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Technically, women couldn’t even be Vikings. As Judith Jesch, author of “Women in the Viking Age” (1991), has pointed out, the Old Norse word “vikingar” only applied to men, usually to those men who embarked from Scandinavia in their famous long boats and sailed to such far-flung places as Britain, Europe, Russia, the North Atlantic islands and North America between roughly A.D. 800-1100.
But though these Vikings became infamous as fierce warriors and brutal raiders, they were also accomplished traders who established trade routes all over the world. They formed settlements, founded towns and cities (Dublin, for example) and left a lasting impact on the local languages and cultures of the places where they landed their ships.
While earlier historical research about the Vikings had theorized that the seafaring Norsemen traveled in male-only groups—perhaps due to a lack of desirable mates in Scandinavia—a more recent study tells a very different story. In the newer study, published in late 2014, researchers used mitochondrial DNA evidence to show that Norse women joined their men for Viking Age migrations to England, the Shetland and Orkney Islands and Iceland, and were “important agents in the processes of migration and assimilation.” Especially in previously uninhabited areas such as Iceland, Norse women were vital to populating the new settlements and helping them thrive.
Like many traditional civilizations, Viking Age society at home and abroad was essentially male-dominated. Men did the hunting, fighting, trading and farming, while women’s lives centered around cooking, caring for the home and raising children. The majority of Viking burials found by archaeologists reflect these traditional gender roles: Men were generally buried with their weapons and tools, and women with household items, needlework and jewelry.
But women in Viking Age Scandinavia did enjoy an unusual degree of freedom for their day. They could own property, request a divorce and reclaim their dowries if their marriages ended. Women tended to marry between the ages of 12 and 15, and families negotiated to arrange those marriages, but the woman usually had a say in the arrangement. If a woman wanted a divorce, she had to call witnesses to her home and marriage bed, and declare in front of them that she had divorced her husband. The marriage contract usually stated how family property would be divided up in case of a divorce.
Though the man was the “ruler” of the house, the woman played an active role in managing her husband, as well as the household. Norse women had full authority in the domestic sphere, especially when their husbands were absent. If the man of the household died, his wife would adopt his role on a permanent basis, singlehandedly running the family farm or trading business. Many women in Viking Age Scandinavia were buried with rings of keys, which symbolized their roles and power as household managers.
Some women rose to a particularly high status. One of the grandest burials ever found in Scandinavia from that period belonged to the Oseberg “queen,” a woman who was buried in a sumptuously decorated ship along with many valuable grave goods in A.D. 834. Later in the ninth century, Aud the Deep-Minded, the daughter of a Norwegian chieftain in the Hebrides (islands off northern Scotland) married a Viking king based in Dublin. When her husband and son died, Aud uprooted her household and organized a ship voyage for herself and her grandchildren to Iceland, where she became one of the colony’s most important settlers.
Were there female warriors in Viking Age society? Though relatively few historical records mention the role of women in Viking warfare, the Byzantine-era historian Johannes Skylitzes did record women fighting with the Varangian Vikings in a battle against the Bulgarians in A.D. 971. In addition, the 12th-century Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus wrote that communities of “shieldmaidens” dressed like men and devoted themselves to learning swordplay and other warlike skills, and that some 300 of these shieldmaidens held the field in the Battle of Brávellir in the mid-eighth century. In his famous work Gesta Danorum, Saxo wrote of a shieldmaiden named Lagertha, who fought alongside the famous Viking Ragnar Lothbrok in a battle against the Swedes, and so impressed Ragnar with her courage that he sought and won her hand in marriage.
Most of what we know about women warriors in the Viking Age comes from literary works, including the romantic sagas Saxo called upon as some of his sources. Female warriors known as “Valkyries,” who may have been based on shieldmaidens, are certainly an important part of Old Norse literature. Given the prevalence of these legends, along with the greater rights, status and power they enjoyed, it certainly seems likely that women in Viking society did occasionally take up arms and fight, especially when someone threatened them, their families or their property.
Women in the Viking Age
Key from the Viking period, found in Klyne Mose.
The majority of women in the Viking period were housewives, who managed the housekeeping on the farm with a firm hand. It is also possible that there were female entrepreneurs, who worked in textile production in the towns.
