Viking jewelry has a rich and long history going back over 1,200 years. The Viking people loved their jewelry and most of their pieces had deep and profound meaning in their lives. Like a wedding ring; arm rings, necklaces, brooches and rings had much more meaning than as decoration. They were important symbols of status, community, family, tribe, loyalty, manhood and love. They were also worn to gain the protection and blessing of their Norse Gods. What could be more powerful and meaningful to a man or woman of the Viking age?
We must discuss these deep connections further. We will also discuss the sources of our knowledge of Viking jewelry, the archaeological evidence. Great hoards of tin, bronze, gold and silver jewelry, coins and ingots found in Europe, the Slavic countries, the Islamic world and beyond. We will then explain the methods the Vikings used to make their beautiful jewelry. Techniques that were thousands of years old when the Vikings learned them from other cultures in their distant travels.
Discoveries in burial mounds, graveyards, bogs, marshes and ancient Viking villages have shown that the people who lived there were much more than just raiders and pirates. They had an incredibly well-organized society and an unexpectedly varied culture. Even though it sounds unbelievable, the wood and metal industries were quite advanced during the Viking Age. Some Viking men and women became known as artisans of fine jewelry creation and traded their wares far and wide.They possessed extraordinary talent for creating ornamental objects and jewelry, including rings, pendants, brooches, necklaces and viking bracelets. The extremely intricate jewelry design they used serves as evidence for this claim.
The intricate carvings on Viking jewelry frequently included animals, trees and other elements of nature and Norse mythology. Dragons, snakes, ravens, bears and wolves were very popular as well as Norse symbols and runes. Norse symbols such as the Valknut, Vegvisir, the tree of life, Jormungandr, Fenrir, Odin and many other elements of Norse mythology were used by these artisans. A pendant in the form of Thor's hammer, known as Mjolnir the lightning hammer, was the most popular item of jewelry during the Viking age as evidenced by the enormous number of artifacts that have been discovered. Thor was an important God of war and fertility and many followed him for his blessing and protection. A Thor hammer pendant represented resistance against the encroachment of Christianity in the late Viking age. Other pieces of jewelry would be used to invoke the blessings of other Gods such as Odin, Frigg, Balder, Freya and Freyr. These symbols of nature and the Gods had profound meaning for Vikings in their everyday lives. They were considered mystical and mysterious powers that could protect their owners from evil spirits and the wrath of the Gods. Today, many of these exquisite pieces of jewelry are on display in museums and continue to be a challenge and an endless source of inspiration for jewelers.
Archaeological digs are where we learned everything we know today about the priceless antique Viking jewelry. We know that jewelry was worn by both Viking men and women because of archaeologists. We also know that men tended to wear arm and neck jewelry, as well as finger rings during the relatively later Viking Age. Many Viking wedding rings have been unearthed by archeoligists as well as amatuer treasure hunters.
The majority of the jewelry Viking women wore on their gowns were bronze brooches and necklaces. Brooches are regarded as one of the most popular decorations Viking ladies wore, similar to Mjolnir pendants for males. Furthermore, brooches were even regarded as an accessory for their apparel.
Both Viking men and women wore jewelry during the Viking Age. Most of the time, people used jewelry to accentuate their aesthetic appearance, show off their wealth, and look more elegant. No different than today. But some of this Viking jewelry had a much more significant meaning.
VIKING ARM RINGS AS AN OATH OF LOYALTY
The chiefs and warriors of the Vikings used to vow eternal devotion and loyalty to one another. Typically, during this oath, leaders would present arm rings to their warriors as a binding element of the pledge. The exchange of arm rings established an unbreakable relationship that was respected at all costs by both parties.
The arm ring oath was typically administered during the initiation of new warriors to ensure their unwavering loyalty. Despite the fact that it appears to be a trivial gift, in Viking times, loyalty was essential. Even a modest act, such as gifting arm rings, was therefore immensely meaningful to a Viking of that era.
VIKING ARM RINGS AS A RITE OF PASSAGE
Due to the exceedingly tough living conditions and the frequent absence of adult males, male Viking children typically played vital roles in their communities. As future community leaders, and defenders, boys had a vital role in Viking civilization. When a boy became an adult, he was given an arm ring as a gift. In Viking society, the act of distributing arm rings to boys was a significant ritual. The boy was no longer present, and in his stead stood a man who was permitted to join his brothers in their pursuit of wealth and glory.
