A portrait of a Viking woman

What Jewelry Did Viking Woman Wear?

The Vikings, renowned for their seafaring prowess and complex mythology, built a rich and dynamic society far beyond the image of mere raiders. Personal adornment played a vital role in this culture, with jewelry serving not just as decoration but as a powerful social marker and a reflection of personal beliefs. While written records from this era (approximately 793-1066 AD) are scarce, archaeological finds across Scandinavia, parts of Europe, and even North America offer a window into the lives of Viking women. This essay delves into the fascinating world of Viking women's jewelry, exploring the types of pieces they wore, the materials used, the potential symbolism imbued in the designs, and the social significance these adornments held.

Scattered Viking jewelries

Types of Viking Jewelry Worn by Women

Necklaces and Festoons 

Viking women adorned themselves with a variety of necklaces, the most common type of jewelry found in archaeological excavations. These necklaces served not only as decoration but also held cultural and social significance.

    Metals: Silver was the most prized metal for necklaces, signifying wealth and high social status. Bronze, a more affordable option, was also widely used. Some rare finds even include necklaces made of gold, further emphasizing the wearer's importance.
    Gemstones: Amber, a readily available material in Scandinavia, was incredibly popular for necklaces. Its warm color and association with the sun made it a desirable adornment. Glass beads, often imported from other cultures, offered a wider variety of colors and shapes. High-status women might have incorporated semi-precious stones like garnets or amethysts into their necklaces.
    Organic Materials: Bone and ivory were used to create lightweight and often intricately carved beads. These materials were more commonly found in everyday wear, offering a more accessible option.
    Construction Techniques 
      Viking artisans employed various techniques to create necklaces.
          • Metal wires: Silver or bronze wires were hammered thin and then coiled, twisted, or woven into intricate patterns.
          • Chainmail construction: Interlocking metal rings were used to create a flexible and durable chain necklace.
          • Threaded beads: Natural fibers like flax or animal sinew were used to thread beads made from various materials onto a single strand.
      Styles and Variations 
      Length: Necklaces came in various lengths, from short chokers that grazed the neckline to long strands that reached the chest or even the waist. The length might have been chosen based on personal preference or the occasion.
      Pendants: Pendants were a key element of many Viking necklaces. These could be simple geometric shapes like triangles or squares, symbolizing protection or good luck. Zoomorphic figures, such as wolves, bears, or birds, were popular choices, potentially reflecting the wearer's connection to a particular animal spirit. Amulets, like miniature versions of Thor's hammer (Mjölnir), were worn for protection and religious significance. Pendants were attached to the necklace using a jump ring or looped directly onto the wire or thread.
      Multi-strand necklaces: Wealthier women might have sported elaborate multi-strand necklaces, combining different materials and lengths for a visually striking effect.
        Festoons were ornamental chains or strings of beads that hung from brooches at the shoulder or chest. These decorative elements added another layer of adornment to a woman's attire. Festoons could be made from similar materials as necklaces, with beads strung on a natural fiber thread or a metal chain.
          Social Significance
          • Necklaces were a clear indicator of a woman's social status. The quality and quantity of materials used, the complexity of the design, and the presence of valuable gemstones all conveyed wealth and social standing.
          • The choice of pendants might also hold symbolic meaning. Religious amulets offered protection and displayed the wearer's faith. Zoomorphic figures could represent a connection to a specific animal or deity.
          • Overall, necklaces played a significant role in Viking society, reflecting a woman's social position, religious beliefs, and personal style.


            Brooches were a vital piece of Viking women's attire, serving both a functional and decorative purpose.

