An image of viking jewelry

What Did Viking Jewelry Look Like?

The Vikings, those captivating figures from the sagas, were more than just fierce warriors. They were intrepid explorers who charted vast sea routes, shrewd traders who connected cultures across Europe, and skilled artisans who left behind a legacy of artistic excellence. Their craftsmanship extended beyond powerful longships; Viking jewelry stands as a testament to their creativity and cultural richness. These intricate adornments were more than just accessories; they served as symbols of social status, expressions of religious beliefs, and even a form of currency. For a deeper understanding of the Viking world, we embark on a journey to explore the fascinating realm of Viking jewelry, its materials, styles, and the stories it whispers across the centuries.

Close up image of viking brooch jewelry

Brooches: The Viking Wardrobe's Ornate Clasp 

The Workhorse of Viking Adornment: More Than Just an Ornament 

  • Viking brooches were not merely decorative; they played a crucial role in everyday life.
  • The most significant function of brooches was to fasten garments.
    • Large cloaks and heavy furs relied on brooches to stay securely closed, providing warmth and protection from the harsh Nordic climate.
    • Women's dresses (particularly the aprons) were often held up by straps secured with brooches at the shoulder.
  • Brooches also found use in holding armor components together, particularly for lighter armor pieces like leather jerkins.
    • By strategically placing brooches, warriors could reinforce vulnerable areas and ensure a snug fit.

A Brooch for Every Occasion: Diverse Styles for Different Needs

Viking brooches boasted a remarkable variety in design and style, catering to both function and aesthetics.

Penannular Brooches: A Timeless Design Adopted from Afar
  • The penannular brooch is the most recognizable Viking brooch style.
  • It features a circular band with a missing section, allowing a springy pin to fasten the garment.
  • Primarily worn by men, penannular brooches were adopted from earlier cultures and adapted by the Vikings.
  • Variations of the penannular brooch include those with expanded terminals, featuring decorative elements at the ends of the circular band.
Oval Brooches: A Canvas for Artistic Expression, Worn by Viking Women
  • Oval brooches, as the name suggests, are typically round or oval in shape.
  • Unlike penannular brooches, they feature a hinge mechanism and a fixed pin for fastening.
  • Primarily worn by women, these brooches offered a wider surface area for intricate decorations.
  • Compared to the simpler designs of penannular brooches, oval brooches showcased a rich tapestry of Viking artistic expression.
Exploring Other Brooch Styles
  • While penannular and oval brooches were the most common, Viking ingenuity produced a variety of other brooch styles.
  • Briefly mention square brooches and triangular brooches to showcase the diversity of Viking design.

Material Matters: Crafting Beauty and Durability

The choice of materials for Viking brooches reflected both practicality and aesthetics.

  • Metals: The Foundation of a Brooch
    • Silver was the most popular metal for brooches, offering a balance of affordability and beauty.
    • Bronze, a more economical option, was also widely used.
    • For the elite, gold brooches symbolized high social status and wealth.
  • Adorning the Brooch: Adding Dazzling Details
    • Viking brooches were often adorned with various materials to enhance their visual appeal.
    • Colorful glass beads were a popular choice, adding pops of color and intricate patterns.
    • Gemstones like amber offered a touch of luxury and may have held symbolic meaning.
    • Enamel work, the application of a vitreous material to create designs, was used on some brooches for a vibrant effect.
  • Techniques for Shaping Beauty: Repoussé and Filigree
    • Viking metalworkers employed various techniques to create brooches.
    • Repoussé, a technique involving hammering thin metal sheets to create raised designs, was commonly used.
    • For more delicate embellishments, filigree, the art of using fine metal wires to create intricate patterns, was used by skilled artisans.

Symbolism Woven in Metal: A Language Beyond Words 

Viking brooches were more than just functional clasps; they served as a canvas for symbolic expression.

  • Geometric Patterns: A Timeless Language
    • Geometric patterns like interlace (intricate knots) and spirals were frequently used to decorate brooches.
    • These patterns may have held symbolic meaning or simply served as a decorative element.
  • Zoomorphic Designs: Borrowing from Nature's Power
    • Zoomorphic designs featuring animal imagery were another common theme in Viking brooches.
    • Snakes, a symbol of transformation and rebirth, were popular motifs.
    • Birds, associated with Odin, the Allfather, were also depicted on brooches.
A warrior wearing a viking jewelry

Necklaces and Neck Rings: Adornment, Status, and Symbolism 

Necklaces: A Cascading Display of Beauty and Prestige 

  • Viking necklaces transcended mere adornment. They served as a canvas for expressing personal style and social standing.
    • Simpler necklaces with a single pendant were likely worn by people from all walks of life.
    • More elaborate necklaces featuring multiple pendants or crafted from precious metals were associated with higher social status.
    • These elaborate pieces showcased the wearer's wealth and position within Viking society.
  • Pendants: Storytelling Charms Adorning the Neckline
    • Pendants were the focal point of Viking necklaces, acting as miniature works of art and potent symbols.
    • Crafted from a diverse range of materials, pendants offered a glimpse into Viking beliefs, values, and artistic sensibilities.

