings, but rather was used throughout Europe [6]

Swords were very costly to make, and a sign of high status. They were rarely used and some swords found in graves were probably not sturdy enough for battle or raiding, and instead were likely decorative items. [7] [8] Like Roman spathae, they were worn in leather-bound wooden scabbards suspended from a strap across the right shoulder. [ citation needed ] Early blades were pattern welded, a technique in which strips of wrought iron and mild steel were twisted and forged together, with the addition of a hardened edge. [9] Later blades of homogeneous steel, imported probably from the Rhineland, many bearing inlaid makers' marks and inscriptions, such as INGELRII or VLFBERHT. Local craftsmen often added their own elaborately decorated hilts, and many swords were given names, such as Leg-biter and Gold-hilt. [10] The sword grip was usually made of an organic material, such as wood, horn, or antler (which does not often survive for archaeological uncovering), and may well have been wound around with textile. [11]

Owning a sword was a matter of high honour. Persons of status might own ornately decorated swords with silver accents and inlays. Most Viking warriors would own a sword as one raid was usually enough to afford a good blade. Most freemen would own a sword with goðar, jarls and sometimes richer freemen owning much more ornately decorated swords. The poor farmers would use an axe or spear instead but after a couple of raids they would then have enough to buy a sword. One sword mentioned in the Laxdæla saga was valued at half a crown, which would correspond to the value of 16 milk-cows. Constructing such weapons was a highly specialized endeavour and many sword-blades were imported from foreign lands, such as the Rhineland. Swords could take up to a month to forge and were of such high value that they were passed on from generation to generation. Often, the older the sword, the more valuable it became. [12]

A distinct class of early single edged swords is known from Eastern Norway at the time. These had the same grips as the double edged swords, and blades of comparable length. The blades varied from long and slim, like the more common two edged swords, to somewhat heavy, giving the weapon a more cleaver-like balance. [13] Confusingly, the same finds are sometimes classified as "sabres" or "seaxes" in English literature. [14]

As mentioned above, a sword was so valued in Norse society that good blades were prized by successive generations of warriors. There is even some evidence from Viking burials for the deliberate and possibly ritual "killing" of swords, which involved the blade being bent so that it was unusable. Because Vikings were often buried with their weapons, the "killing" of swords may have served two functions. A ritualistic function in retiring a weapon with a warrior, and a practical function in deterring any grave robbers from disturbing the burial in order to get one of these costly weapons. [15] [11] Indeed, archaeological finds of the bent and brittle pieces of metal sword remains testify to the regular burial of Vikings with weapons, as well as the habitual "killing" of swords. [16]


Collapse of Rome Edit

Starting in the 2nd century, various indicators of Roman civilization began to decline, including urbanization, seaborne commerce, and population. Archaeologists have identified only 40 percent as many Mediterranean shipwrecks from the 3rd century as from the first. [2] Estimates of the population of the Roman Empire during the period from 150 to 400 suggest a fall from 65 million to 50 million, a decline of more than 20 percent. Some scholars have connected this de-population to the Dark Ages Cold Period (300–700), when a decrease in global temperatures impaired agricultural yields. [3] [4]

Early in the 3rd century Germanic peoples migrated south from Scandinavia and reached the Black Sea, creating formidable confederations which opposed the local Sarmatians. In Dacia (present-day Romania) and on the steppes north of the Black Sea the Goths, a Germanic people, established at least two kingdoms: Therving and Greuthung. [5]

The arrival of the Huns in 372–375 ended the history of these kingdoms. The Huns, a confederation of central Asian tribes, founded an empire. They had mastered the difficult art of shooting composite recurve bows from horseback. The Goths sought refuge in Roman territory (376), agreeing to enter the Empire as unarmed settlers. However many bribed the Danube border-guards into allowing them to bring their weapons.

The discipline and organization of a Roman legion made it a superb fighting unit. The Romans preferred infantry to cavalry because infantry could be trained to retain the formation in combat, while cavalry tended to scatter when faced with opposition. While a barbarian army could be raised and inspired by the promise of plunder, the legions required a central government and taxation to pay for salaries, constant training, equipment, and food. The decline in agricultural and economic activity reduced the empire's taxable income and thus its ability to maintain a professional army to defend itself from external threats.

  • Angles, Saxons
  • Franks (100.000)
  • Goths
  • Visigoths (200.000)
  • Ostrogoths (100.000)
  • Huns
  • Vandals (80.000)

In the Gothic War (376–382), the Goths revolted and confronted the main Roman army in the Battle of Adrianople (378). By this time, the distinction in the Roman army between Roman regulars and barbarian auxiliaries had broken down, and the Roman army comprised mainly barbarians and soldiers recruited for a single campaign. The general decline in discipline also led to the use of smaller shields and lighter weaponry. [6] Not wanting to share the glory, Eastern Emperor Valens ordered an attack on the Therving infantry under Fritigern without waiting for Western Emperor Gratian, who was on the way with reinforcements. While the Romans were fully engaged, the Greuthung cavalry arrived. Only one-third of the Roman army managed to escape. This represented the most shattering defeat that the Romans had suffered since the Battle of Cannae (216 BC), according to the Roman military writer Ammianus Marcellinus. [7] The core army of the Eastern Roman Empire was destroyed, Valens was killed, and the Goths were freed to lay waste to the Balkans, including the armories along the Danube. As Edward Gibbon comments, "The Romans, who so coolly and so concisely mention the acts of justice which were exercised by the legions, reserve their compassion and their eloquence for their own sufferings, when the provinces were invaded and desolated by the arms of the successful Barbarians." [8]

The empire lacked the resources, and perhaps the will, to reconstruct the professional mobile army destroyed at Adrianople, so it had to rely on barbarian armies to fight for it. The Eastern Roman Empire succeeded in buying off the Goths with tribute. The Western Roman Empire proved less fortunate. Stilicho, the western empire's half-Vandal military commander, stripped the Rhine frontier of troops to fend off invasions of Italy by the Visigoths in 402–03 and by other Goths in 406–07.

Fleeing before the advance of the Huns, the Vandals, Suebi, and Alans launched an attack across the frozen Rhine near Mainz on 31 December, 406, the frontier gave way and these tribes surged into Roman Gaul. There soon followed the Burgundians and bands of the Alamanni. In the fit of anti-barbarian hysteria which followed, the Western Roman Emperor Honorius had Stilicho summarily beheaded (408). Stilicho submitted his neck, "with a firmness not unworthy of the last of the Roman generals", wrote Gibbon. Honorius was left with only worthless courtiers to advise him. In 410, the Visigoths led by Alaric I captured the city of Rome and for three days fire and slaughter ensued as bodies filled the streets, palaces were stripped of their valuables, and the invaders interrogated and tortured those citizens thought to have hidden wealth. As newly converted Christians, the Goths respected church property, but those who found sanctuary in the Vatican and in other churches were the fortunate few.

Migration Period Edit

The Goths and Vandals were only the first of many bands of peoples that flooded Western Europe in the absence of administrative governance. Some [ who? ] lived only for war and pillage and disdained Roman ways. Other peoples [9] had been in prolonged contact with the Roman civilization, and were, to a certain degree, romanized. "A poor Roman plays the Goth, a rich Goth the Roman" said King Theoderic of the Ostrogoths. [10] The subjects of the Roman empire were a mix of Roman Christian, Arian Christian, Nestorian Christian, and pagan. [ citation needed ] The Germanic peoples knew little of cities, money, or writing, and were mostly pagan, though they were becoming increasingly Arian. Arianism was a branch of Christianity that was first proposed early in the 4th century by the Alexandrian presbyter Arius. Arius proclaimed that Christ is not truly divine but a created being. His basic premise was the uniqueness of God, who is alone self-existent and immutable the Son, who as son is not self-existent, cannot be God.

During the migrations, or Völkerwanderung (wandering of the peoples), the earlier settled populations were sometimes left intact though usually partially or entirely displaced. Roman culture north of the Po River was almost entirely displaced by the migrations. Whereas the peoples of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal continued to speak the dialects of Latin that today constitute the Romance languages, the language of the smaller Roman-era population of what is now England disappeared with barely a trace in the territories settled by the Anglo-Saxons, although the Brittanic kingdoms of the west remained Brythonic speakers. The new peoples greatly altered established society, including law, culture, religion, and patterns of property ownership.

The pax Romana had provided safe conditions for trade and manufacture, and a unified cultural and educational milieu of far-ranging connections. As this was lost, it was replaced by the rule of local potentates, sometimes members of the established Romanized ruling elite, sometimes new lords of alien culture. In Aquitania, Gallia Narbonensis, southern Italy and Sicily, Baetica or southern Spain, and the Iberian Mediterranean coast, Roman culture lasted until the 6th or 7th centuries.

The gradual breakdown and transformation of economic and social linkages and infrastructure resulted in increasingly localized outlooks. This breakdown was often fast and dramatic as it became unsafe to travel or carry goods over any distance there was a consequent collapse in trade and manufacture for export. Major industries that depended on trade, such as large-scale pottery manufacture, vanished almost overnight in places like Britain. Tintagel in Cornwall, as well as several other centres, managed to obtain supplies of Mediterranean luxury goods well into the 6th century, but then lost their trading links. Administrative, educational and military infrastructure quickly vanished, and the loss of the established cursus honorum led to the collapse of the schools and to a rise of illiteracy even among the leadership. The careers of Cassiodorus (died c. 585) at the beginning of this period and of Alcuin of York (died 804) at its close were founded alike on their valued literacy. For the formerly Roman area, there was another 20 per cent decline in population between 400 and 600, or a one-third decline for 150–600. [11] In the 8th century, the volume of trade reached its lowest level. The very small number of shipwrecks found that dated from the 8th century supports this (which represents less than 2 per cent of the number of shipwrecks dated from the 1st century). There were also reforestation and a retreat of agriculture centred around 500.

The Romans had practiced two-field agriculture, with a crop grown in one field and the other left fallow and ploughed under to eliminate weeds. Systematic agriculture largely disappeared and yields declined. It is estimated that the Plague of Justinian which began in 541 and recurred periodically for 150 years thereafter killed as many as 100 million people across the world. [12] [13] Some historians such as Josiah C. Russell (1958) have suggested a total European population loss of 50 to 60 per cent between 541 and 700. [14] After the year 750, major epidemic diseases did not appear again in Europe until the Black Death of the 14th century. The disease Smallpox, which was eradicated in the late 20th century, did not definitively enter Western Europe until about 581 when Bishop Gregory of Tours provided an eyewitness account that describes the characteristic findings of smallpox. [15] Waves of epidemics wiped out large rural populations. [16] Most of the details about the epidemics are lost, probably due to the scarcity of surviving written records.

For almost a thousand years, Rome was the most politically important, richest and largest city in Europe. [17] Around 100 AD, it had a population of about 450,000, [18] and declined to a mere 20,000 during the Early Middle Ages, reducing the sprawling city to groups of inhabited buildings interspersed among large areas of ruins and vegetation.

Byzantine Empire Edit

  • Under Emperor Justinian (r. 527-565), the Byzantines were able to reestablish Roman rule in Italy and most of North Africa.
  • Justinian's conquests
  • Eastern Empire

The death of Theodosius I in 395 was followed by the division of the empire between his two sons. The Western Roman Empire disintegrated into a mosaic of warring Germanic kingdoms in the 5th century, effectively making the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople the Greek-speaking successor to the classical Roman Empire. To distinguish it from its predominantly Latin-speaking predecessor, historians began referring to the empire as "Byzantine", after the original name of Constantinople, Byzantium. Despite this, the inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire continued to regard themselves as Romans, or Romaioi, until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453.

The Eastern Roman or "Byzantine" Empire aimed to retain control of the trade routes between Europe and the Orient, which made the Empire the richest polity in Medieval Europe. Making use of their sophisticated warfare and superior diplomacy, the Byzantines managed to fend off assaults by the migrating barbarians. Their dreams of subduing the Western potentates briefly materialized during the reign of Justinian I in 527–565. Not only did Justinian restore some western territories to the Roman Empire, including Rome and the Italian peninsula itself, but he also codified Roman law (with his codification remaining in force in many areas of Europe until the 19th century) and commissioned the building of the largest and most architecturally advanced edifice of the Early Middle Ages, the Hagia Sophia. However, his reign also saw the outbreak of a bubonic plague pandemic, [19] [20] now known retroactively as the Plague of Justinian. The Emperor himself was afflicted, and within the span of less than a year, an estimated 200,000 Constantinopolites—two out of every five city residents—had died of the disease. [21]

Justinian's successors Maurice and Heraclius confronted invasions by the Avar and Slavic tribes. After the devastations by the Slavs and the Avars, large areas of the Balkans became depopulated. In 626 Constantinople, by far the largest city of early medieval Europe, withstood a combined siege by Avars and Persians. Within several decades, Heraclius completed a holy war against the Persians, taking their capital and having a Sassanid monarch assassinated. Yet Heraclius lived to see his spectacular success undone by the Muslim conquests of Syria, three Palaestina provinces, Egypt, and North Africa which was considerably facilitated by religious disunity and the proliferation of heretical movements (notably Monophysitism and Nestorianism) in the areas converted to Islam.

Although Heraclius's successors managed to salvage Constantinople from two Arab sieges (in 674–77 and 717), the empire of the 8th and early 9th century was rocked by the great Iconoclastic Controversy, punctuated by dynastic struggles between various factions at court. The Bulgar and Slavic tribes profited from these disorders and invaded Illyria, Thrace and even Greece. After the decisive victory at Ongala in 680 the armies of the Bulgars and Slavs advanced to the south of the Balkan mountains, defeating again the Byzantines who were then forced to sign a humiliating peace treaty which acknowledged the establishment of the First Bulgarian Empire on the borders of the Empire.