Just like today, women in the Viking period sought a suitable partner. The sagas are filled with stories of women competing over who has the best man. However, love did not always last. So it was good that Scandinavia was a pioneering region when it came to equal opportunities. The Viking woman could choose a husband and later decide not to marry him after all, if she so wished. However, there were limits to the extent of these equal opportunities. For example, only men could appear in court in the Viking Age.
Viking women in England
The St Paul's stone © The 'great Danish army' that criss-crossed and conquered much of England in the 860s and 870s probably had camp-followers, although these need not have been Scandinavian women. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that a Viking army operating in the years 892-5 was accompanied by women and children, who had to be put in a place of safety while the army fought and harried. But this army arrived in England after raiding on the continent and at least some of the women may have come from there. The first Viking settlers who turned their swords into ploughshares are unlikely to have had Scandinavian wives.
. there was considerable Scandinavian immigration into . England .
However, place-names and language suggest that there was considerable Scandinavian immigration into those areas of England controlled by the Viking invaders, later known as the 'Danelaw'. Although the nature and extent of the Scandinavian immigration is contested by scholars, the most convincing explanation of the evidence is that there was a peaceful migration of Scandinavian families to parts of the north and east of England throughout the tenth century. Recent finds of large numbers of low-grade, Scandinavian-style female jewellery, particularly in Lincolnshire, have been taken to show the presence of Scandinavian women there in the tenth century. These finds correlate well with the distribution of Scandinavian place-names in the same region: taken together, the evidence does suggest a significant Scandinavian presence.
There was a further significant influx of Scandinavians into England during the reign of Cnut in the 11th century. These new, higher-class immigrants left their mark in London and the south, areas not previously subject to Scandinavian settlement. The rune stone from St Paul's, London, with its fragmentary inscription which tells us only that it was commissioned by Ginna (a woman) and T-ki (a man), shows two Scandinavians asserting their cultural affiliations at the heart of the English kingdom.
According to the Icelandic sagas sometimes women would cast a great shadow over her husband. This could damage the reputation of the husband, and he could be seen as weak, but it would never damage the reputation of the women, she would still be seen as strong.
Some women in the Viking age would gain a particularly high status in their lifetime. For instance, one of the richest burials that have been found in Scandinavia from the Viking age was found at Oseberg in Norway.
Here a woman was buried in a beautifully decorated ship with many valuables. Some of these valuables were jewelry, objects carved in wood and many household items. These items show us that while women could achieve power like men, they would still have some specific responsibilities around their home.
What Was Life Like for Women in the Viking Age? - HISTORY
Ville Miettinen/ Wikimedia Commons. Thingvellir National Park in Iceland.
With its incredible landscape, friendly people, and cheap flights, Iceland has become a popular tourist destination among millennials. Although, if any found themselves in Reykjavik and took a trip to the National Museum of Iceland, they might find a display there with an interesting statistic. In fact, it’s a statistic with some dark implications for Iceland’s past.
After analyzing the DNA of modern Icelanders, scientists have been able to come up with a fairly accurate idea of what the founding population of the country looked like. Around 80% of Icelandic men were Norse, hailing from Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Of course, as a colony founded by Norse settlers, that’s to be expected.
But based on the mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed down in the female line, we know that over half of the female settlers were Celtic, meaning they came from Ireland, Scotland, and the northwestern islands of Britain. So essentially, the founders of Iceland were a strange combination of Norse men and Celtic women.
At first glance, that fact is just an interesting bit of genealogy. But it quickly grows more disturbing the more you think about it. After all, the people who settled Iceland were also the same people who produced the infamous Vikings.
However, as most people know, the Vikings had a habit of carrying off slaves. Given the genetics of Iceland and the nature of the people who settled it, it’s possible that a large percentage of the first women on Iceland were taken there as slaves.
Slavery played a much larger part in Norse society than most people are aware of. Slaves, or “thralls” as they were called, were present in most Norse communities, with many being taken in Viking raids across Europe. While the warriors spent most of their time fighting or drinking, it was up to slaves to do a great deal of the work around the village.
In fact, it was a serious insult to a Viking to say that he had to milk his own cows. That was considered work for slaves and women, and with so many around, no free-born Norseman needed to milk any cows.
The lives of slaves were often quite brutal. Slaves were regularly subjected to violence, both as punishment and for religious reasons. When their masters died, slaves were often murdered so that they could serve them in death as they had in life.
