As far as we know, women in the past didn’t have any voice in the society. The women were just the ribs of the men which meant the women were just the supportive characters in this world. But there was one community in the Medieval times that granted their women the basic rights. More interestingly, this community was among the most brutal tribes at their time. But their treatment toward the women was their first sign of civilization. It was the Viking Women who enjoyed the basic rights from the Viking community.
The gender role in the Viking community was quite clear. While the women did the housework, the men worked on the farm. But it didn’t prevent the Viking women from practicing their rights. The Viking women could divorce their husband, they could have property for example land, or they could have a high social rank that people respected.
Viking women were still behind the Viking men. Because after all, the Viking belief was still that the men were the master of the house. But if we compare the lives of the Viking women were more easier than those of the other women in their time.
The Viking women were still the housewives
Common knowledge is that the Viking women’s lives revolved around their house and their farm. Ever since they turned 12 years old, they must follow their mothers and sisters to learn the household skills. When their husbands were absent from home, they took all responsibility to run the house.
Their daily work included cooking, preparing the meal, weaving, brewing ale, etc. All members helped each other with the housework regardless age and sex.
The Viking women could also join the business and trading network. For example, if their craft skills were good, they could make their own products and sell them for money. This was for the good of their families.
No matter where we are, marriage is a landmark of a lifetime. In the Viking community, marriage was the same. It marked the transiting phase from living with parents to living with strangers.
Many Viking marriages were arranged for the good of each family, political purpose or economic reasons for instance. But after their wedding, two partners shared the same responsibility toward each other. Because during the wedding rituals, two families agreed to put forward some properties as gifts for each other.
When it comes to divorce, men and women in the Viking community were equal. If the marriage didn’t work and the two were not happy, they could free themselves from such failed marriage. In the 10th century, a Spanish-Arabic traveler happened to arrive at Hedeby a hectic Viking trading center. He was shocked to hear that the women had to right to divorce her husband.
The set of rules about marriage and divorce of the Vikings was quite complicated. This was the trace of both civilization and advanced legal system.
For example, the Viking women could break up with her husband if her husband lived too long in a new countries on his voyage. But this case was only accepted if her husband neglected to sleep with her for three years. If they were too poor to live on their own, they could decide to split and go back to live with their parents. Hitting their partner could also lead to divorce.
Literal and Archaeological Evidence
The Viking women rights or the way the Vikings honored their women appeared in both literal and archaeological evidence.
The Vikings worshiped Norse gods and grew up with Norse mythology. Norse mythology and belief deeply ingrained in every Viking. Looking at Norse myth, we can see the female figures were somewhat more powerful than the male. For example, Hel was the queen of Helheim land of Dead and even Odin the chief god of Asgard could not do anything to change the decision of Hel. Three Norns in Norse myth were the female figures who created the fate of all beings in the cosmos and no one could escape the fate the Norns gave them. Elli was the giantess who could defeat Thor Norse God of Thunder and Lightning.
In the Viking sagas, we can also hear about the Viking shieldmaidens who were the female warriors. Freydis Eriksdottir was the sister of Leif Eriksson the first Viking to find out America. Freydis was feared by her enemies for her rage and madness in battle. In one battle, Freydis was the only one that stay to slay the enemies even though her warriors ran away and she was pregnant at that time. This tale illustrated not only the brave of the Viking women but also their equal position with men (able to join the battle like men).
The most famous archaeological evidence was the Oseberg burial ship. The archaeologists found out a luxurious tomb inside the Oseberg burial mound. The fine Viking ship were buried and horses and animals were dedicated. They buried many luxurious items like dozens of warrior shields, sleighs, cart, a beautiful textile, unique animal head posts, etc.
They all were for the two women inside the Oseberg burial site. The scholars believed that one woman might be the mistress and the other might be the slave. The Vikings had a tradition that the slave would die to serve their master in their afterlife. Such a luxurious burial site suggested the high social rank of the women inside.
Another famous burial site was the BJ581 in Birka, Sweden. The grave included a woman with two horses. Items that the Vikings buried with the woman were the weapons like axe, sword, shields. This suggested the women while living might be a warrior. Because the Vikings always buried the daily items of the dead person with them in their grave.