Vikings at Home by Rob Shackleford
Vikings often lived in houses, but in settlements and larger farms, most lived in a long, narrow building called a longhouse. Most had timber frames, with walls of wattle and daub (mud) and thatched roofs. Where wood was scarce, as in Iceland, longhouses were made of turf and sod, giving rise to the Turf House. There were rarely any windows so light would get in through vents built to let out smoke, or through the gaps in the thatching.
Two rows of high posts supported the roof and ran down the entire length of the building, which could be up to 250 feet long. The floor of the Viking longhouse was pounded earth.
Viking families lived in the central hall portion of the building. Rooms were partially set off; one end of the longhouse might be used as a barn to keep cattle and horses in the winter as well as storage for crops and tools. The other end could be set up as a workroom for artisanal crafts or the family’s vertical loom.
Vikings slept usually two to a bed under fur skins for warmth. The most important persons usually claimed the area closest to the fires, with less important being farther away in the colder areas. Small windows with leather covers were made to let in light, and could be closed at night and in cold weather.
Spas and Saunas
Vikings were relatively clean compared to many peoples of the time. For more, check out my blog on Viking Hygiene.
Vikings Enjoyed Bath Houses and Saunas – Viking baths and saunas were visited for both cleanliness and enjoyment. Washing in a local stream during the summer months could provide relief from the heat, while bath houses and saunas offered warmth and a chance to sweat during the winter. Bath houses and saunas also served as meeting places and had medicinal value. A cold bath could ease aches and pains, while steam was thought to revitalize the spirit.
Bath houses and saunas could be constructed near natural hot springs or by using water heated in large vats.
According to sagas, some Vikings had advanced piping systems to move hot and cold water to their baths. Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic writer and statesman from the 12th and 13th centuries, is believed to have built an elaborate bath at his farmhouse in Reykjaholt.
Vikings may have had toilets in their homes.
There is evidence that some Norse communities had latrines near their longhouses. Viking sagas mention latrines, often ones found away from well-traversed and populated living spaces. Viking latrines were communal, but group facilities may also have been built inside longhouses.
One kamarr, or privy, discovered at Stöng included trenches that carried waste from the longhouse to an outdoor location. Archeologists did find an outdoor latrine, however, and analyzed its contents. At a former Viking settlement in Denmark, researchers discovered a 1,000-year-old latrine containing parasites carried by both humans and animals.
Scholars have found roundworm, human whipworm, and liver fluke, as well as evidence that the worm infestations from the Viking Age contributed to a genetic anomaly that affects modern descendants of Vikings. Their genes adapted to counteract intestinal parasites and prevent potential diseases, a mutation that may now lead to lung cancer.
Home Sweet Home
Vikings often shared their longhouses with livestock. Benches ran along the walls of the longhouse that could be used for sleeping or sitting. A fire in the middle of the house provided warmth, light, and a place to cook. Without windows, the longhouses were smoky, and dirt floors contributed to dusty, ash-laden surroundings.
Extended families shared longhouses, making for very little privacy.
During cold months, people and animals alike took refuge in the longhouse, further crowding the surroundings.
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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