Frank Dicksee/ Wikimedia Commons A depiction of Viking raiders.
Above all, Vikings prized young female slaves. These girls taken in raids could expect to be raped regularly while being pressed into a life of domestic servitude. The desire for women might even explain a lot about why Vikings began to raid Britain in the 9th century.
Some scholars have suggested that early Norse society was polygamous, and powerful chiefs married multiple wives, leaving none for other men. According to this theory, Vikings first took to the seas to find women because there were few available in Scandinavia.
This theory could also explain why Vikings leaving to settle Iceland would have looked to Britain as a source of women. There simply weren’t enough available women in Scandinavia to help settle the island. If this is the case, then the settling of Iceland involved Norse raiders making stops in Britain on the way, killing the men, and carrying off the women.
Once on the island, it’s harder to say what these women’s lives might have been like. Some historians have suggested that though they started out as slaves, the Norsemen in Iceland eventually took the women as wives. If so, then they may have treated them with a basic level of respect. Norse culture placed a heavy emphasis on maintaining a happy household with a spouse.
Others have suggested that these women may have willingly gone to Iceland with Norsemen who settled in their communities. But the Vikings were never shy about taking slaves, and there certainly were slaves in Iceland.
The most likely explanation is that there were Celts who volunteered to go to Iceland as well as Celtic women who were taken there as slaves. That means that, on some level, sexual slavery played a significant role in the settlement of Iceland.
Next, read about the 1,200-year-old viking sword that was discovered on a Norwegian mountain. Then read through our viking facts and learn about one of history’s most misunderstood civilizations.
What did Viking women wear?
One might think that Viking clothes were made just for practicality, dull and boring, to match the often gloomy and grey lands in which they lived. In fact, experts believe they were from that. It is believed that many of their clothes were bright and colourful.
Clothing was first and foremost functional. The most important factor was warmth. Likely clothing included a base layer of a linen under-dress that stretched from the shoulder down to ankle length. On top, a wool strap dress of a shorter length was most likely worn. The two layers would have been fastened together at the straps by iron or bronze brooches.
Daily Life in the Viking Age
Daily life for most men and women during the Viking Age revolved around subsistence-level farmwork. Almost everyone lived on rural farmsteads that produced most of the goods used by the people who lived there.
The work on a farmstead was divided by gender/sex. Women were customarily charged with the tasks that were performed “within the threshold” of the house, while men were charged with those tasks that lay outside of the house. 
The two main tasks of women were producing clothing and preparing food.  Women baked, cooked, made alcoholic drinks, and made dairy products such as milk, butter, and cheese. Milking sheep and cows were tasks that fell to women as part of this process, even though those activities were often performed outside of “the threshold.” In winter, the animals were in the homesteads’ longhouses, and so would have been inside a threshold, but in summer the animals were out grazing and were watched over by shepherds who could be either male or female. 
Agricultural work, as opposed to food preparation, fell to men. This involved fertilizing, plowing, sowing, harvesting, and threshing. During the harvest, however, all members of the household would typically join in the work, since it was so laborious that all available hands were needed, be they male or female. 
The first task of the agricultural cycle was plowing. In the Viking Age, plowing was usually done with an ard or scratch plow, an almost-vertical spike, which broke up the soil but left it unturned. To make up for this lack of turning the soil as much as possible, fields were typically cross-plowed – that is, they were plowed twice, the second row of lines intersecting with the first perpendicularly. The ard was made of wood – iron plows weren’t introduced until after the Viking Age – and would wear out every other day or so and have to be replaced. Plows were pulled by oxen or slaves, depending on which were available. 
The fields were fertilized by crop rotation – alternating which fields were planted from year to year so that some could naturally rejuvenate – and by adding fertilizer in the form of animal and human dung. When the harvest came, the cutting was done by men with scythes, and the women raked the grain. Men threshed the grain with clubs and pokes. After this, women took over and made the grain into bread, beer, or other foods or drinks. Grain was usually ground by hand mills, but a few really wealthy and powerful people had begun using water mills during the Viking Age. 
The most unpleasant and physically demanding chores – such as dunging fields, building buildings, and, as we’ve noted, pulling the plow – were typically done by slaves captured in battle or raiding. 
