3 Staple Characteristics Of Viking Jewellery

Vikings - the warriors, raiders, and navigators of the Norse world still hold the interest of historians as scholars today. Who they were as a people is still being studied, from their way of life to their weapons of war, what tools they used for exploration, what boats they sailed, and how they shared a rich culture across the lands of old Scandinavia.

Throughout all the Viking tribes and the spread of their practices and rituals, combat strategy and commodities, they shared one thing in common: they all had jewellery.

What Role Did Jewellery Play in Viking History?

The Vikings loved their jewellery, and it was through this love that they adorned almost everything with it. The craftsmen who were commissioned to create these pieces were handsomely paid and well respected. They would carve and bevel runes, engrave complex winding lines, and etch several different symbols on their jewellery. 

After the Viking received their jewellery, they would go out of their way to decorate their clothes, longboats, weapons, and even houses. If any piece of jewellery was too large to be worn, these were broken down into smaller pieces and used as a form of payment or currency but personal jewellery was the most prevalent request among them.

When it came to personal jewellery, the Vikings used these in some of the ways below.

As Rewards

Throughout the frozen plains of Scandanavia, jewellery spoke a special language among every Viking. Often Viking jewellery, usually brooches and rings, were rewarded by rulers to loyal subjects or villagers who did good deeds for them. The act of being generous was the mark of a great ruler. Wealthier Vikings would have their jewellery made from gold and silver, while poorer Vikings had their jewellery created from bronze or the bones of animals they had eaten from a hunt.

Symbols Of Status And Protection

Wearing jewellery also showed the Vikings’ courage, as well as honour tribal customs, lineage, political alignment, and ancient lore. Some seafarers would have amulets of protection around their necks. Others preferred symbols representing the power of particular creatures such as wolves, dragons, and various mythical beasts and beings. If a Viking had long hair or a long beard, they would have it braided with jewellery as it symbolised protection and status.

As Gifts

Such as jewellery is today, it was no different in ancient times. Vikings often gave jewellery as a gift among friends, significant others, or brothers-in-arms. Both men and women in those times wore various kinds of Norse and Viking jewellery, but most often, men would wear a design of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, around their necks as a symbol of might.

Staple Characteristics Of Viking Jewellery

With so many forms of symbolism and representation, below are the three staple characteristics of Viking jewellery and the meaning behind them.

1. They Were Very Ornate

Viking jewellery was very ornate. Several pieces come with intricate designs, emblems, motifs, and patterns with mystical meaning. For instance, when engraving on jewellery, every tuft of fur on a wolf’s head was etched out as though it were soft to the touch, or even the simple shape of Thor’s hammer would be lined with metal strips that coiled into one another. Depending on the craftsman, they would even write Viking runes on the jewellery piece.

Surprisingly enough, when the Viking age had ended, descendants of Vikings who married into different tribes (e.g., Celts, Gaels, etc.)  also adapted ornate designs from their new tribe into their jewellery, creating a hybrid form of Viking jewellery.

2. They Had Many Different Symbols

Vikings have always had incredible tales of old that were passed down from generation to generation. Through this tradition of storytelling, they kept their traditions alive.

Each item in a Viking’s jewellery piece holds meaning so when you’re planning to buy anyone a Viking accessory as a gift, consider some of the following symbols below:

Mjolnir, the Hammer of Thor: Wearing the shape of Thor’s hammer on your person symbolises protection and consecration. Mjolnir was said to be the source of Thor’s almighty strength and when thrown, it would return to him at his will. Choosing to have this detail on your Viking jewellery is said to ward off evil spirits. Hence, this was popular amongst men who fought battles in the days of the Vikings.

Ravens: Ravens, in real life, are mysterious and ominous creatures often associated with fear, death, or misfortune. To the people of the old Norse world, ravens are the eyes and ears of the god Odin and are far from being ominous or portents of impending death. On the contrary, they are considered among the holiest of birds. Odin owned two ravens named Huginn and Muninn, both of whom scout the world for any events of interest. Huginn means ‘idea’ and Muninn means ‘memory.’ Whether a warrior worthy of entering Valhalla has been spotted or Loki was seen up to his misdeeds once again, Huginn and Muninn would tell Odin everything. With that said, ravens in Viking jewellery symbolise divine presence and wisdom.

Web of Wyrd: This is a symbol of intersecting lines forming shapes like triangles and rhombi. It represents a Viking’s understanding of fate as an unyielding force. It is with this symbol that Vikings exude their renowned courage and tenacity.

Wolves: The wolf is a double-edged sword in Viking lore. This canine represents the beast Fenrir, a great wolf that is said to swallow the sun during the end of the world or Ragnarök. While this meaning is grim by itself, Fenrir was also loyal to his father, Loki, and showed great strength as he was able to free himself from the bindings of the Aesir or the Norse pantheon. Therefore, giving someone a piece of Viking jewellery with a wolf on it is like telling them they’re strong, independent, and undyingly loyal.

Yggdrasil, the World Tree: One of the most iconic pieces of Nordic lore, the Yggdrasil or the World Tree, is a titanic tree that has been said to touch the sky and has roots that connect the Nine Realms together. This tree-shaped symbol is a profound icon of connection, and that each person has spiritual bonds between their fellow human being beyond comprehension. Giving someone a pendant or accessory with Yggdrasil on it tells them that you’re connected to them.

There are many more symbols and icons from Nordic lore, and these are the few that stand out. If you aren’t entirely sure of what the icon represents, you may ask the jeweller.

3. They Were Made from Precious Metals

For Viking artisans, bronze was the most readily-available metal as it was naturally-occurring in the lands of old Scandinavia. Once they began trading through the Silk Road, silver and gold were introduced. Silver was used mostly for currency and gold for luxury items. As time passed, the Vikings saw how much better quality both gold and silver were for ornaments. Thus, these metals became a staple feature for their make. Today, Viking jewellery is often made of stainless steel to mimic the sheen and quality of the original accessories.

Profound Gifts

Giving a friend or anyone of importance a piece of Viking jewellery not just honours the tradition of the courageous warriors of the north, but it also tells the recipient that you value them for their best qualities. Doing this may also bestow on them a quality or a blessing they need in these trying times, be it strength, independence, wisdom, or protection. The old ways of the Viking will live on through these icons and their wearers for generations to come.

*Collaborative post

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