The perception surrounding Vikings varies. From fierce raiders who invaded lands far and wide, to the comical and clumsy Hagar the Horrible comic strip character, created by Dik Browne in 1973. That spectrum is nearly as wide as the ground the Norsemen covered during migration from Scandinavia. Their departure reportedly began as early as the eighth century.
Vikings and ancient Scandinavian culture and lore have attracted increased interest in recent years, largely in part to film and television programming. This awareness has led to a fascination with the skillful metalwork of Vikings, both in regard to weaponry and jewelry. Discoveries of the divergent representation of masterful Viking metalwork continue to occur in the UK and other western European countries, according to Bob Dodge, owner/director/founder, Artemis Gallery Ancient Art, specializing in antiquities and ancient art.
While silver appears to have been the metal of choice, a small number of Viking gold pieces and bronze objects have come to auction, Dodge said. This gold Viking ring from the ninth to the 12th century was found in Britain.
Although adhering potential meaning behind designs that appear in Viking jewelry can be challenging, there are some indicators or origins. Shield forms probably paid homage to the importance of this item of warfare to the expansionist dreams of the Vikings, said Dodge, relaying information provided by an Artemis Gallery staff member with a Ph.D. in art history and extensive experience researching the Vikings.
Examples of Viking mythology and their religion can also be seen in ancient jewelry. For example, this pierced amulet, shaped as a duck’s foot is similar to a necklace found at the grave of a woman of wealth and societal status, along with a wand and other items. It was believed, based on the discovery of the items in the grave, that the woman was a sorcerer or seer. Consulting an expert in Viking history can assist with deciphering symbolism of jewelry.
Efficient design and ease of use are at the core of ancient Viking jewelry. This heavy overlapping coil of silver band has been twisted and incised with “feather” pattern along most of its length. Rings are a common type of Viking jewelry discovered today, second only to bracelets, Dodge explained.
Centuries before Margaret Thatcher made brooches fashionable and powerful, Vikings used them to hold clothing in place and guard against the impact of swords during battle.
Gold ring with gems
“Vikings wore and were often buried with their jewelry, and it certainly was a status symbol,” Dodge said. “You can tell the importance of an individual by the size, complexity and metal that comprised their jewelry. Just like today, there was a robust business in making and selling jewelry and the higher up in society you were, the more you could afford and the greater its importance to you.”
This Viking ring features garnet and emerald cabochons. The elevated social status of Viking warriors was also reflected in the act of marriage and the ceremony.
Long before advancements in fabrication, Vikings created weapons, armor and tools that stood the test of time and completed the tasks at hand. Those skills are also evident in more elaborate jewelry designs like that of these gold hoop earrings. Other shapes seen in Viking jewelry include hearts, crescents and axes.
Votive ax pendant
Expectedly, some ancient jewelry will have been refurbished and had the silver refreshed. Examining pieces for signs of surface wear and markings like the cluster of punches and concentric dots found on this votive ax pendant, can contribute to determining if the item is an original Viking artifact.
By C.A. LEO