Just as there is no single definition of a Viking, there is no single description of a Viking woman. The role of women in Viking society was complex and varied, ranging from homemaker and mother to warrior and business owner.
What we do know is from archaeological evidence as well as stories and Norse Mythology passed down from the Viking Age.
Viking women were not restricted to the home and could own and operate businesses, as well as inherit property. They also had the right to request a divorce and remarry.
Some Viking ladies choose to become warriors and fought alongside their male counterparts. These women were called shield-maidens and they were just as skilled in combat as the men. They often dressed in men's clothing and wore their hair short.
What did Viking Women Wear?
Women's clothing in the Viking Age was designed for both function and fashion. Their garments were made to keep them warm in the cold Scandinavian climate, but they were also often beautifully adorned with embroidery and other decorations.
Norse women wore a variety of clothes, depending on their social class and the activity they were engaged in. Wealthier women tended to wear more elaborate dresses, while poorer women wore simpler tunics.
The Shift Undergarment
All women, regardless of social class, wore an undergarment known as a shift. This was a sleeveless tunic that reached down to the knees. Shifts were made of various materials depending on a woman's social class, with the finest fabrics being reserved for those with means.
It was not uncommon for shifts to be handed down through the generations or sold in used condition.
Though shifts were primarily worn as undergarments, they could also serve as basic dresses in a pinch.
Viking Womens' Dresses and Tunics
Over the shift, women would wear a dress, tunic, or cape, depending on the occasion.
They wore long dresses made of wool or linen. These dresses were typically comfortable and practical, ideal for everyday wear. However, on special occasions, they would also dress up in more elegant apparel, such as silk dresses with beaded cloaks.
What Color were Viking Women's Dresses?
The colors of Viking clothing varied depending on the lady's social class and the time period. In the early Viking Age, most clothes were made of undyed wool which resulted in clothing that was mostly shades of brown and gray. Later, as the Vikings began trading with other cultures, they had access to a wider range of colors, including bright blues and reds, and Viking dress fashion adopted this new palette.
What Patterns did Viking Women wear?
The Viking clothes women wore such as dresses and tunics typically had simple patterns. Stripes and checks were common, as they could be made easier with the limited technology of the time. Wealthier women might have had more elaborate patterns embroidered onto their clothes.
The Apron Dress
Over their dresses, they wore a sleeveless tunic called an “apron-dress,” which was held up by two straps that went over the shoulders.
The "apron dress" was a sleeveless tunic worn by Viking women. This garment was both functional and stylish, protecting the wearer from the elements while also looking chic. Today, the apron dress is still worn by some women as a nod to their heritage.
The Cloak, Shawl or Cape
In colder weather, Viking clothes would also wear a cloak (or cape) or shawl. Cloaks and shawls provided an extra layer of warmth and protection against the cold, wind, and rain. Norse women often wore colorful cloaks and shawls, which added a touch of beauty to their everyday attire.
These articles of clothing served a dual purpose, as they could be used to swaddle a babe in need or offer a weary traveler a place to rest her head.
What Boots and Shoes did Viking Women Wear?
Vikings dressed in a variety of footwear, depending on the season and what they were doing. In the winter, Viking boots made of fur or reindeer skin were worn to keep feet warm. In the summer, lighter shoes made of cloth or leather were more common.
They also wore wooden clogs, which offered protection from mud and wet conditions. The clogs kept their feet dry and warm and also helped to grip the slippery ground.
Viking Womens' Hats and Headdresses
Women wore a variety of hats, depending on the season. In the winter, fur-lined hats were worn to keep heads warm. In the summer, straw hats provided protection from the sun.
On special occasions, women dressed in jeweled headdresses or crowns. In particular, they might wear these items when they wished to show their status and power. Sometimes, the headdresses and crowns would signify that the woman was of high ranking within her community. These items were reserved for the wealthiest upper-class women and served as a status symbol.
What Jewelry did Viking Women Wear?
Viking women loved jewelry and wore it daily, regardless of their social status. Wealthier women could afford more elaborate and expensive pieces, but even the poorest women wore simple items made of local materials such as bone, wood, or glass.
The best Viking jewelry was made from gold or silver.
Necklaces were the most common type of Viking jewelry worn by women. They were often made of metals like copper, bronze, or iron and adorned with beads or pendants. Bracelets and rings were also popular, and some women even wore anklets.
