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WOMEN IN THE VIKING AGE

By Norman Descendants February 23, 2017 0 comments

Women during the Viking age were strong-minded individuals that held a high status within the Scandinavian community despite being in a male dominated society.

There were separate social roles between men and women that kept the household and community functioning. Men would focus on cultivating the farmland and providing the household with sustenance. When needed they would be called to fight and protect everyone in the community. Women would raise the children, prepare the meals, and create clothing with what the men provided.

This would reflect pagan burials. Men would be buried with their equipment and weapons, while women with their jewelry and household goods, this would prove to be useful in the afterlife.

Marriages were usually arranged by negotiations between the two families. In most cases they would accommodate the woman’s wishes when in came to an agreement in the marriage. In the time period marriages were considered an alliance between equals. The bride normally brought a dowry to the partnership, and the husband paid her bride-price. In any case of a broken marriage, the dowry and bride price would remain with her.

Women had the right to a divorce if a marriage proved unworkable, and the marriage contract could stipulate how the join estate should be divided in such an eventuality. Though they had no role in the public life, within the home women exercised great authority over slaves and dependents, and would always be closely involved in major decisions affecting the family. If her husband was away, at war or away on business a wife would have full responsibility for the running of the house and farm in his absence; and if she were widowed she would have to take her husband’s place full time. Family honour was of as much concern to women as it was to men. In Icelandic literature at least, they were never slow to urge their menfolk to take revenge for any injury, and it is likely that they took the lead in commemorating the dead. Pagan graves in Denmark suggest that women’s status increased the age: some of the most richly furnished burials are of women aged 50 or over while the quality of grave goods in male burials decreased with the age of the dead man.

There has been some evidence to suggest that women fought as warriors alongside their menfolk. It is known that the warriors of the great Viking armies that were active in western Europe in the second half of the 9th century were accompanied by their wives and families. These women would have given useful support to the army, cooking and caring for the wounded. Women, naturally, were much more prominent participants in the Viking settlements in Iceland and Greenland, where their presence was essential from the start. Women in Iceland and Greenland, where their presence was essential from the start. Women in Iceland during the settlement period seem to have enjoyed higher status than those elsewhere in Scandinavia, and strong-minded independent women commonly appear in the sagas. The participation of women in the attempt to settle Vinland is also recorded in the sagas and by finds of spindle whorls at the short-lived Norse settlement at L’anse-aux-Meadows. There is very little evidence that Scandinavian women accompanied the Rus on their journeys in the east, though finds of typically Scandinavian female artifacts and rare literary references show that there were at least some. Arab sources suggest that most of the Rus found local women; if this is true, it could explain why the Rus were so rapidly adapted into the native Slav population.


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