            • Primary Function 
            The primary function of brooches was to fasten garments. Women's overdresses, typically made of wool or linen, often had openings at the shoulders or chest. Brooches held these garments closed, providing warmth and a more defined silhouette.
              • Materials 
              Similar to necklaces, brooches were primarily made from silver and bronze. Wealthier women could afford larger and more intricately designed brooches crafted from silver. Bronze brooches, more affordable and readily available, were commonly used by women of all social classes.
              Less frequently, iron or even bone were used for brooches, particularly in utilitarian pieces.
                • Styles and Variations 
                Paired brooches: The most common style consisted of two brooches worn as a pair, one on each shoulder, to secure the garment opening. These brooches were often identical or mirrored designs.
                Openwork designs: Elaborate openwork brooches featured intricate patterns cut from a single sheet of metal. These designs could be geometric, featuring spirals, interlacing patterns, or triskeles. Alternatively, they could incorporate zoomorphic imagery like birds, snakes, or horses.
                  • Applied Decoration: Some brooches featured applied decoration, where additional pieces of metal were soldered or riveted onto the base plate. This technique allowed for more complex designs, including depictions of mythological figures or scenes.
                  • Filigree: Highly skilled artisans employed filigree, a technique of soldering tiny threads of silver or gold onto the base metal to create intricate and delicate patterns. This technique was a hallmark of high-status brooches.
                  • Gemstones and Glass: Wealthy women might have adorned their brooches with gemstones like garnets or amethysts, adding a touch of color and further enhancing the value of the piece. Glass beads were also sometimes incorporated into the design.
                  • Pendants and Chains 
                  Brooches often served as a base for additional adornment.
                  Pendants: Small pendants similar to those found on necklaces could be hung from the brooch using a jump ring or a chain. These pendants might echo the imagery on the brooch itself or introduce a new element.
                  Chains: Delicate metal chains could be attached to the brooch, allowing the wearer to suspend additional ornaments or festoons decorated with beads or further pendants.
                    • Social Significance
                    Beyond their functional purpose, brooches held significant social meaning.
                    Wealth and Status: Similar to necklaces, the materials used in brooches were a clear indicator of wealth and social standing. Silver brooches with intricate designs or applied decorations were a privilege of the elite.
                    Marital Status: Some scholars believe that the type of brooches worn by women might have indicated their marital status. For example, a single large brooch worn at the center of the chest could signify a single woman, while paired brooches might suggest a married woman. However, more research is needed to confirm this theory definitively.
                      Brooches could also be imbued with symbolic meaning.
                      Zoomorphic imagery: Animals depicted on brooches might represent specific deities or hold personal significance to the wearer.
                      Protective Amulets: Some brooches incorporated amuletic symbols like Thor's hammer or other protective runes, offering the wearer a sense of security.
                        Overall, brooches were a multifaceted piece of Viking women's attire. They combined practicality with stunning craftsmanship, serving as a symbol of wealth, status, and personal beliefs.

                          Rings and Arm Rings

                          Viking women wore a variety of rings, though not as frequently as necklaces or brooches.

                          • Materials 
                          Rings were primarily made from various metals, with silver being the most desirable choice. Bronze was a more affordable option, while iron rings were less common. Tin was also occasionally used for simple rings.
                            • Styles and Variations 
                            Finger Rings: Simple finger rings were the most common type of ring worn by Viking women. These rings could be plain bands or feature minimal decoration like grooves or spirals. Some scholars believe that plain silver rings might have served as wedding bands.
                            Elaborate Arm Rings: Arm rings, also known as torcs, were a more prestigious form of jewelry. These were typically made from thicker bands of metal, sometimes decorated with intricate patterns or spirals. While both men and women wore arm rings, Viking women might have favored more ornate designs with intricate knotwork or zoomorphic imagery.
                              • Social Significance 
                              Rings, like other types of jewelry, reflected a woman's social standing. Silver finger rings might have been a sign of wealth or marital status, while elaborate arm rings were undoubtedly a privilege of the elite.
                              The size and complexity of the design could also indicate the wearer's importance within society.

                                Hair Accessories 

                                Viking women took pride in their hairstyles and adorned their hair with various accessories.

                                • Materials 
                                Viking women used a variety of materials for hair accessories, including:
                                Bone: Bone was a readily available and versatile material used to create combs, hairpins, and beads.
                                Antler: Similar to bone, antler offered another option for crafting hair ornaments.
                                Metal: Bronze or even silver were sometimes used for hairpins, particularly by wealthier women.
                                  • Styles and Variations 
                                  Combs: Combs were essential tools for grooming and styling hair. These combs were often simple in design, featuring a row of teeth carved from bone or antler and a handle for gripping.
                                    • Hairpins. These metal hairpins could be decorated with geometric patterns, spirals, or even zoomorphic figures like birds or horses. Some elaborate hairpins featured a flattened disc at the top, allowing for intricate designs or the incorporation of gemstones or glass beads.
                                    • Hair Beads: Small beads made from bone, amber, or glass were often woven into braids or secured near the base of hairstyles. These beads added a touch of color and decoration to Viking women's hair.
                                    • Social Significance 
                                    Hair accessories, like other forms of Viking jewelry, held social significance.
                                    Practicality and Status: Simple bone or antler combs and hairpins were essential for everyday use. However, the use of metal hairpins, particularly those with elaborate designs, indicated higher social status.
                                    Symbolism: The choice of materials and decoration on hair accessories might also hold symbolic meaning. Bone or antler hairpins could have been imbued with protective qualities, while specific zoomorphic figures might have reflected the wearer's connection to a particular animal spirit.

                                      Overall, Viking women's hair accessories served both practical and symbolic purposes. They kept hairstyles secure while reflecting the wearer's social standing and potentially conveying personal beliefs.

