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The Age of

V i k i n g s


The Age of

V i k i n g s


The Age of Viking - British Museum catalogues, the exposition of 2001 Edited by Fabio D’Apote for British Museum exposition. Accademia delle Arti e Nuove Tecnologie - Roma 2011

cover: Viking sword, 10th century AD - Found near the village of Uppsala, Sweden


The Vikings

For nearly 300 years, from the end of the eighth century AD until around 1100, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia on raids and voyages of discovery and colonization across the northern world. Their pagan gods were regarded with horror by the Christian countries of Europe, but the archaeology of their settlements and burials and the literature of their sagas reveal a complex and fascinating culture. Viking society was hierarchical and ruled by kings or chiefs, who owned large farmsteads. It was divided into the free, who could carry arms and speak at local assemblies, and the thralls, or slaves, who had no rights, although some were able to gain their freedom. The free were divided into the noble class of jarls (earls) and, beneath them, the farmers, whose status depended on how long their families had owned their farms. The sagas, mostly composed in Iceland in the thirteenth century, give the impression of a violent society as rival families resorted to blood feuds to settle disputes or avenge murder. The violence of the age is reflected in the quantity of weapons found in male graves. However, Viking raids were often seasonal affairs, after which the bands of warriors would disperse to return to their farms. Trade and plunder brought increasing prosperity to the region and skilled craftsmen patronized by the ĂŠlite produced objects of great artistic merit. The Viking period began in AD 793 with a raid on the monastery of Lindisfarne by pirates from Scandinavia. In the following centuries their swift sailing ships enabled them to attack the undefended coastal and river ports, towns and monasteries of western Europe and beyond in the search for wealth, slaves, and new lands to settle. The case is decorated with irregularar crosses of double lines.

Viking sword, 10th century AD Found near the village of Uppsala, Sweden


North Antlantic saga

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The name Viking is generally applied to the Scandinavian peoples from the late eighth century until around AD 1100. They lived in a number of small kingdoms, but as their rulers sought to increase their wealth and power, the smaller kingdoms were absorbed by more powerful neighbours, creating the modern kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The Viking period began in AD 793 with a raid on the monastery of Lindisfarne by pirates from Scandinavia. In the following centuries their swift sailing ships enabled them to attack the undefended coastal and

river ports, towns and monasteries of western Europe and beyond in the search for wealth, slaves, and new lands to settle. The name Viking is generally applied to the Scandinavian peoples from the late eighth century until around AD 1100. They lived in a number of small kingdoms, but as their rulers sought to increase their wealth and power, the smaller kingdoms were absorbed by more powerful neighbours, creating the modern kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.


Brooch in the Urnes style Viking, 11th century AD - Found near the village of Kiaby, SkĂĽne, Sweden

Female costume jewellery This copper-alloy brooch is in the form of a ribbonbodied animal entwined with interlacing tendrils. The combination of both broad and thin lines of ornament and scrolling loops is typical of the Scandinavian Urnes Style. This style is named after the wooden carvings at the church of Urnes, Norway. It shows the highly accomplished, final development of Germanic animal art in Viking regions before it merged locally into early Romanesque art. The Romanesque style came into fashion throughout western and northern Europe at the beginning of the Middle Ages. Variants of this type of brooch are found throughout Scandinavia and they were probably used to fasten a woman’s shawl or cloak by means of a pin on the back. But little is known of female costume at this time because of the lack of burials with grave-goods. The animal does not represent any particular species, but may show Christian influence as a symbol of the struggle between good and evil. For example, a great beast is shown in combat with a serpent on a carved stone at Jelling, in Denmark. On the second side of the stone is a scene of the bound Christ and, mainly on the third side, there is an inscription recording the conversion of the Danes to the new religion (around AD 965). The case is decorated with irregular crosses of double lines. The case is decorated with irregular crosses of double lines. The case is decorated with irregular crosses of double lines. The case is decorated with irregular crosses of double lines. The case is decorated with irregular crosses of double lines, case is decorated with, case is decorated with, mainly on the third side, mainly on the third side. The case is decorated with irregular crosses of double lines. The case is decorated with irregular crosses of double lines.

