If a Viking man spouted poetry to a love interest, he could lose his life. Why? As with everything about the Vikings, there is only tantalizing little clues. Through the Poetic Edda, an oral history that wasn’t written down until the 13th century, we see glimpses of everyday life. It has been speculated this rule was to keep men from falsely leading a maiden on. Or possibly it wasn’t considered manly for a Viking warrior to spout soft words of love.
Most Viking marriages were arranged much like a modern company merger. There were strict rules about property and how the bride’s dowry would be dispersed. Viking women had more rights and freedoms than any of their counterparts at that time in history. This would have been due to their traveling husbands. Viking men were traders, leaving in the spring and wandering all summer long while the world was ice free. The return rates weren’t all that great back then. Between the dangers of ship travel, diseases in foreign lands, and raiding, a Viking man might never return.
So the Viking woman ran things at home. She had to oversee the livestock, production of crops and profit. While she was at it, she also prepared meals and made things for around the house. There was no local Wal-Mart to help out. It was a tough life. For this reason, all land inheritance was usually passed down through the woman.
With various gods, traditions, and superstitions, a marriage ceremony usually lasted on average, nine days. The Vikings had a thing about the number nine. There was drinking and feasting of course, along with rituals to entice the gods to give fertility, wealth and health. Quite often family swords were exchanged, and proof given that the marriage was consummated.
Another interesting concept − Viking woman could divorce easily. All she had to do was stand next to the bed shared with her husband and in front of three witnesses, simply say out loud three times, “I divorce thee.” Yup, it was that easy. Maybe that is why the men treated their women so well.
While monogamy was practiced, it wasn’t set in stone. If the man was lusty and wealthy enough, and his wife agreed to it, he could take a second wife. It was nothing to own several slaves as well. In fact, he was encouraged by his loving wife, to have a slave for copulation during her later months of pregnancy.
What of possible bastard offspring? Those long summer days did get a little lonely while Olaf was gone. Unfortunately, if a woman conceived while her husband was away, he had the right to deny feeding or clothing any offspring. When a baby was born, if the head of the household did not claim it on the ninth day, the baby was ‘exposed,’ meaning it was left to die in the forest.
The Vikings liked to keep things simple.
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