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Historical Tidbit Thursdays - Vikings in the Middle Ages - #TidbitThursday

I picked up a wonderful book titled "The Middle Ages" by M. Bishop (ISBN#0-8281-0487-5) which featured an informative section on the Vikings.

Most people don't realize that the Middle Ages encompasses more than just castles and knights. This period of history actually covers a wide range of dates - from the 400's AD up until the 1400's AD.

Vikings began as Germanic farmers in Scandinavia before spreading out to Iceland (9th century) and then Greenland. In 810, they made it to modern-day France. In 859, they arrived at the Mediterranean, eventually moving down to Italy.

Their shallow-draft ships allowed them to attack along river routes and to come close to shores for quick attacks. Their reputations for ferocity terrorized the citizens into easy surrender.

Over a course of forty years, Paris was attacked four times and burned twice.

Drakken or "dragon ships" were sixty feet long. Their keel was made up of a single, straight tree trunk. The ribs were clinker-built whereby the piece were tied to the framework with thongs. The ship carried a single mast with a sail made from strips of a woolen cloth. A typical crew consisted of thirty-five men who lived and slept on the open, exposed top deck. Oars were only used when the wind was too weak to fill the sail. They didn't have compass or instruments to guide them so they relied on "dead reckoning" and by observing the flight path of migrating birds.

Vikings wore ring mail and red cloaks.

In 911, King Charles the Simple of West Francia formed a pact with the Viking Chief Rollo for peace. Rollo became Duke of the newly-created Normandy.

In Britain, Vikings were called Danes who arrived there in 787. In 853, the Vikings set up the capital of Dublin in Ireland. Their territory in England was called Danelaw. The Danes acted as nobles and demanded tribute of silver coins in exchange for peace. This tribute was known as Danegeld.

Search your local library for this book or you can find it on amazon:

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Historical Tidbit Thursdays - Vikings - Society and Hierarchy - #TidbitThursday

Howdy! I hope you've been enjoying our Viking tidbits as much I enjoy researching them. This week we'll delve into the hierarchical society of Viking peoples.

Viking society was divided by classes (similar to medieval feudalism) but it was possible for people to move up in social class.

At the top of the hierarchy were kings and earls. Traditionally, kingship was passed down through inheritance but not always. Also, their power was bound by laws and customs. After the Viking period ended, earls became subordinate to kings. Icelandic Vikings did not have kings.

Beneath the kings and earls were aristocrats and jarls (regional chiefs). They provided military strength to their kingdoms. And they leased land to the farmers (similar to feudalism).

The karls or karlar made up the middle class which were further subdivided into well-off landowners and merchants and, further down the ladder, craftsmen and tenant farmers. When the kingdom was at war, they joined the army to defend their leaders. There were some men who became professional fighters. Karls who became wealthy could become jarls.

Slaves or thraell were at the bottom of the hierarchical chain. They could not own anything and were not paid to work, but they did keep tiny portions of profit when selling goods and could eventually pay for their freedom. Vikings often took prisoners during raids and either kept them for labor purposes or sold them at slave markets. People who committed crimes or who fell into debt could also be enslaved.

Picture References:
Cnut - History Channel - 6 Viking Leaders You Should Know
Slave Chains - National Museum of Ireland - Nine unmissable objects from Clontarf 1014

National Museum of Ireland
Smithsonian Magazine - The Little-Known Role of Slavery in Viking Society
"Everyday Life in Viking Times" by Michael Gibson, ISBN#0-7500-1472-5
The Vikings: Voyagers of Discovery and Plunder (General Military) The Vikings (Journey into civilization)
Vikings, a Dark History Vikings: Warriors, Raiders, and Masters of the Sea (Oxford People)
The Vikings  

Historical Tidbit Thursdays - Vikings - Houses - #TidbitThursday

Howdy! This week join me as we explore Viking houses.

Viking families settled in villages and established farms. Women and children usually tended the farms while the men were away on raids or trade voyages.

We'll talk about villages another time, but I did want to note that not all villages during this period were identical. Some were large and consisted of many separate farm houses while others were smaller and consisted of several communal longhouses.

