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Everyday Life in Viking Times

When Vikings weren’t waging war in other countries, they were planting and harvesting their crops. They were primarily hunting, farming, and fishing people. Although they traded goods and services with Europe, most Norse people were subsistence farmers, which meant that whatever they grew, hunted, or killed, they used for themselves and their families. So given that their primary purpose was survival, for the most part, what did a typical day look like for someone living in Scandinavia during these times?

A day would typically begin early by getting up and milking the cows, feeding the sheep and goats, and getting the cattle out to pasture if they were wealthy enough to own a large amount of livestock. Men went to work in the fields or sent their servants to do this. Women would work on chores around the house, which included cleaning, washing, dusting, preparing and cooking food, and taking care of children (if they had any). In the midst of all these activities, breakfast would be eaten. This was known as dagmal. It could consist of a small amount of meaty stew leftover from the night before, bread, fruit, porridge made of wheat, barley, or other grains, buttermilk, and cheese. Eggs would also be consumed if they were available. Dagmal was eaten two to three hours after waking up, and after they had done all their chores. Vikings did not eat much in the middle of the day. The next meal they would eat would be in the evening, and it was called nattmal. It was a meal consisting of meat, fish, vegetables, bread, fruit, meat, and cheeses. In between these meals, Viking men would be working hard. There was not much time to do everything they needed to do, and so the daytime would be used for the most pressing of activities. When night fell, they could rest and socialize. During the day, however, farming activities such as plowing and fertilizing would take place. This was backbreaking work, and everyone tried to do their best to contribute to the labor effort so that the tasks could be done more quickly.

Tasks that were considered undesirable, such as constructing houses and buildings, flinging manure on fields, disposing of dead animal carcasses, old rotten food, waste from the house, and other negligible jobs were given to slaves to carry out. They were then afforded the generous protection of the household and allowed to live somewhere on the property and maybe partake in some of the food that was given out. Slave-holders did not pay their slaves any wages. However, if they sold some goods at the market at the request of the master, they might be able to keep a little of the proceeds depending on the situation. These slaves were kept after raids or battles that were successful. They could earn their freedom if a master died or if circumstances changed. But usually, slaves were not sold once they were in the care of a master unless he was somehow in financial trouble (in which case he would likely not have slaves—they were a sign of some kind of wealth).

The reality of everyday Viking life is that it was tedious and boring. The same kinds of activities had to be carried out every single day, and these tasks were time-consuming, arduous, and unexciting. Nonetheless, the Vikings had to do these things in order to survive, and it was a natural way of living for them. Famines, enemy raids, pestilence, disease, and many other dangers were also a part of their daily life, and they had to learn to cope with such situations as best they could when they arrived.

Famine and disease took their toll on the population, as did the war. These elements of life were costly. The population had to adopt an attitude of acceptance when these things occurred because they understood that they had little power to stop them.

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The Vikings

Slavery During the Viking Age

Many historians turn to the belief that Viking raids were assembled first and foremost to enslave the local people and take them back to their country to make use of or trade with. Mainly women were captured, but men and children were also taken. The slave trade focused on the continent of Britain but also extended across the Mediterranean from Spain to Egypt. 

The evidence seen besides oral accounts is in the finding of collars and shackles around the ancient urban centers. Slaves were used for many activities such as textile manufacturing, shipbuilding, farming, and most of the unpleasant jobs done around the homestead. Sexual slavery as well as intermarriage was another reason the Vikings traded so loosely with the slave women and children of England and France.

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