12 Bizarre Aspects Of Everyday Life In Ancient Viking Culture - The Comprehensive Minds

12 Bizarre Aspects Of Everyday Life In Ancient Viking Culture

We've all seen Vikings on television and in movies. But popular depictions of this ancient culture are often more fantasy than they are in history. A Viking man was likely to be a farmer by day, while his wife was in charge of the household and the family. At night, they slept in one big room with the whole family and most likely their goats, probably not what most people picture when they hear the word Vikings. Today, we're going to take a look at the bizarre aspects of everyday life in ancient Viking culture.


They Kept Slaves And Practiced Human Sacrifice

Bizarre Aspects Of Everyday Life In Ancient Viking Culture

Viking culture was absolutely brutal. They loved to pillage their enemies. And the spoils of that pillaging included prisoners who would be returned to Scandinavia and sold as slaves which were known as thralls. Viking warriors would sail around Europe, raiding lands from Spain to Byzantium

Along the way, they would traffic prisoners, particularly women in an elaborate slavery network. Archaeological evidence has turned up numerous iron slave collars and even suggested the existence of forced labor plantations in Sweden. And if that's not scary enough, they were also really into the sacrifice of their fellow man. 

Mass burial sites have been discovered across Scandinavia that seem to back up the accounts of Christian chroniclers who reported atrocities carried out in the name of gods. No wonder everyone was so terrified of being raided by Vikings.  


Dead Men Were Put On Boats And Set On Fire

Dead Men Were Put On Boats And Set On Fire

While it's just a myth that Vikings wore horns, the legendary Viking funeral was a real thing. Warriors of renown would have their bodies placed on a ship that could range in size from a tiny rowboat to a massive warship. 

The ship would be stocked with so-called grave goods, which were important items the deceased would need in the afterlife. These items might include jewels, animals, weapons, and most terrifyingly, living slaves who belonged to the deceased. 


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Once loaded up, the boat, while probably still on land, would be set on fire, sending the warrior off in a literal blaze of glory. While most who received this honor were men, it's definitely worth noting that quite a few women received it as well. In the 10th century, a writer named Ahmad ibn Fadlan witnessed a funeral that was much like one of these ship burials. 

He wrote that in the case of rich people of status, a third of their wealth was inherited by their family. Another third would pay for their funeral clothes. And the last third went to buying alcoholic drinks that would be served at the cremation, a no-party like a Viking funeral party.  


They Were Great Skiers

Vikings Were Great Skiers

You probably knew this already, but Scandinavia can get quite cold during the winter. This causes the ground to freeze over and makes getting around tricky. But when your day-to-day life requires hunting, like it often did for Vikings, you can't let a little ice slow you down. 

So how did the Vikings deal with it? Well, archaeologists suggest they simply slid over the ice. This is backed up by over100 pinewood skis that were found preserved in bogs. Worth noting-- no Viking lift ticket has ever been found. 

Evidence also shows the Vikings used ice skates made from the bones of moose or horses. And wooden sleighs have been found in the graves of high-status Viking women.  


They Wore Reverse Mullets

Vikings Wore Reverse Mullets

So one of the things Vikings are not known for is their hairstyles. And there might be a reason for that. Namely, the Vikings wore reverse mullets. Yes, when they first arrived in England, locals couldn't help but notice the parting in the front business and the back hairstyle the newcomers sported. 

The hairstyle became pretty unpopular, particularly with the church. And it would be worn again in subsequent generations by Norman invaders who descended from the Vikings.  


Humans And Animals Lived Together In One Room

Humans And Animals Lived Together In One Room

Viking houses were just one big room. And a Viking family was likely to share their living space with their animals. While some houses were built with two rooms, likely to spare the occupants from having to be trampled by goats while they slept, these tended to belong to wealthier members of society. 

As time went on and Viking culture progressed, wealthier Vikings got increasingly larger homes with more and more space. These homes could comfortably accommodate the people, livestock, and food that all needed to be sheltered. 

The largest room in such structures was called the longhouse. It would typically have a hearth and a cooking pit and be used as a hall.  


Women Could Divorce Their Husbands

Women Could Divorce Their Husbands

Viking women could be chiefs or great warriors, but most weren't. With a typical Viking man out working the farm all day, the typical woman was charged with running her household, which included keeping the larder stocked, weaving, mending sails, and just generally being the boss of the family. Viking women did not have it easy. 

A wife's adultery was considered an extremely serious matter. And in some areas, a Viking man who caught his wife cheating on him might be legally entitled to dispatch both his wife and her lover. Conversely, men were permitted to keep concubines or even have children outside of their marriage, a practice so widespread, some early Christian observers mistook the Vikings were being polygamous

However, the women did have some rights Viking women were allowed to divorce their husbands if they wanted to in a surprisingly simple legal process. Evidence shows that this seldom-used procedure merely involved calling together a group of witnesses and declaring oneself divorced. 

