Just like people today, the Vikings liked to look good. This is why they wore eye kohl and prized exotic silks imported from the East. Rings, bracelets, and necklaces were another way for the Vikings to embellish themselves.
The Vikings created their Norse Vikings jewelry using the lost wax method. This involved making a wax mold of the desired piece and pouring melted metal into the mold. Once cool, the wax mold was broken, and the metal buffed until it shone. That’s the way we craft our products now.
But more than being simple trinkets, jewelry also played an important role in Viking society.
Warriors that banded together to raid and conquer, alliances between lords, and between lords and warriors, were of paramount importance. One way that the Vikings showed loyalty was through the exchange of rings. Wealthy lords would often gift rings of precious metals to warriors to ensure their allegiance. Lords, in general, did not hoard their wealth but redistributed it within the community. This ensured strong bonds of mutual interest and loyalty. Viking jewelry, worn by both men and women, was mostly made from bronze or silver, though the very wealthy also wore gold. Notably, Viking jewelry rarely included inset stones or gems, though separate pieces were made from these materials.
If you want to understand Viking jewelry, you must know what these symbols mean first.
Thor’s Hammer, a symbol of protection, strength, consecration, and the integrity of custom and tradition. Also as an instrument of blessing, consecration, and protection. The hammer was used in formal ceremonies to bless marriages, births, and probably funerals as well.
Historian Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson provides an excellent summary of the uses of the hammer:
The Valknut, a symbol associated with death, the transition from life to death, and Odin.
The Vegvisir, a symbol from an early modern Icelandic magical manuscript (and therefore not necessarily a truly “Norse” symbol), described only in one modern Icelandic collection of spells, the so-called Huld manuscript, which was supposed to help with finding one’s way when lost.
The Huld manuscript was compiled during the nineteenth century – about eight centuries after the end of the Viking Age. While some of its material may date from the time when the pre-Christian Norse religion was still a living tradition, much of the rest of it is heavily influenced by Christianity and magical practices imported from more southerly parts of Europe. Thus, the simple fact that something is found in the Huld manuscript is no guarantee that the pre-Christian Norse and/or other Germanic peoples knew anything about it, let alone embraced it as part of their religion.
There are three more symbols that we haven’t talked about today, The Helm of Awe, The Swastika and The Svefnthorn. If you are interested in these, please follow our next blog.
Some Viking jewelry also probably had a religious significance. A small number of pendants survive in the form of religious symbols such as Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer and by far the most popular pendant design), Valknuts and Yggdrasil (the Tree of Life). These pendants only survive from a few graves, which suggests that they were either not regularly worn, of that these were important religious symbols retained within families and not included among grave goods. Vikings were often buried with jewelry as it was believed that they would need wealth to live comfortably in the afterlife.