To counter these threats a new system of administration was introduced. The regional civil and military administration were combined in the hands of a general, or strategos. A theme, which formerly denoted a subdivision of the Byzantine army, came to refer to a region governed by a strategos. The reform led to the emergence of great landed families which controlled the regional military and often pressed their claims to the throne (see Bardas Phocas and Bardas Sklerus for characteristic examples).

By the early 8th century, notwithstanding the shrinking territory of the empire, Constantinople remained the largest and the wealthiest city west of China, comparable only to Sassanid Ctesiphon, and later Abassid Baghdad. The population of the imperial capital fluctuated between 300,000 and 400,000 as the emperors undertook measures to restrain its growth. The only other large Christian cities were Rome (50,000) and Salonika (30,000). [23] Even before the 8th century was out, the Farmer's Law signalled the resurrection of agricultural technologies in the Roman Empire. As the 2006 Encyclopædia Britannica noted, "the technological base of Byzantine society was more advanced than that of contemporary western Europe: iron tools could be found in the villages water mills dotted the landscape and field-sown beans provided a diet rich in protein". [24]

The ascension of the Macedonian dynasty in 867 marked the end of the period of political and religious turmoil and introduced a new golden age of the empire. While the talented generals such as Nicephorus Phocas expanded the frontiers, the Macedonian emperors (such as Leo the Wise and Constantine VII) presided over the cultural flowering in Constantinople, known as the Macedonian Renaissance. The enlightened Macedonian rulers scorned the rulers of Western Europe as illiterate barbarians and maintained a nominal claim to rule over the West. Although this fiction had been exploded with the coronation of Charlemagne in Rome (800), the Byzantine rulers did not treat their Western counterparts as equals. Generally, they had little interest in political and economic developments in the barbarian (from their point of view) West.

Against this economic background the culture and the imperial traditions of the Eastern Roman Empire attracted its northern neighbours—Slavs, Bulgars, and Khazars—to Constantinople, in search of either pillage or enlightenment. The movement of the Germanic tribes to the south triggered the great migration of the Slavs, who occupied the vacated territories. In the 7th century, they moved westward to the Elbe, southward to the Danube and eastward to the Dnieper. By the 9th century, the Slavs had expanded into sparsely inhabited territories to the south and east from these natural frontiers, peacefully assimilating the indigenous Illyrian and Finno-Ugric populations.

Rise of Islam Edit

From the 7th century Byzantine history was greatly affected by the rise of Islam and the Caliphates. Muslim Arabs first invaded historically Roman territory under Abū Bakr, first Caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate, who entered Roman Syria and Roman Mesopotamia. The Byzantines and neighbouring Persian Sasanids had been severely weakened by a long succession of Byzantine–Sasanian wars, especially the climactic Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628. Under Umar, the second Caliph, the Muslims decisively conquered Syria and Mesopotamia, as well as Roman Palestine, Roman Egypt, parts of Asia Minor and Roman North Africa, while they entirely toppled the Sasanids. In the mid 7th century AD, following the Muslim conquest of Persia, Islam penetrated into the Caucasus region, of which parts would later permanently become part of Russia. [25] This expansion of Islam continued under Umar's successors and then the Umayyad Caliphate, which conquered the rest of Mediterranean North Africa and most of the Iberian Peninsula. Over the next centuries Muslim forces were able to take further European territory, including Cyprus, Malta, Septimania, Crete, and Sicily and parts of southern Italy. [26]

The Muslim conquest of Hispania began when the Moors (mostly Berbers and some Arabs) invaded the Christian Visigothic kingdom of Iberia in the year 711, under their Berber leader Tariq ibn Ziyad. They landed at Gibraltar on 30 April and worked their way northward. Tariq's forces were joined the next year by those of his superior, Musa ibn Nusair. During the eight-year campaign most of the Iberian Peninsula was brought under Muslim rule—except for small areas in the north-northwest (Asturias) and largely Basque regions in the Pyrenees. This territory, under the Arab name Al-Andalus, became part of the expanding Umayyad empire.

The unsuccessful second siege of Constantinople (717) weakened the Umayyad dynasty and reduced their prestige. After their success in overrunning Iberia, the conquerors moved northeast across the Pyrenees. They were defeated by the Frankish leader Charles Martel at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. The Umayyads were overthrown in 750 by the Abbāsids and most of the Umayyad clan were massacred.

A surviving Umayyad prince, Abd-ar-rahman I, escaped to Spain and founded a new Umayyad dynasty in the Emirate of Cordoba in 756. Charles Martel's son Pippin the Short retook Narbonne, and his grandson Charlemagne established the Marca Hispanica across the Pyrenees in part of what today is Catalonia, reconquering Girona in 785 and Barcelona in 801. The Umayyads in Hispania proclaimed themselves caliphs in 929.

Birth of the Latin West Edit

700–850 Edit

Due to a complex set of reasons, [ which? ] conditions in Western Europe began to improve after 700. [3] [27] In that year, the two major powers in western Europe were the Franks in Gaul and the Lombards in Italy. [28] The Lombards had been thoroughly Romanized, and their kingdom was stable and well developed. The Franks, in contrast, were barely any different from their barbarian Germanic ancestors. Their kingdom was weak and divided. [29] Impossible to guess at the time, but by the end of the century, the Lombardic kingdom would be extinct, while the Frankish kingdom would have nearly reassembled the Western Roman Empire. [28]

Though much of Roman civilization north of the Po River had been wiped out in the years after the end of the Western Roman Empire, between the 5th and 8th centuries, new political and social infrastructure began to develop. Much of this was initially Germanic and pagan. Arian Christian missionaries had been spreading Arian Christianity throughout northern Europe, though by 700 the religion of northern Europeans was largely a mix of Germanic paganism, Christianized paganism, and Arian Christianity. [30] Catholic Christianity had barely started to spread in northern Europe by this time. Through the practice of simony, local princes typically auctioned off ecclesiastical offices, causing priests and bishops to function as though they were yet another noble under the patronage of the prince. [31] In contrast, a network of monasteries had sprung up as monks sought separation from the world. These monasteries remained independent from local princes, and as such constituted the "church" for most northern Europeans during this time. Being independent from local princes, they increasingly stood out as centres of learning, of scholarship, and as religious centres where individuals could receive spiritual or monetary assistance. [30]

The interaction between the culture of the newcomers, their warband loyalties, the remnants of classical culture, and Christian influences, produced a new model for society, based in part on feudal obligations. The centralized administrative systems of the Romans did not withstand the changes, and the institutional support for chattel slavery largely disappeared. The Anglo-Saxons in England had also started to convert from Anglo-Saxon polytheism after the arrival of Christian missionaries in 597.

Italy Edit

The Lombards, who first entered Italy in 568 under Alboin, carved out a state in the north, with its capital at Pavia. At first, they were unable to conquer the Exarchate of Ravenna, the Ducatus Romanus, and Calabria and Apulia. The next two hundred years were occupied in trying to conquer these territories from the Byzantine Empire.

The Lombard state was relatively Romanized, at least when compared to the Germanic kingdoms in northern Europe. It was highly decentralized at first, with the territorial dukes having practical sovereignty in their duchies, especially in the southern duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. For a decade following the death of Cleph in 575, the Lombards did not even elect a king this period is called the Rule of the Dukes. The first written legal code was composed in poor Latin in 643: the Edictum Rothari. It was primarily the codification of the oral legal tradition of the people.

The Lombard state was well-organized and stabilized by the end of the long reign of Liutprand (717–744), but its collapse was sudden. Unsupported by the dukes, King Desiderius was defeated and forced to surrender his kingdom to Charlemagne in 774. The Lombard kingdom ended and a period of Frankish rule was initiated. The Frankish king Pepin the Short had, by the Donation of Pepin, given the pope the "Papal States" and the territory north of that swath of papally-governed land was ruled primarily by Lombard and Frankish vassals of the Holy Roman Emperor until the rise of the city-states in the 11th and 12th centuries.

In the south, a period of chaos began. The duchy of Benevento maintained its sovereignty in the face of the pretensions of both the Western and Eastern Empires. In the 9th century, the Muslims conquered Sicily. The cities on the Tyrrhenian Sea departed from Byzantine allegiance. Various states owing various nominal allegiances fought constantly over territory until events came to a head in the early 11th century with the coming of the Normans, who conquered the whole of the south by the end of the century.

Britain Edit

Roman Britain was in a state of political and economic collapse at the time of the Roman departure c. 400. A series of settlements (traditionally referred to as an invasion) by Germanic peoples began in the early fifth century, and by the sixth century the island would consist of many small kingdoms engaged in ongoing warfare with each other. The Germanic kingdoms are now collectively referred to as Anglo-Saxons. Christianity began to take hold among the Anglo-Saxons in the sixth century, with 597 given as the traditional date for its large-scale adoption.

Western Britain (Wales), eastern and northern Scotland (Pictland) and the Scottish highlands and isles continued their separate evolution. The Irish descended and Irish-influenced people of western Scotland were Christian from the fifth century onward, the Picts adopted Christianity in the sixth century under the influence of Columba, and the Welsh had been Christian since the Roman era.

Northumbria was the pre-eminent power c. 600–700, absorbing several weaker Anglo-Saxon and Brythonic kingdoms, while Mercia held a similar status c. 700–800. Wessex would absorb all of the kingdoms in the south, both Anglo-Saxon and Briton. In Wales consolidation of power would not begin until the ninth century under the descendants of Merfyn Frych of Gwynedd, establishing a hierarchy that would last until the Norman invasion of Wales in 1081.

The first Viking raids on Britain began before 800, increasing in scope and destructiveness over time. In 865 a large, well-organized Danish Viking army (called the Great Heathen Army) attempted a conquest, breaking or diminishing Anglo-Saxon power everywhere but in Wessex. Under the leadership of Alfred the Great and his descendants, Wessex would at first survive, then coexist with, and eventually conquer the Danes. It would then establish the Kingdom of England and rule until the establishment of an Anglo-Danish kingdom under Cnut, and then again until the Norman Invasion of 1066.

Viking raids and invasion were no less dramatic for the north. Their defeat of the Picts in 839 led to a lasting Norse heritage in northernmost Scotland, and it led to the combination of the Picts and Gaels under the House of Alpin, which became the Kingdom of Alba, the predecessor of the Kingdom of Scotland. The Vikings combined with the Gaels of the Hebrides to become the Gall-Gaidel and establish the Kingdom of the Isles.

Frankish Empire Edit

The Merovingians established themselves in the power vacuum of the former Roman provinces in Gaul, and Clovis I converted to Christianity following his victory over the Alemanni at the Battle of Tolbiac (496), laying the foundation of the Frankish Empire, the dominant state of early medieval Western Christendom. The Frankish kingdom grew through a complex development of conquest, patronage, and alliance building. Due to salic custom, inheritance rights were absolute, and all land was divided equally among the sons of a dead land holder. [32] This meant that, when the king granted a prince land in reward for service, that prince and all of his descendants had an irrevocable right to that land that no future king could undo. Likewise, those princes (and their sons) could sublet their land to their own vassals, who could in turn sublet the land to lower sub-vassals. [32] This all had the effect of weakening the power of the king as his kingdom grew, since the result was that the land became controlled not just by more princes and vassals, but by multiple layers of vassals. This also allowed his nobles to attempt to build their own power base, though given the strict salic tradition of hereditary kingship, few would ever consider overthrowing the king. [32]

This increasingly absurd arrangement was highlighted by Charles Martel, who as Mayor of the Palace was effectively the strongest prince in the kingdom. [33] His accomplishments were highlighted, not just by his famous defeat of invading Muslims at the Battle of Tours, which is typically considered the battle that saved Europe from Muslim conquest, but by the fact that he greatly expanded Frankish influence. It was under his patronage that Saint Boniface expanded Frankish influence into Germany by rebuilding the German church, with the result that, within a century, the German church was the strongest church in western Europe. [33] Yet despite this, Charles Martel refused to overthrow the Frankish king. His son, Pepin the Short, inherited his power, and used it to further expand Frankish influence. Unlike his father, however, Pepin decided to seize the Frankish kingship. Given how strongly Frankish culture held to its principle of inheritance, few would support him if he attempted to overthrow the king. [34] Instead, he sought the assistance of Pope Zachary, who was himself newly vulnerable due to fallout with the Byzantine Emperor over the Iconoclastic Controversy. Pepin agreed to support the pope and to give him land (the Donation of Pepin, which created the Papal States) in exchange for being consecrated as the new Frankish king. Given that Pepin's claim to the kingship was now based on an authority higher than Frankish custom, no resistance was offered to Pepin. [34] With this, the Merovingian line of kings ended, and the Carolingian line began.

