December 25, 2016

2918 NORWAY - The clothing and the arms of the Vikings

Between 790s and 1066, during the period commonly known today as the Viking Age, the mere sight of Norsemen's longships aroused fear among the inhabitants of the European coastal areas and along inland rivers through what is now Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, up to Constantinople. Remaining in collective memory of Europeans primarily as fierce and ruthless warriors, the Vikings also opened trade routes, explored new territories, founded settlements and states, and even fought as mercenaries.

As with many other aspects of Viking-age material culture, our knowledge about Vikings clothing is fragmentary. Anyway, it seems that all the Germanic peoples in Northern European wore similar clothing. The outer garment for the men's upper body was the kyrtill, the overtunic, made from wool and constructed using surprisingly complicated patterns, with many pieces that needed to be cut out of the fabric and sewn back together. The upper part of the garment was relatively tight-fitting, but the sleeves were fitted to provide freedom of motion.

The length of the skirt was determined by the wealth of the owner, ranging from thigh to knee. The tunic was pulled on over the head, and usually had no fasteners, although some had a simple button and loop of thread to fasten the neck opening. Often, it was decorated with braids on neckline, cuffs, and the hem of the skirt. Silk was also used to trim a tunic, but only by the wealthiest. Under the tunic, it's likely that most men wore an undertunic, most commonly from linen.

It appears that a wide range of styles of trousers was used in the Norse lands, both tight and wide. Some trousers were complicated, with elaborate gores around the crotch area for freedom of motion, and built-in socks (like modern sleepwear for toddlers), tight with belts around the waist. They had no pockets and no fly. Sometimes, men wore a kind of puttee, consisting of two long, narrow strips of cloth, usually from wool, wound around the leg and foot.

The cloak was simply a large rectangular piece of wool, sometimes lined with contrasting color wool, fastened by a pin from the right shoulder. Caps were made of wool, or sheepskin, or leather and fur. Typically, they were made in the Phrygian style, with four or more triangular pieces sewn together. Other hood-like head coverings called höttr were worn. The shoes typically were simple affairs made using the turnshoe technique. The uppers were sewn to the sole with the finished side in, and the rough side out. Then the shoes were turned inside out.

According to custom, all free Norse men were required to own weapons, as well as permitted to carry them at all times. As war was the most prestigious activity in Viking Age Scandinavia, beautifully finished weapons were an important way for a warrior to display his wealth and status. A wealthy Viking would likely have a complete ensemble of a spear, a wooden shield, and a sword. The very richest might have a helmet, other armour is thought to have been limited to the nobility and their professional warriors.

The sword was for single-handed use to be combined with a shield, with a double edged blade length of up to 90 cm. Its shape was still very much based on the Roman spatha with a tight grip, long deep fuller and no pronounced cross-guard. Owning a sword was a matter of high honour. The shield, round as shape, was made from not very dense timbers, so as the sword to remain stuck. Vikings often reinforced them with leather or, occasionally, iron around the rim.

Today is only one known example of a complete Viking helmet, which looks like the one from the postcard. It has a rounded cap and has a "spectacle" guard around the eyes and nose which formed a sort of mask. The eye guard in particular suggests a close affinity with the earlier, Vendel Period helmets. Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that Vikings used horned helmets in battle, although it is possible that horned head dresses were used in ritual contexts.

About the stamp

The stamp is one of the two issued on June 5, 2015 by Norway for Europa stamps 2015 - Old Toys.
14.00 NOK - It's on the postcard 2918
17.00 NOK

Clothing in the Viking Age - Hurtsvic
Vikings - Wikipedia
Viking Age arms and armour - Wikipedia

Sender: Tone Nor (direct swap)
Sent from Langevåg (Møre og Romsdal / Norway), on 09.12.2016
Photo: Lill-Ann Chepstow-Lusty / from the book Absolutt Viking

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