Burial Customs In The Norse Culture During The Viking Age

One of the customs of the Norse culture was the death ceremony in which the deceased were laid in a boat and given various grave offerings (mainly of material nature, but in some cases even human sacrifices represented by slaves) depending on the departed’s social status or occupation during his or her lifetime.

Archaeological discoveries, rune stones as well as the Icelandic sagas or the skaldic poems (poems written in Old Norse) point out the existence and application of this ritual throughout the Viking Age. Aside from laying the deceased in a boat and setting it afire on a certain body of water (either lake, river, sea, or ocean), the Norsemen would also bury the ones who passed away in a stone ship.

Two Viking Age burial mounds under the form of stone ships located in Badelunda, Västerås, Sweden. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Very much unlike the ritual which took place on water, the burial in a stone ship consisted of a death ceremony which unfolded on soil, with the dead being buried under a mound of earth and large stones resembling the outline of an actual ship. Such burial mounds featuring various stones of all sizes are to be found in many places across Scandinavia, as well as in present day northern Germany or the Baltic states.

Late 19th century painting of a Viking Age ship funeral by German painter and illustrator Alexander Zick. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

In most cases, the Norsemen were cremated after death according to the local custom. During the ritual, both men and women were granted several grave offerings (from pots, weapons, clothing or jewels to slaves). The human sacrifice of slaves allegedly ensured the fact that they will accompany their masters on their journey to the afterlife, according to the rites of the Norse mythology.

Depending on their social status and wealth, the Norsemen were buried differently. For example, a free man would have been most of the time given solely his weapons and an ordinary equipment for riding before being laid on a funeral pyre. A blacksmith, on the other hand, would have been given a complete set of tools. Last but not least, women were usually given jewellery and their household tools.

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1 Response to Burial Customs In The Norse Culture During The Viking Age

  1. Kate Finnerty says:

    I was once told that with the death of a king the family were the human scarfice accompaning the boat….makes perfect sense especially if a complete overthrow was an intention. I wondered how far fetched the rather realistic idea the family often abandoned ship once safely out of the crowds site…..i am of the belief viking women were the brains behind the operation…..and viking cats were short haired and black…they were easier to see in the snow and rarely went outside because it was too cold, simple logic no fabrication. In reality the modern day pirate is a viking at heart, an intreped spirit to go beyond the horizon and return to be told your’ve made her proud….the wife of course

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