                                      An image of viking necklace

                                      Materials and Symbolism in Viking Jewelry 

                                      Material and Social Status 

                                      Viking jewelry served as a potent social marker, with the materials used offering a clear indication of a woman's wealth and social standing. Here's a deeper dive into this concept:

                                      Precious Metals: A Mark of Distinction 
                                      Silver was the most prized metal for Viking jewelry, particularly for necklaces, brooches, and elaborate arm rings. Owning and wearing silver signified wealth, high social status, and potentially a connection to the elite class. The intricate craftsmanship and larger size of silver pieces further emphasized the wearer's importance. Silver jewelry might have been passed down through generations as cherished heirlooms, solidifying family lineage and social standing.
                                        Bronze: Accessibility and Everyday Adornment 
                                        Bronze, a more affordable metal, was widely used for various types of jewelry. It offered a good balance between durability and cost, making it accessible to a broader range of women. While not as prestigious as silver, bronze jewelry still held value and allowed women to express their personal style. The presence of bronze jewelry in a woman's grave goods could indicate her role within the community, even if not from the highest social class.
                                          Beyond Metals: Bone, Amber, and Everyday Elegance
                                          Bone and amber were readily available materials used to create various everyday jewelry pieces. Bone combs, hairpins, and simple beads offered a practical and affordable option for adorning the hair and accenting garments. Amber, with its warm color and association with the sun, held a special significance. It was a popular choice for necklaces and beads, adding a touch of beauty and potentially symbolizing good luck or protection.
                                            Variations within Materials: Nuances of Social Status
                                            Even within a particular material category, there could be variations reflecting social standing. For example, a simple bronze ring might be a common everyday accessory, while a larger, more intricately decorated bronze brooch could indicate a woman of some means within the community. Similarly, the quality of bone used in hairpins could differ, with more polished or decorated pins suggesting a higher social position.

                                              Symbolism and Meaning: Beyond Decoration 

                                              Viking jewelry transcended mere adornment. The designs and materials chosen often held deeper symbolic meaning, reflecting the wearer's beliefs, values, and connection to the Norse world.

                                              • Geometric Patterns: Power and Protection 
                                              Geometric patterns, such as spirals, triskeles, and interlacing lines, were frequently used in Viking jewelry. These patterns might have held symbolic power. Spirals could represent the cycle of life and death, while triskeles (three interlocking horns) might symbolize the interconnectedness of the physical and spiritual realms. Interlacing lines could represent strength and unity.
                                                • Zoomorphic Imagery: A Connection to Animal Spirits 
                                                Animals played a significant role in Norse mythology and belief systems. Zoomorphic imagery, such as wolves, bears, snakes, and birds, frequently appeared on Viking jewelry. Wearing an image of a specific animal could represent a connection to that animal's spirit or its associated qualities. For example, a wolf pendant might symbolize strength and ferocity, while a bird pendant could represent freedom or communication with the gods.
                                                • Religious Symbols: Thor's Hammer and Norse Deities 
                                                Religious symbols, particularly Thor's hammer (Mjölnir), were a common motif in Viking jewelry. Thor, the god of thunder and protection, was widely revered. Wearing a Mjölnir pendant served as a powerful amulet, offering the wearer protection from harm and invoking Thor's blessings. Other deities, like Freya, the goddess of love and war, might also be represented by specific symbols incorporated into jewelry designs.
                                                  • Amulets: Warding Off Evil and Bringing Good Luck 
                                                  Specific jewelry pieces functioned as amulets, believed to offer protection or bring good luck. These amulets could incorporate any of the symbolic elements mentioned above, such as geometric patterns, zoomorphic figures, or religious symbols. The specific meaning and function of an amulet might have been based on the wearer's personal beliefs and intentions.

                                                    By understanding the materials and symbolism inherent in Viking jewelry, we gain a deeper appreciation for its role in Viking society. Jewelry wasn't simply decoration; it was a language, speaking volumes about the wearer's social standing, personal beliefs, and connection to the rich tapestry of Norse mythology and culture.

                                                    A woman wearing a viking jewelries

                                                    Viking Jewelry in Context 

                                                    Jewelry and Clothing: A Complementary Relationship 

                                                    Viking women's jewelry wasn't just beautiful adornment; it played a crucial role in complementing their clothing and enhancing their overall appearance. Here's a closer look at this intricate relationship:

