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.
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.
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.
Documentation sources and external links:
- Viking Burial Customs on www.danishnet.com
- Viking Inhumations on www.danishnet.com
- Viking Funeral Buriels and the Afterlife on www.legendsandchronicles.com
- Celtic-Norse Relationships in the Irish Sea in the Middle Ages 800-1200 (page 156)
- Old Norse Religion in Long-term Perspectives by Anders Andrén, Kristina Jennbert and Catharina Raudvere (pages 110-113)
- Viking Rus: Studies on the Presence of Scandinavians in Eastern Europe by Wladyslaw Duczko (pages 119-221)