Viking wearing necklace

Why Did Vikings Wear Necklaces?

Viking necklaces were more than just decoration. They held deep meaning within Viking society, reflecting wealth, religious beliefs, and even social status. This outline explores the multifaceted reasons behind Viking necklace use.

Viking siting in a chair

Social Status and Wealth

Hierarchy and Material: Reflecting Status Through Metal

The Viking social structure was hierarchical, with three main classes:

  • Jarls (Elite): The wealthy aristocracy held power and influence. They wore necklaces made of precious metals like gold and high-grade silver. These materials were not only valuable but also difficult to obtain, highlighting the Jarls' wealth and status. Gold was particularly prized and often reserved for the highest-ranking Jarls and their families.
  • Karls (Freemen): The middle class of farmers, traders, and skilled artisans had more limited access to precious metals. They typically wore necklaces made of bronze or pewter. Bronze was a more affordable option, while pewter, an alloy of tin and lead, was the least expensive metal used. The type of metal used in a necklace would instantly communicate a Karl's position within Viking society.
  • Thralls (Slaves): The lowest social class had minimal possessions and rarely wore necklaces.  When present, Thrall necklaces might be made of simple materials like bone, wood, or leather. These necklaces might have held sentimental value or served a practical purpose, but they wouldn't have been seen as a symbol of social standing.

Necklaces as Walking Currency: The Segmented Advantage

Vikings valued silver not only for its beauty but also for its role as a form of currency. This practical function influenced the design of some Viking necklaces. These necklaces were often made of segmented pieces, each linked together by small rings or wires. The benefit? Individual segments could be broken off and used for smaller transactions.

Imagine a Viking merchant needing to buy a few basic goods.  Instead of bartering with a cumbersome piece of silver or relying on a system of credit, they could simply detach a segment from their necklace. This offered a convenient and portable way to carry wealth and facilitate everyday trade. The number of segments on a necklace might even indicate the wearer's overall wealth.

Trade and Cultural Exchange: A Global Adornment

The Vikings were renowned explorers and traders, venturing across vast distances. This extensive network of trade routes brought them into contact with diverse cultures. This cultural exchange is evident in the design and materials used in Viking necklaces.

  • Foreign Influences: Necklaces from other regions, acquired through trade or raiding, became coveted status symbols. Vikings might incorporate design elements from these pieces into their own jewelry. For example, intricate Celtic knotwork patterns from Ireland and Scotland could be found on some Viking necklaces.
  • Exotic Materials: Access to materials unavailable in Scandinavia further amplified the concept of wealth and travel. Glass beads of various colors, imported from the Middle East and beyond, were highly prized. These vibrant beads added a touch of luxury and signaled the wearer's connection to far-off lands.

Beyond Material: The Significance of Weight and Size

While the type of metal was a crucial indicator of social status, the weight and size of a necklace also played a role. Wealthier individuals often wore heavier necklaces, showcasing a greater quantity of precious metal. Additionally, larger pendants with intricate designs further emphasized a person's elevated position. This emphasis on size and weight might have extended to necklaces worn by Karls, with wealthier freemen opting for slightly larger or more ornate pieces compared to their peers.

Ceiling of a church

Religious Beliefs and Symbolism 

The Viking belief system, Norse mythology, was rich with powerful deities and imbued everyday life with a sense of the sacred. Necklaces played a significant role in this connection between the divine and the human, serving as potent symbols of faith, protection, and ancestral connection.

The Norse Pantheon and its Influence: Wearing the Favor of the Gods

The Vikings worshipped a vast pantheon of gods and goddesses, each with their own domain and symbolic attributes. This belief system heavily influenced the types of pendants worn on Viking necklaces.