Pepin's son Charlemagne continued in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. He further expanded and consolidated the Frankish kingdom (now commonly called the Carolingian Empire). His reign also saw a cultural rebirth, commonly called the Carolingian Renaissance. Though the exact reasons are unclear, Charlemagne was crowned "Roman Emperor" by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day, 800. Upon Charlemagne's death, his empire had united much of modern-day France, western Germany and northern Italy. The years after his death illustrated how Germanic his empire remained. [34] Rather than an orderly succession, his empire was divided in accordance with Frankish inheritance custom, which resulted in instability that plagued his empire until the last king of a united empire, Charles the Fat, died in 887, which resulted in a permanent split of the empire into West Francia and East Francia. West Francia would be ruled by Carolingians until 987 and East Francia until 911, after which time the partition of the empire into France and Germany was complete. [34]

Feudalism Edit

Around 800 there was a return to systematic agriculture in the form of the open field, or strip, system. A manor would have several fields, each subdivided into 1-acre (4,000 m 2 ) strips of land. An acre measured one "furlong" of 220 yards by one "chain" of 22 yards (that is, about 200 m by 20 m). A furlong (from "furrow long") was considered to be the distance an ox could plough before taking a rest the strip shape of the acre field also reflected the difficulty in turning early heavy ploughs. In the idealized form of the system, each family got thirty such strips of land. The three-field system of crop rotation was first developed in the 9th century: wheat or rye was planted in one field, the second field had a nitrogen-fixing crop, and the third was fallow. [35]

Compared to the earlier two-field system, a three-field system allowed for significantly more land to be put under cultivation. Even more important, the system allowed for two harvests a year, reducing the risk that a single crop failure will lead to famine. Three-field agriculture created a surplus of oats that could be used to feed horses. This surplus allowed for the replacement of the ox by the horse after the introduction of the padded horse collar in the 12th century. Because the system required a major rearrangement of real estate and of the social order, it took until the 11th century before it came into general use. The heavy wheeled plough was introduced in the late 10th century. It required greater animal power and promoted the use of teams of oxen. Illuminated manuscripts depict two-wheeled ploughs with both a mouldboard, or curved metal ploughshare, and a coulter, a vertical blade in front of the ploughshare. The Romans had used light, wheel-less ploughs with flat iron shares that often proved unequal to the heavy soils of northern Europe.

The return to systemic agriculture coincided with the introduction of a new social system called feudalism. This system featured a hierarchy of reciprocal obligations. Each man was bound to serve his superior in return for the latter's protection. This made for confusion of territorial sovereignty since allegiances were subject to change over time and were sometimes mutually contradictory. Feudalism allowed the state to provide a degree of public safety despite the continued absence of bureaucracy and written records. Even land ownership disputes were decided based solely on oral testimony. Territoriality was reduced to a network of personal allegiances.

Viking Age Edit

  • 8th century homeland
  • 9th century expansion
  • 10th century expansion

The Viking Age spans the period roughly between the late 8th and mid-11th centuries in Scandinavia and Britain, following the Germanic Iron Age (and the Vendel Age in Sweden). During this period, the Vikings, Scandinavian warriors and traders raided and explored most parts of Europe, south-western Asia, northern Africa, and north-eastern North America.

With the means to travel (longships and open water), desire for goods led Scandinavian traders to explore and develop extensive trading partnerships in new territories. Some of the most important trading ports during the period include both existing and ancient cities such as Aarhus, Ribe, Hedeby, Vineta, Truso, Kaupang, Birka, Bordeaux, York, Dublin, and Aldeigjuborg.

Viking raiding expeditions were separate from, though coexisted with, regular trading expeditions. Apart from exploring Europe via its oceans and rivers, with the aid of their advanced navigational skills, they extended their trading routes across vast parts of the continent. They also engaged in warfare, looting and enslaving numerous Christian communities of Medieval Europe for centuries, contributing to the development of feudal systems in Europe.

Glasnost and Folk Culture

When the Soviet Union experienced severe economic, political, and social turmoil in the 1980s, President Mikhail Gorbachev responded by instituting a new policy of glasnost, “openness and transparency.” Although the U.S.S.R. fell apart in 1991, the spirit of glasnost continued in post-Soviet Russia. One result was increased dialogue with the United States, which led to groundbreaking cultural exchange programs, including quiltmaking. Although Russians were familiar with patchwork and appliqué techniques, quilts were largely a novel concept, especially when they were made to be put on a wall rather than on a bed.

In 1994, a delegation of three American quilt teachers traveled to Russia at the invitation of a women’s group. They shared their expertise as well as the dozens of yards of fabric they brought with them—a welcome gift, since everyday supplies were scarce and expensive in post-Soviet Russia. Staying with local families, the Americans learned about daily life, local traditions, and folklore. After the exchange, the Russian students continued to make quilts. In the late 1990s, they began to sell their creations in the United States with the help of cultural exchange organizations. Here you see some results of the multi-year project: American-influenced quilts with distinctly Russian imagery.


The archaeologist Anders Andrén noted that "Old Norse religion" is "the conventional name" applied to the pre-Christian religions of Scandinavia. [1] See for instance [2] Other terms used by scholarly sources include "pre-Christian Norse religion", [3] "Norse religion", [4] "Norse paganism", [5] "Nordic paganism", [6] "Scandinavian paganism", [7] "Scandinavian heathenism", [8] "Scandinavian religion", [9] "Northern paganism", [10] "Northern heathenism", [11] "North Germanic religion", [a] [b] or "North Germanic paganism". [c] [d] This Old Norse religion can be seen as part of a broader Germanic religion found across linguistically Germanic Europe of the different forms of this Germanic religion, that of the Old Norse is the best-documented. [12]

Rooted in ritual practice and oral tradition, [12] Old Norse religion was fully integrated with other aspects of Norse life, including subsistence, warfare, and social interactions. [13] Open codifications of Old Norse beliefs were either rare or non-existent. [14] The practitioners of this belief system themselves had no term meaning "religion", which was only introduced with Christianity. [15] Following Christianity's arrival, Old Norse terms that were used for the pre-Christian systems were forn sið ("old custom") or heiðinn sið ("heathen custom"), [15] terms which suggest an emphasis on rituals, actions, and behaviours rather than belief itself. [16] The earliest known usage of the Old Norse term heiðinn is in the poem Hákonarmál its uses here indicates that the arrival of Christianity has generated consciousness of Old Norse religion as a distinct religion. [17]

Old Norse religion has been classed as an ethnic religion, [18] and as a "non-doctrinal community religion". [13] It varied across time, in different regions and locales, and according to social differences. [19] This variation is partly due to its transmission through oral culture rather than codified texts. [20] For this reason, the archaeologists Andrén, Kristina Jennbert, and Catharina Raudvere stated that "pre-Christian Norse religion is not a uniform or stable category", [21] while the scholar Karen Bek-Pedersen noted that the "Old Norse belief system should probably be conceived of in the plural, as several systems". [22] The historian of religion Hilda Ellis Davidson stated that it would have ranged from manifestations of "complex symbolism" to "the simple folk-beliefs of the less sophisticated". [23]

During the Viking Age, the Norse likely regarded themselves as a more or less unified entity through their shared Germanic language, Old Norse. [24] The scholar of Scandinavian studies Thomas A. DuBois said Old Norse religion and other pre-Christian belief systems in Northern Europe must be viewed as "not as isolated, mutually exclusive language-bound entities, but as broad concepts shared across cultural and linguistic lines, conditioned by similar ecological factors and protracted economic and cultural ties". [25] During this period, the Norse interacted closely with other ethno-cultural and linguistic groups, such as the Sámi, Balto-Finns, Anglo-Saxons, Greenlandic Inuit, and various speakers of Celtic and Slavic languages. [26] Economic, marital, and religious exchange occurred between the Norse and many of these other groups. [26] Enslaved individuals from the British Isles were common throughout the Nordic world during the Viking Age. [27] Different elements of Old Norse religion had different origins and histories some aspects may derive from deep into prehistory, others only emerging following the encounter with Christianity. [28]

In Hilda Ellis Davidson's words, present-day knowledge of Old Norse religion contains "vast gaps", and we must be cautious and avoid "bas[ing] wild assumptions on isolated details". [29]

Old Norse textual sources Edit

A few runic inscriptions with religious content survive from pagan Scandinavia, particularly asking Thor to hallow or protect a memorial stone [30] carving his hammer on the stone also served this function. [31]

In contrast to the few runic fragments, a considerable body of literary and historical sources survive in Old Norse manuscripts using the Latin script, all of which were created after the conversion of Scandinavia, the majority in Iceland. Some of the poetic sources in particular, the Poetic Edda and skaldic poetry, may have been originally composed by heathens, and Hávamál contains both information on heathen mysticism [32] and what Ursula Dronke referred to as "a round-up of ritual obligations". [33] In addition there is information about pagan beliefs and practices in the sagas, which include both historical sagas such as Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla and the Landnámabók, recounting the settlement and early history of Iceland, and the so-called sagas of Icelanders concerning Icelandic individuals and groups there are also more or less fantastical legendary sagas. Many skaldic verses are preserved in sagas. Of the originally heathen works, we cannot know what changes took place either during oral transmission or as a result of their being recorded by Christians [34] [35] the sagas of Icelanders, in particular, are now regarded by most scholars as more or less historical fiction rather than as detailed historical records. [36] A large amount of mythological poetry has undoubtedly been lost. [37]

One important written source is Snorri's Prose Edda, which incorporates a manual of Norse mythology for the use of poets in constructing kennings it also includes numerous citations, some of them the only record of lost poems, [38] such as Þjóðólfr of Hvinir's Haustlǫng. Snorri's Prologue eumerises the Æsir as Trojans, deriving Æsir from Asia, and some scholars have suspected that many of the stories that we only have from him are also derived from Christian medieval culture. [39]

Other textual sources Edit

Additional sources remain by non-Scandinavians writing in languages other than Old Norse. The earliest of these, Tacitus' Germania, dates to around 100 CE [40] and describes religious practices of several Germanic peoples, but has little coverage of Scandinavia. In the Middle Ages, several Christian commentators also wrote about Scandinavian paganism, mostly from a hostile perspective. [40] The best known of these are Adam of Bremen's Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum (History of the Bishops of Hamburg), written between 1066 and 1072, which includes an account of the temple at Uppsala, [41] [42] and Saxo Grammaticus' 12th-century Gesta Danorum (History of the Danes), which includes versions of Norse myths and some material on pagan religious practices. [43] [44] In addition, Muslim Arabs wrote accounts of Norse people they encountered, the best known of which is Ibn Fadlan's 10th-century Risala, an account of Volga Viking traders that includes a detailed description of a ship burial. [45]

Archaeological and toponymic evidence Edit

Since the literary evidence that represents Old Norse sources was recorded by Christians, archaeological evidence especially of cultic sites and burials is of great importance particularly as a source of information on Norse religion before the conversion. [46] [47] Many aspects of material culture—including settlement locations, artefacts and buildings—may cast light on beliefs, and archaeological evidence regarding cult practices indicates chronological, geographic and class differences far greater than are suggested by the surviving texts. [21]

Place-names are an additional source of evidence. Theophoric place-names, including instances where a pair of deity names occur in close proximity, provide an indication of the importance of the cult of those deities in different areas, dating back to before our earliest written sources. The toponymic evidence shows considerable regional variation, [48] [49] and some deities, such as Ullr and Hǫrn, occur more frequently than the surviving myths would lead us to expect, [48] whereas comparatively few Odin place-names occur. [50] [49]

Some place-names contain elements indicating that they were sites of religious activity: those formed with -, -hörgr, and -hof, words for cult sites of various kinds, [51] and also likely those formed with -akr or -vin, words for "field", when coupled with the name of a deity. Magnus Olsen developed a typology of such place-names in Norway, from which he posited a development in pagan worship from groves and fields toward the use of temple buildings. [52]

Personal names are also a source of information on the popularity of certain deities for example Thor's name was an element in the names of both men and women, particularly in Iceland. [53]

Iron Age origins Edit

Andrén described Old Norse religion as a "cultural patchwork" which emerged under a wide range of influences, both from earlier Scandinavian religions and elements introduced from elsewhere. It may have had links to Nordic Bronze Age: while the putatively solar-oriented belief system of Bronze Age Scandinavia is believed to have died out around 500 BCE, a number of Bronze Age motifs—such as the wheel cross—reappear in later Iron Age contexts. [10] It is often regarded as having developed from earlier religious belief systems found among the Germanic Iron Age peoples. [54] The Germanic languages likely emerged in the first millennium BCE in present-day northern Germany or Denmark, after which they spread several of the deities in Old Norse religion have parallels among other Germanic societies. [55] The Scandinavian Iron Age began around 500 to 400 BCE. [56]

Archaeological evidence is particularly important for understanding these early periods. [57] Accounts from this time were produced by Tacitus according to the scholar Gabriel Turville-Petre, Tacitus' observations "help to explain" later Old Norse religion. [58] Tacitus described the Germanic peoples as having priests, open-air sacred sites, and an emphasis on sacrifice (including human), augury, and fortune telling. [59] Tacitus notes that the Germanic peoples were polytheistic and mentions some of their deities through perceived Roman equivalents. [60]

Viking Age expansion Edit

During the Viking Age, Norse people left Scandinavia and settled elsewhere throughout Northwestern Europe. Some of these areas, such as Iceland, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and the Faroe Islands, were hardly populated, whereas other areas, such as England, Southwest Wales, Scotland, the Western Isles, Isle of Man, and Ireland, were already heavily populated. [61]

In the 870s, Norwegian settlers left their homeland and colonized Iceland, bringing their belief system with them. [62] Place-name evidence suggests that Thor was the most popular god on the island, [63] although there are also saga accounts of devotés of Freyr in Iceland, [64] including a "priest of Freyr" in the later Hrafnkels saga. [65] There are no place-names connected to Odin on the island. [66] Unlike other Nordic societies, Iceland lacked a monarchy and thus a centralising authority which could enforce religious adherence [67] there were both pagan and Christian communities from the time of its first settlement. [68]