Neck Rings: More Than Just Adornment for the Neck 

  • Neck rings, unlike necklaces, were rigid bands of metal worn around the neck.
    • While some neck rings were plain bands, others featured elaborate designs like intricate engravings or terminals shaped like animal heads.
    • These variations hint at the possibility of neck rings serving not only as adornment but also as status symbols or markers of identity within Viking society.
  • A Form of Viking Currency: The Value of Neck Rings
    • Interestingly, neck rings may have served a practical purpose beyond adornment.
    • Evidence suggests that some neck rings, particularly those made of precious metals like silver, were used as a form of currency during Viking trade.
    • The weight and metal content of the neck ring would determine its value in exchange for goods or services.

Unveiling the Stories Held by Pendants: A Realm of Symbolism 

  • The materials used for Viking necklace pendants were as diverse as their meanings.
  • A Tapestry of Materials: From Humble to Exquisite
    • Glass beads, readily available and available in a vibrant array of colors, were a popular choice for pendants, adding pops of color and intricate patterns.
    • Amber, a precious resin fossilized from tree sap, held a special place in Viking culture. Amber pendants were not only beautiful but also believed to possess protective qualities and bring good luck.
    • Gemstones like garnets offered a touch of luxury and may have held symbolic meaning based on their color or type.
    • Metal pendants, crafted from silver or bronze, could depict intricate designs or zoomorphic forms.
  • A World of Symbols: Decoding the Pendant's Message
    • The imagery and design of Viking pendants often held symbolic meaning, offering a glimpse into the wearer's beliefs and aspirations.
      • Thor's hammer (Mjolnir) was a popular pendant choice, symbolizing protection, strength, and the power of the thunder god.
      • Solar pendants, featuring depictions of the sun, paid homage to the sun god, Freyr, associated with fertility, prosperity, and good harvests.
      • Tool pendants, in the shape of axes or hammers, could represent a person's livelihood or signify fertility and the importance of skilled craftsmanship.
      • The Valknut, a three interlocked triangles symbol, is associated with Odin, the Allfather, and may have been worn as a religious amulet.
  • Beyond Symbolism: Pendants as Keepsakes and Personal Expression
    • Pendants could also hold a more personal significance. A pendant depicting a particular animal might represent a personal totem or spirit guide. Inherited pendants could serve as cherished keepsakes, passed down through generations and imbued with family history.

The Finishing Touches: Chains and Beads Adding Finesse 

  • The base upon which pendants hung played a crucial role in the overall aesthetic of Viking necklaces.
  • Chains of Strength and Beauty
    • Metal chains, crafted from silver or bronze, offered a sturdy and elegant base for pendants. The links of the chain could be simple or intricately woven, adding another layer of visual interest.
    • Leather cords provided a more rustic and natural alternative, particularly for simpler necklaces.
  • A Symphony of Color: Glass Beads for Visual Appeal
    • Colorful glass beads were often incorporated into the necklace itself, not just the pendants.
    • These beads were strung together in various patterns, adding pops of color, texture, and visual intrigue to the necklace design.

By combining these elements – pendants rich in symbolism, sturdy chains, and colorful beads – Viking necklaces became more than just adornment. They were a form of self-expression, a canvas for showcasing beliefs, social status, and personal narratives.

Viking ring with white background

Rings and Bracelets: Ad adorning the Wrist and Hand

Rings: More Than Just Circles of Metal 

    Viking rings transcended mere adornment, serving a multitude of purposes within Viking society.

    • Status Symbols on Every Finger: A Reflection of Wealth and Power
      • Rings were a prominent symbol of social status and wealth in Viking culture.
      • The size, material, and intricacy of the ring all played a role in conveying the wearer's position.
      • Elaborate rings crafted from precious metals like gold were likely reserved for elites, showcasing their power and affluence.
    • Beyond Status: Rings for Daily Life
      • While some rings served as status symbols, others played a more practical role.
      • Simpler rings made of iron or bronze might have been used for decorative purposes, adding a touch of style to everyday attire.
      • There's also some speculation that some rings might have served a practical function, acting as a way to secure pouches, tools, or other small objects by attaching them to clothing.

    Ring Types and Styles: A Gallery on the Finger 

    The diverse range of Viking rings showcases the ingenuity and artistry of Viking metalworkers.