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For smoothing linen Combs such as this are commonly found throughout the Viking world. This comb and case are from York, the former Viking capital then called Jorvik. They were found in the nineteenth century. Both comb and case are made of several pieces of antler fitted together with iron rivets. Decoration on the comb is the same on both sides. It has very little ornament, other than simple cross-hatching in rectangular areas, which are confined to the ends. The case is decorated with irregular crosses of double lines. Below this is a similar pattern to that on the comb, but with vertical lines instead of cross-hatching. Comb decoration can be more elaborate: some were inlaid with bronze. This suggests that all ranks of society owned and used them. The simple decoration on this comb set implies that it probably belonged to someone of middle rank. Both men and women wore their hair long in the Viking period. Combs probably acted as implements for removing lice as much as for making the beautiful.

Antler comb with matching case Viking, 9th-10th century AD - From York, England Silver bracelet Viking, 10th-11th century AD Found on the island of Gotland, Sweden

Like many smaller combs, this comb and case have holes in them for hanging from a belt or brooch. Comb cases were made to protect the delicate teeth from being accidentally broken. This seems to have worked here as this comb still has all its teeth. This is very rare. The case is decorated with irregular crosses of double lines. Below this is a similar pattern to that on the comb, but with vertical lines instead of cross-hatching. Comb decoration can be more elaborate: some were inlaid with bronze. This suggests that all ranks of society owned and used them. The case is decorated with irregular crosses of double lines.


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Whalebone plaque Viking, 9th century AD From a barrow burial at Lilleberge, Namdalen, Norway

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An entwined animal and snake in combat This elegant openwork brooch was found in a churchyard. The skill needed to make it indicates that it was probably worn by a man or woman of some importance, and the brooch would have been considered a symbol of prestige. It is thought that these plaques were used as boards for smoothing folds and seams in linen clothing with the aid of bun-shaped glass smoothers. They have been found mostly in northern Norway in rich women’s graves. Occasional examples found in other Viking-settled areas, such as parts of Ireland and Scotland, are probably of Norwegian origin. Whales were hunted for their skins, meat and whalebone; they also sometimes stranded themselves or were washed ashore where their carcasses could be cut up.

A puzzling design This silver disc brooch is elaborately decorated with Borre Style interlace and animal masks. Figures of four backward-biting animals are riveted around the high central boss, itself formed of eight long-necked animal heads. Round the edge of the brooch are two squatting, human figures grasping what appear to be their own forked beards, alternating with animal heads holding a bar between forepaws and mouth. The significance of this design is uncertain although disc brooches with figures in this style are found mainly in central Sweden. The nicked edges of the design imitate beaded wire. On the back of the brooch are impressions of textile used in the casting process and a pierced. The case is decorated with irregular crosses of double.

The Pitney Brooch Anglo-Scandinavian, 2nd half of the 11th century AD Found in Pitney, Somerset, England


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Silver disc brooch Viking, 10th century AD Probably found on the island of Gotland, Sweden


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With wax was placed in the half of the mould bearing the design of the disc. The other half of the mould was then made by pressing clay over the cloth. The complete mould was then fired to melt out the wax. Any remaining cloth was removed, but an impression of the textile was left on the back half of the mould, and was transferred to the underside of the disc when it was cast. Circular brooches were usually worn singly by women on Gotland, to fasten an outer garment such as a cloak. In this case the lug for a chain suggests the brooch could have been linked to another item, possibly of jewellery. Round the edge of the brooch are two squatting, human figures grasping what appear to be their own forked beards, alternating with animal heads holding a bar between forepaws and mouth. The significance of this design is uncertain although disc brooches with figures in this style are found mainly in central Sweden. The other half of the mould was then made by pressing clay over the cloth. The complete mould was then fired to melt out the wax. The nicked edges of the design imitate beaded wire.

Silver disc brooch (particular) Viking, 10th century AD Probably found on the island of Gotland, Sweden


“For nearly 300 years, from the end of the eighth century AD until around 1100, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia on raids and voyages of discovery and colonization across the northern world. Their pagan gods were regarded with horror by the Christian countries of Europe, but the archaeology of their settlements and burials and the literature of their sagas reveal a complex and fascinating culture.” Fabio D’Apote, 2°C - anno accademico 2011/2012


The Age Of Vikings