The role and status of women in Viking Age

Essay by ashleyluvgkUniversity, Bachelor's August 2013

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Scandinavian R5B

The role and status of women in Viking Age

With the general growth of feminist work in many academic fields, it is hardly surprising that the research on the role and status of women in Viking age has attracted considerable attention in recent years. There is a substantial amount of research on this and the expanding corpus of research addresses itself to all of the major dimensions of Viking women's lives. While some research has focused on evidence from literature, such as sagas, other work has sought to use evidence from archaeology, such as burials. This source difference results in a broad range of differing interpretation regarding the status and position of women in Viking Age.

Much of the earlier interpretation of women's status and position in Viking Age emphasizes knowledge gained from diverse texts including sagas of the Icelanders, skaldic poetry, romances, legal texts, and historical documents.

The Icelandic sagas portray a number of independent-minded females. Many of us have interpreted this to show that Viking women were independent and fully equal to men. But if we read deeply the lines, it is clearly that the real situation differed. The marriage fate of two sisters in Honsa-thoris Saga indicates that marriage was most often a business transaction, including detailed consideration of wealth and property, between father and suitor, and women had no say in who they marry, as well as their authority in a marriage (Jochens 1995). This literary example also reports that even if a girl was told about the engagement, there was nothing she can do to cancel it (Jochens 1995). Viking women seem to have very limited freedom of choice.

By studying the laws of early Iceland, scholars argue that Viking Age women did not enjoy the same legal status as men. "A mother...