Viking culture remains of great interest in the public mind, mainly how they lived. Here, we are going to get into great detail about the structure that Vikings called home.
What is a Viking house called?
The Vikings lived in what was called a longhouse, which speaks to the kind of structure they lived in. These were long and narrow buildings where a large number of people, along with their livestock, could live in. There was plenty of room for daily activities too. Let’s explore that further.
What were the Viking longhouses made of?
The houses were made mostly from timber frames. The walls were made from wattle and daub, which is a method used in construction. It consisted of vertical wooden stakes between 16 and 23 feet long, known as wattles, woven with horizontal branches and twigs. From there, these frames would then get daubed with either mud or clay. The purpose of making a house as such was weatherproofing. It is known as one of the oldest ways to do it. This kind of building predates back to Iron Age sites, around the same time the Vikings existed.
Since wood was scarce for the most part, the longhouses typically used turf or sod for their roofing purposes. They would make two wooden posts to support the roof that would then run over the whole structure. In some cases, the top would be about 250 feet long. The roof, and sometimes the side of the walls, would be green for the most part, covered in turf.
The floor, as with most housing in the ancient past, was made from pounded earth. They did that so that dust wouldn’t get stirred as they moved about the house. There are also narratives that ash would get poured around the house to act as an absorbent. Around the house, there would be stone footings that helped keep the wood they used in place.
How did Vikings live at home?
The houses the Vikings built were multipurpose with a ton of activity taking place within the structure. One side of the building would be a workstation for artisans, weavers, or anything to accommodate their profession. The middle of the longhouse was typically the living space, where there was also a central hall for family activities. There was ample space to do several things.
In this part of the house, one would find benches. They were thought to add support to the walls but, too, acted as sitting and sleeping platforms. Some sagas mentioned long tables in this hall area when there was a feast, which was then placed in the rafters when not in use. Apart from the benches, Vikings didn’t have other furniture; even the tables weren’t standard. The wealthy were thought to have curved beds, but otherwise still have a simplistic living space.
At the center of this living space, there was a hearth used for lighting, cooking, and heating purposes. The area also served as a space where the family would spend time together as they engaged in various activities, including storytelling or weaving. Lamps made from cotton grass and cod liver oil got used to bring better lighting with little smoke or odor. Candles during this time were unheard of. In some depiction of longhouses, some windows provided both light and ventilation, but it’s unclear if these are merely modern depictions.
Smoke was inevitable, mostly because there were no windows. It was the spaces on both the walls and roof that let it escape, which also served as a form of ventilation and lighting. In some instances, the home would have a loft used for storage. In might have served as a sleeping area too, but smoke might have discouraged that sometimes.
The back portion of the house would act as a storage for tools used to till the land and crops. During winter, space got converted into a barn. Here, their cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and even pigs would stay. The Vikings did also have ducks, geese, and hens too. These people did get a lot from their domestic animals and would likewise take care of them.
Life aspects in the longhouses
From this layout, it is evident that privacy was not something the longhouse accommodated. It would likely explain the general theme of closeness and friendship the Vikings possesses among families. It would be not quiet, with as many as ten to twenty people navigating the same house. It was typical for Vikings to live like this; families consisted of blood relatives, spouses, and children. One person would call this crowded; another would say it’s what brought warmth to the home.
With these many people in one place, it would make sense why less furniture was necessary. Also, the Viking houses would likely develop an odor. Accounts state Vikings showered once a week, and even though they changed their clothes every few days, that wasn’t enough to eliminate the body odor. What’s more, during winter months, there was added smell from animals sheltered in the barn at the back of the longhouse. Mice, therefore, were not uncommon in such circumstances.
During warmer weather, the families did spend more time outside, which was all the more critical after the cabin fever they might have experienced during winter months. Vikings women would till the land and enjoy the fresh harvest, while the men went out to hunt or fish in nearby waterbodies.
Longhouses were significantly larger in rural areas than in the town. There was, of course, more space to accommodate longhouses. In cities, the houses weren’t typically called longhouses, but they did bear the rectangular shape. A more prominent part of the house served as the central hall or living space, with less room left for working and an even smaller area for crops and livestock.
Viking homes are a reflection of the intimate nature they are known for. They served the purpose of the time but also make for an inspiring home if you’re looking to build a Viking-inspired home.
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