The Story of the Vikings

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Such a woman was referred to as Baugrygr , and she exercised all the rights afforded to the head of a family clan—such as the right to demand and receive fines for the slaughter of a family member—until she married, by which her rights were transferred to her new husband. Female graves from before the Viking Age in Scandinavia holds a proportional large number of remains from women aged 20 to 35, presumably due to complications of childbirth.

Widows enjoyed the same independent status as unmarried women. A married woman could divorce her husband and remarry. There was no distinction made between children born inside or outside marriage: both had the right to inherit property after their parents, and there were no "legitimate" or "illegitimate" children. These liberties gradually disappeared after the introduction of Christianity, and from the late 13th-century, they are no longer mentioned.

The three classes were easily recognisable by their appearances. Men and women of the Jarls were well groomed with neat hairstyles and expressed their wealth and status by wearing expensive clothes often silk and well crafted jewellery like brooches , belt buckles, necklaces and arm rings. Almost all of the jewellery was crafted in specific designs unique to the Norse see Viking art.

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Finger rings were seldom used and earrings were not used at all, as they were seen as a Slavic phenomenon. Most Karls expressed similar tastes and hygiene, but in a more relaxed and inexpensive way. Archaeological findings throughout Scandinavia and Viking settlements in the British Isles support the idea of the well groomed and hygienic Viking. Burial with grave goods was a common practice in the Scandinavian world, through the Viking Age and well past the Christianization of the Norse peoples.

The sagas tell about the diet and cuisine of the Vikings, [] but first hand evidence, like cesspits , kitchen middens and garbage dumps have proved to be of great value and importance.


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Undigested remains of plants from cesspits at Coppergate in York have provided much information in this respect. Overall, archaeo-botanical investigations have been undertaken increasingly in recent decades, as a collaboration between archaeologists and palaeoethno-botanists. This new approach sheds light on the agricultural and horticultural practices of the Vikings and their cuisine. The combined information from various sources suggests a diverse cuisine and ingredients. Meat products of all kinds, such as cured , smoked and whey -preserved meat, [] sausages, and boiled or fried fresh meat cuts, were prepared and consumed.

Certain livestock were typical and unique to the Vikings, including the Icelandic horse , Icelandic cattle , a plethora of sheep breeds, [] the Danish hen and the Danish goose. Most of the beef and horse leg bones were found split lengthways, to extract the marrow. The mutton and swine were cut into leg and shoulder joints and chops.

The frequent remains of pig skull and foot bones found on house floors indicate that brawn and trotters were also popular. Hens were kept for both their meat and eggs, and the bones of game birds such as black grouse , golden plover , wild ducks, and geese have also been found.

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Seafood was important, in some places even more so than meat. Whales and walrus were hunted for food in Norway and the north-western parts of the North Atlantic region, and seals were hunted nearly everywhere.

Oysters , mussels and shrimps were eaten in large quantities and cod and salmon were popular fish. In the southern regions, herring was also important. Milk and buttermilk were popular, both as cooking ingredients and drinks, but were not always available, even at farms. Food was often salted and enhanced with spices, some of which were imported like black pepper , while others were cultivated in herb gardens or harvested in the wild.

Home grown spices included caraway , mustard and horseradish as evidenced from the Oseberg ship burial [] or dill , coriander , and wild celery , as found in cesspits at Coppergate in York. Thyme , juniper berry , sweet gale , yarrow , rue and peppercress were also used and cultivated in herb gardens.

Vikings collected and ate fruits, berries and nuts. Apple wild crab apples , plums and cherries were part of the diet, [] as were rose hips and raspberry , wild strawberry , blackberry , elderberry , rowan , hawthorn and various wild berries, specific to the locations.

The shells were used for dyeing, and it is assumed that the nuts were consumed. The invention and introduction of the mouldboard plough revolutionised agriculture in Scandinavia in the early Viking Age and made it possible to farm even poor soils. In Ribe , grains of rye , barley , oat and wheat dated to the 8th century have been found and examined, and are believed to have been cultivated locally.

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Remains of bread from primarily Birka in Sweden were made of barley and wheat. It is unclear if the Norse leavened their breads, but their ovens and baking utensils suggest that they did. This suggests a much higher actual percentage, as linen is poorly preserved compared to wool for example. The quality of food for common people was not always particularly high. The research at Coppergate shows that the Vikings in York made bread from whole meal flour—probably both wheat and rye —but with the seeds of cornfield weeds included.

Corncockle Agrostemma , would have made the bread dark-coloured, but the seeds are poisonous, and people who ate the bread might have become ill. Seeds of carrots, parsnip , and brassicas were also discovered, but they were poor specimens and tend to come from white carrots and bitter tasting cabbages. The effects of this can be seen on skeletal remains of that period. In , archaeologists uncovered two Viking boat graves in Gamla Uppsala. They also discovered that one of the boats still holds the remains of a man, a dog, and a horse, along with other items.

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Sports were widely practised and encouraged by the Vikings. This included spear and stone throwing, building and testing physical strength through wrestling see glima , fist fighting , and stone lifting. In areas with mountains, mountain climbing was practised as a sport. Agility and balance were built and tested by running and jumping for sport, and there is mention of a sport that involved jumping from oar to oar on the outside of a ship's railing as it was being rowed.

