Knowledge Centre > Jewellery History > Design Periods > Viking

Viking Jewellery

Article from Berganza

Friday 17th October 2014

The Vikings, flourishing between the late 8th century and 1100 AD are probably first and foremost famously known for being fearsome Scandinavian sea faring plunderers. What perhaps is lesser known about the Vikings is that they were highly skilled craftsmen, especially in regards to jewellery manufacture.

Through excavations of their settlements, burial sites and uncovered hoards, we can piece together knowledge about how the Vikings lived their lives through surviving material culture. From the size of pieces of jewellery found, we know that jewellery was worn by both men and women. Jewellery designs primarily centred around neck, arm and finger ornaments as well as brooches to pin clothing together.

Viking jewellery consisted of geometric and stylised animal design in intricate filigree and repoussé work. The most important jewellery to the Vikings were bands of metal, made up of hammered rounded rods of metal, either plain, simply twisted or in very elaborate and complex plaited designs. While appearing to be simple and rudimentary in design, these items of jewellery for the neck, arm or finger were in fact very difficult to manufacture.

The Vikings, known for their raiding and trading, brought back rare or previously unknown treasures. After pillaging in the Near East during the 9th and 10th centuries, the Vikings brought back tonnes of silver- largely melted down from plundered Arabic coins called dirhams. This new abundance of silver was then reformed into items of jewellery- a metal which was very unusual in medieval jewellery. The Vikings rarely made jewellery from gold, so we are extremely privileged to have several beautiful twisted and plaited gold rings in our collection.

To the Vikings, jewellery had the purpose of instantly displaying the wealth and status of the wearer. Fascinatingly jewellery was used as portable bullion and they would hack off sections as necessary to pay for goods or services. We know this from finding nicks on the edges of pieces of jewellery- nicks which prove that they would check that the jewellery was solid metal, not merely a plated base metal when bartering. These chunks of jewellery are known as ‘hack silver' or ‘hack gold'. Jewellery was also known to be used to buy peace on raids!

Viking jewellery is exceedingly rare and typically is only associated with viewing pieces behind glass in certain museums. The striking gold twist and plaited Viking rings which we have in stock are wearable for everyday use- and could be treasured, for example, as the most exclusive and special of wedding rings.

Viking gold penannular ring berganza hatton garden
Viking gold penannular ring, circa 9th - 11th century.
Ref: 27546
viking gold stamped ring berganza hatton garden
Viking gold stamped ring, circa 9th-11th century AD.
Ref: 27550
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