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Exploring the Traditions & Culture of the Norwegian Vikings

The Vikings were located in Northern Europe between the 8th and the 11th centuries, where they did everything from agriculture and fishing to trading. But, ultimately, this seafaring nation got stuck with a bad rap due to its raiding ways. In fact, the word Viking (or Vikingr in the original old Norse) actually means raider or pirate. In this article, we will take a closer look at the Norwegian Vikings, their traditions, and culture, and you may be surprised at what you learn.


Many myths and stereotypes surrounding the Vikings might get smashed once you’re done reading this article. So, without further ado, let’s start our deep dive into the Vikings of Norway!


Viking in Norway

The Vikings in Norway: A History Worthy of Legends


800 to 1050 AD is considered the Viking Age. This was when Vikings could be found faring the seas and dotting the Scandinavian countries on their farms and living with their families in traditional longhouses. The Vikings are famously known for their incredible expansion abroad due to their raids, but their legendary existence came to an end in 1066.


This was after Harald Hardrada (you might recognize the name as a character on the popular series Vikings) was defeated in the Battle of Stamford Bridge, marking the final Viking invasion of England and the last Viking raid. But it was not just defeat that had the Vikings retreat and turn from their raiding ways.


By the early 11th century, most Scandinavian countries had officially converted to Christianity, and there simply was no room for Vikings and all their pagan beliefs and rituals. When one looks a little further than the stereotypical depiction of an axe-yielding Wildman with crazy hair, one quickly realizes what an incredible nation the Vikings were.


The Vikings in Norway were very focused on fishing, farmwork, and boat building. In fact, their boat-building craftsmanship was exceptional. And unlike popular belief, many of these ships sailed the oceans not to raid and pillage but to amicably trade and barter. Many historians even believe that most raids were not born out of malicious intent but rather a necessity caused by overpopulation in their home countries.


Nevertheless, the fact that the Vikings ventured out to sea and traveled into the vast unknown the way they did just proves what a brave and fearless nation they were.


Viking traditions in Norway

The Traditions and Culture of the Norwegian Vikings


The following insights will give you a glimpse into what being a Viking in Norway was like:


The Norwegian Vikings were Master Tradesman


As we already touched on, the Vikings traded and bartered with many countries around the world. Their excellent craftsmanship when it came to boats made it possible for them to reach shores much further than those who had gone before them, eventually reaching places as far as Baghdad and Constantinople.


They were also incredibly skilled at navigating the seas. In their travels, they learned that there was great value in items such as amber, iron, and fur, and they started focusing on trading with these goods. By doing so, they acquired other valuable items and commodities, such as silks, spices, and even precious metals.


The Vikings in Norway Were Impressive Warriors with Less Impressive Helmets


Although it’s 100% true that the Vikings were impressive warriors, one of the biggest myths surrounding them is that they wore helmets with massive horns. Although there is no doubt that the sight of such helmets on screaming men charging at you while yielding weapons is something nightmares are made of, it’s not historically accurate when it comes to Viking history.


In reality, their helmets looked more like a leather beanie “gift wrapped” in an iron “ribbon”. But, if you are studying art, the horned Viking helmets are historically relevant since the entire stereotype is credited to the depictions of 19th-century painters who added this little additional feature to give scenes and portraits of Vikings a more dramatic flare.  


Norwegian Viking’s Culture

The Norwegian Viking’s Culture was Highly Influenced by Mythology


Once you understand the influence of mythology on Viking culture, it’s easy to understand how the conversion to Christianity marked the proverbial nail in the coffin of this incredible nation. Everything about the Vikings somehow revolved around or was impacted by their beliefs.


Although their gods and the intricate tales about them can be viewed as very similar to other religious stories, such as depicted in the bible or other holy writings, the Viking gods had a very real impact on their daily lives. For example, sacrifices had to be made to Freya to ensure a fruitful harvest. She would also be the one who gets to decide whether a woman would get pregnant.


Lightning meant that Thor was banging away with his hammer again. Valhalla to the Vikings was essentially their concept of Christianity’s heaven, but it was a paradise reserved for brave warriors who died in battle. There are many more examples of how their mythology dictated their everyday lives and culture, affirming the importance it held to the Vikings.


The Vikings in Norway Were Not Dirty


Whenever Vikings are depicted in mainstream media, they are shown with oily long hair and beards, with sweat stains coming through their already dirty clothes, signaling the gnarly and unhygienic “situation” hiding just underneath the material.


But the truth is that the Vikings paid close attention to their hygiene. Even more so than other nations of their time. Archaeologists have found all sorts of razors, tweezers, and combs made from animal bone, and historical documents and accounts noted the Viking’s traditions of bathing at least once a week.  


The Norwegian Vikings’ Funerals were Lit (But Only Sometimes)


When one thinks of a Viking funeral, one conjures up a scene of a burning boat drifting into the ocean. But boat funerals were only reserved for the elite in the community (warriors who died in battle, chieftains, important women, etc.).