Of all Viking Jewelry, Earrings were least common but still worn by some. They were usually made of metal, bone, or glass and hung from the lobe or cartilage of the ear.
Viking women wore brooches and other fasteners to secure their clothing. These were often made of metal and decorated with intricate designs.
Viking jewellery was not only beautiful but also functional. In a time before pocket watches, many women used their necklaces or bracelets as a way to keep track of time. The beads or pendants on these items were often marked with different symbols that represented the hours of the day.
The jewelry worn by women in the Viking Age was a reflection of their status and wealth. The more elaborate and expensive the piece, the higher the social standing of the woman who wore it.
Did Vikings have Precious Stones in their Jewelry?
The Vikings did not have access to many precious stones, as they came from all over the world and were very expensive. However, they did use some semiprecious stones in their jewelry. The most common of these was amber, which was found in the Baltic Sea region. Amber was highly prized by the Vikings and was often used in necklaces, bracelets, and other jewelry.
Other semiprecious stones used by the Vikings include amethyst, quartz, garnet, and jasper. These stones were often imported from other parts of Europe and were used to create beautiful and unique pieces of jewelry in precious metals - gold and silver.
The use of semiprecious stones in Viking jewelry demonstrates the skill and craftsmanship of the Viking jewelers. These stones were often cut and polished to create stunning pieces of jewelry that would have been greatly prized by their owners.
Viking Women's Beauty
The hairstyles of women were just as varied as their clothing. Some women wore their hair long, while others preferred shorter styles. Braids were popular, and some women even shaved their heads.
They were also known for their love of cosmetics. They used a variety of products to care for their skin and hair, as well as to enhance their appearance. Lip balm, eye makeup, and face cream were all common items in a Viking woman’s beauty arsenal.
They took great pride in their appearance and worked hard to maintain their beauty. Though they may have looked fierce to their enemies, the truth is that Viking women were some of the most stylish and fashionable ladies of their time.
What Weapons did Viking Women Use?
The most common weapon used was a knife. These knives were typically small and could be easily hidden. They were used for everything from cooking and cleaning to self-defense.
These fearsome ladies also sometimes carried spears, axes, and shields. These larger weapons were usually only used in combat, though some women did learn how to use them for hunting and self-defense.
Women in Viking Society
Women were expected to cook, clean, and care for the home and children. But they also had a great deal of freedom and autonomy. They could own and inherit property, divorce their husbands, and even remarry. Many ran their own farms or businesses.
Viking warriors were typically men, but there were some notable exceptions. The most famous female Viking warrior of all was probably the woman known as the “Shieldmaiden” or “Valkyrie.” These women fought alongside their male counterparts in battle and were just as skilled in combat as the men.
Though most females did not participate in warfare, they were still expected to be prepared for it. All women, regardless of social class, were taught how to use a weapon and how to defend themselves and their homes in case of attack.
Did Viking Women Hunt?
Viking ladies were not typically hunters, but some did learn how to hunt in case of necessity. Hunting was considered a man’s job, but women were often responsible for skinning and preparing the game that was caught.
Inspiring Viking Women
The most famous Viking woman is probably the “Shieldmaiden” or “Valkyrie.” These women were skilled in combat and fought alongside their male counterparts in battle.
Another is Lagertha, who was a shieldmaiden and the wife of the legendary Viking warrior, Ragnar Lodbrok. She was said to be a skilled fighter and an excellent strategist.
Lagertha - Viking Warrior Woman and Mother
There are many famous Viking women, but one of the most well-known is Lagertha, wife of the legendary Viking warrior, Ragnar Lodbrok.
She was a warrior and shieldmaiden who fought alongside some of the most famous Viking heroes. She was said to be a skilled fighter and an excellent strategist. She was also a wife and mother, and her story has been told in many poems and sagas.
Lagertha is an inspiration to many modern-day women, and her story is still captivating centuries later.
Ragnhild - the Great Inspiration
Ragnhild, the daughter of Viking king Harold Finehair, is a famous Viking warrior in her own right. Ragnhild is known for her fearlessness in battle and her great strength.
She is also a skilled navigator and strategist, which has served her well in her many raids on enemy settlements. She was married to Eric Bloodaxe, the last Viking king of Norway.
Ragnhild is a great example of a powerful Viking woman, and she continues to be an inspiration to warriors everywhere.
National Museum of Denmark
Archeologist and author, Britt-Marisy Christensen’s book “Viking Women – Warriors, Mothers and Leaders”