Viking Villages and Towns by Rob Shackleford
Here are more Viking Blogs for your research:
|Vikings at Home
|Viking Women Part 1
|Viking Women Part 2
|Viking Women Part 3
In discussing Viking settlements, let’s start with one of their iconic buildings, the Viking home; the Longhouse.
The Viking Homes – The Longhouse
The longhouses in Viking Age Scandinavia were based on timber frames, had wattle walls, and thatched roofs. Bearing in mind these aspects, the fundamental architectural style of the Norse longhouse wasn’t very different from that of the first Anglo-Saxon rural settlements. The early Anglo-Saxon houses were very simplistic in design but at the same time functional and practical.
A pivotal aspect between the Norse longhouses and the first Anglo-Saxon thatched-roof houses was the decoration. The front door of the Norse longhouse was in many cases decorated and the interior could, especially for the wealthy, have furniture ornamentations as well.
In native Scandinavia, longhouses were mainly made from oak. In some of the fare-flung settlements, such as the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland, the situation was quite different. Because wood was scarce in those territories, the Norse settlers had to cope with the challenge of building durable homesteads using turf, sod (as in Iceland and the Faroes) or large boulders of stone (as in Greenland).
The longhouse was a long building, often shared by a number of families or extended families. It was divided into various living or work spaces and sleeping benches or alcoves.
A fire pit was situated in the centre of the longhouse — in the large central hall — with a hole above it so as to let the smoke exit the building. The floor consisted of pounded earth, and, depending on how large a longhouse actually was, some rooms were partly unused, so at one end stored provisions for the winter and various tools, while some at the other end were made into barns in which animals and slaves lived.
Thus, Norse families lived and gathered in the centre of the longhouse, working, cooking, and telling folk tales by the light and warmth of the open fire.
For the Norsemen this structure was not only warm, but very cozy as well.
Longhouses were either on farms, or located in Viking settlements which were small towns with dwellings, storage facilities, and barns. Most buildings took advantage of the best building material of the time, with stone foundations and had walls made of stone, peat, sod turfs, wood, or a combination of these materials.
Viking towns and settlements – Viking Dublin in the 11th Century by Rob Shackleford
Viking settlements were not as numerous as we might imagine. Some historians suggest many Viking towns were conquered and taken over by Viking invaders. In Ireland, where the Vikings settled extensively, most of the Vikings came from Norway, a country that had virtually no towns. They did not come to Ireland with sophisticated notions about towns and town foundation.
In fact, during the early middle ages, in many parts of Europe, town formation and growth were complex and an often hesitant processes. Even in Mediterranean countries, smoothly functioning towns were a distant memory from Roman times, whilst in non-Roman Europe north of the Alps fresh beginnings were the norm. Vikings as sea pirates attacked and occasionally took over existing towns, as at York. In some cases, irregular raiding turned into regular trading where a viable town would emerge.
So any model Viking settlement was located in a place near the coastline with reasonable boat access; a flat, well-drained area for a farmstead; and extensive grazing areas for domestic animals.
Fuels used by the Norse for heating and cooking included peat, peaty turf, and wood. In addition to being used in heating and building construction, wood was the common and valuable fuel for iron smelting.
Landnám and Shieling
The traditional Scandinavian farming economy (called landnám) included a focus on barley and domesticated sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, and horses. Marine resources included seaweed, fish, shellfish, and whale. Seabirds were exploited for their eggs and meat, and driftwood and peat were used as building materials and fuel.
Shieling, the Scandinavian system of pasturage, was practiced in upland stations where livestock could be moved during summer seasons. Near the summer pastures, the Norse built small huts, byres, barns, stables, and fences.
Hedeby, now in modern Germany, was the second largest Nordic town during the Viking Age, after Uppåkra in present-day southern Sweden. Hedeby was later abandoned after its destruction in 1066.
Here are some links to help your Viking Research
About the author:
Hi, I’m Rob Shackleford. I am author of a number of novels, though so far only Traveller Inceptio and Traveller Probo have been officially published. As Traveller Inceptio looks at the fates of modern historical researchers sent to the early 11th Century Saxon world, Vikings do feature.
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