                                                    • The Essential Brooch 
                                                    Brooches were a cornerstone of Viking women's attire. They secured the openings at the shoulders or chest of their overdresses, typically made of wool or linen. These overdresses often had a simple, T-shaped construction, and brooches ensured a proper fit and a more defined silhouette. The size and design of the brooches could vary depending on the occasion and the woman's social standing.
                                                      • Necklaces and Festoons: Adding Layers of Adornment 
                                                      Necklaces, in various lengths and styles, added another layer of adornment to a Viking woman's outfit. Short chokers framed the neckline, while longer necklaces with pendants could draw the eye downwards and add verticality to the silhouette. Festoons, decorative chains or strings of beads hung from brooches, further embellished the shoulders or chest area, creating a visually striking effect. The materials used in necklaces and festoons, from silver and gemstones to amber and glass beads, offered opportunities to showcase wealth and personal style.
                                                        • Cohesive Ensemble: Combining Jewelry and Clothing Elements 
                                                        Viking women likely coordinated their jewelry with their clothing for a cohesive overall look. For everyday wear, simpler bronze brooches might be paired with a wool dress and a single strand necklace made of bone beads. For special occasions or religious ceremonies, elaborate silver brooches with intricate designs could be worn with a finer linen dress adorned with a multi-strand necklace featuring amber or glass beads and a precious metal pendant.
                                                          • Hair Accessories: Completing the Picture 
                                                          Hair accessories like combs, hairpins, and beads also played a complementary role. Bone or antler combs helped keep hair neatly styled, while metal hairpins, especially those with elaborate designs, added a touch of elegance and potentially reflected social status. Beads woven into braids or secured near the base of hairstyles provided pops of color and further enhanced the overall look.

                                                            In essence, Viking women's jewelry wasn't just standalone pieces; it was an integral part of their clothing ensemble, reflecting their social standing, personal taste, and cultural identity.

                                                            Trade and Cultural Exchange: A Global Influence 

                                                            The Vikings were not isolated raiders; they were also skilled traders and explorers. This extensive network of trade routes across Europe and beyond inevitably influenced Viking jewelry styles.

                                                            • The Flow of Ideas and Materials 
                                                            Viking trade routes stretched from Scandinavia to the British Isles, Ireland, across Europe to the Black Sea, and even reached North America. Through these connections, Viking artisans encountered new materials and design elements from other cultures.
                                                              • Celtic Influence 
                                                              The Celts, with their rich tradition of metalworking and intricate knotwork designs, undoubtedly influenced Viking jewelry. The use of interlacing patterns, triskeles, and spirals in Viking jewelry might have been inspired by Celtic artistic traditions.
                                                                • Anglo-Saxon Inspiration 
                                                                Anglo-Saxon jewelry, particularly brooches with intricate filigree work and glass beadwork, also likely influenced Viking styles. Trade with Anglo-Saxon communities exposed Viking artisans to new techniques and design aesthetics.
                                                                  • Viking Innovation and Adaptation 
                                                                  While influenced by other cultures, Viking artisans weren't simply imitators. They readily adopted new techniques and design elements, reinterpreting them to fit their own aesthetic preferences and cultural beliefs. This resulted in a unique Viking style that blended borrowed elements with their own artistic traditions.

                                                                    The influence of trade went beyond just aesthetics. Viking jewelry also incorporated imported materials like gemstones and glass beads, adding a touch of luxury and reflecting the reach of their trading networks. By understanding the role of trade and cultural exchange, we gain a richer appreciation for the diversity and dynamism of Viking jewelry.


                                                                    Viking women's jewelry wasn't just about accessorizing; it was a window into their lives and a reflection of their rich cultural heritage. From the meticulously crafted necklaces adorned with amber and silver to the intricate brooches securing garments and festoons adding layers of adornment, Viking jewelry served a multitude of purposes. It was a form of personal expression, allowing women to showcase their wealth and social standing through the quality and complexity of the materials used. A simple bone hairpin might grace the head of a farmer's daughter, while a woman of high social standing might adorn her hair with a silver hairpin decorated with intricate knotwork or a bird figurine. The materials themselves spoke volumes – gleaming silver signified wealth and prestige, while readily available materials like bone or amber offered a more accessible option for everyday wear.

                                                                    Beyond aesthetics, Viking jewelry held deeper meaning. Symbolic imagery, woven into the very fabric of these adornments, offered a glimpse into the wearer's beliefs and connection to the Norse world. Geometric patterns like spirals and triskeles might have held protective power, while zoomorphic figures like wolves or bears could represent a connection to a particular animal spirit. Religious symbols, most notably Thor's hammer (Mjölnir), served as powerful amulets, offering the wearer protection from harm and invoking the blessings of the gods. The act of adorning oneself wasn't just about beautification; it was a way to connect with the spiritual world and showcase one's place within the Viking social hierarchy.

                                                                    In conclusion, Viking women's jewelry transcended mere adornment. It was a language, a symbol of social status, a reflection of personal beliefs, and a testament to the rich tapestry of Viking culture. By studying these intricate pieces, we gain a deeper understanding of the lives, beliefs, and social structures of Viking women. These beautiful and symbolic objects offer a unique window into a fascinating historical period.

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