Viking-Age Accessories Part 1: Intro and Women

I was scheduled to teach 4 classes at Gulf Wars this year. Unfortunately, Gulf Wars turned into Gulfnado and I was only able to teach 1.  I’ll try to schedule them for future events, but until then, I’ll share here.

An introduction to common accessories found in Viking graves to help the reenactor put together a kit to look more like a Viking.

The drawings are my own – please do not scan or upload to the internet. Copies made for educational purposes, such as classes, can be as long as credit is given and my contact information is added. Feel free to email me for questions, corrections or comments.

A word on names:

Naming object is so important in human history that it is mentioned early in the Bible when God gifted Adam with the task of naming all of the animals. We give names weight when we debate on whether or not something fits into a category (think of Pluto, for example).

The names used here are common names for the items, but are not definitive. Even with alternate names, this is not an exhaustive list.

Names have power. For example, let’s look at the Viking apron dress, which is often called a hangerok. This name was given to it by Agnes Gejer, a German archeologist from the early days of Viking-age archeology. In German, it refers to dungerees or overalls, which is not a dress but a practical workman’s outfit. The Russian word for the same item translates to sundress, which gives the connotations of something fancy we wear on holiday. There is no Viking-age word for this item of clothing, but only words given in the last 100 years. Each name gives a different feeling to the piece. All, yet none, are correct.

i.e., don’t fixate on names.  I’ve written more about this in my blog post:

https://maniacalmedievalist.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/a-cotehardie-by-any-other-name-would-look-just-as-lovely-some-thoughts-on-research/

Woman Image words wm

Accessories for the Woman

Turtle Brooches

Turtle Brooches are the most distinctive of Viking-age jewelry. Also called oval brooches or paired brooches, because they are oval in shape and were almost always found in pairs, these were worn on the rise of each breast to fasten the strap of the apron dress to the front top of the dress, like the buckles on modern overalls. The turtle brooches rarely went through the cloth but were most often fastened through a top and bottom loop. The turtle brooches often had beads or chains connecting them together and other items, such as scissors or ear spoons, hanging from them.
Alternates: In Finland, round brooches were more common, and in Gotland, animal heads, such as bores or bears.

Trefoil Brooch

Trefoil Brooch: was one possible brooch found at the neck close the opening of a dress, like the top button. Others included small round brooches, snake brooches, or small penannular brooches. Larger trefoil brooches could be used as a cloak clasp. Worn with a leg pointing down and fork up, much like the letter the “Y”.

Mirror Brooch

Mirror Brooch, called such because of their symmetry, were used as clothes fasteners. They are most often found singly laying in a horizontal position, relative to the body. Can be used in pairs vertically in lieu of tortoise brooches. Also called equal armed brooches.

Beads

Beads: of glass, metal (sliver, gold or bronze), metal pendants or gemstone beads were often strung between the turtle brooches. Glass beads, made like modern lampwork beads, had complex patterns and shapes. Although amber is the most frequent gemstone bead used today, carnelian, quartz, garnet, amethyst and jet have been found in both necklaces and hanging between the brooches.
Other Danglies: Viking women also wore practical items hanging from brooches or hanging from their belts.  Amoung these items are ear spoons, tweezers, scissors, needle-cases, keys, combs, and tooth or fingernail picks.

Freya Pendant

Freya Pendant:  Many pendants have been found in graves of Viking-age women.  Pendants of Freya or Valkyries are fairly common.

Cloak Pin

Cloak Pin: Cloaks could be fastened on with a single pin in the front or on the shoulder, or with two cloak pins pinning the cloak open in the front. Cloak pins could be very simple, such as these large decorative nails, or rather complex, such as trefoils or penannular brooches.

Belt

Belt:  Although belt buckles were uncommon in graves of Viking women, cloth belts could have items hanging from them. We often find remnants of tablet woven belts, which were perhaps tied.

Head Scarf

Head Scarf: Viking women wore something on their heads or fixed their hair in elaborate braids. The head scarf, which can be tied in a large knot at the nape of the neck, is inspired by images of women from pendants.  A Jorvik styled cap or head-rail can also be used.

Tablet-Woven Headband

Tablet-Woven Headband:  Although the headband/temple-ring combo is thought to be more of an eastern or Rus Viking custom, tablet woven headbands are found in the western graves in Birka and Hedeby.

Temple Rings

Temple Rings are found near the temple of the head and were possibly worn, in the eastern Viking regions, attached to head scarves or headbands, a tradition which continued through the centuries in Russia. In the Western Viking-age world, they were possibly used as earrings worn around the ears rather than attached to the headband.

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