Art of Vikings

Whale bone carved with confronted monster heads, 9th century. Collection Walter Arts Museum, Baltimore (Maryland).

The Vikings (a common name for inhabitants of Scandinavian countries, although Norman or Norseman is more adequate to refer to many different tribes and local communities) sailed, plundered and colonised territories in Europe and far beyond during three centuries (8th-10th). Most inhabitants never left their homeland however and were farmers or artisans like everywhere else in Europe, ruled by local aristocracies. The written word was not their strongest point, although they made use of runic symbols. What we know about the Vikings is mainly based on chronicles written by monks and a few accounts of witnesses, for example bishop Adam, who wrote the Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum in 1070. Their sagas, handcraft and ivory, metal and wooden works of art are famous however.

Archaeological finds show the quality of daily life, adminstration and local governance. The Normans were able to reorganize England (1066), the Duchy of Normandy (tenth century), Sicily (twelfth century) and travelled as far as Byzantium and Russia and Ukraine. Birka in Sweden and Hedeby and Ribe in Denmark are well known, but the discovery of fine works of art in a Viking boat grave confirms the existence of a trading city on the territory of today’s Steinkjer, at the border of the Trondheim fjord and close to Trondheim, founded in 997 with the name Nidaros. It also confirms  that Vikings were not only or even not in the first place warriors, but traders and farmers.

They became literate after their Christianisation  (950-1100). Christianity was the religion of the written word and the Bible in particular.  Christianity also introduced a new culture, Romanesque art, effective administrative structures by bishoprics and abbeys and a strong monarchy. (Source: R.I. Page, Chronicles of the Vikings London 1995).