Scandinavian settlers brought Old Norse religion to Britain in the latter decades of the ninth century. [69] Several British place-names indicate possible cultic sites [70] for instance, Roseberry Topping in North Yorkshire was known as Othensberg in the twelfth century, a name deriving from the Old Norse Óðinsberg ("Hill of Óðin"). [71] Several place-names also contain Old Norse references to mythological entities, such as alfr, skratii, and troll. [72] The English church found itself in need of conducting a new conversion process to Christianise this incoming population. [73]

Christianisation and decline Edit

The Nordic world first encountered Christianity through its settlements in the (already Christian) British Isles and through trade contacts with the eastern Christians in Novgorod and Byzantium. [74] By the time Christianity arrived in Scandinavia it was already the accepted religion across most of Europe. [75] It is not well understood how the Christian institutions converted these Scandinavian settlers, in part due to a lack of textual descriptions of this conversion process equivalent to Bede's description of the earlier Anglo-Saxon conversion. [76] However, it appears that the Scandinavian migrants had converted to Christianity within the first few decades of their arrival. [ further explanation needed ] [77] After Christian missionaries from the British Isles—including figures like St Willibrord, St Boniface, and Willehad—had travelled to parts of northern Europe in the eighth century, [78] Charlemagne pushed for Christianisation in Denmark, with Ebbo of Rheims, Halitgar of Cambrai, and Willeric of Bremen proselytizing in the kingdom during the ninth century. [79] The Danish king Harald Klak converted (826), likely to secure his political alliance with Louis the Pious against his rivals for the throne. [80] The Danish monarchy reverted to Old Norse religion under Horik II (854 – c. 867). [81]

The Norwegian king Hákon the Good had converted to Christianity while in England. On returning to Norway, he kept his faith largely private but encouraged Christian priests to preach among the population some pagans were angered and—according to Heimskringla—three churches built near Trondheim were burned down. [82] His successor, Harald Greycloak, was also a Christian but similarly had little success in converting the Norwegian population to his religion. [83] Haakon Sigurdsson later became the de facto ruler of Norway, and although he agreed to be baptised under pressure from the Danish king and allowed Christians to preach in the kingdom, he enthusiastically supported pagan sacrificial customs, asserting the superiority of the traditional deities and encouraging Christians to return to their veneration. [84] His reign (975–995) saw the emergence of a "state paganism", an official ideology which bound together Norwegian identity with pagan identity and rallied support behind Haakon's leadership. [85] Haakon was killed in 995 and Olaf Tryggvason, the next king, took power and enthusiastically promoted Christianity he forced high-status Norwegians to convert, destroyed temples, and killed those he called 'sorcerers'. [86] Sweden was the last Scandinavian country to officially convert [75] although little is known about the process of Christianisation, it is known that the Swedish kings had converted by the early 11th century and that the country was fully Christian by the early 12th. [87]

Olaf Tryggvason sent a Saxon missionary, Þangbrandr, to Iceland. Many Icelanders were angered by Þangbrandr's proselytising, and he was outlawed after killing several poets who insulted him. [88] Animosity between Christians and pagans on the island grew, and at the Althing in 998 both sides blasphemed each other's gods. [89] In an attempt to preserve unity, at the Althing in 999, an agreement was reached that the Icelandic law would be based on Christian principles, albeit with concessions to the pagan community. Private, albeit not public, pagan sacrifices and rites were to remain legal. [90]

Across Germanic Europe, conversion to Christianity was closely connected to social ties mass conversion was the norm, rather than individual conversion. [91] A primary motivation for kings converting was the desire for support from Christian rulers, whether as money, imperial sanction, or military support. [91] Christian missionaries found it difficult convincing Norse people that the two belief systems were mutually exclusive [92] the polytheistic nature of Old Norse religion allowed its practitioners to accept Jesus Christ as one god among many. [93] The encounter with Christianity could also stimulate new and innovative expressions of pagan culture, for instance through influencing various pagan myths. [94] As with other Germanic societies, syncretisation between incoming and traditional belief systems took place. [95] For those living in isolated areas, pre-Christian beliefs likely survived longer, [96] while others continued as survivals in folklore. [96]

Post-Christian survivals Edit

By the 12th century, Christianity was firmly established across Northwestern Europe. [97] For two centuries, Scandinavian ecclesiastics continued to condemn paganism, although it is unclear whether it still constituted a viable alternative to Christian dominance. [98] These writers often presented paganism as being based on deceit or delusion [99] some stated that the Old Norse gods had been humans falsely euhemerised as deities. [100]

Old Norse mythological stories survived in oral culture for at least two centuries, to be recorded in the 13th century. [101] How this mythology was passed down is unclear it is possible that pockets of pagans retained their belief system throughout the 11th and 12th centuries, or that it had survived as a cultural artefact passed down by Christians who retained the stories while rejecting any literal belief in them. [101] The historian Judith Jesch suggested that following Christianisation, there remained a "cultural paganism", the re-use of pre-Christian myth "in certain cultural and social contexts" that are officially Christian. [102] For instance, Old Norse mythological themes and motifs appear in poetry composed for the court of Cnut the Great, an eleventh-century Christian Anglo-Scandinavian king. [103] Saxo is the earliest medieval figure to take a revived interest in the pre-Christian beliefs of his ancestors, doing so not out of a desire to revive their faith but out of historical interest. [104] Snorri was also part of this revived interest, examining pagan myths from his perspective as a cultural historian and mythographer. [105] As a result, Norse mythology "long outlasted any worship of or belief in the gods it depicts". [106] There remained, however, remnants of Norse pagan rituals for centuries after Christianity became the dominant religion in Scandinavia (see Trollkyrka). Old Norse gods continued to appear in Swedish folklore up until the early 20th century. There are documented accounts of encounters with both Thor and Odin, along with a belief in Freja's power over fertility. [107]

Norse mythology, stories of the Norse deities, is preserved in Eddic poetry and in Snorri Sturluson's guide for skalds, the Poetic Edda. Depictions of some of these stories can be found on picture stones in Gotland and in other visual record including some early Christian crosses, which attests to how widely known they were. [108] The myths were transmitted purely orally until the end of the period, and were subject to variation one key poem, "Vǫluspá", is preserved in two variant versions in different manuscripts,Prose Edda, which are for the most part close to one of the two. Dronke, The Poetic Edda, Volume 2: Mythological Poems, Oxford: Oxford University, 1997, repr. 2001, ISBN 978-0-19-811181-8, pp. 61–62, 68–79.>> and Snorri's retelling of the myths sometimes varies from the other textual sources that are preserved. [109] There was no single authoritative version of a particular myth, and variation over time and from place to place is presumed, rather than "a single unified body of thought". [110] [104] In particular, there may have been influences from interactions with other peoples, including northern Slavs, Finns, and Anglo-Saxons, [111] and Christian mythology exerted an increasing influence. [110] [112]

Deities Edit

Old Norse religion was polytheistic, with many anthropomorphic gods and goddesses, who express human emotions and in some cases are married and have children. [113] [114] One god, Baldr, is said in the myths to have died. Archaeological evidence on worship of particular gods is sparse, although placenames may also indicate locations where they were venerated. For some gods, particularly Loki, [115] [116] [117] there is no evidence of worship however, this may be changed by new archaeological discoveries. Regions, communities, and social classes likely varied in the gods they venerated more or at all. [118] [119] There are also accounts in sagas of individuals who devoted themselves to a single deity, [120] described as a fulltrúi or vinr (confidant, friend) as seen in Egill Skallagrímsson's reference to his relationship with Odin in his "Sonatorrek", a tenth-century skaldic poem for example. [121] This practice has been interpreted as heathen past influenced by the Christian cult of the saints. Although our literary sources are all relatively late, there are also indications of change over time.

Norse mythological sources, particularly Snorri and "Vǫluspá", differentiate between two groups of deities, the Æsir and the Vanir, who fought a war during which the Vanir broke down the walls of the Æsir's stronghold, Asgard, and eventually made peace by means of a truce and the exchange of hostages. Some mythographers have suggested that this myth was based on recollection of a conflict in Scandinavia between adherents of different belief systems. [ further explanation needed ] [122] [123]

Major deities among the Æsir include Thor (who is often referred to in literary texts as Asa-Thor), Odin and Týr. Very few Vanir are named in the sources: Njǫrðr, his son Freyr, and his daughter Freyja according to Snorri all of these could be called Vanaguð (Vanir-god), and Freyja also Vanadís (Vanir-dís). [124] The status of Loki within the pantheon is problematic, and according to "Lokasenna" and "Vǫluspá" and Snorri's explanation, he is imprisoned beneath the earth until Ragnarok, when he will fight against the gods. As far back as 1889 Sophus Bugge suggested this was the inspiration for the myth of Lucifer. [125]

Some of the goddesses—Skaði, Rindr, Gerðr—are of giant origins.

The general Old Norse word for the goddesses is Ásynjur, which is properly the feminine of Æsir. An old word for goddess may be dís, which is preserved as the name of a group of female supernatural beings. [126]

Localised and ancestral deities Edit

Ancestral deities were common among Finno-Ugric peoples, and remained a strong presence among the Finns and Sámi after Christianisation. [127] Ancestor veneration may have played a part in the private religious practices of Norse people in their farmsteads and villages [128] [129] in the 10th century, Norwegian pagans attempted to encourage the Christian king Haakon to take part in an offering to the gods by inviting him to drink a toast to the ancestors alongside a number of named deities. [128]

Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr and Irpa appear to have been personal or family goddesses venerated by Haakon Sigurdsson, a late pagan ruler of Norway. [130]

There are also likely to have been local and family fertility cults we have one reported example from pagan Norway in the family cult of Vǫlsi, where some deity called Mǫrnir is invoked. [131] [132]

Other beings Edit

The norns are female figures who determine individuals' fate. Snorri describes them as a group of three, but he and other sources also allude to larger groups of norns who decide the fate of newborns. [133] It is uncertain whether they were worshipped. [134] The vættir, spirits of the land, were thought to inhabit certain rocks, waterfalls, mountains, and trees, and offerings were made to them. [135] For many, they may have been more important in daily life than the gods. [136] Texts also mention various kinds of elves and dwarfs. Fylgjur, guardian spirits, generally female, were associated with individuals and families. Hamingjur, dísir and swanmaidens are female supernatural figures of uncertain stature within the belief system the dísir may have functioned as tutelary goddesses. [137] Valkyries were associated with the myths concerning Odin, and also occur in heroic poetry such as the Helgi lays, where they are depicted as princesses who assist and marry heroes. [138] [139]

Conflict with the jǫtnar, or giants, is a frequent motif in the mythology. [140] They are described as both the ancestors and enemies of the gods. [141] Gods marry giantesses but giants' attempts to couple with goddesses are repulsed. [142] Most scholars believe the jǫtnar were not worshipped, although this has been questioned. [143] The Eddic jǫtnar have parallels with their later folkloric counterparts, although unlike them they have much wisdom. [144]

Cosmology Edit

Several accounts of the Old Norse cosmogony, or creation myth, appear in surviving textual sources, but there is no evidence that these were certainly produced in the pre-Christian period. [145] It is possible that they were developed during the encounter with Christianity, as pagans sought to establish a creation myth complex enough to rival that of Christianity [ further explanation needed ] [146] these accounts could also be the result of Christian missionaries interpreting certain elements and tales found in the Old Norse culture and presenting them to be creation myths and a cosmogony, parallel to that of the Bible, in part in order to aid the Old Norse in the understanding of the new Christian religion through the use of native elements as a means to facilitate conversion (a common practice employed by missionaries to ease the conversion of people from different cultures across the globe. See Syncretism). According to the account in Völuspá, the universe was initially a void known as Ginnungagap. There then appeared a giant, Ymir, and after him the gods, who lifted the earth out of the sea. [147] A different account is provided in Vafþrúðnismál, which describes the world being made from the components of Ymir's body: the earth from his flesh, the mountains from his bones, the sky from his skull, and the sea from his blood. [147] Grímnismál also describes the world being fashioned from Ymir's corpse, although adds the detail that the giants emerged from a spring known as Élivágar. [148]

In Snorri's Gylfaginning, it is again stated that the Old Norse cosmogony began with a belief in Ginnungagap, the void. From this emerged two realms, the icy, misty Niflheim and the fire-filled Muspell, the latter ruled over by fire-giant, Surtr. [149] A river produced by these realms coagulated to form Ymir, while a cow known as Audumbla then appeared to provide him with milk. [150] Audumbla licked a block of ice to free Buri, whose son Bor married a giantess named Bestla. [146] Some of the features of this myth, such as the cow Audumbla, are of unclear provenance Snorri does not specify where he obtained these details as he did for other parts of the myths, and it may be that these were his own personal inventions. [146]

Völuspá portrays Yggdrasil as a giant ash tree. [151] Grímnismál claims that the deities meet beneath Yggdrasil daily to pass judgement. [152] It also claims that a serpent gnaws at its roots while a deer grazes from its higher branches a squirrel runs between the two animals, exchanging messages. [152] Grímnismál also claims that Yggdrasil has three roots under one resides the goddess Hel, under another the frost-giants, and under the third humanity. [152] Snorri also relates that Hel and the frost-giants live under two of the roots but places the gods, rather than humanity, under the third root. [152] The term Yggr means "the terrifier" and is a synonym for Oðinn, while drasill was a poetic word for a horse "Yggdrasil" thereby means "Oðinn's Steed". [153] This idea of a cosmic tree has parallels with those from various other societies, and may reflect part of a common Indo-European heritage. [154]

