Women’s life in the Viking Age
Viking Women enjoyed more freedom and held more power in their society than many other women of their day.
Women in Viking Age Scandinavia did enjoy an unusual degree of freedom for their day. They could own property, request a divorce and reclaim their dowries if their marriages ended. Women tended to marry between the ages of 12 and 15, and families negotiated to arrange those marriages, but the woman usually had a say in the arrangement. If a woman wanted a divorce, she had to call witnesses to her home and marriage bed, and declare in front of them that she had divorced her husband. The marriage contract usually stated how family property would be divided up in case of a divorce.
Woman played an active role in managing her husband, as well as the household. Norse women had full authority in the domestic sphere, especially when their husbands were absent. If the man of the household died, his wife would adopt his role on a permanent basis, singlehandedly running the family farm or trading business. Many women in Viking Age Scandinavia were buried with rings of keys, which symbolized their roles and power as household managers.
Women that fought were in the Norse literature called vakyries or shield-maidens (skjoldsmøyer). There were several kinds of female warriors. – Some were divine beings, like the valkyries sent by Odin to pick up the warriors that were slain on the battlefield.
Though their enemies considered them unkempt barbarians, Vikings actually bathed more frequently than other Europeans of the day, taking a dip at least once a week—preferably in a hot spring. Bristled combs, often made from the antlers of red deer or other animals they killed, are one of the objects most commonly found in Viking graves. In fact, though comb-like devices existed in other cultures around the world, Vikings are often given credit for inventing the comb as the Western world knows it today. Tweezers, razors and ear spoons (for scooping out wax) are among the other grooming objects turned up in excavations of Viking burial sites, proving that even longhaired, bearded Viking warriors took their personal grooming very seriously.
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