More specialized crafts such as ironworking were often carried out on farmsteads on the limited scale necessary to meet the immediate needs of the household. Professional smiths and other craftspeople did exist in the few urban areas that punctuated the Scandinavian coastline during this period, however, and would sometimes trade their handiwork to farmers in exchange for surplus food. 
While some people have a tendency to romanticize this “simpler” subsistence-centered life, the reality is that Viking Age farmwork was perilous, grueling drudgery that required incredible inputs of labor to accomplish the simplest of tasks. Famines, raids, and natural disasters were ever-present dangers that could rob the farming household of their crops and, ultimately, their lives.
Famine and disease were very common, and took their toll on the population. Something like 30-40% of children died before reaching adulthood, and skeletons from the period evidence significant disease, injury, and malnutrition. In the words of historian Anders Winroth, “The usual image of the Vikings as able-bodied, strong, and healthily virile men has an important corrective in the skeletons surviving from actual Viking Age Scandinavians.” 
Viking Age society was rural to a degree that’s difficult for most modern people to imagine, as accustomed as we are to huge, shiny cities stuffed with millions of people.
The largest villages in Scandinavia at the time consisted of only fifteen to fifty farmsteads. (The relatively few “trade towns” where full-time merchants and craftspeople lived were bigger, but only 1-2% of the population lived in such towns.) Smaller hamlets were comprised of two to four farmsteads. And in the more remote parts of the region – those characterized by fjords, mountains, forests, or other geographical features that made settlement and farming more difficult – lone, isolated farmsteads were quite common. 
The edges of a farmstead or village often featured cemeteries. Their placement served as a representation of the claim the living inhabitants felt they had on the land they worked – they could point (literally) to their ancestors having lived in and worked the same land. 
Horses provided the main form of overland transport of both humans and their goods, although carts and wagons were used, too. In the parts of Scandinavia with the deepest winter freezes and snows, skis were used, as were sleds pulled by horses fitted with special spiked footwear for crossing frozen bodies of water. 
Want to learn more about daily life in the Viking Age, and the Vikings in general? My list of The 10 Best Books on the Vikings will surely prove helpful to you.
 Winroth, Anders. 2014. The Age of the Vikings. p. 165.
 Graham-Campbell, James. 2013. The Viking World. p. 111.
 Winroth, Anders. 2014. The Age of the Vikings. p. 168-169.
 Graham-Campbell, James. 2013. The Viking World. p. 115.
 Winroth, Anders. 2014. The Age of the Vikings. p. 162-164.
 Fallgren, Jan-Henrik. 2012. Farm and Village in the Viking Age. In The Viking World. Edited by Stefan Brink and Neil Price. p. 67.
Viking Gender Roles
The Vikings didn’t share our modern ideals of the equality of men and women and the freedom of individuals to act outside of their gender’s typical societal role. Instead, they generally gave men a higher social position than women, and they believed that an individual’s worth largely consisted of how well he or she fulfilled the role of the gender/sex to which he or she belonged.
As with all social norms everywhere, there were exceptions there were a few individual Norse men and women who acted against their society’s gender norms. Some of them even don’t seem to have been looked down upon by the wider society for it. But so as to not have this article turn into an entire book, we’ll just be focusing on the widespread, general rules rather than the few exceptions.
Marriage proposals were initiated by men, and the families of the suitor and his desired bride then got together and negotiated the terms of the marriage. The bride-to-be didn’t have much of any say in the process her family negotiated on her behalf, with their aims, and not necessarily hers, in mind. She wasn’t even allowed to decide whether to accept or reject a particular suitor in the first place. 
Adultery was almost always impermissible for a woman, and according to the laws of some Viking provincial law codes, if a husband caught his wife in the act of adultery, he could legally kill both her and her lover. Some Viking law codes contained punishments for husbands caught in the act of adultery as well, but some didn’t. However, men’s extramarital affairs generally received less social censure than women’s. Indeed, it was commonplace for chieftains and kings to have multiple wives and even concubines. An extreme case is the Norwegian Earl Hakon of Lade, who is said to have ordered his subjects to send their daughters to him for his pleasure. He would bed each one for a week or two before sending her back to her family. 
Divorce was common, relatively easy, and could be initiated by either the man or the woman. If the woman initiated the divorce over some wrongdoing by her husband, she was entitled to significant monetary compensation from him to ensure that she had a means of providing for herself once she was single again.  So women who found themselves stuck in unhappy marriage arrangements at least had a way out.
