When you think of Vikings, one would mostly picture large, intimidating, and strong individuals, who oozed dominance and power. Their appearance easily instilled fear in anyone who stood before them, given their Nordic-like dressing and flair. According to scholars, Vikings were fashion-conscious individuals who used their appearance to express themselves.
Although they did not keep written history, what is known from archeological findings, and extensive research, show that theirs was a free society. They are said to have allowed many different forms of self-expression including body modifications like tattoos. There is, however, no evidence that they had any forms of body piercings. In this post, we will be focusing on whether or not, Vikings embraced body piercings, the possible reasons behind them, and the types of jewelry they did prefer.
Did Vikings Have Piercings of Any Type?
Despite today’s depiction of Vikings in their signature horned helmets and sometimes piercings, these were not things worn by real Vikings during the Viking Age. A lot of what is known about real Vikings was pieced together from the archeological findings over the years and written texts and poems after the Viking Age. Even from this information and findings, the concept of earrings and other body piercings have rarely been found in any of the Norse settlements.
Whatever forms that were found, seemed to have either been acquired through trade or from looting the enemy’s hoards. The only form of earrings discovered in the Viking ruins was traced back to Slavic origins, where the Slavs were the Viking’s neighbors. The design of these Slavic earpieces was the kind that was draped over the ears. That means that one did not require an ear-piercing to wear one.
It is therefore unlikely that the Vikings had any piercings. Archeologists still haven’t found any form of earrings, nose rings, septum rings, or others in the graves with human remains. The clear lack of physical evidence and written descriptions serves as an indication that the Vikings may not have been fond of body piercings. Whatever form of earrings they possessed or acquired through trade, were likely used as material to create other jewelry, or used for trading.
Why Didn’t the Vikings Have Piercings?
Now that we have established the fact that Vikings did not engage in any form of body piercing, it begs the question why? If Vikings were a free society that gave freedom when it came to self-expression, one would wonder why then they would be against body piercings as a form of self-expression.
Although there are no clear proof-backed explanations, there are some speculations as to why Vikings would opt against body piercings. For warriors, the most logical reason would be due to war. The reason would be because, during combat, the enemy may use the piercings as an opportunistic way of inflicting injury by grabbing onto them.
While this explains the reason why Viking men did not have body piercings, it doesn’t entirely explain why Viking women also lacked body piercings. This is especially because the main role of Viking women was nurturing. That is until the Middle Ages when women also took part in the war and became warriors. Probably an explanation for women’s lack of piercings before the Middle Ages was that Vikings may have believed that the piercings would interfere in their role as nurtures.
Although current media depict Vikings as mindless, aggressive savages, these groups had a full functioning culture. They also considered particular objects as symbols of one’s status and prestige. The social hierarchy especially in the early periods was based on power, respect, wealth, and prestige. To be a leader, for example, you had to prove yourself in battle, show your willingness to defend your territory, and acquire wealth to share with your followers. These qualities were best represented by material possessions.
Weapons were among these prized possessions. They were seen as status symbols in their own right. As per their culture, every adult Vikings were legally required to possess a weapon. If in the case where one could not afford one, then the local leaders would go as far as buying one on their behalf. The finer the weapon was the more wealth you would be seen to possess. That’s because the finest Viking weapons were said to be made of valuable material with beautiful details on them.
Vikings Loved Jewelry
Aside from weaponry, jewelry was another representation of a Viking’s status. Even though they were not inclined to body piercings, the Vikings were fond of jewelry. A significant number of different forms of jewelry were discovered during the excavation of their settlements and graves. That is because, according to Vikings’ burial traditions, the dead were buried with items that represented their status in life and what they would need in the afterlife. These were mainly jewelry.
Ever since the Vikings learned the value and beauty of jewelry, they either crafted their own or acquired them through raiding targets of opportunity like monasteries. The common kind of jewelry recovered from their artifacts are necklaces, pendants, and amulets that were made of bronze, gold, or silver. These necklaces and amulets were commonly adorned for decorative and spiritual purposes. Rings and armbands made mainly from gold and silver, were also popular choices among Vikings. These were worn mainly as a status symbol. The most important form of jewelry, however, was the brooches. They were used to fasten the cloaks on men and dresses on women.
When it comes to social differentiation, the lower class would often wear simpler jewelry made of bronze and decorated with colored glass beads. The wealthier Vikings on the other hand would have more sophisticated finer pieces of jewelry. Their jewelry would be made of precious metal like gold or silver and embellished with crystals and gemstones.
Aside from jewelry being worn for decorative or spiritual purposes or as status symbols, they also doubled up as a form of currency. Vikings were known to use their jewelry as a form of payment during trading, which is another reason why jewelry is important for them. If the piece of jewelry was too valuable for a particular trade, then it would be broken down into smaller pieces. Even in death, Vikings believed that jewelry could be used as a currency in the afterlife.
Although there was nothing conventional or subdued about how the Vikings lived their lives, their unwillingness to pierce their bodies is a bit surprising. This is especially because some Vikings were heavily tattooed according to several historical accounts. They even wore permanent eyeliner as a way of looking youthful and attractive. There may be no explanation or evidence as to their real reason, but one can only believe that there was a sensible reason behind it.