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?
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 archeologists as well as amateur 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.
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.
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.