viking funeral

A Viking Funeral: Burial Rituals from the Norse Age

Introduction

Vikings, the Norse men to be precise, as we all know, were seafaring people from Southern Scandinavia. 8th to 11th century AD marked the time of their reign, and during this period, they created history to fill in the pages of history texts, haunting fellow students even in the 21st century. They had customs and practices of their own and were strict about following them without any fail. They and their lifestyle have always remained a matter of interest among researchers and archaeologists, and one main reason for this was the peculiarities associated with their rituals. These rituals may seem to us as trivial now, but there used to be a time called the Viking Age when following these rituals and traditions was more than important.

There were a lot of rituals associated with different events, like birth, marriage, death, etc. Among all such rituals, the Viking funeral were the most interesting ones. Viking burials had many practices associated with it; each of them had its significance and was carried out with most attentiveness. Reading about it is always entertaining, so take a look at some of the gripping facts about them. 

  • Accounts about the Viking Funeral were made from archeological pieces of evidence and from historical texts like Icelandic Sagas. Norse poetry has also made a significant contribution to this. 
  • Death being the end of life, is always associated with some rituals in all cultures. It is mainly intended to help the left behind come in terms with the loss. Among the Vikings also funeral rituals had this part to play.
  • They believed that the rituals would give eternal peace to the deceased.
  • The Vikings believed in the afterlife, and they did all they can to help the deceased enjoy a long and happy afterlife, just like what they had in the mortal life.
  • One of the most important rituals associated with death was the ship burial. It was reserved for people with high honor. It was all about placing the deceased in a boat or ship along with a lot of offerings according to his status and burying the body along with all this so that once they reach the otherworld, the gods could see their worth and treat them accordingly.   
  • According to the Norse beliefs, the ship was the symbol of safe passage, which was why they played an important role in funerals. For people belonging to the lower sections, grave mounds were made in the shape of a ship, with stones outlining the shape, and for people with a higher rank, they were buried along with their actual ship.
  • It seems like they gave equal importance to women of the community because the most expensive of all boat burials found out were given for women and not men.
  • The dead were always draped in clothes prepared specifically for the funeral.
  • The Oseberg ship is the most important and well preserved Viking ship found from a burial mound at Oseberg. The ship is now displayed at the Viking Ship Museum in Norway.
  • Grave goods were placed along with the dead, and the amount and value of these goods depended upon the social status the deceased had while they lived. Both men and women received these gifts, and they usually included ornaments, everyday items, and other valuable things. A free man without much social standing was given weapons and equipment for riding to safely ride to his afterlife.
  • Grave goods were not just about the status of the dead but also the key moments and successes in an individual’s life. That was why everything associated and important to a man was buried along with him.
  • Grave goods were also intended to make sure that the dead remains satisfied with his/her afterlife because if they were not satisfied, there are chances that they return to haunt the living.
  • A draugr was the dead who has returned to trouble the living. Crop failures, war defeats, etc. were all usually associated with the presence of a draugr, and in such cases, the Vikings used to dig up the recently dead and bury them with more grave goods. Sometimes the body of the dead was pinned to the ground with a wooden stake to prevent return.
  • Some other practices associated with Viking Burials were sacrifices. During the burial of people with high social standing, slaves were buried along with them or sacrificed. This was to make sure that they get people to work for them in the afterlife too.
  • The burial of a slave girl usually accompanied the burial of chieftains. The slave girl had to undergo sexual intercourse with different men to take the essence of life for the chieftain.
  • Once the body was buried, piles of soil and stone were used to create mounds of earth called tumulus. They were raised over a grave or a group of graves and were also called barrows or kurgans.
  • When slaves died, they were buried such that they will never come back to haunt their masters and that the masters could use them once they are dead.
  • Burial was not the only way of sending the deceased to the afterlife. Cremation was also in practice. Cremation was popular among the early Vikings, and they believed that the fire and smoke resulting from the cremation would take the soul of the dead to their afterlife. Grave goods were offered even if cremation was done. Once the cremation was over, the remains were buried, and it was usually in an urn.
  • Burials were also followed by ceremonies with food, chants, songs, and alcohol. All this was to honor the dead.

Conclusion

The Viking funeral rituals may seem a little crazy for us now, but the Vikings used to follow all these with at most respect and owe. They were integral parts of their life as a community and had great roles to play in their lives.

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