Viking marriage customs

Young people would have liked to know each other before they married, perhaps love each other, but in the day of the Viking, this was not considered desirable, since the girl’s virginity was supposed to be unquestionable. The main thing was to be married according to rank. The marriage had to be useful to the father of the bride; let love come later. That was the couple’s private business and concerned no one else.

Today we hold different views. Love is the decisive factor. But our times seem to be no happier for it. Perhaps we should see with less prejudiced eyes how the Vikings managed their arranged marriages; how man and wife lived together in those days.

Love was rarely mentioned. Love songs were punishable, and the law was strictly enforced. It was probably considered unwise to publicize a woman’s emotions in such a way. Not even her beauty was lauded unless it was a source of misfortune or threatening danger. The sober Nordic peasants valued energy, wealth, and lineage. With these attributes, a good marriage was assured. When Gisle Sursson’s brother died, he ashed for his sister-in-law, Ingeborg’s, hand in marriage, since “he did not want to see such a good woman leave the clan”. This is a typial attitude. Widows were masters of their own fortunes and future life. Ingeborg said yes, and through her Gisle Sursson “gained many possessions and became a respected man.” The social position of the husband could also be influenced by that of his wife. …

The woman was by nature exempt from armed warfare; the men fought for her. This, however, did not prevent her from taking up arms herself, usually in self-defense, though sometimes in a spirit of revenge, and also in times of war. …

However, bloody feuds, wars, and thing assemblies were on the whole onsidered the concern of the male; it was up to hm to resolve all unwomanly conflicts and protect his home; the female had a right to be free of such obligations. Yet living, for male or female, demanded a strong, independent personality and women often found themselves saddled with fates that demanded responsibility.

After settling on a new island, the women as well as the men could claim land for themselves; for this there was a special law. And women, of course, also had rune stones raised. A woman in Denmark called Ragnhild was apparently married twice, and had stones raised for both husbands. …

A man had to see to an increase of his estate, and this included his slaves. They were a part of his legitimte economic interests. Concubines were customary, but they were always of the lowest social class. A wife could tolerate them because they never endangered her marriage. …

Adam of Bremen says: “Every man has three or more wives, according to his means. But the rich and the chieftains have numberless wives.” This may have been true, and was probably the result of Arab contacts, Viking experiences in the slave trade, and the friendliness of the women in the occupied territories (fraternization a thousand years ago). In Shannon Bay, near Limerick, the Irish ravaged, in the year 977, “every site where the Normans kept women, children, and harems”. King Harald Fairhair had an unusually large number of wives. They are listed in the Heimskringla, and when he married Ragnhild of Jutland, he divorced nine wives. But these are purely Oriental customs found only in the higher social circles. On the peasant farms, the wife remained sole manager and at best may have tolerated a concubine or two.

— The Norsemen, Count Eric Oxenstierna

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3 responses to “Viking marriage customs

  1. Pingback: Viking marriage customs | Reaction Times

  2. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/03/27) | The Reactivity Place

  3. Pingback: Against conservatism | nydwracu niþgrim, nihtbealwa mæst

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