But if a woman had ambitions that lay outside of the realms of caring for children and performing her share of the seemingly countless, endless, dreary, physically demanding tasks involved in maintaining a Viking farmstead, she was almost always out of luck.  To be sure, men had their own share of these tasks.
The difference, however, was that men could often take up other roles in addition to or instead of that of a farmer if they so chose. Most women had little to no choice in taking up the life of a housewife.
Only men could hold political and legal offices – and only men could speak at legal assemblies and testify as witnesses before a court. 
This probably never happened.
Most importantly in a Viking Age context, however, there’s no evidence that women ever fought in battle as far as we can tell, this was left entirely to men.  Only men could become warriors and travel to lands far from their farms with their warband to fight on behalf of the warband’s leader. The only thing women did on a Viking Age battlefield was flee so they wouldn’t be raped by the victorious army. 
(Note: those who believe that a recent archaeological find proves the opposite should see here and here.)
Some people have hoped to find in the warlike valkyries a mythical image of female warriors that had some counterpart in historical reality. But the historical, human counterpart of the valkyries wasn’t female warriors.  Rather, it was sorceresses, who used magic with the intent of influencing the outcome of battle but didn’t physically participate in it. 
Speaking of magic – and in particular seidr, which was virtually synonymous with Norse magic as such – this was one social role outside of the home that was essentially reserved for women at the exclusion of men. There were men who practiced magic, but they were passionately despised by the wider society, and in some cases were even killed by their own families for the extreme dishonor their practices brought upon their families. This was because magic was seen as tantamount to homosexuality (for reasons that are too complex to go into in an article of this sort), and homosexuality was seen as tantamount to effeminacy and cowardice – traits that were scorned like few others by the macho warrior society of the Viking Age. But since women were already effeminate, and weren’t expected to be as brave as their men, there wasn’t any particular shame in a woman practicing magic. (For a full discussion of this point, see my book The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion.)
Men and women were both judged based on how well they performed their expected societal roles. For men, this meant being a manly, honorable warrior and/or farmer. For women, this meant excelling at her housekeeping duties. This work wasn’t looked down upon back then in the same way that it so often is in our society, however the woman who was a capable mother and housewife was genuinely appreciated and held in high regard by her family and by society as a whole, and her work was genuinely valued. 
Nevertheless, that rather humble kind of work doesn’t exactly lend itself to the level of prestige and renown that accomplished warriors, explorers, and rulers enjoyed.  The deeds of such great men were remembered and celebrated in song, poetry, and runic inscriptions on stone monuments, all of which are proverbial for their ability to stand the test of time and serve as a kind of half-immortality for the commemorated person. The great housewives, however, had no songs sung about them, no poems recited about them, and no monuments erected to them. In the cases where runestones preserve the names of women, those women were simply the ones who had the stones commissioned on behalf of their male relatives. 
There were some very high-status women in the Viking Age, even if they generally acquired that status through the passive means of being born into a high-status family or marrying a high-status man. Some of the lavish ship burials that have been discovered by modern archaeologists were women’s graves. 
Women could inherit property, but this only occurred in rather exceptional circumstances, such as the death of all suitable male relatives.  There were even a few female poets, but that was very uncommon. 
Muslim writers of the period who visited Viking society were frequently astonished at the range of volition Scandinavian women enjoyed, especially the right to divorce their husbands. This testifies to the fact that however bad Norse women may have had it – and they certainly had it quite bad in many ways – women in various other societies of the period had it considerably worse. 
Want to learn more about Viking gender roles, and the Vikings in general? My list of The 10 Best Books on the Vikings will surely prove helpful to you.
 Wolf, Kirsten. 2004. Viking Age: Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen. p. 13-14.
 Winroth, Anders. 2014. The Age of the Vikings. p. 165.
 Graham-Campbell, James. 2013. The Viking World. p. 111.
 Wolf, Kirsten. 2004. Viking Age: Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen. p. 16.
 Roesdahl, Else. 1998. The Vikings. p. 60.
 Winroth, Anders. 2014. The Age of the Vikings. p. 230-231.
 Price, Neil S. 2002. The Viking Way: Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia.
 Roesdahl, Else. 1998. The Vikings. p. 59.