  • Thor's Hammer (Mjölnir): The most popular and easily recognizable Viking pendant was Mjölnir, the hammer wielded by the mighty Thor, god of thunder, lightning, protection, and strength. Worn by both men and women, Mjölnir pendants served multiple purposes. They were a physical representation of Thor's power, seeking his favor in battle, protection from harm, and a blessing for a bountiful harvest. The design of Mjölnir pendants varied, with some featuring simple, stylized hammer shapes and others showcasing more intricate details like the distinctive short handle and flared head.
  • A Gallery of Gods: Beyond Thor, other deities were also represented in Viking necklace pendants. Freyr, the god of fertility, sunshine, and peace, was sometimes depicted through solar pendants. Freya, the goddess of love, beauty, war, and magic, might be symbolized by pendants depicting falcons or feathers, animals associated with her. Odin, the Allfather and god of wisdom, poetry, and war, could be represented by pendants resembling his two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, or by spear-shaped pendants referencing his weapon Gungnir.
  • Mythological Creatures: Norse mythology was filled with fantastical creatures, some of which found their way onto Viking necklaces. Wolves, seen as powerful and symbolic of Odin, were depicted on pendants. Boars, associated with Freyr, were another popular motif. These representations served as a connection to the broader Viking belief system and the power these creatures embodied.

Amulets and Protection: Warding Off Evil with Everyday Magic

The Vikings held a strong belief in magic and the supernatural. This belief influenced the use of certain amulets and pendants worn on necklaces as a form of protection.

  • Apotropaic Power:  Certain pendants were believed to possess apotropaic power, meaning they could ward off evil spirits, misfortune, and illness. These pendants often took the form of animal teeth and claws, particularly those of wolves, bears, and boars. These creatures were seen as powerful guardians, and their symbolic presence on a necklace offered the wearer a sense of security.
  • Stones and Crystals: Specific stones and crystals were also believed to possess magical properties. Thor's hammers might be crafted from stones like carnelian, thought to enhance courage and strength.  Amber, a material readily available in Scandinavia, was prized for its beauty and believed to bring good luck and ward off evil. Vikings might incorporate these stones into their necklaces or wear them as separate pendants.
  • The Runes Speak: Runes, the Viking alphabet with symbolic meanings, were another way to imbue necklaces with protective power. Runic inscriptions on pendants might reference specific deities, invoke blessings, or offer protection against harm. The act of wearing these runic inscriptions kept the symbols close to the body and constantly in the wearer's awareness, reinforcing their magical properties.

Importance of Ancestral Connection

Family and lineage were highly valued in Viking society. Necklaces played a role in maintaining this connection to one's ancestors and seeking their guidance.

  • Treasures Passed Down:  Necklaces, particularly those made of precious metals or featuring intricate designs, were often cherished heirlooms passed down through generations. Wearing such a necklace connected the wearer to their ancestors and their legacy. It served as a tangible reminder of their family history and a source of pride.
  • Ancestral Guidance: Some pendants might have been specifically chosen to represent a particular ancestor or family line. These pendants could depict family symbols, such as animals or heraldic designs, or incorporate runic inscriptions with the names or deeds of past generations. By wearing such a necklace, the Vikings believed they were invoking the wisdom and guidance of their ancestors.
  • The Power of Memory:  Even simpler necklaces, made from less precious materials, could hold immense sentimental value. A necklace crafted from a boar tusk a warrior inherited from their father, or a necklace adorned with a seashell collected during a family voyage, served as a powerful reminder of loved ones and past experiences.

Viking necklaces transcended mere decoration, becoming a window into the vast and complex world of Norse mythology, the belief in protective magic, and the deep respect Vikings held for their ancestors.

Viking wearing aesthetic necklace

Practicality and Aesthetics

While Viking necklaces held deep symbolic meaning, they also served practical purposes and reflected a love for personal adornment. This section explores the ways necklaces played a functional role in Viking life and how they expressed individual and regional styles.

Beyond Beauty: The Practical Applications of Necklaces

Viking life was not all about raiding and feasting. It was a society that valued practicality, and this extended to their jewelry. Necklaces sometimes served purposes beyond mere decoration.

