We constantly get asked questions here in Dublinia about the role of Viking women in society, so here are a few bits of information that you might not have heard before!
In Sweden, property was inherited from father to son unless both died and the mother then inherited the land. This was not that unusual considering the violent times Vikings lived in. Husbands and wives did not inherit directly from each other after the other’s death but they did have the rights to inherit their shared property. A daughter who was married would similarly have rights to land if her own father dies (and there was no male heir). Women’s right to inherit was the bridge that transferred property from one family to another. In the event of death and re-marriage women could become powerful land owners (as they did in Iceland).
Did Viking woman travel with their husbands on raids?
There is no reason that Viking women could not have travelled with their husbands, yet in reality bands of raiding warriors probably did not bring women on seasonal raiding sprees. In Dublin it is likely women (and possibly children) were brought to Dublin once the raiders became traders at the end of the tenth century. In Iceland, when Vikings went to settle and trade there (not raid) we know of one couple who did settle in Iceland together and claimed land. We also know of one woman who travelled with her husband but who died on the journey over, yet she and her sons still claimed land in southern Iceland.
What’s the story with divorce?
A Spanish Muslim travelling around Europe in the tenth century went to Haithabu (Hedeby) in lower Denmark and met a Scandinavian woman. He reported that they could divorce when they wanted and noted the relative freedom of women within society. Mind you, this is in comparison with Muslim women at this time. Later Scandinavian law still allowed women to divorce so it’s probably true and a legacy of the earlier Viking law. Other observations from this Spanish Muslim, as well as those on divorce, were that they threw unwanted babies in the sea and that both men and women wore artificially produced eye make-up!
Who were the women of Dublin?
Female graves have been found in Finglas, the Phoenix Park, Golden Lane in the city centre, and Kilmainham/Islandbridge. In Dublinia we have a bone belt buckle from the female burial at Islandbridge (temporarily in storage). Archaeologists know that these graves were female because of their burial goods; oval brooches, sometimes beads, a comb, a spit and of course the linen smoother and whalebone plaque that are on display in the National Museum of Ireland. These graves are all high status and reflect influential Scandinavian women who came to Dublin.
What did Viking women look like?
They wore tweezers, keys, and hone stones etc. from their belts or brooches. Ornamented silk bands were used to tie their hair back or slashed leather strips. If you were on trend then you wore silk scarves which were en vogue!