Viking Woman’s Brooches

In the graves of Norse women, two styles of brooches are often found: matched oval brooches and circular brooches.  The matched oval brooches are very distinct to the Scandinavian context, and their presence in a grave is a good indicator that the interred individual was a Norse woman.  The richness of the graves further indicates that the paired brooches were indicative of marriage amongst wealthy women.

Examples of this style of brooch can be found displayed at the Lofotr Viking Museum (TS9669 a+b. Tromsø Musuem, UiT). One of these examples still has traces of its original silver gilding. These brooches were found in Sund on Falstadøya, the island immediately to the west of Vestvågøy. Approximately 1650 brooches have been discovered in Northern Norway, about seventeen of which have been from Vestvågøy, according to the artifact database Unimus.
The craftsmanship of oval brooches has been noted to undergo an apparent decline over the course of the Viking Age, which may be tied to a changing wear style, in which the brooches were covered by a shawl more frequently and thus their appearance became less important. It is also possible, though less likely, that greater demand for the jewellery led to craftsmen cutting corners to furnish sufficient supply.
In the dress of a particularly wealthy woman, an overdress could be worn with a pair of oval brooches at the shoulders, while the neck of the underdress was secured by a smaller round brooch. The singular brooch could also be used to secure a shawl, rather than the underdress. (Roesdahl, The Vikings, p. 38) An example of a woman’s round brooch on display here at Lofotr (TS4460b. Tromsø Musuem, UiT), found in Kvalnes on the northern coast of Vestvågøy. This brooch, is approximately two inches in diameter, and bears intricate, moulded designs on its surface.
The wearing of two types of brooches survives into the present day in the bunad of modern Norway, with small round brooches referred to as knappar (buttons) while larger ones are given the name sølvar. The typical Norse man’s brooch, the penannular type, was known to be worn by women on occasions, though it was fairly rare. It is possible that the wearing of the penannular brooch by women was a sentimental act, possibly representing a husband now deceased or away on a voyage.

Bibliography

Almgren, Bertil, et al. The Viking. Northern Book, Gothenberg. 1995. 

Ewing, Thor. Viking Clothing, Tempus Publishing Limited, Stroud, Gloucestershire. 2006. 

Roesdahl, Else. The Vikings.  Penguin Books, New York. 1992. 

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