Oath Rings: Arm Bands And Taking Oaths In Norse Culture

Oath Rings: Arm Bands And Taking Oaths In Norse Culture

If you’ve delved into the Poetic Edda or the Prose Edda, you’re likely acquainted with the Viking concept of binding. This theme was central during the Viking Age, deeply ingrained in their culture and depicted in various forms. Viking mythology is replete with imagery of gods and monsters bound by magical fetters, symbolizing the forces that constrain and control. Stories abound of knots so tightly bound they defy unraveling, echoing the idea of fate as woven by the Norns who spin the threads of existence. Oaths, crucial in Viking society, were sworn upon Viking Oath Rings (also known as Norse arm rings or Viking arm rings), solidifying commitments with a tangible symbol. The symbolism of the ring in Viking culture is rich and multifaceted, reflecting themes of destiny, loyalty, and the interwoven nature of life.

Archaeological Excavations on Norse arm bands

Archaeological Digs Unearth Arm Bands and Oath Rings 

In archaeological excavations, discoveries of arm bands, also known as arm rings, have provided insights into ancient social structures and hierarchies. These artifacts are often seen as symbols of leadership and social status among ancient communities. One intriguing aspect of these arm rings is their association with oaths, giving rise to the term "Viking Oath Ring." The act of swearing an oath on a ring holds significance, linking back to the Norse god Ullr. This connection adds depth to our understanding of the cultural and religious practices of the time.

Close-up image of a Norse arm band

The Ring's History and the Sacred Act of Oath-Taking

The historical significance of rings in Norse culture extends beyond mere adornment. Evidence from neighboring societies suggests that rings were central to oaths and pacts among the Vikings. These rings likely served as symbols of loyalty and commitment, with leaders possibly receiving sworn oaths on them. Moreover, rings were not just symbols of allegiance; they also denoted wealth and social standing, indicating their multifaceted role in Viking society.

Historical texts, such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, mention the use of oath rings. For instance, during King Alfred's reign, there was a significant event where he negotiated peace with a large Danish Army that had invaded Wareham in 876. According to the chronicle, the Vikings swore an oath on the "sacred ring," which some translations also refer to as a "bracelet." This mention of the sacred ring has led to discussions about whether it was an arm ring given during oath-taking ceremonies. This concept has been embraced by modern Viking enthusiasts and has even made its way into popular culture, often depicted in scenes where Vikings gather in grand halls to pledge their loyalty to a leader.

A pair of Norse arm bands

Loyalty and Gift Giving

In Viking culture, loyalty was often symbolized by the exchange of arm rings, which were tangible objects that displayed an oath. These rings were not just gifts but also statements of honor and status. For example, chieftains would present them to warriors to recognize their bravery and achievements, especially after successful raids. These rings, made from precious metals like gold, silver, or even copper, represented wealth and were highly valued.

Interestingly, the concept of oath rings parallels the modern idea of wedding rings, both symbolizing allegiance and the exchange of vows. The Norse God Ullr is closely associated with these rings, although our knowledge of Ullr is limited. References to Ullr, such as in Atlakvida, suggest that oaths were sworn over "Ullr's ring," emphasizing the sacred and binding nature of these objects in Viking society.

Oath-taking ceremony in Norse culture

Exploring the Historical Significance of Sacred Rings

Throughout history, the symbolic significance of rings has transcended mere adornment, delving into realms of oath-taking and societal rituals. From the imposing handles adorning church doors to the mythical round table of King Arthur, rings have symbolized not only eternity but also allegiance and equality.

In medieval times, church door rings served as solemn venues for oath-taking and dispute resolution. These sacred spaces witnessed the swearing of oaths, the settling of conflicts, and the enactment of legal decisions. The association between rings and loyalty persisted through legends like the round table of King Arthur, where the unbroken circle signified an eternal commitment devoid of beginning or end. This symbolism lent itself seamlessly to pledges of unwavering allegiance to rulers and lords, embodying a tranquil ideal mirrored in the Arthurian tales, where every knight sat as equals, masters of their own destiny.