While it could be a little more complicated if the ownership of property was involved, its mere existence is fairly remarkable.  


They Played A Lot Of Chess

Vikings Played A Lot Of Chess

For leisure, Viking men and women played a game called hnefatafl. Hnefatafl was a dramatic strategy game, not unlike chess, that is believed to have evolved from an earlier Roman game. They also enjoyed regular chess. 

The British Museum has a famous12th century Norwegian chess set known as the Lewis Chessmen consisting of pieces carved from walrus ivory and whale teeth. It is one of the few, nearly complete medieval chess sets known to exist today. 

Hnefatafl is so much part of Viking culture and history. It often appeared in Norse sagas being played by heroes and kings. For example, "The Saga of King Olaf," the saint. This poem tells the tale of a match between two real historical figures-- Cnut the Great who was King of England, Norway, and Denmark, and one of his nobles, a man named Olaf.  


Literate Men And Women Wrote In Runes

Literate Men And Women Wrote In Runes

Vikings were not illiterate. In fact, they could write using a runic alphabet called futhark. Known to be used by both men and women, futhark was made up of 24 letters and could be used to write out several Germanic languages. 

Interestingly, futhark runes had been found carved into stones throughout Northern Europe. Archaeologists believe this practice may have had mystical purposes.  


They Loved Telling Stories Out Loud

Vikings Loved Telling Stories Out Loud

Like all cultures, Vikingsloved to hear stories. They even had professional entertainers called skalds. Much like the oral poets of ancient Greece, the skalds would memorize long tales and recite them aloud around the fire or in a hall. 

These tales were fun and enjoyable, but they also served to educate younger generations about Viking culture, faith, and history. Skalds were especially known to be associated with royal courts. In such a setting, it is believed that they told tales honoring their monarchs by placing them in legendary genealogies. 

Thanks to an old Norse book known as the Skáldatal, we know the names of 300 of these skalds from the period between 812 and 1200 AD. Their poems were replete with literary devices called kennings. Kennings are short phrases that would supply necessary imagery without requiring the poet to repeat himself. 

For example, instead of saying death, the poet might refer to the sleep of the sword. As an interesting side note, a13th century Icelandic scholar named Snorri Sturlusonwrote a textbook aimed at teaching his readers the meaning behind these skaldic kennings. 

Since understanding many of the kennings required knowing Norse myths, Snorrirecorded the myths as well. Much of what we know of Norse mythology today was only preserved due to Snorri's writings.  


They Ate Horse And Reindeer

Vikings Ate Horse And Reindeer

Evidence shows that all Vikings, pretty much regardless of social status, had a protein-heavy diet. In fact, during the middle ages, even the poorest Vikings ate better than their average English peasant. A typical Viking family would eat twice a day, once when they awoke and again after the day's work was done. 

The meat was a regular part of their meals, including goat, reindeer, elk, lamb, beef, mutton, horse, and thanks to the incredible skills of Viking hunters, even bear on occasion. Pigs were raised on farms and estates alike. And the pork was especially popular. Most of the meat dishes Vikings enjoyed were boiled. 

One called scouse is known to have been a hearty stew, enjoyed with bread baked from beans, grain, and tree bark. For seagoing people, it's not surprising that fish was also a major staple. Herring was widely consumed and might be prepared in a number of different ways, including pickled, dried, salted, or smoked. But the Viking diet wasn't all meat. 

In fact, it was fairly well-rounded and included both fruits and vegetables. Evidence shows they ate carrots, beans, cabbage, and apples. They were also known to use herbs and spices like cumin, mustard, coriander, and horseradish to punch up bland food. 

Despite the hard diet, Vikings still faced a few health problems. For one, archaeological digs into Viking sewers and cesspools have shown that many Vikings had intestinal parasites. As if that didn't give them indigestion enough, the same evidence shows that Viking bread was prone to be baked with seeds from weeds that are poisonous to humans. 


They Got Drunk On Their Own Mead

Vikings Got Drunk On Their Own Mead

These days, we all love a good beer. But Vikings were more into a forerunner of beer called mead, which was made by fermenting water, honey, and yeast. It was popular at feasts and was believed to inspire great poetry. Mead was so culturally influential that Norse myths actually feature a character called Heidrun who is a magical goat that produces mead instead of milk.  


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Vikings Held Massive Feasts In Longhouses

Vikings love to party. And their feasts were epic celebrations overflowing with food. A feast would typically be held in a massive longhouse and be hosted by someone important, like the local chief or king. 

The event was typically in honor of some occasion, like a harvest festival or a religious ritual, but could also be for a personal occasion like a wedding, baby birth, or even a successful raid. While the food at these feasts was important, that wasn't the real point. 

The feasts were really an opportunity to fortify social relationships in a positive way. Leaders and their subordinates could bond, political roles could be reinforced, and alliances could be formed, all of which was crucial to holding together Viking society and culture. How would you handle life as a Viking? Let us know in the comments below. 

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