The Vikings' previously described mode of life frequently involved many months of sea travel. This meant that Viking men were likely removed from their families for several months at least once every year.
As a result, the Vikings frequently gifted arm rings for their spouses with specific markings and engravings as a sign of their love. The arm rings were a silent gesture between the spouses by which the husband requested his wife to remain faithful until he was once again by her side.
Clearly, the bracelets held a tremendous deal of emotional and social meaning for the ancient Northmen.
Vikings covered their homes, ships, and even weapons with jewelry, in addition to their clothing, shields, and bodies. This is evidence that they loved jewelry. Jewelry served not just as ornaments but also as a means of exchange. Silver jewelry was frequently used as a form of cash and was referred to as "hack silver". The owner could hack the jewelry into smaller pieces and a merchant could weigh the pieces and determine their monetary trade value. This was almost as convenient as coins.
Silver and gold Viking jewelry was extremely expensive as these precious metals were very rare in Scandinavia. The Vikings frequently buried their jewelry in secret hoardes for security against attacks or thieves. This hoard could be dug up in times of need. It could also be buried with the dead for use in Valhalla. The Vikings made their jewelry out of various metals based on their level of riches. The poorer classes manufactured jewelry out of animal bones and wood because they could not afford metals like silver and bronze. Because gold was only reserved for the Viking community's wealthiest families, gold jewelry was infrequently discovered.
Due to contact with the Islamic world in the ninth century, silver and other precious metals entered Viking society specifically as a medium of commerce. Over 100,000 Islamic silver coins from the Viking Age have already been discovered in Scandinavia. The Vikings and the people they were at war with might exchange money both in trade or as a settlement for ending hostilities. Many of these Islamic coins, along with those from numerous other cultures, are thought to have been melted down and used by the Vikings to create their jewelry.
VIKING JEWELRY TYPES AND MATERIALS
Wood, bones, leather, tin, iron, gold, silver, bronze, resin, amber and a variety of stones were used in the creation of Viking jewelry. During the early Viking era, ornaments were simple, but they became more sophisticated and intricate as the centuries passed. They got increasingly refined and delicate.
Necklaces were created using various metals, iron wires, and natural fibers. Precious stones, amber, glass beads, resins, and metallic charms were used to create pendants. Pendants were frequently personal gifts, mementos, or religious symbols. Gold, silver, and bronze neck rings were used by both genders.
VIKING AMULETS AND PENDANTS
Thor's Hammer, the Tree of Life, Mjolnir, and the Valknut are popular pendants among Vikings. Some gravesites contained small weaponry such as arrowheads, axes, crosses, and perforated coins.
Amber and glass were utilized to create Viking bead decorations. Archeologists say that beads were utilized as beard jewelry, but they were rarely worn. The beaded ornaments consisted of only one, two, or three beads and were worn alone or with an additional pendant. More than three beads were unusual, indicating their value and rarity. It may have represented prestige and prosperity in the Viking society of the time.
The Viking culture utilized brooches to secure their garments. It was an indispensable item used daily. Oval and penannular brooches were frequently worn by men. On the right shoulder, brooches were attached with the pin facing upward. The oval brooches were worn by women to secure their cloaks, aprons, and skirts. They were intricate and added aesthetic appeal with colored bead chains.
The rings discovered in Viking gravesites had variable widths and could be worn on different fingers. Many Viking wedding bands have been found. The most common were made of tin, bronze or silver.
In contrast to contemporary earrings, Nordic earrings were complex and worn around the entire ear. Historians speculate that the Vikings did not wear earrings. They were of Slavic origin and were created by the Norsemen.
VIKING ARM RINGS
Popular arm rings or bands served a dual purpose as both adornment and currency. The silver and gold armbands were beautiful and detailed. They served as a symbol of social status and prosperity , manhood and loyalty to family, tribe and leader. Arm rings were available in many styles and shapes.
THE MANUFACTURE OF VIKING JEWELRY
The most common method for creating Viking jewelry was the “lost wax” method. In this method, the artisan carves a beautiful model of the item he wants to create. The final appearance of the piece hinged on this handmade model, thus they had to be meticulously created by skilled hands. Once the jeweler was happy with the model he would create a hollow mold of the piece out of wax. Molten metal was poured into the wax mold. Once the metal had cooled and hardened, the wax mold was broken and the piece of jewelry was removed from within. The lost wax method of jewelry making is over 6,000 years old. The Vikings learned it from other cultures during their travels and brought the knowledge and materials home with them.
