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Viking Bling!; A Review Of Viking Age Jewelry For Men And Women

Viking Jewelry - General Information:

  • Most of our knowledge of Viking jewelry comes from grave finds and treasure buried in hoards.

  • More is known about early Viking period jewelry than is known about late-Viking period jewelry. This is because the conversion to Christianity took place around 1000 AD in Scandinavia. They stopped putting jewelry into graves.

  • Designs of Viking jewelry reflected the changing styles of Viking art, usually representing patterns of stylized animals.

  • Jewelry was worn by both men and women.

  • Jewelry was worn for adornment and for displaying wealth. It also served practical purposes:

a. It was a convenient way of carrying one's personal wealth.

b. It could be used as a means of exchange.

c. It could be used to seal friendships and alliances.

d. It could also serve ordinary, everyday uses like fastening cloaks and dresses.

  • The most valuable jewelry was made of gold, but gold was almost always in short supply in Scandinavia. Most jewelry was made of silver or made of bronze and *gilded to look like gold.

  • Items of gold and silver jewelry were individually made by highly skilled craftsmen for wealthy customers.

  • Cheaper bronze jewelry was mass-produced, usually being cast in clay or stone molds. These would be based on a master copy.

  • Most articles of jewelry were functional.

  • Most of the silver used in neckrings, armrings, and brooches made in Scandinavia was made from Arabic silver coins.

  • All metal other than iron had to be imported into Scandinavia.

*Gilded - covered in gold leaf.

Armrings and Neckrings:

  • Status symbols; Both men and women wore and displayed their wealth in this way.

  • Most payments in the Viking Age were made in silver according to weight, so jewelry was a practical way of carrying one's wealth.

  • If a smaller amount was needed, the jewelry was simply cut into pieces.

  • A variation was called the *"Permium Rings". These were Russian in origin that were made of standard weights. They were imported from early in the Viking Age.

  • In Scandinavia they were worn as armrings and used as currency.

  • These items were often plain and made in standard units of weight so their value could be easily assessed.

*The seventh and last period of the Paleozoic Era.

Finger Rings and Earrings:

  • Finger rings were only rarely worn before the late Viking Age. Earrings were hardly worn at all.

  • What earrings they had were Slavic in origin. The idea of wearing earrings was very foreign to Scandinavian tradition.


  • Colored glass beads were mass-produced for use in necklaces. Beads were also made of *amber, semi-precious stone and sometimes were made from gold and silver.

  • Necklaces were often hung with souvenirs (odd items picked up from abroad) such as coins and finger rings.

  • Amber was often exported. Found on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Soft and easily worked.

* Amber - semi-precious fossil resin, often of tree sap origin.

Oval Brooches:

  • The commonest item of Scandinavian Viking Age jewelry were women's bronze oval brooches. (These were seldom made in other metals.)

  • Oval brooches were a practical part of women's clothing. One was worn on each shoulder to fasten the overdress.

  • In Finland this type of brooch tended to be round instead of oval.

  • Oval brooches went out of fashion at the end of the 10th century, to be superseded by fanciful tendril designs of brooches.

  • A chain of colored beads was often suspended between the brooches.

Penannular Brooches:

  • These were almost exclusively a men's fashion accessory.

  • Adopted early in the Viking Age from Irish and Scottish fashions by Viking settlers. It later caught on in Scandinavia and Russia.

  • Fastened on the right shoulder with the pin pointed upward, keeping the sword arm free.

Thor's Hammers:

  • Nearly always worn as pendants.

Trefoil Brooches:

  • These were Scandinavian versions of a foreign design.

  • The trefoil brooches used to fasten women's shawls and cloaks were inspired by the trefoil sword-mounts used in the Frankish Empire.

  • These became popular in the 9th century to fasten women's cloaks.


Vikings obtained their beads by buying them from the great trading towns in Scandinavia such as Birka and Hedeby, inheriting or having them handed down to them, or gathering them while raiding.

Types of beads used by the Vikings:

Flame worked glass could be had from Birka Amber from the shores of the Baltic Sea nearby Jet, also native to Scandinavia Rock crystal, amethyst, and garnet from Europe Gold and bronze beads, made locally and imported from abroad.

Surface Decoration On Viking Jewelry:

Viking craftsmen would apply silver and gold to the surface of base metals in order to give jewelry a richer, more expensive appearance. Further embellishment was made with the addition of filigree (where fine gold or silver wires are soldered to the surface of the jewelry) and granulation (where small balls of metal are used by themselves or in clusters to form patterns on the jewelry).

Lack of Set Stones in Viking Jewelry:

An odd characteristic of Viking jewelry was its nearly total lack of set stones.

Gem-setting had been an extremely popular form of ornament in pre-Viking Scandinavia, during which times it was carried out with great skill.

It apparently had stopped appealing to Viking tastes in jewelry, and was abandoned (Graham-Campbell; 1980). Cultures the Vikings had contact with, such as the Franks and the Byzantines, continued to use set stones throughout the Viking Age without interruption.

The Hon Necklace:

This is a famous necklace, found in a hoard discovered at Hon, Norway, and dated to the 9th century. This was an extremely rare find, since Viking hoards normally contained mostly silver objects. The Hon hoard, in contrast, contained mostly objects of gold.

The Hon necklace is made of a combination of simple glass beads, carnelian beads and beads of other semiprecious stones, foiled glass beads, and several metal filigree beads.

Hanging from the necklace are metal wire rings strung with beads, a golden Islamic coin, and seven gold filigree pendants. The large ring of white beads in front could have served as the necklace's center, leaving the golden pendants and the coin somewhat evenly spaced around the circumference of the necklace. There is no effort to symmetrically place matching beads equal distances away from the focal point. Rather beads are matched in pairs by size, shape, and tone (light or dark) not only in relation to the focal point, but so that they likewise balance beads 180° around the diameter of the necklace.

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