What Did The Viking Household Look Like?
The Vikings lived a primarily nomadic lifestyle. In fact, in Norway today the term “Go Viking” means to go explore something new or to push your limits. However, when the Vikings did settle in towns and farms for either short or long periods of time, they built homes often referred to as longhouses.
This was the main building in the community and would sometimes house up to 30 - 50 people. During this time, large family units lived together and multiple generations would share the same household. Let’s take a look at some of the features of the Viking household.
The Viking Household Exterior
Most Viking homes were constructed using wood with simple stone footings. Interestingly, the curved walls of the Viking longhouse made the buildings look almost like upside-down ships. This is not all that surprising, as the Vikings were known to be incredible ship craftsmen.
Often the walls were lined with clay. The walls were regularly repaired by the Vikings in order to keep the wood from rotting when the climate was damp. In some areas of Scandinavia, where wood was not as easy to obtain, the exterior of the homes were made with turf.
The roof of the Viking longhouse was supported by posts on both the outside and the inside of the house. In addition, a hole was carved into the roof of these homes as the Vikings typically had a large fire pit in the center of the longhouse. Without chimneys or windows, it is believed that the Viking household was likely quite smoky which probably impacted the lung health of its inhabitants.
The Viking Household Interior
The inside of the Viking home is as interesting as the exterior construction. A row of posts ran the length of the home in order to support the roof. There was no flooring material laid down in Viking homes. Instead, the floor was simply pounded earth. One end of the Viking longhouse was used to house cattle and other animals as well as stored crops and other tools. The opposite end of the longhouse was often set up for the Vikings to create artisanal crafts.
The center of the longhouse hall was reserved for living, sleeping, cooking, and eating. In this area of the home, built-in benches were created, not only to support the walls, but also to provide sleeping platforms for the occupants. These benches surrounded the hearth or the fire pit which is where the Vikings would cook their meals and gather to eat and socialize.
Viking Household Items
Although we don’t know all of the household items that the Vikings used, a few artifacts have given us some clues as to what one could expect to find in the Viking longhouse. It is believed that the Vikings made simple lamps, using oil from fish, seals, and whales, to provide some extra light in the household. Beds were most likely lined with straw and animal skin. However, some historians believe that the Vikings actually slept sitting up with their backs against the wall given the limited and confined space that was available on the benches. Some of the wealthier Viking families may have possessed decorative wall hangings, paintings, and carvings to fill their spaces.
The fascinating Viking household is a far cry from today’s modern living conditions. However, given the Viking’s nomadic lifestyle, their homes were surprisingly sophisticated. Although the men were often off conquering new land, the Viking household clearly indicated that home, family, and community remained a significant part of the Viking culture. If you want to experience what life was like for the Vikings yourself, go back in time with the Njardarheimr Viking Village in Gudvangen!
If you have been inspired to learn more about the Viking Household and want to travel in the footsteps of the Norwegian Vikings, check our Go Viking tours!