Although some of the dead were placed in a boat and pushed out to sea all ablaze, the majority were actually set on fire on land and then covered in a mound of soil to form a grave that was then marked with some sort of gravestone, rocks, or wood. The idea behind the boat was to ensure safe travels to Valhalla.


For the more “common” folk of the community, burial was much less impressive, and if they were not outright cremated, they were just buried in a hole in the ground, sometimes not even shrouded in a cloth. Standard practice, whether you were an “important” member of the community or not, was to be buried with some of your earthly possessions.


Skiing was a Viking Hobby


This is not something most would associate with the Viking’s traditions, but they were actually some of the first to ever indulge in skiing as both a mode of transportation and entertainment.


Archaeologists have even found rudimentary skis used by the Vikings up to 6000 years ago! They were used to navigate landscapes covered in snow and ice more easily when traveling from point A to B or when going hunting. Skiing was also a favorite general pastime. Skiing was actually so big in the Viking Age that they had a God of skiing called Ullr!  


Viking House

Where Can One Find Traces of the Viking Traditions and Culture in Norway Today?


If you would like to go back in time or walk in the footsteps of the Vikings of old, there are plenty of places to do so here in Norway:


The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo


If you would like to take a look at the Norwegian Viking’s spectacular craftsmanship up close, the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo in the Bygdoy Peninsula is the place to go. There, you will find remarkably preserved Viking ships, like the Gokstad and the Oseberg, boasting intricate designs and exceptional shipbuilding techniques.


But the Viking Ship Museum is not just about showcasing actual ships. You’ll also be able to learn more about the Vikings as a seafaring nation in general – from navigation methods and maritime traditions to the trade industry and military conquests.


Trondheim


Trondheim is known as the Viking capital of Norway. It was called Nidaros in the Viking Age and was the religious and political epi-center of all things Viking. For example, Nidaros was where all the Viking king’s coronations were held. To this day, one can view some of the crown jewels and other artifacts in the Nidaros Cathedral in the middle of the city.


There are also some ruins to visit and to truly get a peak behind the curtain of time, one can pop by the Museum of Cultural History, a mecca of Viking artifacts, arts and crafts, and home to a wealth of knowledge surrounding the Viking nation.


Bryggen in Bergen


Bryggen is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a row of colorful wooden Hanseatic trading houses with characteristic gabled roofs sitting on the historic waterfront, a testament to the Vikings’ trading heydays.


Walking here, it’s easy to conjure up images of a hustling and bustling port lined with tradesmen and their wears, trying to sell all sorts of interesting items such as clothing or souvenirs unique to the various countries. Can you envision the Vikings hauling furs and iron off their ships and negotiating with other merchants?


Lofoten Islands


Lofoten Islands can be found in the archipelago in the north of Norway. Here, you can learn more about the Vikings as a fishing nation. Although you won’t be able to spot a local Viking fishing, the fishing industry is still very much alive and well here, and you’ll still get to see age-old traditions such as stockfish drying.


Walking on the white sand beaches, looking out over the fjords, and surrounded by the mountains, you’ll get an idea of the majestic beauty the Vikings found themselves in every day. And have a chat with some of the locals in the fishing villages – many will be descendants of the once seafaring nation.


Viking performance

Stavanger


Stavanger is a coastal city that lies in the southwestern part of Norway, and just like Trondheim, it holds significant importance when it comes to the Norwegian Vikings. One of the first stops one has to make there is at the Swords in the Rock Monument. This symbolizes the unification of the Norwegian kingdom under King Harald and makes for an impressive sight.


The monument consists of three large swords stuck in the ground in such a way that you can almost picture gigantic Viking chieftains putting their weapons down in a bid to consolidate power. You can also visit the nearby archaeological sites of the Mollebukta area, where a Viking settlement once was. Here, archaeologists have dug up the ruins of workshops, houses, and burial sites, providing insights into the everyday lives of the local Vikings.


Are There Still Vikings in Norway Today?


You won’t find any Vikings in Norway like there once were, but many still living in Norway today are descendants of the original Vikings. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an authentic Viking experience in Norway.


There are plenty of special events and festivals, such as the Avaldsnes Viking Festival, where you can dress up in traditional gear and garb and join in some good old-fashioned Viking fun. You can also visit local Viking attractions, such as the Njardarheimr Viking Village in Gudvangen, which are open all throughout the year.


Visiting Norway Means Walking in the Footsteps of the Vikings


Traveling to Norway inevitably means that you will be following in the footsteps of our legendary Vikings. By renting a motorhome in Norway, you can explore the various Viking heritage sites and other interesting attractions that will give you a better understanding of this incredible nation and what their daily lives looked like.


Traverse the plains, sail the fjords, pig out on a proper Viking feast – these are just some of the Viking experiences you can look forward to. So, plan a proper Norwegian Viking road trip and cruise our historic and beautiful landscapes! 

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