The design of Viking jewelry was first quite straightforward, but it gradually evolved into something more intricate. The encounters with foreign cultures, from whom the Vikings borrowed an increasing number of jewelry design concepts, are what account for this.
Even now, archaeologists still have a strong urge to learn more about the world of the ancient Vikings. The most important historical discoveries of jewelry from the Viking age happened almost purely by mistake.
HISTORIC DISCOVERIES OF VIKING JEWELRY HOARDS
THE BLACKWATER RIVER VIKING HOARD
A portion of the Blackwater River in Ulster, Ireland, was drained during the 1980s due to a dredging effort. Glenn Crawford, one of many curious people, used the dry riverbed as his starting point for his metal detecting expedition in search of lost wealth. A Viking gold ring was the priceless find that he made. The ring was most likely created in the ninth century AD. It is thought that the ring was lost from the hand of an ancient Nordic warrior during a Viking campaign against the Irish city in 832 AD.
THE HUXLEY HOARD OF VIKING JEWELRY
In 1989, Steve Reynoldson used his metal detector to unearth priceless Viking jewelry at Huxley near Cheshire, England. There have been numerous rings discovered here, as opposed to the find at Blackwater River that was previously described. 21 silver arm rings that are thought to have been made in the first decade of the 10th century AD were found. The rings had highly intricate designs, and it's fascinating to note that before being buried, they were all flattened. It is assumed that this is because they were meant to be remelted and used to make jewelry or that they were meant to be used as “hack silver” in the afterlife.
VIKING JEWELRY OF THE SILVERDALE HOARD
In 2011, a huge discovery was made close to Silverdale in Lancashire, England. This location contained a sizable hoard full of Viking-era artifacts that date back to roughly 900 AD. Research in this field was unorganized, just like the previous two discoveries, but it was driven by people's natural curiosity and luck. Darren Webster searched the region where the hoard was discovered with his metal detector but found no indications of any hidden treasure. On his final crossing of the field, the light on his detector informed him that there was something hidden in the earth. He had struck a motherload. A metal basket containing more than 200 items of ancient Viking jewelry and coins was unearthed. The hoard included arm rings, brooches, silver ingots, rings, coins, braided wire and over a hundred pieces of hack silver.
VIKING JEWELRY YOU CAN DISCOVER
In museums all across the world, you can see some of the most exquisite Viking jewelry from ancient times. The Vikingr exhibition on display at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo has an amazing collection. Fans of Viking culture can view the most luxurious Viking-era artifacts from the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th centuries AD. The golden era of the Viking age. It is well worth a visit. The two most notable jewelry items on display are:
A BRAIDED VIKING BRACELET
This one is simply stunning. Although the Vikings produced and wore bracelets frequently, they hardly ever used gold. A 400g bracelet made of gold threads is on display at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. Although wearing this bracelet today would be impractical, its intriguing design has served as an inspiration to other jewelry designers all over the world.
THE RED CARNELIAN PENDANT
This pendant is the best illustration of how one item of jewelry developed over time. It is well known that the Vikings borrowed ideas from other cultures when they crafted their jewelry.
The red carnelian with Roman engravings forms the pendant's focal point, created around 200 AD. In 800 AD, Charlemagne possessed the stone, which was inscribed in the center of the golden Carolingian pendant. Finally, this pendant ended up in the hands of the Vikings around 900 AD. An amazing piece with an amazing history that illustrates the amazing adventures of the Viking people across Europe and beyond.
Even though the Vikings were known as brutal warriors that pillaged and conquered other lands, violence makes up a very small portion of their legacy. Above all, Vikings were a fierce and proud race that battled for their existence. The harsh environment and circumstances in which the ancient Nordic people lived inspired them to make the most of each situation. They created amazing ships to carry them beyond their own lands to bring back materials, treasures and knowledge to help them survive and thrive. They built settlements from North America to the west and Russia to the east. They explored the arctic circle to the north and the continent of Africa to the south. They were adventurous people that built their industry, cared for their culture, and created art. Like us today, they simply wanted to appear attractive, so they adorned their bodies and clothing with lovely jewelry that had deep and profound meaning to them as cherished treasure and for the promise of protection and blessing from their powerful Gods.