The Ragnarok story survives in its fullest exposition in Völuspá, although elements can also be seen in earlier poetry. [155] The Ragnarok story suggests that the idea of an inescapable fate pervaded Norse world-views. [156] There is much evidence that Völuspá was influenced by Christian belief, [157] and it is also possible that the theme of conflict being followed by a better future—as reflected in the Ragnarok story—perhaps reflected the period of conflict between paganism and Christianity. [158]

Afterlife Edit

Norse religion had several fully developed ideas about death and the afterlife. [159] Snorri refers to four realms which welcome the dead [160] although his descriptions reflect a likely Christian influence, the idea of multiple otherworlds is likely pre-Christian. [161] Unlike Christianity, Old Norse religion does not appear to have adhered to the belief that moral concerns impacted an individual's afterlife destination. [162]

Warriors who died in battle became the Einherjar and were taken to Oðinn's hall, Valhalla. There they waited until Ragnarok, when they would fight alongside the Æsir. [163] According to the poem Grímnismál, Valhalla had 540 doors and that a wolf stood outside its western door, while an eagle flew overhead. [164] In that poem, it is also claimed that a boar named Sæhrímnir is eaten every day and that a goat named Heiðrún stands atop the hall's roof producing an endless supply of mead. [164] It is unclear how widespread a belief in Valhalla was in Norse society it may have been a literary creation designed to meet the ruling class' aspirations, since the idea of deceased warriors owing military service to Oðinn parallels the social structure of which warriors and their lord. [165] There is no archaeological evidence clearly alluding to a belief in Valhalla. [166]

According to Snorri, while one half of the slain go to Valhalla, the other go to Frejya's hall, Fólkvangr, and that those who die from disease or old age go to a realm known as Hel [167] it was here that Baldr went after his death. [160] The concept of Hel as an afterlife location never appears in pagan-era skaldic poetry, where "Hel" always references to the eponymous goddess. [168] Snorri also mentions the possibility of the dead reaching the hall of Brimir in Gimlé, or the hall of Sindri in the Niðafjöll Mountains. [169]

Various sagas and the Eddaic poem Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar refer to the dead residing in their graves, where they remain conscious. [170] In these thirteenth century sources, ghosts (Draugr) are capable of haunting the living. [171] In both Laxdæla Saga and Eyrbyggja Saga, connections are drawn between pagan burials and hauntings. [172]

In mythological accounts, the deity most closely associated with death is Oðinn. In particular, he is connected with death by hanging this is apparent in Hávamál, a poem found in the Poetic Edda. [173] In stanza 138 of Hávamál, Oðinn describes his "auto-sacrifice", in which he hangs himself on Yggdrasill, the world tree, for nine nights, in order to attain wisdom and magical powers. [174] In the late Gautreks Saga, King Víkarr is hanged and then punctured by a spear his executioner says "Now I give you to Oðinn". [174]

Textual accounts suggest a spectrum of rituals, from large public events to more frequent private and family rites, which would have been interwoven with daily life. [175] [176] However, written sources are vague about Norse rituals, and many are invisible to us now even with the assistance of archaeology. [177] [178] Sources mention some rituals addressed to particular deities, but understanding of the relationship between Old Norse ritual and myth remains speculative. [179]

Religious rituals Edit

Sacrifice Edit

The primary religious ritual in Norse religion appears to have been sacrifice, or blót. [180] Many texts, both Old Norse and other, refer to sacrifices. The Saga of Hákon the Good in Heimskringla states that there were obligatory blóts, at which animals were slaughtered and their blood, called hlaut, sprinkled on the altars and the inside and outside walls of the temple, and ritual toasts were drunk during the ensuing sacrificial feast the cups were passed over the fire and they and the food were consecrated with a ritual gesture by the chieftain King Hákon, a Christian, was forced to participate but made the sign of the cross. [181] The description of the temple at Uppsala in Adam of Bremen's History includes an account of a festival every nine years at which nine males of every kind of animal were sacrificed and the bodies hung in the temple grove. [182] There may have been many methods of sacrifice: a number of textual accounts refer to the body or head of the slaughtered animal being hung on a pole or tree. [183] In addition to seasonal festivals, an animal blót could take place, for example, before duels, after the conclusion of business between traders, before sailing to ensure favourable winds, and at funerals. [184] Remains of animals from many species have been found in graves from the Old Norse period, [185] [186] and Ibn Fadlan's account of a ship burial includes the sacrifice of a dog, draft animals, cows, a rooster and a hen as well as that of a servant girl. [187]

In the Eddic poem "Hyndluljóð", Freyja expresses appreciation for the many sacrifices of oxen made to her by her acolyte, Óttar. [188] In Hrafnkels saga, Hrafnkell is called Freysgoði for his many sacrifices to Freyr. [189] [64] There may also be markers by which we can distinguish sacrifices to Odin, [190] who was associated with hanging, [191] and some texts particularly associate the ritual killing of a boar with sacrifices to Freyr [191] but in general, archaeology is unable to identify the deity to whom a sacrifice was made. [190]

The texts frequently allude to human sacrifice. Temple wells in which people were sacrificially drowned are mentioned in Adam of Bremen's account of Uppsala [192] and in Icelandic sagas, where they are called blótkelda or blótgrǫf, [193] and Adam of Bremen also states that human victims were included among those hanging in the trees at Uppsala. [194] In Gautreks saga, people sacrifice themselves during a famine by jumping off cliffs, [195] and both the Historia Norwegiæ and Heimskringla refer to the willing death of King Dómaldi as a sacrifice after bad harvests. [196] Mentions of people being "sentenced to sacrifice" and of the "wrath of the gods" against criminals suggest a sacral meaning for the death penalty [197] in Landnamabók the method of execution is given as having the back broken on a rock. [195] It is possible that some of the bog bodies recovered from peat bogs in northern Germany and Denmark and dated to the Iron Age were human sacrifices. [198] Such a practice may have been connected to the execution of criminals or of prisoners of war, [199] and Tacitus also states that such type of execution was used as a punishment for "the coward, the unwarlike and the man stained with abominable vices" for the reason that these were considered "infamies that ought to be buried out of sight" [e] on the other hand, some textual mentions of a person being "offered" to a deity, such as a king offering his son, may refer to a non-sacrificial "dedication". [200]

Archaeological evidence supports Ibn Fadlan's report of funerary human sacrifice: in various cases, the burial of someone who died of natural causes is accompanied by another who died a violent death. [190] [201] For example, at Birka a decapitated young man was placed atop an older man buried with weapons, and at Gerdrup, near Roskilde, a woman was buried alongside a man whose neck had been broken. [202] Many of the details of Ibn Fadlan's account are born out by archaeology [203] [204] [115] and it is possible that those elements which are not visible in the archaeological evidence—such as the sexual encounters—are also accurate. [204]

Deposition Edit

Deposition of artefacts in wetlands was a practice in Scandinavia during many periods of prehistory. [205] [206] [207] In the early centuries of the Common Era, huge numbers of destroyed weapons were placed in wetlands: mostly spears and swords, but also shields, tools, and other equipment. Beginning in the 5th century, the nature of the wetland deposits changed in Scandinavia, fibulae and bracteates were placed in or beside wetlands from the 5th to the mid-6th centuries, and again beginning in the late 8th century, [208] when weapons as well as jewellery, coins and tools again began to be deposited, the practice lasting until the early 11th century. [208] This practice extended to non-Scandinavian areas inhabited by Norse people for example in Britain, a sword, tools, and the bones of cattle, horses and dogs were deposited under a jetty or bridge over the River Hull. [209] The precise purposes of such depositions are unclear. [ citation needed ]

It is harder to find ritualised deposits on dry land. However, at Lunda (meaning "grove") near Strängnäs in Södermanland, archaeological evidence has been found at a hill of presumably ritual activity from the 2nd century BCE until the 10th century CE, including deposition of unburnt beads, knives and arrowheads from the 7th to the 9th century. [210] [207] Also during excavations at the church in Frösö, bones of bear, elk, red deer, pigs, cattle, and either sheep or goats were found surrounding a birch tree, having been deposited in the 9th or 10th century the tree likely had sacrificial associations and perhaps represented the world tree. [210] [211]

Rites of passage Edit

A child was accepted into the family via a ritual of sprinkling with water (Old Norse ausa vatni) which is mentioned in two Eddic poems, "Rígsþula" and "Hávamál", and was afterwards given a name. [212] The child was frequently named after a dead relative, since there was a traditional belief in rebirth, particularly in the family. [213]

Old Norse sources also describe rituals for adoption (the Norwegian Gulaþing Law directs the adoptive father, followed by the adoptive child, then all other relatives, to step in turn into a specially made leather shoe) and blood brotherhood (a ritual standing on the bare earth under a specially cut strip of grass, called a jarðarmen). [214]

Weddings occur in Icelandic family sagas. The Old Norse word brúðhlaup has cognates in many other Germanic languages and means "bride run" it has been suggested that this indicates a tradition of bride-stealing, but other scholars including Jan de Vries interpreted it as indicating a rite of passage conveying the bride from her birth family to that of her new husband. [215] The bride wore a linen veil or headdress this is mentioned in the Eddic poem "Rígsþula". [216] Freyr and Thor are each associated with weddings in some literary sources. [217] In Adam of Bremen's account of the pagan temple at Uppsala, offerings are said to be made to Fricco (presumably Freyr) on the occasion of marriages, [182] and in the Eddic poem "Þrymskviða", Thor recovers his hammer when it is laid in his disguised lap in a ritual consecration of the marriage. [218] [219] "Þrymskviða" also mentions the goddess Vár as consecrating marriages Snorri Sturluson states in Gylfaginning that she hears the vows men and women make to each other, but her name probably means "beloved" rather than being etymologically connected to Old Norse várar, "vows". [220]

Burial of the dead is the Norse rite of passage about which we have most archaeological evidence. [221] There is considerable variation in burial practices, both spatially and chronologically, which suggests a lack of dogma about funerary rites. [221] [222] Both cremations and inhumations are found throughout Scandinavia, [221] [223] but in Viking Age Iceland there were inhumations but, with one possible exception, no cremations. [223] The dead are found buried in pits, wooden coffins or chambers, boats, or stone cists cremated remains have been found next to the funeral pyre, buried in a pit, in a pot or keg, and scattered across the ground. [221] Most burials have been found in cemeteries, but solitary graves are not unknown. [221] Some grave sites were left unmarked, others memorialised with standing stones or burial mounds. [221]

Grave goods feature in both inhumation and cremation burials. [224] These often consist of animal remains for instance, in Icelandic pagan graves, the remains of dogs and horses are the most common grave goods. [225] In many cases, the grave goods and other features of the grave reflect social stratification, particularly in the cemeteries at market towns such as Hedeby and Kaupang. [224] In other cases, such as in Iceland, cemeteries show very little evidence of it. [223]

Ship burial is a form of elite inhumation attested both in the archaeological record and in Ibn Fadlan's written account. Excavated examples include the Oseberg ship burial near Tønsberg in Norway, another at Klinta on Öland, [226] and the Sutton Hoo ship burial in England. [227] A boat burial at Kaupang in Norway contained a man, woman, and baby lying adjacent to each other alongside the remains of a horse and dismembered dog. The body of a second woman in the stern was adorned with weapons, jewellery, a bronze cauldron, and a metal staff archaeologists have suggested that she may have been a sorceress. [226] In certain areas of the Nordic world, namely coastal Norway and the Atlantic colonies, smaller boat burials are sufficiently common to indicate it was no longer only an elite custom. [227]

Ship burial is also mentioned twice in the Old Norse literary-mythic corpus. A passage in Snorri Sturluson's Ynglinga Saga states that Odin—whom he presents as a human king later mistaken for a deity—instituted laws that the dead would be burned on a pyre with their possessions, and burial mounds or memorial stones erected for the most notable men. [228] [229] Also in his Prose Edda, the god Baldr is burned on a pyre on his ship, Hringhorni, which is launched out to sea with the aid of the giantess Hyrrokkin Snorri wrote after the Christianisation of Iceland, but drew on Úlfr Uggason's skaldic poem "Húsdrápa". [230]

The myth preserved in the Eddic poem "Hávamál" of Odin hanging for nine nights on Yggdrasill, sacrificed to himself and dying in order to secure knowledge of the runes and other wisdom in what resembles an initiatory rite, [231] [232] is evidence of mysticism in Old Norse religion. [233]

The gods were associated with two distinct forms of magic. In "Hávamál" and elsewhere, Odin is particularly associated with the runes and with galdr. [234] [235] Charms, often associated with the runes, were a central part of the treatment of disease in both humans and livestock in Old Norse society. [236] In contrast seiðr and the related spæ, which could involve both magic and divination, [237] were practised mostly by women, known as vǫlur and spæ-wives, often in a communal gathering at a client's request. [237] 9th- and 10th-century female graves containing iron staffs and grave goods have been identified on this basis as those of seiðr practitioners. [238] Seiðr was associated with the Vanic goddess Freyja according to a euhemerized account in Ynglinga saga, she taught seiðr to the Æsir, [239] but it involved so much ergi ("unmanliness, effeminacy") that other than Odin himself, its use was reserved to priestesses. [240] [241] [242] There are, however, mentions of male seiðr workers, including elsewhere in Heimskringla, where they are condemned for their perversion. [243]

