Men and women of the Viking age loved their jewelry. So much that they had to hide it away or wear it on them if they would be away for a long time. It’s obvious they took pride in their jewelry work based on the attention to detail that is associated with their pieces. There is a reason for this.
What kind of jewelry did the Vikings wear?
They wore all types of jewelry. Anything from neck, wrist, finger and arm rings of silver or bronze metal were spotted on men depending on their status and social position within the community. The ladies sported brooches and armbands of brass or bronze and unlike most female cultures, the Viking women were not fond of earrings. Of course, this has changed over the years.
What has not changed is the intricate designs that are associated with Viking runes and symbols such as; The Tree of Life, Thor’s Hammer, three interlocked triangles, three drinking horns. These have been carried on by various jewelry companies as well as the incorporation of totem animals in their designs.
What is Viking jewelry made of?
Jewelry was usually made of bronze, gold, silver, glass, and brass. Gold and silver had to be outsourced as it didn’t occur naturally in their land. They did this by gathering gold coins collected during overseas trade. Whether they had gold or not, it didn’t matter because the Vikings loved silver more.
They also wore beads made from precious stones and rocks but they rarely used rocks to adorn their silver pieces.
Why did Vikings wear Jewelry?
Vikings wore their jewelry for more than just as an accessory. Hack Silver was a very common phrase in their era and it referred to the portions of silver cut off from a whole piece of jewelry, like an arm ring, to serve as payment for whatever the Viking customer needed. Arm rings were mostly made in a spiral design allowing for a snug fit after cutting off a piece. Other pieces of gold or silver metal were small and plain in design. One could choose to hand it over for melting in exchange of another equally valuable good.
More than just as its monetary significance, jewelry was worn as a form of identification. You would know a person’s status and possibly their lineage or political affiliations based on their jewelry. An example of this is the Viking warriors who worshiped Odin and believed in the existence of Valhalla. They are said to not only have Odin related symbols on their jewelry and that some would have them curved out on their forehead.
For kings and the elite, they wore jewelry to show off their opulence since it was a common practice for them to gift jewels to warriors or members of the community they deemed worthy and deserving of a brave or noble act.
Vikings Jewelry history
Vikings have a great history with gods and giants and with events that shaped their society and its traditions. Vikings jewelry ornaments were about upholding the culture and it is noticeable that a lot of the jewelry reflected their Viking ways, their beliefs, and the gods they served. All around them, you would find symbols and patterns which is a popular characteristic of the Viking tribe.
It wasn’t only the jewelry but other facets of their lives, weapons and rune stones included that bore traces of decorative etchings on them. For the most part, the designs did appear abstract, but they did carry with them inspiration from nature, animals, and depictions of their gods.
Vikings Jewelry Facts
Did you know? Most pieces of the old Norse people’s jewelry were derived from burial sites or underground in stockpiles. This is because Vikings were worried that their dearly departed will be broke on the other side and thought it a great tradition to bury them with a load of cash. That was not the only reason why they loved to bury their money. As ardent raiders and looters of other people’s shiny property, Vikings were rarely home and because of this, they had to bury their stash because it was the only way to make sure no one steals it.
Vikings Jewelry Items
They were mostly not worn by the women of the Viking age. Though evidence shows that they probably acquired them through trade or gifts. Those found by archeologists suggest fine designs of earrings made to cover the ear. It is believed that these are not original creations of the Norse people but rather a duplication of the Slavic earpieces.
While visiting a Viking gravesite, you will spot a variety of rings dotting the grounds. Though they only gained popularity much later in the Viking age, rings were made open-ended for easier fitting for many with minimal need for alteration. Their width was characteristically uneven.
Going by the current situation in which beads are cheaply, readily and widely available, it would be easy to dismiss these pieces of jewelry. However, in the Viking era, beads were a rare find and were mostly found accompanying a piece of Thor’s hammer. Their incorporation into other metal pieces was very limited. This points to their rarity and consequently their worth.
It is assumed that they were the reserve of the rich and opulent in the society. Archeologists also believe that the number of beads found on a piece of jewelry could indicate a level of mastery or achievement of the age. Glass is a common bead material. Those made of jet or amber are a rare find.
Arm rings/ bands
Probably the most popular item of accessory among the male and female population of the Viking tribe. Their versatility in function as an ornament and a currency was widely appreciated. Arm rings were long enough to wrap around the arm up well past your elbow and were mostly used as currency as they were plain and flat making it easier to cut into pieces on demand. Armbands had several designs, shapes, and sizes and were mostly made into a spiral that would allow the wearer to break off a piece and still maintain a snug fit around the arm.
Spotting most ancient Viking descendant’s graves are pieces of these ornate jewelry. Thor’s hummer is a popular item in this design and this is true presently. Others were the likes of Mjolnir, Valknut, Yggdrasil, and other significant symbolic markings. Most commonly used pendant designs were in the form of tiny weapons like the axe which was highly revered among the Viking warrior tribe. Crosses, the tree of life, arrowheads and perforated coins were also quite popular across the population.
Even as a cross seems to be an odd thing for a pagan to wear, it must be remembered that in the era of the Vikings, Christianity had just broken out in Europe and was on a serious conversion mission. As with any new and popular culture, some Vikings took up the Christian belief but only as an add on as they still kept their pagan ways. This argument is supported by the few numbers of cross pendants found in the archaeological archives.
Another must-have piece in the Viking age was the brooches. They were so handy in fastening and securing cloaks, robes, and clothing around the body that men and women each had their type. The men’s brand was the Penannular Brooch which was designed into the shape of a ring with little else detail on it. Viking males adopted this brooch from the Irish and Scottish and this trend caught on to the rest of Scandinavia. Penannular brooches were fastened on the man’s right shoulder with the pin facing upward. This enabled the sword arm to swing freely.
Ladies’ brooches, the Oval Brooches, were a little fancier, as expected. They had tiny and ornate carvings made into them and they had a very feminine oval shape. These brooches held a lady’s gown, cloak, apron or dress up on either shoulder and had a chain of colored beads added to it for visual effects.
Necklaces and neck rings
These could be made with a variety of material from beads, precious stones, amber, resin, metal pieces, glass, and charms. They hung on a metal wire or a natural fiber in consideration of a variety of other sizes. Pendants for these pieces were made of glass, beads, precious stones, resin or amber and they were often pieces of souvenirs or other Nordic symbols that held significance to the wearer. Necklaces were more commonly worn as compared to neck rings and they both served a double purpose of ornament and currency. Neck rings were more likely to be worn by men.
With all this information, it becomes easy to identify and select the best-looking piece of Viking jewelry. Most pieces are made by the wax-method to shape and mold the different designs and carvings. They will feature animal totems and twisted or coiled snake shapes. Again, snakes are symbolic due to a historic event that took place at the battle of Ragnarok.
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- What are the Viking treasures found in England?