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Real Women of the Viking Age

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Saved by Carmen
on December 11, 2009 at 6:03:45 pm


a norse couple

Very little is mentioned about women in the Viking sagas. When women are mentioned in the sagas, the women are depicted as wise, sneaky, vengeful, or untrustworthy. Over the years popular culture has depicted Norse women as medieval English women, cone-breasted opera singers, or horned sex goddesses. Instead of these fantasies, Norse women took care of hearth and home and kept the farm while their men folk were away. These women were quite average medieval women, except they did posses some added power.


Since the information about Viking or Norse women is scattered all over the web, I have compiled many links onto this page. Each link is annotated, the general links are ranked in terms of which ones I think are best (the best on top).



Literature review and very brief overview of project



Be sure to visit these pages within this site:


popular culture view of a Viking womanTo find out how Norse women got from normal to super sexy

Viking Women: Evolution through Literature into Current Culture




And since a Norse woman had to cook, check out

The Viking World Cookbook




Links around the internet:


Hurstwic is a really good article on Norse women! ! It reviews almost everything associated with the daily lives of women as well as their role in society. The article clearly states that women’s duties were mostly domestic. Women did not raid with the men, nor did they participate in trade. However, other sites (such as Viking Women BBC) mention evidence of women taking over trade after the death of their husbands. Women did go to and live in colonies with their men-folk.  This article goes into a fair amount of detail concerning the rights of Norse women, from property to divorce and children custody. Also discusses what women were not allowed to do (such as cross-dressing or being involved in government). Witchcraft, violence, and slavery are briefly discussed as well. There are plenty of examples from Icelandic sagas and the Grágás (Medieval Icelandic law book) that emphasize the article’s arguments (sagas mentioned in the article are linked below). Also there are interesting images showing how an average Norse woman would appear.


Viking Answer Lady this is the site that has a little bit of everything, but the articles are a pain to find! Sigríð the Proud uses parts from various sagas to demonstrate female rights, bride price and wedding ceremonies, and Viking-age pagan attitudes. The article on medical care is quite interesting. It talks about medical care in general as well as women healers, midwives, and childbirth. The article on the romantic aspect of the Vikings is great! This article goes into courtship rituals, the function of family in Norse culture, marriage negotiation, the wedding ceremony plus the preparations and the feast, and divorce. Slavery is discussed in a separate article this article does not go overly much into female slaves, but it lists some of their duties and how they were to dress. Magic as seen in the sagas talks a little about cult practices. Mostly talks about the different type of magic practiced (including Rune Magic and healing). There are many, many more articles that involve women. I don’t think you can go wrong with this site. The Answer Lady usually has a nice long list of references that will guide any researcher.


Women in the Viking Age: Burial Customs (pdf) despite this gruesome topic, this thesis is quite good. The thesis gives a review of the research that has been done, the Viking beliefs of what happens to women in death, and more importantly, the importance of women as seen in burial. During the discussion of death, the author explores the different realms of the afterlife that are open to women (even taking into account social status).  The paper also talks about memory stones and their uses, as well as archaeological evidence. Women’s part in religion both Christianity and paganism is explored as a means of trying to identify with burial rituals. Cults and their death beliefs are also discussed. Funeral ship symbolism is discussed in this article as well. The role of the woman in society is discussed throughout the thesis; the author points out social influence rather than political influence. Spatacean uses the Eddas, the Laxdaela Sagas, and other sagas, contemporary studies, and archaeological evidence to support her thesis (and yes, there are some pictures).   



Female Marriage Rights (pdf) this thesis uses the Icelandic sagas and Law Codes to look at marital consent and practices.  Fortney is arguing that marriage consent was in practice during the times of the Sagas and was not a Christian thing (author Jochens claims that marriage consent was purely Christian and is not historically accurate when consent appears in the sagas). The paper goes over the importance (and troubles) of the sagas, including a really interesting explanation on the Laxdaela Sagas. Fortney also sets up the argument by giving a history of the relations between Norway and Iceland during the medieval period. About half-way through the paper, the marriage explanation comes in. Fortney talks about the Icelandic view on premarital relations, courting, arranged marriages, and divorce, all the time arguing that women would have had a say in these things. Fortney does a good job of incorporating her ideas and Jochens’s ideas to create a compelling argument. (Click here for Jenny Jochens’s book)