Norse houses, rectangular in shape, were made of local timber or branches with thatched or turf roofs. Longhouses had timber frames with walls of wattle (woven sticks) and daub (a mud-clay mixture). Some longhouses had curved walls made of split tree trunks with angled posts to help support the roof. Stave houses were built of verticle planks (or staves).

Here you can see the woven wattle that make up the walls of these structures. The daub/mud would be pressed against these frames to seal the cracks (kind of like mortar).


In locations where wood was scarce, stone would have been used for the walls.

Longhouses were typically 39 to 49 feet long but some more communal ones measured up to 164 feet long and all seemed to be less than 16 feet wide.

The earlier homes would shelter both goods and animals as well as the extended families. Eventually, Vikings made use of outer buildings to shelter livestock or to store crops. Around 200 BC, fences were being used to contain their animals as well as mark their property.

Homes lacked many windows or had none at all and the family members relied on a central hearth for light as well as heat and cooking. Above the fire a smokehole was cut out to allow smoke to escape outside. During the day, the door would be left open to allow in additional light.

Furnishings were sparse as well. Long benches lined the walls for sitting or sleeping. Actual beds were rare and usually reserved for the wealthy. There may have been a special chair for the man of the house. Tables were uncommon but trestle-like tables that could fold up for storage may have been used. Wooden chests doubled as seats. Living areas may have been separated by skins rather than walls. Weapons, shields, or even cloth were hung on the walls.

Picture References:
Wattle and Daub - Wikipedia
Wattle Building - Fotevikens Museum
Curved longhouse - National Museum of Denmark
Stave House - Fotevikens Museum

National Museum of Denmark
Forbes Magazine - Retracing Ragnar: Scandinavia's Top Viking Sites
Visit Denmark
Visit Norway
Fotevikens Museum
Wikipedia - Wattle and Daub
"Everyday Life in Viking Times" by Michael Gibson, ISBN#0-7500-1472-5
The Vikings: Voyagers of Discovery and Plunder (General Military) The Vikings (Journey into civilization)
Vikings, a Dark History Vikings: Warriors, Raiders, and Masters of the Sea (Oxford People)
The Vikings  

Video Review - History Channel - Ancient Aliens - The Viking Gods - #TidbitThursday

Sometimes while researching, I stumble upon resources that are controversial and this is no exception. "Ancient Aliens" is a show on the History Channel that has a lot of followers as well as a lot of naysayers. Many people believe aliens and extraterrestrials are real (check out the ever-popular alien hub Roswell, NM). As a writer and researcher, I keep an open mind and for this particular show, I was more interested in the bits about Vikings than the bits about aliens.

Ancient Aliens - The Viking Gods

Season 5 - Episode 11


From the History Channel website: "They were teachers and destroyers. Mighty warriors who blazed across the skies in gleaming chariots and wielded magical weapons that could bring down mountains. Odin, Frey and Thor. The gods worshipped by the Norse Vikings were fearsome and mysterious, but were these beings truly divine, or is there, perhaps, an extraterrestrial connection? The Norse were among the most technologically advanced cultures of the ancient world. They were epic explorers who embarked on oceanic voyages to Africa and the Middle East and even reached North America at least 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Were the Norse guided by powerful gods, or could the super-beings that guided the Vikings have actually been visitors from another planet?"

The Viking Era flourished between the late 8th century and the 11th century with efforts to establish trade routes.
These explorers built ships as well as bridges and circular fortresses.
Like pirates, Vikings formed an assembly like democracy where the power was held by the people and not one person and they could argue over issues.
They sailed long distances hundreds of years before other European countries heading over the rivers in Russia to seas such as the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
Newfoundland was established by Norse 500 years before Columbus.
Their ships were built lightweight, strong, flexible and were well-balanced enabling them to sail through shallows as well as deep oceans.
During this time period, most people did not venture far from their birthplace, but the Vikings seemed to be born explorers traveling across oceans.

