Norse Culture: A Closer Look
Julianne N. Cantu
Intercultural CommunicationsDr. ThibodeauxMarch 7, 2013
From the beginning of civilization, culture has played a crucial role at shaping every society. Culture allows for all that is special about a group of people to be taken into account and be recognized. Norse culture has long been a popular subject in modern societies. Some of the most important characteristics that make Norse culture so unique are their people, their language, their literature, their religion, and their funeral practices.
Like most societies, the Norse had a surprisingly lax social hierarchy. The Norse hierarchy was set to where there was a possibility for upward mobility. Individuals in Norse society were not doomed to live out their days in a particular social status, but were free to move from class to class. There were three set social classes in Norse society. Most Norsemen belonged to the middle class known as karls. Karls were the landowners, the farmers; the smiths (blacksmiths, locksmiths, etc.), etc (Haywood, 2000).
The highest level in the social hierarchy was known as the jarls, or the nobility. These people lived in extravagant houses and halls and lived refined lives. The jarls used their money, wealth, followers, ships, and estates distinguish them from the rest of society. The lowest class of the social hierarchy was known as the prӕll. This class included slaves and people who were known as bondsmen. If a person, from any class, could not pay their debts, they would become a bondsman and work for another man until his debts were repaid (Guy, 1998). The Scandinavians, during the Viking Age, spoke Old Norse. This language was sometimes referred to as “Danish Tongue (Page, 1987).” Icelandic, Danish, and Norwegian languages are all descended of Old Norse. There were many different dialects spoken during this time. Many scholars are able to find the differences between East Norse and West Norse. Despite these differences, the people during the Viking Age were able to communicate with each other without difficulty because the languages were so similar (Page, 1987).
Many Viking cultures were also known to have used runes. A rune is letter or character from the runic alphabet. “Most of the runic characters consist of straight lines and the alphabet was clearly designed for etching onto wood, stone, or metal with a sharp instrument such as a knife (Page, 1995).” A different version of runes referred to as the “Younger Futhark” was established by the beginning of the Viking Age.
Contrary to popular belief, Vikings did not actually wear helmets with horns on them. This depiction of Vikings warriors is a terrible misrepresentation of their culture. What a Viking wore was determined by their place in their society. If a person was a slave, they were often poorly dressed in things that amounted to rags. Free men wore things like leather boots and clothes made out of finer materials, like wool and different furs. Men often wore either pants or tunics, while the women would wear dress like garments that would fasten at the shoulder (Roesdahl, 2001). Only the wealthiest of the Viking society ever wore jewelry, like necklaces, pendants, brooches, and rings because it signified their elevated status to others (Jesch, 1991).
Viking literature is uncommon to come by because Norse culture was typically shared through the spoken word rather than the written word. Much of the folklore about Norse culture was written later and compiled into a Edda. Edda is derives from the Old Norse term for poetry (Page, 1995). There are two different types of edda, the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda. The Poetic Edda is a collection of Old Norse poems. This edda contains the most information concerning Norse mythology. The poems contained in the edda tell stories of brave hero and heroines and depict tales of different Norse legends. The Prose Edda...
References: Dubois, Thomas A. Nordic Religions in the Viking Age. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. Print.
Guy, John. Viking Life. Kent: Ticktock, 1998. Print.
Haywood, John. Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000. Print.
Jesch, Judith. Women in the Viking Age. Haworth: Woodbridge, 1991. Print.
Orchard, Andy. Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend. London: Cassell, 1997. Print.
Page, RI. Reading the Past: Runes. London: British Museum Press, 1987. Print.
Page, RKi. Chronicles of the Vikings: Records, Memorials and Myths. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995. Print.
Roesdahl, Else. The Vikings. New York: Penguin, 2001. Print.
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