Viking Women this article is written by Judith Jecsh, an author of many Viking related books and a “Reader in Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham” (BBC). The first part of the article talks about women as settlers in colonies as well as the ability for women to take over farm and trade after the death of their husbands. The second part of the article discusses the presence of Scandinavian women in England during ninth through eleventh centuries. The third section of the article furthers the Scandinavian settlement argument by briefly summarizing burial finds throughout Britain. The fourth section of the article talks about daily life as found in the Icelandic poem Rígsþula (see the Saga Like section for different versions). This section also gives more archaeological evidence as well as the type of houses found in Britain. The section part of the article discusses women in power such as the Oseberg “queen,” Aud the “deep-minded,” and Queen Emma. This article gives a trustworthy description of Nordic women in Britain.



The Viking Network main article talks about women taking care of the domestic aspects of life such as women’s food production. This site also points out that women had knowledge of herbal remedies to nurse family members. This article briefly states that women took care of the farm in their husband’s absence. Marriage age is mentioned as well as the dowry and ownership of dowry. Divorce is briefly discussed in this article, only stating that divorce was possible if the husband mistreated his family.  The issue of children is mentioned. There are two very small sections on slavery and poor women that are not too helpful.  There are side articles briefly talking about clothing, women clothing in Dublin, and burials. For being a website on Vikings and “Supported by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs,” these articles could be more extensive. 


The Vikings! This site is a re-enactor’s site based mainly on Anglo-Saxons. However, there are a few articles about female Vikings for example, Women Warriors in the Vikings article talks about some women from the sagas such as Freydis from the Saga of the Greenlanders. This article also marks Saxo  Grammaticus, a historian, as the go to reference for female Vikings (pirates). Also on this site is an article clarifying women’s dress codes for the re-enactment group (complete with sketches).  This site is an okay site and is one of the only sites admitting to Norse female pirates.  This would not be my first page I would go to for research or answers.
Dark Ages Society Yet another re-enactor's website! This page is more Anglo-Saxon based, but it still gives an idea about Norse women. The article on the class system discusses how women took their social postion from their father and later husband. Also briefly reminds us that the female's social status was low (even if they were respected). The article on homesteads suggests that women would not only have been in the house working, but taking over the farm while the men-folk were off raiding or trading. In the food section, the article states that women would take care of the dairy and then sell the products in the village.  This is yet another website that could add so much more on the Viking, let alone Anglo-Saxon aspects.


Women in Norse Culture  (pdf) this is a short paper, giving an overview of the roles of women in Norse culture. It is nice to have a brief introduction along with images. However previous knowledge of Norse literature and culture is helpful. There is a PowerPoint slide and then an explanation underneath, which is nice. This presentation shows women as having some authority based on archaeological evidence. One page talks about marriage, divorce and some punishments for adultery. There is a very interesting mention on the restrictions of marriage. Of course, widowhood is mentioned as well.  Another page compares the village house to a country house, which leads into women’s weaving and crafts. As with most sites, it is mentioned that women traveled with men to settle colonies. There is also a section on Frigg and Freyja (two major goddesses) and Gudrun and Brynhild (from the Saga of the Volsungs), but this section is not informative.
 Social Character this particular article is on the "Sons of Norway" page and is from chapter nine Clarke's Ten Great Religions, 1899. This chapter is not really useful, but has parts of the chapter talks about women. Part seven of the chapter is on the Scandinavian respect for women, "They [women] were admired for their modesty, sense, and force of character, rather than for the fascinations which the nations of the South prefer." This part of chapter nine also mentions divorce. Part part six discusses Scandinavian worship, mostly women's use of magic. I find this interesting because it is a nineteenth century view of the Vikings, especially women Vikings (which is rare in the nineteen century). This chapter nine is a bit hard to wade through too.