Swimming was a popular sport and Snorri Sturluson describes three types: diving, long-distance swimming, and a contest in which two swimmers try to duck one another. Children often participated in some of the sport disciplines and women have also been mentioned as swimmers, although it is unclear if they took part in competition. King Olaf Tryggvason was hailed as a master of both mountain climbing and oar-jumping, and was said to have excelled in the art of knife juggling as well.

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Skiing and ice skating were the primary winter sports of the Vikings, although skiing was also used as everyday means of transport in winter and in the colder regions of the north. Horse fighting was practised for sport, although the rules are unclear. It appears to have involved two stallions pitted against each other, within smell and sight of fenced-off mares. Whatever the rules were, the fights often resulted in the death of one of the stallions.

Icelandic sources refer to the sport of knattleik. A ball game akin to hockey , knattleik involved a bat and a small hard ball and was usually played on a smooth field of ice. The rules are unclear, but it was popular with both adults and children, even though it often led to injuries.

Knattleik appears to have been played only in Iceland, where it attracted many spectators, as did horse fighting.

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Hunting, as a sport, was limited to Denmark, where it was not regarded as an important occupation. Birds, deer , hares and foxes were hunted with bow and spear, and later with crossbows. The techniques were stalking, snare and traps and par force hunting with dog packs. Both archaeological finds and written sources testify to the fact that the Vikings set aside time for social and festive gatherings. Board games and dice games were played as a popular pastime at all levels of society.

Preserved gaming pieces and boards show game boards made of easily available materials like wood, with game pieces manufactured from stone, wood or bone, while other finds include elaborately carved boards and game pieces of glass, amber , antler or walrus tusk, together with materials of foreign origin, such as ivory. The Vikings played several types of tafl games; hnefatafl , nitavl nine men's morris and the less common kvatrutafl.

Chess also appeared at the end of the Viking Age. Hnefatafl is a war game, in which the object is to capture the king piece—a large hostile army threatens and the king's men have to protect the king. It was played on a board with squares using black and white pieces, with moves made according to dice rolls. The Ockelbo Runestone shows two men engaged in Hnefatafl, and the sagas suggest that money or valuables could have been involved in some dice games. On festive occasions storytelling , skaldic poetry , music and alcoholic drinks, like beer and mead , contributed to the atmosphere.

The Vikings are known to have played instruments including harps , fiddles , lyres and lutes. Viking-age reenactors have undertaken experimental activities such as iron smelting and forging using Norse techniques at Norstead in Newfoundland for example. The remains of that ship and four others were discovered during a excavation in the Roskilde Fjord. Tree-ring analysis has shown the ship was built of oak in the vicinity of Dublin in about Seventy multi-national crew members sailed the ship back to its home, and Sea Stallion arrived outside Dublin's Custom House on 14 August The purpose of the voyage was to test and document the seaworthiness, speed, and manoeuvrability of the ship on the rough open sea and in coastal waters with treacherous currents.

The crew tested how the long, narrow, flexible hull withstood the tough ocean waves. The expedition also provided valuable new information on Viking longships and society. The ship was built using Viking tools, materials, and much the same methods as the original ship. Other vessels, often replicas of the Gokstad ship full- or half-scale or Skuldelev I have been built and tested as well. Elements of a Scandinavian identity and practices were maintained in settler societies, but they could be quite distinct as the groups assimilated into the neighboring societies.

Assimilation to the Frankish culture in Normandy was for example rapid. Knowledge about the arms and armour of the Viking age is based on archaeological finds, pictorial representation, and to some extent on the accounts in the Norse sagas and Norse laws recorded in the 13th century. According to custom, all free Norse men were required to own weapons and were permitted to carry them at all times. These arms were indicative of a Viking's social status: a wealthy Viking had a complete ensemble of a helmet , shield , mail shirt, and sword.

However, swords were rarely used in battle, probably not sturdy enough for combat and most likely only used as symbolic or decorative items. Bows were used in the opening stages of land battles and at sea, but they tended to be considered less "honourable" than melee weapons. Vikings were relatively unusual for the time in their use of axes as a main battle weapon.

The warfare and violence of the Vikings were often motivated and fuelled by their beliefs in Norse religion , focusing on Thor and Odin , the gods of war and death.

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Such tactics may have been deployed intentionally by shock troops , and the berserk-state may have been induced through ingestion of materials with psychoactive properties, such as the hallucinogenic mushrooms, Amanita muscaria , [] or large amounts of alcohol. The Vikings established and engaged in extensive trading networks throughout the known world and had a profound influence on the economic development of Europe and Scandinavia not the least. Except for the major trading centres of Ribe , Hedeby and the like, the Viking world was unfamiliar with the use of coinage and was based on so called bullion economy.

Silver was the most common metal in the economy, although gold was also used to some extent. Silver circulated in the form of bars, or ingots , as well as in the form of jewellery and ornaments. A large number of silver hoards from the Viking Age have been uncovered, both in Scandinavia and the lands they settled. Organized trade covered everything from ordinary items in bulk to exotic luxury products. The Viking ship designs, like that of the knarr , were an important factor in their success as merchants.

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