The stereotype of the raping, pillaging Norseman has its roots in the very earliest days of Viking raids. The plundering of Lindisfarne in 793 CE was one of the earliest recorded raids, and the target—a church—made the act all the more heinous in the eyes of the Anglo-Saxons, who wrote terrifying reports of the event. However, most Old Norse people were more interested in trading. (More taxes, fewer axes.)
Although Viking raiders and warriors certainly earned their reputation for brutality, most of the Old Norse people lived rather mundane domestic lives. They were largely subsistence farmers who traded for what they could not produce, and when prospects seemed better elsewhere, they moved to new areas. Sometimes they created new settlements in previously uninhabited lands, such as Iceland, but most of the time, they were the new kids on the block. You might be surprised at how well they got along with their new neighbours.
In Link Roundup #3.1, we took a look at the everyday roles of Viking women. This time, we’re going to consider some of the less ordinary roles that women may—or may not—have played in Viking societies.
There is a lot of curiosity, fantasy, and misinformation about the roles of Viking women and whether or not there really were female warriors in Old Norse societies. In this two-part link roundup, I will try to give you a broader view of the lives of Viking women, starting with everyday activities and expectations.
Life in Viking Age Scandinavia was harsh and unforgiving. To survive in a region with a long, cold winter and a relatively short growing season, you have to be savvy and tough, and sometimes you had to make hard decisions. You had to work from morning until night to get all your work done, and when winter came, you hoped you had done enough. As you can imagine, this had significant effects on the lifecycles of the Viking peoples.
The Vikings originally occupied Denmark, Norway, and Sweden as we know them today, but they didn’t exactly stay put. In fact, the term “viking” comes from the Old Norse term vikingr, a concrete noun that may be translated as “sea warrior”1 and an abstract noun that means “the act of going raiding overseas”. Given that their homelands were surrounded by oceans, it should come as no surprise that they developed some of the fastest ships in the world.