In Old Norse literature, practitioners of seiðr are sometimes described as foreigners, particularly Sami or Finns or in rarer cases from the British Isles. [244] Practitioners such as Þorbjörg Lítilvölva in the Saga of Erik the Red appealed to spirit helpers for assistance. [237] Many scholars have pointed to this and other similarities between what is reported of seiðr and spæ ceremonies and shamanism. [245] The historian of religion Dag Strömbäck regarded it as a borrowing from Sami or Balto-Finnic shamanic traditions, [246] [247] but there are also differences from the recorded practices of Sami noaidi. [248] Since the 19th century, some scholars have sought to interpret other aspects of Old Norse religion itself by comparison with shamanism [249] for example, Odin's self-sacrifice on the World Tree has been compared to Finno-Ugric shamanic practices. [250] However, the scholar Jan de Vries regarded seiðr as an indigenous shamanic development among the Norse, [251] [252] and the applicability of shamanism as a framework for interpreting Old Norse practices, even seiðr, is disputed by some scholars. [199] [253]

Outdoor rites Edit

Cult practices often took place outdoors. For example, at Hove in Trøndelag, Norway, offerings were placed at a row of posts bearing images of gods. [254] Terms particularly associated with outdoor worship are (shrine) and hörgr (cairn or stone altar). Many place-names contain these elements in association with the name of a deity, and for example at Lilla Ullevi (compounded with the name of the god Ullr) in Bro parish, Uppland, Sweden, archaeologists have found a stone-covered ritual area at which offerings including silver objects, rings, and a meat fork had been deposited. [255] Place-name evidence suggests that cultic practices might also take place at many different kinds of sites, including fields and meadows (vangr, vin), rivers and lakes, bogs, groves (lundr) and individual trees, and rocks. [176] [256]

Some Icelandic sagas mention sacred places. In both Landnámabók and Eyrbyggja saga, members of a family who particularly worshipped Thor are said to have passed after death into the mountain Helgafell (holy mountain), which was not to be defiled by bloodshed or excrement, or even to be looked at without washing first. [257] [258] Mountain worship is also mentioned in Landnámabók as an old Norwegian tradition to which Auðr the Deepminded's family reverted after she died the scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson regarded it as associated particularly with the worship of Thor. [257] [259] In Víga-Glúms saga, the field Vitazgjafi (certain giver) is associated with Freyr and similarly not to be defiled. [260] [261] The scholar Stefan Brink has argued that one can speak of a "mythical and sacral geography" in pre-Christian Scandinavia. [262]

Temples Edit

Several of the sagas refer to cult houses or temples, generally called in Old Norse by the term hof. There are detailed descriptions of large temples, including a separate area with images of gods and the sprinkling of sacrificial blood using twigs in a manner similar to the Christian use of the aspergillum, in Kjalnesinga saga and Eyrbyggja saga Snorri's description of blót in Heimskringla adds more details about the blood sprinkling. [263] Adam of Bremen's 11th-century Latin history describes at length a great temple at Uppsala at which human sacrifices regularly took place, and containing statues of Thor, Wotan and Frikko (presumably Freyr) a scholion adds the detail that a golden chain hung from the eaves. [264] [265]

These details appear exaggerated and probably indebted to Christian churches, and in the case of Uppsala to the Biblical description of Solomon's temple. [263] [264] [265] Based on the dearth of archaeological evidence for dedicated cult houses, particularly under early church buildings in Scandinavia, where they were expected to be found, and additionally on Tacitus' statement in Germania that the Germanic tribes did not confine their deities to buildings, [266] many scholars have believed hofs to be largely a Christian idea of pre-Christian practice. In 1966, based on the results of a comprehensive archaeological survey of most of Scandinavia, the Danish archaeologist Olaf Olsen proposed the model of the "temple farm": that rather than the hof being a dedicated building, a large longhouse, especially that of the most prominent farmer in the district, served as the location for community cultic celebrations when required. [267] [268]

Since Olsen's survey, however, archaeological evidence of temple buildings has come to light in Scandinavia. Although Sune Lindqvist's interpretation of post holes which he found under the church at Gamla Uppsala as the remains of an almost square building with a high roof was wishful thinking, [269] excavations nearby in the 1990s uncovered both a settlement and a long building which may have been either a longhouse used seasonally as a cult house or a dedicated hof. [270] The building site at Hofstaðir, near Mývatn in Iceland, which was a particular focus of Olsen's work, has since been re-excavated and the layout of the building and further discoveries of the remains of ritually slaughtered animals now suggest that it was a cult house until ritually abandoned. [271] Other buildings that have been interpreted as cult houses have been found at Borg in Östergötland, Lunda in Södermanland, [180] and Uppakra in Scania, [272] [273] Remains of one pagan temple have so far been found under a medieval church, at Mære in Nord-Trøndelag, Norway. [254] [274]

In Norway, the word hof appears to have replaced older terms referring to outdoor cult sites during the Viking Age [275] it has been suggested that the use of cult buildings was introduced into Scandinavia starting in the 3rd century based on the Christian churches then proliferating in the Roman Empire, as part of a range of political and religious changes that Nordic society was then experiencing. [238] Some of the cult houses which have been found are located within what archaeologists call "central places": settlements with various religious, political, judicial, and mercantile functions. [276] [272] A number of these central places have place-names with cultic associations, such as Gudme (home of gods), Vä (), and Helgö (holy island). [272] Some archaeologists have argued that they were designed to mirror Old Norse cosmology, thus connecting ritual practices with wider world-views. [272] [277]

There is no evidence of a professional priesthood among the Norse, and rather cultic activities were carried out by members of the community who also had other social functions and positions. [278] In Old Norse society, religious authority was harnessed to secular authority there was no separation between economic, political, and symbolic institutions. [279] Both the Norwegian kings' sagas and Adam of Bremen's account claim that kings and chieftains played a prominent role in cultic sacrifices. [278] In medieval Iceland, the goði was a social role that combined religious, political, and judicial functions, [278] responsible for serving as a chieftain in the district, negotiating legal disputes, and maintaining order among his þingmenn. [280] Most evidence suggests that public cultic activity was largely the preserve of high-status males in Old Norse society. [281] However, there are exceptions. The Landnámabók refers to two women holding the position of gyðja, both of whom were members of local chiefly families. [280] In Ibn Fadlan's account of the Rus, he describes an elder woman known as the "Angel of Death" who oversaw a funerary ritual. [226]

Among scholars, there has been much debate as to whether sacral kingship was practiced among Old Norse communities, in which the monarch was endowed with a divine status and thus being responsible for ensuring that a community's needs were met through supernatural means. [282] Evidence for this has been cited from the Ynglingatal poem in which the Swedes kill their king, Domalde, following a famine. [283] However, interpretations of this event other than sacral kingship are possible for instance, Domalde may have been killed in a political coup. [283]

The most widespread religious symbol in Viking Age Old Norse religion was Mjöllnir, the hammer of Thor. [284] This symbol first appears in the ninth century and may be a conscious response to the symbolism of the Christian cross. [28] Although found across the Viking world, Mjöllnir pendants are most commonly found in graves from modern Denmark, south-eastern Sweden, and southern Norway their wide distribution suggests the particular popularity of Thor. [285] When found in inhumation graves, Mjöllnir pendants are more likely to be found in women's graves than men's. [286] Earlier examples were made from iron, bronze, or amber, [284] although silver pendants became fashionable in the tenth century. [284] This may have been a response to the growing popularity of Christian cross amulets. [287]

The two religious symbols may have co-existed closely one piece of archaeological evidence suggesting that this is the case is a soapstone mould for casting pendants discovered from Trengården in Denmark. This mould had space for a Mjöllnir and a crucifix pendant side by side, suggesting that the artisan who produced these pendants catered for both religious communities. [288] These have typically been interpreted as a protective symbol, although may also have had associations with fertility, being worn as amulets, good-luck charms, or sources of protection. [289] However, around 10 percent of those discovered during excavation had been placed on top of cremation urns, suggesting that they had a place in certain funerary rituals. [286]

Gods and goddesses were depicted through figurines, pendants, fibulas, and as images on weapons. [290] Thor is usually recognised in depictions by his carrying of Mjöllnir. [290] Iconographic material suggesting other deities are less common that those connected to Thor. [286] Some pictorial evidence, most notably that of the picture stones, intersect with the mythologies recorded in later texts. [159] These picture stones, produced in mainland Scandinavia during the Viking Age, are the earliest known visual depictions of Norse mythological scenes. [30] It is nevertheless unclear what function these picture-stones had or what they meant to the communities who produced them. [30]

Oðinn has been identified on various gold bracteates produced from the fifth and sixth centuries. [290] Some figurines have been interpreted as depictions of deities. The Lindby image from Skåne, Sweden is often interpreted as Oðinn because of its missing eye [291] the bronze figurine from Eyrarland in Iceland as Thor because it holds a hammer. [292] A bronze figurine from Rällinge in Södermanland has been attributed to Freyr because it has a big phallus, and a silver pendant from Aska in Östergötland has been seen as Freya because it wears a necklace that could be Brisingamen. [290]

Another image that recurs in Norse artwork from this period is the valknut (the term is modern, not Old Norse). [293] These symbols may have a specific association with Oðinn, because they often accompany images of warriors on picture stones. [294]

Romanticism, aesthetics, and politics Edit

During the romanticist movement of the nineteenth century, various northern Europeans took an increasing interest in Old Norse religion, seeing in it an ancient pre-Christian mythology that provided an alternative to the dominant Classical mythology. As a result, artists featured Norse gods and goddesses in their paintings and sculptures, and their names were applied to streets, squares, journals, and companies throughout parts of northern Europe. [295]

The mythological stories derived from Old Norse and other Germanic sources provided inspiration for various artists, including Richard Wagner, who used these narratives as the basis for his Der Ring des Nibelungen. [295] Also inspired by these Old Norse and Germanic tales was J. R. R. Tolkien, who used them in creating his legendarium, the fictional universe in which he set novels like The Lord of the Rings. [295] During the 1930s and 1940s, elements of Old Norse and other Germanic religions were adopted by Nazi Germany. [295] Since the fall of the Nazis, various right-wing groups continue to use elements of Old Norse and Germanic religion in their symbols, names, and references [295] some Neo-Nazi groups, for instance, use Mjöllnir as a symbol. [296]

Theories about a shamanic component of Old Norse religion have been adopted by forms of Nordic neoshamanism groups practicing what they called seiðr were established in Europe and the United States by the 1990s. [297]

Scholarly study Edit

Research into Old Norse religion has been interdisciplinary, involving historians, archaeologists, philologists, place-name scholars, literary scholars, and historians of religion. [295] Scholars from different disciplines have tended to take different approaches to the material for instance, many literary scholars have been highly sceptical about how accurately Old Norse text portrays pre-Christian religion, whereas historians of religion have tended to regard these portrayals as highly accurate. [298]

Interest in Norse mythology was revived in the eighteenth century, [299] and scholars turned their attention to it in the early nineteenth century. [295] Since this research appeared from the background of European romanticism, many of the scholars operating in the nineteenth and twentieth century framed their approach through nationalism, and were strongly influenced in their interpretations by romantic notions about nationhood, conquest, and religion. [300] Their understandings of cultural interaction was also coloured by nineteenth-century European colonialism and imperialism. [301] Many regarded pre-Christian religion as singular and unchanging, directly equated religion with nation, and projected modern national borders onto the Viking Age past. [301]

Due to the use of Old Norse and Germanic iconography by the Nazis, academic research into Old Norse religion reduced heavily following the Second World War. [295] Scholarly interest in the subject then revived in the late 20th century. [295] By the 21st century, Old Norse religion was regarded as one of the best known non-Christian religions from Europe, alongside that of Greece and Rome. [302]

During the 12th century in Europe medieval clothing and costumes were simple and the only difference was in the small details. The types of Medieval costumes that were used were divided into men’s clothing and women’s clothing.

The men wore knee-length tunics for almost all activities, and the men from the upper classes wore long tunics with hose and mantles or cloaks.

The short costumes derived from melding the everyday dress of the Roman Empire and the short tunics that were worn by invading barbarians, the long costumes were descended from melding the clothes of the upper Roman empire classes and were influenced by Byzantine dresses.

The underclothes of Medieval men’s Clothes consisted of an inner tunic or a shirt with long tight sleeves which were usually made of linen since it offered the most comfort.

The leggings that were made of separate garments for each leg were made of cloth and were worn with a tunic. On the outside the men wore an outer tunic which reached to the knees or ankles and it was fastened to the belt of the person.

The men of these times usually did not wear any headgear. For protection of their head they would usually use cloaks which were attached to their outer tunic.