  • Fastening Garments:  Viking clothing, particularly cloaks, often lacked buttons or clasps.  Here, necklaces played a crucial role.  Large pendants or thick metal torcs (rigid neck rings) could be used to hold cloaks securely in place, especially during harsh weather or physical activity.
  • Utility on the Go: Some necklaces functioned as mobile toolkits. Pendants could be crafted with hooks or clasps, allowing them to double as holders for small knives, tweezers, or flint strikers. This offered Vikings quick and easy access to essential tools while traveling or working.
  • Travel Companions:  During long journeys by sea or land, Vikings needed to carry essential items.  Some necklaces incorporated small pouches or compartments. These could hold items like sewing needles, fishing hooks, or even religious amulets for protection. By wearing such necklaces, Vikings ensured they had these necessities readily available.

A Touch of Flair: Expressing Individuality Through Adornment

While practicality was important, Vikings also appreciated aesthetics. Necklaces were a way to express personal style and add a touch of flair to one's appearance.

  • Gendered Styles:  There were distinct necklace styles for men and women. Men often wore simpler necklaces with larger pendants, while women's necklaces tended to be more elaborate, featuring intricate beadwork, chains, and multiple smaller pendants.
  • Social Distinctions:  Beyond basic gender roles, some styles might have reflected social distinctions within a class. Wealthier individuals might opt for more elaborate designs with precious materials and intricate craftsmanship. This subtle display of wealth further emphasized their social standing.
  • Childhood Adornment:  Even children wore necklaces, often simpler designs made from less expensive materials like bone or wood.  These necklaces could serve as practical teething aids or amulets for protection, but they also offered a touch of adornment for the younger members of Viking society.

A Tapestry of Designs: Regional Variations

The vast geographical spread of Viking settlements led to regional variations in necklace design. These variations reflected cultural exchange and a sense of regional identity.

  • Irish and Scottish Influences:  Viking settlements in the British Isles incorporated design elements from Celtic cultures. This could be seen in the use of intricate knotwork patterns and the inclusion of pendants depicting local deities or mythical creatures.
  • Slavic and Eastern European Inspiration:  Trade routes with Eastern Europe brought influences from Slavic cultures.  Necklaces from these regions might feature spiral motifs or pendants depicting Slavic gods adopted into the Norse pantheon.
  • Local Materials, Local Styles:  The availability of materials also played a role. In areas with limited access to precious metals, artisans might create beautiful necklaces using local materials like bone, amber, or even brightly colored feathers. These locally sourced materials added a unique character to regional necklace styles.

Viking necklaces were not merely decorative. They served practical purposes, allowing Vikings to carry essential tools and fasten garments. Additionally, they offered a platform for personal expression and reflected the rich tapestry of cultural influences within Viking society.


Viking necklaces were much more than just adornments hanging from the necks of a bygone era. They were a tangible expression of Viking culture, a woven tapestry of social status, religious beliefs, practicality, and personal style.

The materials used, the symbols displayed, and even the weight and size of a necklace all spoke volumes about the wearer's place in Viking society. A simple bone pendant might tell a story of childhood and family tradition, while a magnificent gold necklace adorned with Mjölnir could proclaim a warrior's strength and devotion to Thor.

Beyond social standing, Viking necklaces served as powerful religious symbols. The ever-present Mjölnir pendant, the intricate depictions of deities, and the amulets warding off evil all reflected the deep connection Vikings felt to their gods and the supernatural world. 

Additionally, the practice of passing down necklaces through generations solidified the importance of ancestral ties and the belief in seeking guidance from those who came before.

Even the practical aspects of Viking necklaces reveal a resourceful and adaptable society. From functioning as garment fasteners and portable toolkits to holding essential items during travel, these necklaces demonstrate a clear understanding of merging form with function.

The enduring legacy of Viking necklaces lies in their ability to transport us back to a world of fierce warriors, devout believers, and skilled artisans. By studying these intricate pieces of jewelry, we gain a deeper appreciation for the rich tapestry of Viking culture and the enduring human desire to adorn oneself not just for beauty, but for meaning.


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