The commercial life of the Vikings

Lofotr Viking Museum

Borg • Lofoten

Expensive luxury goods were important merchandise in the Viking Age. Remnants of these goods have been found in the archaeological excavations at Borg, the chieftain’s seat. When visiting the Lofotr Viking Museum you will see many of the goods that were imported by the Borg chieftain.

The museum also exhibits archaeological treasures from the region and local surroundings. One of the most magnificent objects in the exhibition is the Eltoft sword, found on one of the neighbouring farms. The handle of the sword is made of bronze with silver inlay. A marvellous weapon of this kind would be carried by a man of status. The sword reached the island from England either in the form of a gift for a magnate, or as barter or trade for something the magnate wanted or it was war booty.

The chieftain was responsible for organising trade between Borg and Europe. The longship was loaded with local goods and merchandise for trade before finally setting sail for Europe. We have a literary source (late 800s) that tells of Europe’s desire for goods from Northern Norway. The source is the Accounts of Ohthere fra Hålogaland, told and recorded at the court of King Alfred of England. The goods provided by the Sami people was coveted by the European elite, and Ottar tells us how the wealth of the chieftains of the north was mostly based on taxation of the Sami:

“This tax shall consist of animal hides and bird feathers, whale bone – and ship rope made from whale hid and seal skin. All shall pay as best they are able for their position. Distinguished persons shall pay fifteen marten pelts and five reindeer hides and one bear skin and ten ambar feathers and one bear or otter jacket, two boat ropes sixty alen (35 meters) in length; one should be made of whale hide and the other of seal skin.”
(Sandved, Arthur O. 1995:4 Ottars Beretning. Ottar, nr. 208)

When the Borg chieftain filled his ship for the trip south, we have to believe that he also carried stockfish on board. The remains of stockfish trade are not easy to find, but there are archaeological traces from Hedeby, the largest northern European city during Viking times, because stockfish from Northern Norway was either consumed in the city or traded there.