According to the Sagas of Icelanders, Norsemen from Iceland first settled Greenland in the 980s. There is no special reason to doubt the authority of the information that the sagas supply regarding the very beginning of the settlement, but they cannot be treated as primary evidence for the history of Norse Greenland because they embody the literary preoccupations of writers and audiences in medieval Iceland that are not always reliable. [5]

Erik the Red (Old Norse: Eiríkr rauði), having been banished from Iceland for manslaughter, explored the uninhabited southwestern coast of Greenland during the three years of his banishment. [6] [7] He made plans to entice settlers to the area, naming it Greenland on the assumption that "people would be more eager to go there because the land had a good name". [8] The inner reaches of one long fjord, named Eiriksfjord after him, was where he eventually established his estate Brattahlid. He issued tracts of land to his followers. [9]

Norse Greenland consisted of two settlements. The Eastern was at the southwestern tip of Greenland, while the Western Settlement was about 500 km up the west coast, inland from present-day Nuuk. A smaller settlement near the Eastern Settlement is sometimes considered the Middle Settlement. The combined population was around 2,000–3,000. [10] At least 400 farms have been identified by archaeologists. [9] Norse Greenland had a bishopric (at Garðar) and exported walrus ivory, furs, rope, sheep, whale and seal blubber, live animals such as polar bears, supposed "unicorn horns" (in reality narwhal tusks), and cattle hides. In 1126, the population requested a bishop (headquartered at Garðar), and in 1261, they accepted the overlordship of the Norwegian king. They continued to have their own law and became almost completely politically independent after 1349, the time of the Black Death. In 1380, the Kingdom of Norway entered into a personal union with the Kingdom of Denmark. [11]

Western trade and decline Edit

There is evidence of Norse trade with the natives (called the Skræling by the Norse). The Norse would have encountered both Native Americans (the Beothuk, related to the Algonquin) and the Thule, the ancestors of the Inuit. The Dorset had withdrawn from Greenland before the Norse settlement of the island. Items such as comb fragments, pieces of iron cooking utensils and chisels, chess pieces, ship rivets, carpenter's planes, and oaken ship fragments used in Inuit boats have been found far beyond the traditional range of Norse colonization. A small ivory statue that appears to represent a European has also been found among the ruins of an Inuit community house. [11]

The settlements began to decline in the 14th century. The Western Settlement was abandoned around 1350, and the last bishop at Garðar died in 1377. [11] After a marriage was recorded in 1408, no written records mention the settlers. It is probable that the Eastern Settlement was defunct by the late 15th century. The most recent radiocarbon date found in Norse settlements as of 2002 was 1430 (±15 years). [ citation needed ] Several theories have been advanced to explain the decline.

The Little Ice Age of this period would have made travel between Greenland and Europe, as well as farming, more difficult although seal and other hunting provided a healthy diet, there was more prestige in cattle farming, and there was increased availability of farms in Scandinavian countries depopulated by famine and plague epidemics. In addition, Greenlandic ivory may have been supplanted in European markets by cheaper ivory from Africa. [12] Despite the loss of contact with the Greenlanders, the Norwegian-Danish crown continued to consider Greenland a possession.

Not knowing whether the old Norse civilization remained in Greenland or not—and worried that if it did, it would still be Orthodox [13] [14] [15] [16] or Catholic 200 years after the Scandinavian homelands had experienced the Reformation—a joint merchant-clerical expedition led by the Dano-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede was sent to Greenland in 1721. Though this expedition found no surviving Europeans, it marked the beginning of Denmark's re-assertion of sovereignty over the island.

Climate and Norse Greenland Edit

Norse Greenlanders were limited to scattered fjords on the island that provided a spot for their animals (such as cattle, sheep, goats, dogs, and cats) to be kept and farms to be established. [17] [18] In these fjords, the farms depended upon byres to host their livestock in the winter, and routinely culled their herds in order to survive the season. [17] [18] [19] The coming warmer seasons meant that livestocks were taken from their byres to pasture, the most fertile being controlled by the most powerful farms and the church. [18] [19] [20] What was produced by livestock and farming was supplemented with subsistence hunting of mainly seal and caribou as well as walrus for trade. [17] [18] [19] The Norse mainly relied on the Nordrsetur hunt, a communal hunt of migratory harp seals that would take place during spring. [17] [20] Trade was highly important to the Greenland Norse and they relied on imports of lumber due to the barrenness of Greenland. In turn they exported goods such as walrus ivory and hide, live polar bears, and narwhal tusks. [19] [20] Ultimately these setups were vulnerable as they relied on migratory patterns created by climate as well as the well-being of the few fjords on the island. [18] [20] A portion of the time the Greenland settlements existed was during the Little Ice Age and the climate was, overall, becoming cooler and more humid. [17] [18] [19] As climate began to cool and humidity began to increase, this brought longer winters and shorter springs, more storms and affected the migratory patterns of the harp seal. [17] [18] [19] [20] Pasture space began to dwindle and fodder yields for the winter became much smaller. This combined with regular herd culling made it hard to maintain livestock, especially for the poorest of the Greenland Norse. [17] In spring, the voyages to where migratory harp seals could be found became more dangerous due to more frequent storms, and the lower population of harp seals meant that Nordrsetur hunts became less successful, making subsistence hunting extremely difficult. [17] [18] The strain on resources made trade difficult, and as time went on, Greenland exports lost value in the European market due to competing countries and the lack of interest in what was being traded. [20] Trade in elephant ivory began competing with the trade in walrus tusks that provided income to Greenland, and there is evidence that walrus over-hunting, particularly of the males with larger tusks, led to walrus population declines. [21]

In addition, it seemed that the Norse were unwilling to integrate with the Thule people of Greenland, either through marriage or culture. There is evidence of contact as seen through the Thule archaeological record including ivory depictions of the Norse as well as bronze and steel artifacts. However, there is essentially no material evidence of the Thule among Norse artifacts. [17] [18] In older research it was posited that it was not climate change alone that led to Norse decline, but also their unwillingness to adapt. [17] For example, if the Norse had decided to focus their subsistence hunting on the ringed seal (which could be hunted year round, though individually), and decided to reduce or do away with their communal hunts, food would have been much less scarce during the winter season. [18] [19] [20] [22] Also, had Norse individuals used skin instead of wool to produce their clothing, they would have been able to fare better nearer to the coast, and wouldn't have been as confined to the fjords. [18] [19] [20] However, more recent research has shown that the Norse did try to adapt in their own ways. [23] Some of these attempts included increased subsistence hunting. A significant number of bones of marine animals can be found at the settlements, suggesting increased hunting with the absence of farmed food. [23] In addition, pollen records show that the Norse didn't always devastate the small forests and foliage as previously thought. Instead the Norse ensured that overgrazed or overused sections were given time to regrow and moved to other areas. [23] Norse farmers also attempted to adapt. With the increased need for winter fodder and smaller pastures, they would self-fertilize their lands in an attempt to keep up with the new demands caused by the changing climate. [23] However, even with these attempts, climate change was not the only thing putting pressure on the Greenland Norse. The economy was changing, and the exports they relied on were losing value. [20] Current research suggests that the Norse were unable to maintain their settlements because of economic and climatic change happening at the same time. [23] [24]

According to the Icelandic sagas—Eirik the Red's Saga, [25] Saga of the Greenlanders, plus chapters of the Hauksbók and the Flatey Book—the Norse started to explore lands to the west of Greenland only a few years after the Greenland settlements were established. In 985, while sailing from Iceland to Greenland with a migration fleet consisting of 400–700 settlers [9] [26] and 25 other ships (14 of which completed the journey), a merchant named Bjarni Herjólfsson was blown off course, and after three days' sailing he sighted land west of the fleet. Bjarni was only interested in finding his father's farm, but he described his findings to Leif Erikson who explored the area in more detail and planted a small settlement fifteen years later. [9]

The sagas describe three separate areas that were explored: Helluland, which means "land of the flat stones" Markland, "the land of forests", definitely of interest to settlers in Greenland where there were few trees and Vinland, "the land of wine", found somewhere south of Markland. It was in Vinland that the settlement described in the sagas was founded.

Leif's winter camp Edit

Using the routes, landmarks, currents, rocks, and winds that Bjarni had described to him, Leif sailed from Greenland westward across the Labrador Sea, with a crew of 35—sailing the same knarr Bjarni had used to make the voyage. He described Helluland as "level and wooded, with broad white beaches wherever they went and a gently sloping shoreline." [9] Leif and others had wanted his father, Erik the Red, to lead this expedition and talked him into it. However, as Erik attempted to join his son Leif on the voyage towards these new lands, he fell off his horse as it slipped on the wet rocks near the shore thus he was injured and stayed behind. [9]

Leif wintered in 1001, probably near Cape Bauld on the northern tip of Newfoundland, where one day his foster father Tyrker was found drunk, on what the saga describes as "wine-berries." Squashberries, gooseberries, and cranberries all grew wild in the area. There are varying explanations for Leif apparently describing fermented berries as "wine."

Leif spent another winter at "Leifsbúðir" without conflict, and sailed back to Brattahlíð in Greenland to assume filial duties to his father.

Thorvald's voyage (1004 AD) Edit

In 1004, Leif's brother Thorvald Eiriksson sailed with a crew of 30 men to Vinland and spent the following winter at Leif's camp. In the spring, Thorvald attacked nine of the local people who were sleeping under three skin-covered canoes. The ninth victim escaped and soon came back to the Norse camp with a force. Thorvald was killed by an arrow that succeeded in passing through the barricade. Although brief hostilities ensued, the Norse explorers stayed another winter and left the following spring. Subsequently, another of Leif's brothers, Thorstein, sailed to the New World to retrieve his dead brother's body, but he died before leaving Greenland. [9]

Karlsefni's expedition (1009 AD) Edit

In 1009, Thorfinn Karlsefni, also known as "Thorfinn the Valiant", supplied three ships with livestock and 160 men and women [26] (although another source sets the number of settlers at 250). After a cruel winter, he headed south and landed at Straumfjord. He later moved to Straumsöy, possibly because the current was stronger there. A sign of peaceful relations between the indigenous peoples and the Norsemen is noted here. The two sides bartered with furs and gray squirrel skins for milk and red cloth, which the natives tied around their heads as a sort of headdress.

There are conflicting stories but one account states that a bull belonging to Karlsefni came storming out of the wood, so frightening the natives that they ran to their skin-boats and rowed away. They returned three days later, in force. The natives used catapults, hoisting "a large sphere on a pole it was dark blue in color" and about the size of a sheep's belly, [28] which flew over the heads of the men and made an ugly din. [28]

The Norsemen retreated. Leif Erikson's half-sister Freydís Eiríksdóttir was pregnant and unable to keep up with the retreating Norsemen. She called out to them to stop fleeing from "such pitiful wretches", adding that if she had weapons, she could do better than that. Freydís seized the sword belonging to a man who had been killed by the natives. She pulled one of her breasts out of her bodice and struck it with the sword, frightening the natives, who fled. [28]

Purported runestones have been found in North America, most famously the Kensington Runestone. These are generally considered to be hoaxes or misinterpretations of Native American petroglyphs. [29]

There are many claims of Norse colonization in New England, none well founded.

Monuments claimed to be Norse include: [30]

Horsford's Norumbega Edit

The nineteenth-century Harvard chemist Eben Norton Horsford connected the Charles River Basin to places described in the Norse sagas and elsewhere, notably Norumbega. [31] He published several books on the topic and had plaques, monuments, and statues erected in honor of the Norse. [32] His work received little support from mainstream historians and archeologists at the time, and even less today. [33] [34] [35]

Other nineteenth-century writers, such as Horsford's friend Thomas Gold Appleton, in his A Sheaf of Papers (1875), and George Perkins Marsh, in his The Goths in New England, seized upon such false notions of Viking history also to promote the superiority of white people (as well as to oppose the Catholic Church). Such misuse of Viking history and imagery reemerged in the twentieth century among some groups promoting white supremacy. [36]

Settlements in continental North America aimed to exploit natural resources such as furs and in particular lumber, which was in short supply in Greenland. [37] It is unclear why the short-term settlements did not become permanent, though it was likely in part because of hostile relations with the indigenous peoples, referred to as the Skræling by the Norse. [38] Nevertheless, it appears that sporadic voyages to Markland for forages, timber, and trade with the locals could have lasted as long as 400 years. [39] [40]

From 985 to 1410, Greenland was in touch with the world. Then silence. In 1492 the Vatican noted that no news of that country "at the end of the world" had been received for 80 years, and the bishopric of the colony was offered to a certain ecclesiastic if he would go and "restore Christianity" there. He didn't go. [41]

For centuries it remained unclear whether the Icelandic stories represented real voyages by the Norse to North America. The sagas first gained serious historic respectability in 1837 when the Danish antiquarian Carl Christian Rafn pointed out the possibility for a Norse settlement in, or voyages to, North America. North America, by the name Winland, first appeared in written sources in a work by Adam of Bremen from approximately 1075. The most important works about North America and the early Norse activities there, namely the Sagas of Icelanders, were recorded in the 13th and 14th centuries. In 1420, some Inuit captives and their kayaks were taken to Scandinavia. [43] The Norse sites were depicted in the Skálholt Map, made by an Icelandic teacher in 1570 and depicting part of northeastern North America and mentioning Helluland, Markland and Vinland. [44]

Evidence of the Norse west of Greenland came in the 1960s when archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad and her husband, outdoorsman and author Helge Ingstad, excavated a Norse site at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. The location of the various lands described in the sagas remains unclear, however. Many historians identify Helluland with Baffin Island and Markland with Labrador. The location of Vinland poses a thornier question.