The Life of Viking Women is an eight paragraph overview of Viking women saying much of the same. There are no references or any statement which would give this article creditability. This article talks about the general domestic activities of cooking and weaving. There are a couple sentences of the appearance of the woman’s clothing before talking about marriage age and divorce rights brought on by mistreatment. There is a paragraph about female slaves, especially mentioning pregnant slaves and the ownership of the infant slave. All-in-all, I would not recommend this article.
Plundering Vikings I have put this site just to say: do not trust it! This is a ranting article about Vikings, Viking women (pirates), and other randomness. This essay is on a site that focuses on fiction and not fact. Since there is a bibliography to this essay, there probably some grain of truth in it. However, I would go with the bibliography and not the essay.

Archaeology Links (sites involving women):


Scottish Archaeology These are the search results for Norse women finds in Scotland.  Examples include: a find in the Shetlands, 1912 discovery in the highlands, and a sacrificial burial. This site as the title suggests, has a listing of the archaeological finds in Scotland. Each find has the Parish listed, a general overview of what the site entails (sometimes the archaeological notes go into great detail), and then there is a list of references on that find. A few of the finds even have photographs of the site for public view! This is a pretty good website and fairly easy to use.
British Archaeology is an archaeologial magazine. This site is easy to use, but the search results aren't as easy and handy has Scottish Archaeology. One article is on a Viking cemetery, complete with female graves! Another article reports of a Viking woman's burial in Yorkshire. Check in once in a while because new archives are added every so often.


Freydis killing in VinlandSaga Links: 
The Laxdaela Saga  (Online Midieval & Classical Library) an Icelandic saga known for its unique focus on women. This saga is believed to be written by a woman, however the author is unknown. This saga was probably written around the thirteenth century.
Gudrun's various love affairs is one of the central focuses of the saga. Hurstwic's article on women uses this saga as an example of widow rights, revenge, and captivity. The Burial Customs thesis uses this saga as an example of the Icelandic view of the afterlife and proper burial rights.
The Laxdaela Saga (Icelandic Saga Database) in Icelandic, Norwegian, and English (two different translations). See above citation for the synopsis.
Njal's Saga (also known as Burnt Njals's Saga or Brennu-Njáls Saga)  (Online Midieval & Classical Library) an Icelandic saga (circa thirteenth century) about a series of blood feuds. On the female aspect, as shown in the Hurstwic article on women, this saga contains divorce, adultery, and female revenge!
Njal's Saga (Icelandic Saga Database) with Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, German, and English translations. See above citation for the synopsis.
Grettir's Saga (Online Midieval and Classical Library) an Icelandic saga about Grettir, a warrior turned outlaw. Female aspect: magic.
Grettis Saga (Grettir's Saga) (Icelandic Saga Database) translations in Icelandic and English.
Kormak's Saga (Online Midieval & Classical Library) another Icelandic saga; this time about a poet and the love of his life.
Kormak's Saga (Icelandic Saga Database) Swedish, Icelandic, and English translations
Saga of Gisli a Norwegian later turned Icelandic outlaw. Shows faithful and vengeful wives. (Icelandic and English translations) The marriage thesis uses this saga for an example of premartial relations and adultery.
Saga of the Volsungs (Translated by Morris) follows the Volsung family. The love of Sigurd and Brynhild is one of the most famous parts of the saga.
Erik the Red's Saga the discovery of Vinland  featuring Freydis and Gudrid, two strong women (Icelandic, Old Norse, Norwegian, and English translations)
Saga of the Greenlanders in  (Icelandic and Old Norse only) another telling of the discovery of Vinland featuring Gudrid.
Vopnfirdinga Saga if you can read Icelandic, Norwegian or Danish. It is mentioned in the Hurstwic women's article about women getting involved in fights.
Rígsþula: The Lay of Rig is from the Poetic Edda. This section of the Edda is from the Elder or Poetic Edda, Commonly Known as Sæmund's Edda, Part 1,The Mythological Poems, edited and translated by Olive Bray (London: The Viking Club, 1908). This is a simple translation and layout to read. This discusses the birth of the main class systems: The Birth of Thrall, The Birth of Churl, The Birth of Earl, and The Birth of King


Rigsthula: The Song of Rig is from the The Poetic Edda (shown fully on here), by Henry Adams Bellows, [1936]. Has a different way of wording and translating so it is a little more difficult to read. HOWEVER, this translation has a good introduction and many notes to help explain text. See above citation for the poem synopsis.


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