On jewelry worn by the Vikings

Ever find yourself wondering about Viking jewelry?
Me too!!

The Viking were the seafaring peoples of Scandinavia in the early medieval period. They were skilled metalworkers and attached a high importance to precious metals. Gold jewelry showed status and success as a trader and a raider -- and was worn by both men and women. They often used their jewelry as currency.

Twisted metal

The twisted shape of the rings shown here is frequently seen in Viking designs not only for finger rings but also in arm or neck rings. There could either be a simple gold twist or a more complicated form made of plaited gold wires.

These examples are from London's Victoria and Albert Museum and Les Enluminures.

Valkyrie pendant

Next up is a little Valkyrie pendant that was found in Denmark just a couple of years ago by an amateur archaeologist using a metal detector. It is the only known three-dimensional Viking-age valkyrie.

 

Literally "choosers of the slain," valkyries were imagined as terrifying spirits of war and companions of the god Odin. They ushered dead warriors from the battlefield to Valhöll, the hall of the slain (called Valhalla by the Victorians).

The thumb-sized figurine is made of gilded silver, with some black niello inlay decoration. The pretty little valkyrie is sturdily dressed, armed with a double-sided Viking sword and a round shield, her hair neatly twisted into a long ponytail forming a loop, suggesting it may have been worn as a pendant.

Her survival is something of a miracle: the lower legs and feet are missing, and it was found among fragments of scrap metal, so somebody may have started to chop it up to be melted down to extract its silver content.

The Hiddensea Hoard

Several hoards of Viking jewelry and artifacts have been unearthed over time and one of the most incredible is the Hiddensea Hoard. This hoard, found more than a century ago, was recovered on the island of Hiddensee, near Rügen off the northern coast of Germany. The impressive ornaments – a neck-ring, a brooch, 10 pendants and four spacers – were probably made in Denmark in a royal workshop. Seven similar cross pendants, of the same type but made of silver, were found at the Mikhailovsky monastery, in Kiev, as part of a large hoard of jewelry from the 12th and 13th centuries.

Thor's Hammer

Several of these relics have been found and are known as the Mjöllnir amulets. They appear to depict hammers, which historians have linked to the Norse god Thor. However, they could never be completely certain the pieces actually DID represent Thor's Hammer.

Image from the National Museum of Denmark.

Image from the National Museum of Denmark.

But a few years ago one was found in Købelev, on the Danish island of Lolland,. It was the first one to be discovered with an inscription. The runic text reads “Hmar x is”, which translates to “this is a hammer."

This amulet was cast in bronze and probably plated with silver, tin, and gold. It is approximately 1100 years old.

According to the National Museum of Denmark, this is the only hammer-shaped pendant discovered so far with a runic inscription. And it tells us that the Mjöllnir amulets do in fact depict hammers.

According to Norse mythology, Thor is a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, and the protection of mankind.

Sources

  • National Museum of Denmark
  • British Museum
  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Ancient Origins
  • The Guardian
  • The History Blog