In 2012 Canadian researchers identified possible signs of Norse outposts in Nanook at Tanfield Valley on Baffin Island, as well as on Nunguvik, Willows Island, and Avayalik. [45] [46] [47] Unusual fabric cordage found on Baffin Island in the 1980s and stored at the Canadian Museum of Civilization was identified in 1999 as possibly of Norse manufacture that discovery led to more in-depth exploration of the Tanfield Valley archaeological site for points of contact between Norse Greenlanders and the indigenous Dorset people. [48] [49]

Archeological findings in 2015 at Point Rosee, [50] [51] on the southwest coast of Newfoundland, were originally thought to reveal evidence of a turf wall and the roasting of bog iron ore, and therefore a possible 10th century Norse settlement in Canada. [52] Findings from the 2016 excavation suggest the turf wall and the roasted bog iron ore discovered in 2015 were the result of natural processes. [53] The possible settlement was initially discovered through satellite imagery in 2014, [54] and archaeologists excavated the area in 2015 and 2016. [54] [52] Birgitta Linderoth Wallace, one of the leading experts of Norse archaeology in North America and an expert on the Norse site at L'Anse aux Meadows, is unsure of the identification of Point Rosee as a Norse site. [55] Archaeologist Karen Milek was a member of the 2016 Point Rosee excavation and is a Norse expert. She also expressed doubt that Point Rosee was a Norse site as there are no good landing sites for their boats and there are steep cliffs between the shoreline and the excavation site. [56] In their November 8, 2017, report [57] Sarah Parcak and Gregory Mumford, co-directors of the excavation, wrote that they "found no evidence whatsoever for either a Norse presence or human activity at Point Rosee prior to the historic period" [51] and that "none of the team members, including the Norse specialists, deemed this area as having any traces of human activity." [50]


Metalwork is almost the only form in which the earliest Anglo-Saxon art has survived, mostly in Germanic-style jewellery (including fittings for clothes and weapons) which was, before the Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England, commonly placed in burials. [3] After the conversion, which took most of the 7th century, the fusion of Germanic Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Late Antique techniques and motifs, together with the requirement for books, created Hiberno-Saxon style, or Insular art, which is also seen in illuminated manuscripts and some carved stone and ivory, probably mostly drawing from decorative metalwork motifs, and with further influences from the British Celts of the west and the Franks. The Kingdom of Northumbria in the far north of England was the crucible of Insular style in Britain, at centres such as Lindisfarne, founded c. 635 as an offshoot of the Irish monastery on Iona, and Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Abbey (674) which looked to the continent. At about the same time as the Insular Lindisfarne Gospels was being made in the early 8th century, the Vespasian Psalter from Canterbury in the far south, which the missionaries from Rome had made their headquarters, shows a wholly different, classically based art. These two styles mixed and developed together and by the following century the resulting Anglo-Saxon style had reached maturity.

However Anglo-Saxon society was massively disrupted in the 9th century, especially the later half, by the Viking invasions, and the number of significant objects surviving falls considerably, and their dating becomes even vaguer than of those from a century before. Most monasteries in the north were closed for decades, if not forever, and after the Canterbury Bible of before 850, perhaps well before, "no major illuminated manuscript is known until well on into the tenth century". [4] King Alfred (r. 871–899) held the Vikings back to a line running diagonally across the middle of England, above which they settled in the Danelaw, and were gradually integrated into what was now a unified Anglo-Saxon kingdom.

The final phase of Anglo-Saxon art is known as the Winchester School or style, though it was produced in many centres in the south of England, and perhaps the Midlands also. Elements of this begin to be seen from around 900, but the first major manuscripts only appear around the 930s. The style combined influences from the continental art of the Holy Roman Empire with elements of older English art, and some particular elements including a nervous agitated style of drapery, sometimes matched by figures, especially in line drawings, which are the only images in many manuscripts, and were to remain especially prominent in medieval English art.

Early Anglo-Saxon manuscript illumination forms part of Insular art, a combination of influences from Mediterranean, Celtic and Germanic styles that arose when the Anglo-Saxons encountered Irish missionary activity in Northumbria, at Lindisfarne and Iona in particular. At the same time the Gregorian mission from Rome and its successors imported continental manuscripts like the Italian St. Augustine Gospels, and for a considerable period the two styles appear mixed in a variety of proportions in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. In the Lindisfarne Gospels, of around 700–715, there are carpet pages and Insular initials of unprecedented complexity and sophistication, but the evangelist portraits, clearly following Italian models, greatly simplify them, misunderstand some details of the setting, and give them a border with interlace corners. The portrait of St Matthew is based on the same Italian model, or one extremely similar, used for the figure of Ezra that is one of the two large miniatures in the Codex Amiatinus (before 716), but the style there is very different a far more illusionistic treatment, and an "attempt to introduce a pure Mediterranean style into Anglo-Saxon England", which failed, as "perhaps too advanced", leaving these images apparently as the only evidence. [5]

A different mixture is seen in the opening from the Stockholm Codex Aureus (mid-8th century, above left) where the evangelist portrait to the left is in a consistent adaptation of Italian style, probably closely following some lost model, though adding interlace to the chair frame, while the text page to the right is mainly in Insular style, especially in the first line, with its vigorous Celtic spirals and interlace. The following lines revert to a quieter style more typical of Frankish manuscripts of the period. Yet the same artist almost certainly produced both pages, and is very confident in both styles the evangelist portrait of John includes roundels with Celtic spiral decoration probably drawn from the enamelled escutcheons of hanging bowls. [6] This is one of the so-called "Tiberius group" of manuscripts, which leant towards the Italian style, and appear to be associated with Kent, or perhaps the kingdom of Mercia in the heyday of the Mercian Supremacy. It is, in the usual chronology, the last English manuscript in which "developed trumpet spiral patterns" are found. [7]

The 9th century, especially the latter half, has very few major survivals made in England, but was a period when Insular and Anglo-Saxon influence on Carolingian manuscripts was at its height, from scriptoria such as those at the Anglo-Saxon mission's foundation at Echternach Abbey (though the important Echternach Gospels were created in Northumbria), and the major monastery at Tours, where Alcuin of York was followed by another Anglo-Saxon abbot, between them covering the period from 796 to 834. Although Tours' own library was destroyed by Norsemen, over 60 9th century illuminated manuscripts from the scriptorium survive, in a style showing many borrowings from English models, especially in initial pages, where Insular influence remained visible in northern France until even the 12th century. The Anglo-Saxon metalwork produced in the Salzburg area of modern Austria has a manuscript counterpart in the "Cutbercht Gospels" in Vienna. [8]

By the 10th century Insular elements were relegated to decorative embellishments in England, as the first phase of the "Winchester style" developed. [9] The first plant ornament, with leaves and grapes, was already seen in an initial in the Leningrad Bede, which can probably be dated to 746. The other large initial in the manuscript is the first historiated initial (one containing a portrait or scene, here Christ or a saint) in the whole of Europe. [10] The classically derived vine or plant scroll was to largely oust interlace as the dominant filler of ornamental spaces in Anglo-Saxon art, just as it did in much of Europe beginning with Carolingian art, though in England animals within the scrolls remained much more common than abroad. [11] For some long time scrolls, especially in metal, bone or ivory, are prone to have an animal head at one end and a plant element at the other. [12] All these changes were not restricted to manuscripts, and may not have been driven by manuscript style, but we have a greater number of manuscripts surviving than works in other media, even if in most cases illuminations are restricted to initials and perhaps a few miniatures. Several ambitious projects of illumination are unfinished, such as the Old English Hexateuch, which has some 550 scenes in various stages of completion, giving insight into working methods. The illustrations give Old Testament scenes an entirely contemporary setting and are valuable images of Anglo-Saxon life. [13]

Manuscripts from the Winchester School or style only survive from about the 930s onwards this coincided with a wave of revival and reform within English monasticism, encouraged by King Æthelstan (r. 924/5-939) and his successors. Æthelstan promoted Dunstan (909–988), a practising illuminator, eventually to Archbishop of Canterbury, and also Æthelwold and the French-trained Norseman Oswald. Illumination in a new style appears in a manuscript of the biographies by Bede of St Cuthbert given by Æthelstan to the monastery in Chester-le-Street about 937. There is a dedication portrait of the king presenting his book to the saint, the two of them standing outside a large church. This is the first real portrait of an English king, and heavily influenced by Carolingian style, with an elegant inhabited acanthus border. However, the initials in the text combine Carolingian elements with animal forms in inventive fashion. [14] Miniatures added in England to the continental Aethelstan Psalter begin to show Anglo-Saxon liveliness in figure drawing in compositions derived from Carolingian and Byzantine models, and over the following decades the distinctive Winchester style with agitated draperies and elaborate acanthus borders develops. [15]

The Benedictional of St. Æthelwold is a masterpiece of the later Winchester style, which drew on Insular, Carolingian, and Byzantine art to make a heavier and more grandiose style, where the broad classicising acanthus foliage sometimes seems over-luxuriant. Anglo-Saxon illustration included many lively pen drawings, on which the Carolingian Utrecht Psalter, in Canterbury from about 1000, was highly influential the Harley Psalter is a copy of it. The Ramsey Psalter (c. 990) contains pages in both the painted and tinted drawing styles, including the first Beatus initial with a "lion mask", while the Tiberius Psalter, from the last years before the Conquest, uses mainly the tinted. Anglo-Saxon culture was coming into increasing contact with, and exchanging influences with, a wider Latin Mediaeval Europe. Anglo-Saxon drawing had a great influence in Northern France throughout the 11th century, in the so-called "Channel school", and Insular decorative elements such as interlace remained popular into the 12th century in the Franco-Saxon style.

The Incipit to Matthew from the Book of Lindisfarne, an Insular masterpiece

Evidence for Ritual

The cattle skulls are in three clusters, an area on the west exterior side containing 8 skulls 14 skulls inside a room adjoining to the great hall (the shrine), and one single skull located next to the main entryway.

All of the skulls were found within wall and roof collapse areas, suggesting that they had been suspended from the roof rafters. Radiocarbon dates on five of the skulls the bone suggest that the animals died between 50-100 years apart, with the latest dated about AD 1000.

Excavators Lucas and McGovern believe that Hofstaðir ended abruptly in the mid-11th century, about the same time a church was built 140 m (460 ft)away, representing the arrival of Christianity in the region.

Complicated/intricate officer's uniforms. were they worn all the time?

To expand on that, I can understand the utility of wearing a complicated or intricate uniform on the battlefield in the days of black powder/before radio communication so that a commissioned officer would be instantly recognized by his own men.

However. what about during daily life, especially in Africa or the tropics? Would naval officers have really worn those thick, heavy coats and hats during normal day-to-day operations in hot climates? How did they keep from passing out or needing to chug gallons of water every day? What about Army officers stationed in hotter areas?

The simple answer: Not often.

Intricate and outlandish uniforms were all part of the military 'show', increasing the spectacle and intimidation factor of military power, and, by extension, the power of the state. Thus, officers and men of, say (surprise, surprise!) the British Army of the post-Napoleonic period would wear tall shakos with elaborate plumage and swallow-tailed coats when doing something as banal as, say, riot duty (something that the army was called to do a lot, in the absence of a police force, and an upsurge in industrial disturbances). This lithograph, though admittedly a caricature, shows the effect an impressive uniform could have on an unruly crowd.

'Walking-out' dress, as it's name implies, was worn by officers when they were off-duty. Even this could be quite elaborate, see this image of an officer of the Grenadier Guards off-parade c.1853. A soldier was clearly visible, even while off duty.

On the campaign, especially in hot climates (where the British army fought most of it's colonial campaigns in the first half of the 19th century), officers traded in their elaborate coatees and shakos for more practical forage caps, frock coats, or shell jackets. This lithograph of British troops assaulting an Afghan fort in 1839, shows several officers in undress, the one on the far right in a frock coat, the rest in shell jackets. The men, conversely, are clad in coatees and shakos with blue dungaree trousers.

The reason for this was largely due to practicality. Officers paid for their elaborate dress uniforms, and did not want to sully them in the field. Other ranks usually had no such liberties, uniformity of dress being considered one of the most important aspects of discipline. However, they often wore undress shell-jackets and forage caps on campaign, which were marginally more practical than the full-dress coatee and shako. This watercolor by Henry Martens of the 9th Regiment after the Sikh War (1845-46) is a good example of how a regiment might appear in the field. Note that all are in undress, though the officers wear forage caps while the men wear cylindrical shakos. Both have white cotton coverings.

Red might not even be warn at all. White cotton drill was issued to troops serving in India for use during the summer (For an example, see this image by Orlando Norie of 10th Hussars on service in India). During the Mutiny of 1857, British troops began to dye their white cotton clothing to produce a dust-colored hue (though this was highly variable) called 'Khaki', a forerunner of the later Khaki drab uniforms.

As the 19th century wore on, officers increasingly began to adopt more and more items of 'native dress', including turbans, pugarees, quilted cotton jackets, and sun helmets. 'Uniforms' such as these are described by General Sir Garnet Wolesley as being worn by the East India Company officers during the Second Burma War (1851-53).

Practices changed when British troops faced a European foe: In the Crimean War (1854-56), all ranks wore full dress. However, accommodations were soon made for the hot weather encountered in the early stages of the campaign, with men contriving to loose their cumbersome shakos and officers carrying their equipment slung over the shoulders in a blanket en bandarole (producing a look rather unsuited to the parade ground). When supply broke down in the winter, officers and men wore whatever they could come across to keep warm.

So, as we came see, Army officers wore quite practical uniforms in the field, while saving their full-dress uniforms for parades and reviews. Such concessions were not given to the men under their command, who were often expected to march and fight in uniforms similar to what they wore at home.

Barthorp, Michael The British Army on Campaign 1816-1902 (1): 1816-1853 (Osprey Publishing, 1987)

Barthorp, Michael The British Army on Campaign 1816-1902 (2): The Crimea 1854-1856 (Osprey Publishing, 1987)

Barthorp, Michael The British Army on Campaign 1816-1902 (3): 1856-1881 (Osprey Publishing, 1988)

Knight, Ian Go to your God like a Soldier: The British Soldier Fighting for Empire, 1837-1902 (Greenhill Books, 1996)

Myerly, Scott Hughes British Military Spectacle: From the Napoleonic Wars through the Crimea (Harvard University Press, 1996)

The images are from the New York Public Library's Vinkhuijzen Collection of Military Costume Illustration, The Department for Culture, Media and Sport's photostream, and Brown University's Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection.

Edit: Added a source I forgot, also tldr, officers traded in their expensive and elaborate uniforms for less ostentatious 'undress' when off-duty or on campaign. On campaign in particular, their uniforms were augmented by various practical accoutrements.