Viking Pets – A Menagerie of Animals by Rob Shackleford
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Vikings weren’t just dog or cat people. Bears, hawks, and falcons were also kept by the Vikings as pets.
Bears were fairly common pets but hawks and falcons were rare and expensive, being imported from other parts of Europe, so were only kept by nobility and wealthy merchants. The same was true of peacocks. Brown bear cubs would be taken when young and raised by the people of a home to be fully domesticated.
You did not even have to be rich to own a brown bear (Ursus arctos) as a pet, they were rather common and were then known as “house bears”. In time, these bears became more of a nuisance than anything else and importing them to Iceland was forbidden by law.
Large fines were levied on people who allowed their house bear to get loose and damage someone else’s property. Wild bears were sacrificed just as dogs, horses, and other animals but it seems house bears were given a burial. Prior to interment, the bear was eaten and only its bones were placed in the grave.
Whether this practice applied only to house bears or bears in general is unknown.
Polar bears were also domesticated and scholar Sveinbjorn Rafnsson notes how Norse settlements in Iceland and Greenland were able to export exotic valuables to Europe, including the polar bear.
People of the upper class such as Kings and the very rich people preferred to have a polar bear (Ursus maritimus) as their house pet. The polar bears started to arrive on the shores of Scandinavia in the 9th century. It was Ingimund the old who brought the very first polar bear to Europe, and he gave the polar bear as a gift to the King of Norway.
Whether the Norse domesticated other wild animals as pets is unknown but certainly possible.
However there is no evidence of the domestication of wolves by Vikings. There are a few tales of Norsemen transforming into wolves through magical means or by wearing animal furs, but there is no mention of Norsemen keeping wolves as pets in the sagas.
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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