K Benjamin
by on June 8, 2022

History Channel specials, Medieval Christian manuscripts portray Vikings as a violent and ferocious lot. However, historical evidence shows that they were also an artistic and skilled society. The Vikings were skilled at metalwork and woodwork when they weren't exploring new continents. They were avid art lovers and great creators.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art the term "Viking" was used to describe medieval Scandinavian culture that flourished between 790s and about 1000. The Vikings settled all over the world, from Iceland to Ireland to France, Britain to Britain and the Russian river valleys. Some traders might have traveled as far as the Middle East. Leif Erickson, a famous explorer, traveled to North America.

The Vikings were constantly running around, conquering and raiding other countries. It was crucial that warriors and lords made strong alliances. The exchange of rings was one way to demonstrate loyalty. As a way of giving thanks and distributing wealth, Lords who had the most wealth gifted precious metal rings to warriors.

Beowulf or the CGI'd Angelina Jolie version will have you aware that dragons were one of the most hated mythical creatures in Northern Europe. Dragons were not only capable of breathing fire but also possessed a destructive force that is inherent in tribal culture. Dragons treasure trove in caverns and dungeons far from cities and villages. Wealth was a way to build communities for the Vikings and other Northern tribes. Lords who gave treasure gained alliances and strengthened their ranks. A greater distribution of wealth means a larger, safer and more vibrant population. Lords who hoarded wealth as dragons undermined social structures and rendered their wealth ineffective.

Vikings took all kinds of jewelry and fancy art from their hoards. Both men and women could wear Viking jewelry, which was mostly made from silver or bronze. Gold jewelry was often reserved for the wealthy. Brooches were worn by women to fasten their clothes together. Men wore rings, however. These rings could be worn around the fingers or on the arms and neck. The sword hilt was also decorated by warriors.

There were many ways that the Vikings gained wealth. They were traders first. Viking runes and coins have reached many parts of the globe. The Vikings discovered that precious metals and other luxury goods could be easily obtained by raiding monasteries in Britain, Ireland, and Northern Europe. Viking ships were quick at the time and costal British monasteries weren't well protected. According to general consensus, the Viking "reign in terror" began in 793 following a raid on England’s Lindisfarne monastery. Colleen Batey, an archaeologist at the Glasgow Museums, wryly noted that the Vikings had a preference for "anything that looked pretty." The Vikings eventually settled in these areas and chose to colonize their southern neighbors rather than extort them.

While the Vikings raided the monasteries of the British Isles in a number of instances, and stole a significant amount of the most valuable treasures, I try not to think of them as brutish thieves but rather as art collectors and jewelry connoisseurs.
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