 Winroth, Anders. 2014. The Age of the Vikings. p. 161.
 Wolf, Kirsten. 2004. Viking Age: Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen. p. 20.
 Roesdahl, Else. 1998. The Vikings. p. 59-60.
 Winroth, Anders. 2014. The Age of the Vikings. p. 233.
 Wolf, Kirsten. 2004. Viking Age: Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen. p. 22.
Viking Society: Men, Women and Children
Within the male-dominated Viking society, women had a certain amount of personal power, depending on their social status. When Viking men were away from home—raiding, fishing, exploring or on trading missions—women in Viking society took over all the men’s work as well as doing their own. Women were valuable members of the society and it was shameful for a man to harm a woman.
Women’s role was domestic, taking care of the family, preparing food, laundry, milking cows, sheep and goats, making butter and cheeses, preserving food for winter, gardening, cleaning and the most time-consuming task of all, making the family’s clothes. Spinning, carding, weaving, cutting and sewing took a long time. It could take a Viking woman 35 hours to spin enough yarn for a day’s weaving, to give you some idea of how much time it took to make clothing.
Viking women married young—as early as 12 years old. By the age of 20, virtually all men and women were married. Life expectancy was about 50 years, but most died long before reaching 50. Only a few lived to 60.
Marriages were arranged by the parents of the young couple. A marriage was a contract between two families: the groom’s family paid a bride price to bride’s family when the couple was betrothed. At the marriage, the bride’s father paid a dowry. Since both families had a financial investment in the new couple, a marriage was as much a matter for the families as it was for the people involved.
Viking children did not go to school as we know it today. Rather, the boys learned all the men’s work, taught by their fathers, brothers and uncles. Girls worked along with their mothers and aunts learning how to cook, garden, take care of the domestic animals and make clothing. By the time they reached adulthood at 12 to 15, both boys and girls could effectively run a household and a farm.
As is always the case, there were exceptions to these general societal rules of behavior. When the men went to settle Iceland, Greenland and Vinland, women went with them. Vikings settled in England, Ireland and France as families. However, only men went raiding and trading while women stayed home and minded the farm.
Women in Viking society had more power than most other European women of the time. They could divorce their husbands, own some property and sell their own handicrafts. Some women became wealthy landowners. Others participated in trade—scales used for weighing silver used in trade have been found in women’s graves. Even a few weapons were found in female graves, giving the notion that some women were fighters along side of their men. Most women in Viking society, however, lived and worked in the domestic realm of the household.
This article is part of our larger selection of posts about Vikings history. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to Vikings history
Viking Women and Household
In Viking age, women were mainly destined to be “within the threshold”. They were very good at cooking and doing the chores. They also prepared the food for the winters. Other skills to help them run the household successfully were to smoke fish and meat, brew ale, make broth, bake, etc. Cloth making, fabric work, and sewing were the important skills that Viking needed to acquire as well. Most clothes of every family member were made by the women in their homes, even some clothes for the husbands who were to go on raids or wars.
Contrary to popular thought, the Vikings were very hygienic. Thereby, the Viking women were also good at keeping their house clean and even healthy (as somehow they could make medicine).
The Viking women were supposed to manage the farm and other work of their husbands when their husbands were away for battles. They would have to look for the animals and the crops.
This may result in the Viking traditional funeral ceremonies. When the Viking women died, they would be buried with jewelry and household goods while men with weapons and equipment.
Other aspects of Viking daily life
The Viking daily life of the farmers sounded quite simple and peaceful. The fact of it, however, was sometimes a bitter pill to swallow. Their work on the farm was a true drudgery that required a lot of labor to finish only even the first and simplest work. Disasters, wars, raids, and famines were also ever-present dangers that could deprive the farmers of their crops and, worst of all, their lives. Famine and diseases were quite common in those times. Nearly 30-40% of children died before they reached adulthood, and the skeletons of that period unearthed presented serious injury, disease, and malnutrition.
There were also other jobs to live on like Viking merchants and Viking craftsmen. The Viking merchants traded with the people in other regions. They might have imported spices, fine wool, and wine and exported slaves, beeswax, honey, etc. The Viking craftsmen could be blacksmiths, bronzesmiths, or shoemakers. The craftsmen could also be the ones who produced purses, belts, jewelry, combs, etc. The slaves with talents of crafting could live a better life than other slaves.