    • Penannular Rings: Adjustable Adornment for All
      • Penannular rings are one of the most recognizable Viking ring styles.
      • These rings feature an open-ended band, allowing for some adjustability in size.
      • The open ends could be simple or adorned with decorative elements.
      • Due to their adjustability, penannular rings were likely a popular choice for wearers of various ages and social backgrounds.
    • Spiral Rings: Coiling Beauty Indicating Wealth
      • Spiral rings, featuring bands of metal wound into a coiled design, represent another prominent Viking ring style.
      • These rings were often crafted from precious metals like silver or gold, with intricate details further enhancing their value.
      • The presence of a spiral ring on a finger was a clear indication of the wearer's wealth and social standing.
    • Signet Rings: Marking Ownership and Leaving a Mark
      • Signet rings, featuring a flat surface engraved with a personal symbol or design, were another notable ring type.
      • These rings were likely used as a form of seal, similar to a wax stamp, for marking possessions or documents.
      • The engraved design on a signet ring could represent a family crest, a personal symbol, or a symbol of authority.

    Beyond the basic form, Viking rings incorporated various embellishments to enhance their visual appeal and symbolic meaning.

    • A Touch of Brilliance: Gemstone and Beaded Rings
      • Viking rings were often adorned with gemstones and glass beads, adding a touch of color and symbolism.
      • Amber, a precious resin prized by Vikings, was a popular choice for ring embellishments. Amber rings may have been valued not only for their beauty but also for their perceived protective properties.
      • Gemstones like garnets offered a touch of luxury and might have held specific meanings based on their color or type. Red garnets, for example, have been associated with vitality and protection in various cultures.
    • Unveiling the Symbolism: Decoding the Meaning of Gemstones
      • The choice of gemstone for a Viking ring could hold symbolic meaning.
      • Further research into the cultural significance of specific gemstones can reveal deeper insights into Viking beliefs and values.

    Bracelets: Adorning the Wrist with Elegance and Strengthm

      While rings adorned the fingers, Viking bracelets graced the wrists, adding another layer of visual interest to attire.

      • A Tapestry of Styles: Bracelets for Every Occasion
        • Viking bracelets came in various styles, catering to different tastes and purposes.
        • Simple metal bands, crafted from bronze or iron, offered a classic and understated look.
        • Chainmail bracelets, constructed from interlocking metal rings, provided a touch of strength and flexibility, potentially appealing to warriors or those who valued a more robust style.
        • Beaded bracelets, featuring an array of colorful glass beads or even amber beads, offered a vibrant and decorative option. The choice of materials and the patterns formed by the beads could hold personal significance or reflect the wearer's social status.

      By incorporating these diverse ring and bracelet styles, Vikings not only adorned themselves but also expressed their social standing, personal beliefs, and cultural identity.

      Two viking ship on the ocean

      Production and Trade: The Engine Behind Viking Jewelry 

      The exquisite craftsmanship and diverse styles of Viking jewelry didn't appear by accident. Behind the beauty lay a combination of skilled metalworkers and a vibrant trade network.

      Viking Craftsmanship: Masters of Metal

      Viking metalworkers possessed a remarkable level of skill and ingenuity. Their workshops, often located near trading centers or settlements, hummed with activity as they transformed raw materials into intricate pieces of jewelry.

      These artisans employed a variety of tools to create their masterpieces. Anvils served as a sturdy base for shaping metal, while hammers of various sizes allowed for precise forging and shaping. Files and chisels were used for intricate details and engravings. The use of tongs ensured safe handling of hot metal during the crafting process.

      Trade and Acquisition: A Global Network of Exchange 

      Vikings were not just fearsome warriors and explorers; they were also skilled traders. Their extensive trade routes stretched across Europe, reaching the Byzantine Empire in the east and the British Isles in the west.

      This network of trade played a crucial role in the acquisition of materials for jewelry making. Silver, a popular metal for Viking jewelry, was often obtained through trade with European merchants. Gemstones like garnets and amethysts may have originated in areas like the Baltic Sea region or further east through trade routes.

      Amber, a precious resin prized by Vikings for its beauty and perceived magical properties, was readily available in the Baltic Sea region, a core area of Viking activity.

      Trade wasn't just about acquiring materials; it also facilitated cultural exchange. Exposure to jewelry styles from other cultures, like the Celts and Anglo-Saxons, may have influenced Viking designs. For example, some Viking brooches exhibit intricate knotwork patterns reminiscent of Celtic art.

      By combining their own artistic vision with influences from abroad, Viking metalworkers created a unique and enduring jewelry tradition.


      Viking jewelry, crafted from gleaming silver, warm amber, and intricate designs, stands as a testament to the artistry and cultural richness of the Viking world. More than mere adornment, these pieces served as status symbols, religious expressions, and even a form of currency, offering a window into Viking society and belief systems. Through archaeological discoveries and artistic interpretations, Viking jewelry continues to captivate us today. These enduring pieces serve as a reminder that the Viking legacy extends far beyond the battlefield, whispering tales of a people who were not just warriors, but also skilled artisans, explorers, and traders. The enduring allure of Viking jewelry lies in its ability to bridge the gap between past and present, inviting us to delve deeper into the fascinating world of the Vikings.

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