Vikings Loved Bling – Viking Jewellery Part 1 by Rob Shackleford
Humans love jewellery!
Humans have always used jewellery and other personal adornments to reflect their identity. These adornments may have represented membership in a particular group or someone’s age, sex, and social status.
Vikings also loved jewellery. Norse people of old made beautiful and intricate jewelry in the form of bracelets, rings, necklaces, etc., out of a variety of materials including bronze, iron, gold, silver, amber, and resin. Early on in the Viking era , which is around 800 AD, these ornaments were simple, but as time went by, the pieces became more artistically detailed and sophisticated.
By occupation, Vikings were farmers and, occasionally, warriors. Both the men and women of the Viking community wore a wide array of jewellery, shiny objects that added glamour to their seemingly dark world. But their jewellery also had the secondary purpose of being used as currency in trade.
If an ornament was too large for the transaction, the piece would be broken into smaller portions to suit. Essentially, Vikings used jewellery like we use modern-day wallets.
However, not all Viking ornaments were metallic. The Norsemen also created beautiful ornaments using beads and precious rocks/stones. Nevertheless, it was rare for the Vikings to inset stones in their jewellery, even though this art form had been applied before the Viking Age.
Necklaces were a common form of jewellery and were manufactured from precious metals such as silver and gold, natural fibre, and iron wires of various lengths and sizes. Necklaces would normally be accompanied by pendants made from glass beads, precious stones, resin, amber from the Baltic sea, and small metallic charms. However, the most common material for necklace pendants was glass, which would be mass produced for this purpose. The pendants on the necklaces were often souvenirs, gifts, or religious symbols that held meaning to the wearer.
Archaeological evidence suggests necklaces were more prevalent than neck-rings. Neck-rings of silver, bronze, or gold have been discovered were in hoards, but not in grave sites. It is suggested that neck-rings were worn by both genders as a display of wealth and as a form of currency in commercial transactions. They were designed and crafted in standard units of weight in order to make the assessment of value more accurate.
A pendant can mean a broad range of items; from Mjolnir pendants, Valknut pendants, Yggdrasil pendants popular today, and more. Thor’s Hammer (Mjolnir) appears to be the most frequently worn as it represented the strength and protection of the God Thor.
Other examples include miniature weapons such as axes and arrow heads, perforated coins, the tree of life, crosses, and the Valknut or Odin’s Knot symbol of interlocking triangles. However, these amulets have been found in very few graves, suggesting that they were not commonly worn.
Some Norsemen had adopted this new religion, forming a hybrid system of belief. However, cross pendants were the rarest archeological pendant findings.
Viking beads were typically made of amber or glass and, while used, archaeologists suggest they were not commonly worn. For archaeologists to find more than three beads on a necklace was extremely rare, which suggests that they were precious and rare, and perhaps symbolized wealth and status in society.
Brooches were very popular in the Germanic cultures that included Anglo-Saxons and Vikings as they were essential for holding clothes in place. Brooches came in a number of styles with the main ones being the Penannular Brooches and Oval Brooches.
The Penannular brooch was exclusively worn by Viking men and was adopted by Vikings from Scottish and Irish settlers; the trend later caught on in Russia and Scandinavia. Brooches would be fastened on the wearer’s right shoulder with the pin facing upward, which left the sword-arm free.
The Oval Brooch, on the other hand, was typically worn by women. Oval brooches were used to fasten dresses, aprons, and cloaks and were more detailed and ornate in comparison to penannular brooches. A single brooch would be worn on the shoulder to fasten the wearer’s dress, along with a chain of beads for added visual appeal. Oval brooches are believed to have gone out of fashion at around 1000 AD and were replaced by more fanciful designs.
Check out more on Viking Jewellery in my next article
Here are some Viking Jewellery links to help with your research:
So many websites sell modern versions of Viking Jewellery today
Interested in Vikings? Check out some of my past articles on Viking History
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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