While evidence supporting the existence of oath rings in Norse mythology and Viking society may be scarce, traces linger in historical accounts and artifacts. References in Eddic Poetry, though transcribed centuries later, hint at the existence of oath rings, possibly represented as Viking bracelets worn on the upper arm. Despite the Christian influence prevalent by the time these texts were recorded, remnants of earlier customs endure, suggesting a cultural continuum.

The act of swearing oaths, rooted in beliefs of divine retribution for oath-breakers, permeated Viking society, underpinning the fabric of communal trust and accountability. Invoking the gods in oath-taking rituals underscored the solemnity of pledges, a practice echoed in modern Christian traditions of swearing over the Bible. Similarly, the judicial act of swearing on religious texts persists in contemporary legal systems, a tangible link to ancient customs.

Yet, oath-taking extended beyond rings alone, encompassing a variety of objects, from stones to weapons, each imbued with symbolic significance. Despite the ambiguity surrounding the practical application of these oaths, their ceremonial enactment underscores the enduring importance of ritual in human society, bridging past and present with a timeless thread of tradition.

Oath-Taking Objects

Exploring Oath-Taking Objects

The concept of using objects like weapons and rings for oath-taking has a long history, rooted in symbolism and cultural significance. For instance, a ring, often considered a symbol of eternity, can represent the everlasting nature of loyalty. On the other hand, a weapon, especially one imbued with the powers of invoked gods during an oath ritual, could serve as a potent reminder of consequences, possibly turning against its wielder if the oath is broken.

However, when we consider the introduction of Christianity into the narrative, particularly its dominance during the era when sagas were written, the significance of oath rings becomes more complex. While saga literature mentions oath rings, Christians of that time had a well-established tradition of swearing on the Bible, crosses, or relics. Some scholars suggest that the inclusion of oath rings in the sagas may have been a way to express oaths within the context of the Viking Age while adhering to the Christian norms of the writers' time.

A tree made of books

Historical Authenticity or Literary Imagination? 

One perspective is that the authors of the sagas, writing in the 13th century, might not have had accurate information about Viking Age customs, including oath-taking practices. Faced with the challenge of integrating Christian beliefs into their narratives, they may have substituted familiar Christian oath-taking objects with the concept of oath rings.

Despite this, external sources, such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, provide some support for the existence of oath rings, adding weight to the argument that they were more than just literary devices.

An image of a Norse arm band

Enduring Influence in Popular Culture

The idea of Viking oath rings has endured and permeated popular culture, often appearing in depictions of Viking life, such as the television series "Vikings." Scenes where young Viking boys receive their oath rings, pledging allegiance to a leader, are iconic.

In modern times, the concept of oath rings has been embraced by enthusiasts and is often included in Viking-themed Halloween costumes. Nordic jewelry, too, has capitalized on this trend, offering a range of arm bands, oath rings, and bracelets with designs inspired by authentic Viking aesthetics. This enduring fascination highlights the lasting impact of these objects on our perception of Viking culture.


The concept of binding and oath-taking in Viking culture, as highlighted by the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, underscores the significance of these practices in Norse society. The imagery of gods and monsters bound by magical fetters reflects the forces that constrain and control, while the tightly bound knots echo the idea of fate woven by the Norns. Viking Oath Rings, or Norse arm rings, were crucial symbols, solidifying commitments and embodying themes of destiny, loyalty, and the interconnectedness of life. The archaeological discoveries of arm bands, often associated with leadership and social status, further emphasize their role in oath-taking ceremonies. These rings, linked to the Norse god Ullr, provide deeper insights into the cultural and religious practices of the time.

The historical and symbolic significance of rings in Viking culture continues to captivate modern enthusiasts and scholars alike. Triple Viking, a Viking jewelry & Norse jewelry store, embraces this rich heritage by offering a range of meticulously crafted arm bands and oath rings, inspired by authentic Viking designs. These pieces not only represent the enduring legacy of Norse traditions but also serve as tangible reminders of the ancient customs that shaped Viking society. Whether through the detailed narratives of historical texts or the tangible artifacts unearthed in archaeological digs, the sacred act of oath-taking and the profound symbolism of rings remain integral to our understanding of Viking culture.

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