"The Eddas" or Icelandic books (written after the Viking Age) mention the Viking Gods - Odin, Frey (or Freyr), and Thor.
Frey/Freyr is the god of fertility and prosperity. He negotiates for peace and also controls the weather.
Odin was the chief of gods. He had one eye because he gave up the other to drink the Water of Truth. He sent out two ravens, Huginn ("thought") and Muninn ("memory"), every day to observe or spy.
Thor was the god of thunder and lightning. He rode a cart pulled by goats. Known as the protector against giants, he wore a powerful belt called Menginjoro to give him strength. Thor's infamous hammer was made by dwarves and is very accurate and powerful (can crush mountains).
Asgard was the peaceful and beautiful land where Odin and Thor lived. Midgard (or Middle Earth) was where the humans lived. Bifrost is the rainbow bridge that connects Asgard to Midgard.
Gamla Uppsala, Sweden - the oldest, continuously inhabited Viking site in Scandinavia had a temple to worship Odin, Thor and Freyr.
The "Boksta Runestone" in Balingsta, Sweden depicts Odin with the Gungnir spear riding on horseback.
Valhalla (Odin's Hall) known as "The Hall of the Slain" is where warriors go when they die (like going to heaven). They have a great feast of meat and pork in the large hall filled with long tables and fires.

Picture References:
Viking God - https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2831124/
Ancient Aliens Cover - https://www.history.com/shows/ancient-aliens/season-5/episode-11

Read more about this episode here.

Ancient Aliens: The Complete Seasons 1-6 [DVD]

Video Review - History Channel - Forged In Fire - Viking Sword - #TidbitThursday

Researching Vikings and the Viking Era has led me to several interesting videos. One of these is from the popular History Channel series, Forged in Fire, which is a competitive show that focuses on the art of blacksmithing swords with various challenges.

Forged in Fire - Viking Sword

Season 2 - Episode 5


This particular episode the contestants must recreate Viking swords with materials from a car within a limited time frame.

The Blade of the sword is about 9 to 11 inches long. The total length with the tang is about 22 inches long.
The sword features a recurve blade, ideal for slicing.
During the Viking Age (8th - 11th centuries), their swords were typically double-edged and fuller along the blade's length to add strength and flexibility.
A hilt and pummel added balance.
A fuller (a rounded groove or slot) was added to the blade to make it lighter weight and, interestingly, to give it more strength.
Uneven heat during the forging will warp a blade when it's quenched (dunked in the water).
Delamination occurs when two metal layers which were welded together during the process begin to separate.
The Viking sword was meant to be a single-handed weapon (freeing the other hand to carry a shield).

See info on the series here - TravelChannel.com

Watch the Episode online: Viking Sword

Historical Tidbit Thursdays - Vikings - Jewelry - #TidbitThursday

Howdy! This week join me as we begin exploring the jewelry that was crafted during the Viking times.

During the Viking Age, metal smiths were highly revered and their skills made them wealthy. Jewelry was a form of wealth and could be used in trade exchanges.

Jewelry was made from various materials including gold, silver, wood, leather, glass, ceramics or stone.

Beads were made from amber, glass, crystal or other material. The first example, we have glass and amber beads from 11th-12th century. The second example features pretty glass beads from about 7th century.

One popular piece of jewelry found at most archaeological sites is the brooch (used for both functional purposes and decorative purposes). They range from plain designs to very ornately carved. Many feature animal designs. In this example from The British Museum, the pitted copper alloy brooch features a small animal head, which is a common theme throughout Viking art.

Women usuallly wore decorative brooches on each shoulder. This set from the National Museum of Denmark shows one set which was connected by a string of amber beads.

Both men and women wore neck rings (similar in style to the arm-ring). The Walters Art Museum has an excellent example of a silver twisted neck ring. Typically they were open at the back (like the arm-ring) but this one features a clasp.

As mentioned last week, jewelry was often given as a gift or in exchange for loyalty.

Picture References:
Gold Neck ring - National Museum of Denmark
Dress brooch - National Museum of Denmark
Animal Head Brooch - The British Museum
Amber Beads - The British Museum
Glass Beads - The British Museum
Neck Ring - The Walters Art Museum

The Field Museum - Vikings
British Museum - Viking Collection
Viking-Era Ring Unearthed in Northern Ireland - History.com.
"Everyday Life in Viking Times" by Michael Gibson, ISBN#0-7500-1472-5
The Vikings: Voyagers of Discovery and Plunder (General Military) The Vikings (Journey into civilization)
Vikings, a Dark History Vikings: Warriors, Raiders, and Masters of the Sea (Oxford People)
The Vikings