Thyra Dane

Author of Romance. Blogs about Scandinavia, Vikings and books.

Vikings were kings and queens, Vølve and slaves. Here is a run through of the different classes and professions Vikings had.

Viking romances are often about the top of Viking societies—the kings and jarls. I want to start my journey through the classes at the very bottom: the thralls.

The Thralls

Thralls were slaves, but I’m going to use the word “thrall” because that’s what they were called by the Vikings and also because thralls can’t be compared to modern day slaves. They were everything from prisoners of war and indentured servants to people born into slavery. Some died as slaves—often killed in gruesome ways when they couldn’t work anymore, as Scandinavian names like “Thrall’s Cliff” give witness to—but some thralls could work or buy their freedom or were given their freedom when their owner died.

Making flour out of grain was tedious work and would probably be the work of a slave. The grain was placed between two large rocks, the top rock turned around on the bottom rock. Vikings often had dental damages from the small rocks that came with the flour in their bread.
The picture is from the Botanical garden in Oslo where they showed herbs and plants from the Vikings last summer.

Some thralls followed their owners into their graves, either voluntarily or forced. There are also accounts of thralls being sacrificed to the gods just like cows and horses. And when winter was rough and there wasn’t food for everyone, the thralls were the first ones cast out to fend for themselves in the freezing cold.

People could be taken as thralls during raids and battles, they could be bought and sold like cattle, and they could even sell themselves and their families into thralldom. Most of the thralls came from whichever area the Vikings had raided or been at war with, which means most thralls came from somewhere in Northern Europe.

Vikings didn’t just bring the people they captured home. Vikings also sold thralls abroad, especially on the Byzantine slave markets. Thralls—buying and selling human beings–were an important part of the Viking economy.

We can’t know for sure how many people who were captured and used as thralls, but several accounts have mentioned that around 30% of the Viking population were thralls.

Thralls would usually have shaved heads and wear white (or undyed) clothing, which would separate them from their owners.

The Farmers

Most people think of Vikings as warriors, but they were mainly farmers. Some were both, raiding foreign lands between sowing and reaping.

There’s a lot of debate about why farmers suddenly—or not so suddenly—started raiding foreign lands back in the late 700s. Several historians have claimed that prosperous times and richer farming can explain why Scandinavians started sailing far away to raid and conquer.

1. Richer farming meant more children growing up—not dying from hunger or diseases–which again meant less land to younger sons (and daughters). They needed to find alternative occupations or even land abroad.

2. Richer farmers meant more traders coming to Scandinavia. These traders needed safe travels to bother making the trip north so local piracy moved further away and foreign shores were raided instead of shores closer to home.

3. Richer farmers meant more time and finances for ship building. Ship building had an enormous evolution in the late 700s and forward and the Viking ships were a main reason for the war victories of the Vikings.

The Explorers and Tradesmen

Vikings are mainly known for their raids, but a large part of their travels were about trade, buying and selling goods abroad.

Christian Krogh’s painting named “Leiv Eiriksson discovers America”. Picture taken by me at the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway.

Vikings traveled far and wide. They made it to Greenland, North America, all over Europe and Northern Africa, along the coast to Bjarmaland (today: northern part of Russia), and through the rivers down to Byzantine (today: Turkey and areas around).

They also invited people from far away to visit the local trade markets in Hedeby, Birka, and Kaupang (just to mention some) or to stay and live with them and marry them. There are records of women with North American and Mongolian ancestry who lived and had children in Scandinavia in the Viking age.  

The Craftsmen and -women

Shipbuilding became an important craft and the number of ships built during the Viking age must have been enormous. But it wasn’t just the ships that needed building; ships also needed sails. Imagine the amount of wool needed and how long it took to weave 90 square meters of sail.

Vikings were craftsmen and -women. Picture from the Ribe Viking Center in Denmark

Blacksmiths were also important. Everything from pots and pans to axes and chainmail were made by blacksmiths. The best swords were Frankish, but Scandinavian blacksmiths tried to copy the swords they’d stolen.

The Vølve

Vølve were women who had a special connection to the gods. They were the local religious interpreters and had a powerful role.

The Vølve had an enormous authority and were handsomely paid for their job. They were said to be great seductresses and men were warned against entering sexual relationships with the Vølve as those rarely ended well.

The Vølve used drums, meditation and hallucinogenic drugs in their practice.

The Frille

Frille were mistresses of powerful men. They had important roles and were seen as wives of the heart in a time when high ranking men and women had to marry for land and power.

Frille were established, their children were acknowledged and there was no shame if the relationship ended. They were free to go home to their families or to marry someone—they might even go home with renewed honor if the men they’d been frille to was a man of power and the frille brought them children, especially sons.

A frille could also secure protection for her family and was often encouraged to enter the relationship as a frille to gain power.

Kings and Queens, Jarls and Husfruer

Denmark, Sweden and Norway weren’t countries as we know them today before late in the Viking era. They were smaller kingdoms, often divided into even smaller areas governed by jarls and chiefs. These different rulers would be connected to one another through marriage, various agreements and honor.

Many of the names of the early Viking rulers have been lost, or there’s doubt whether the names we do have are myths or real. Gorm the Old and Thyra Danebod are usually recognized as the first king and queen of a unified Denmark. We know of them from a rune stone made by their son Harald Bluetooth (yes, he later gave name to the Bluetooth technology – check out the Bluetooth logo and find Harald Bluetooth’s runes). Harald Bluetooth claimed to also be king of Norway, but Harald Fairhair is usually considered the first Norwegian king. They all lived in the early 900s.

Most people associate the Vikings with a sword and a helmet. The sword may be correct, they’ve found quite a lot of swords in Viking graves, but the helmet is not. Most people know that Vikings didn’t have horns on their helmets, but it’s disputed if helmets were very much in use at all. They’ve only found one real Viking helmet (a copy of it in the picture). If helmets were in use at all, they were probably only used by the very rich, the leaders, the kings and queens.

The various rulers didn’t have unlimited power as they had to answer to their local “ting,” which was a gathering of the people in power in that area. They would often gather in circles, heavy rocks being their seats, so that everyone could speak and be heard.

“Ting” is a part of the modern-day democracy in Scandinavia. The parliament of Norway is called Stortinget (The Great Ting) and the parliament of Denmark is called Folketinget (The Peoples’ Ting).

Viking romance

Do you want to read about the proud men and women of the north? Read The Challenge – a short story in this anthology.

He broke her nose when they were children. Now he’s telling her to be his wife. Telling her, not asking her.

Corona has hit Scandinavia and Iceland hard. We have so many sick people, but fortunately “only” two who have died so far; one in Sweden and one in Norway.

The number of sick in Norway has exploded. Graphic: VG

Norway has 933 people sick, Sweden 813, Denmark 801, Iceland 117 (which is a huge number for a country of only 350,000 people) and Finland 144. All numbers are according to this great site for updated corona-information.

Luckily we “only” have two dead as of today, one in Sweden and one in Norway. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this number stay low!

Countries closed

On Wednesday the prime minister of Denmark declared all schools, bars, large gatherings etc closed. Yesterday the prime minister of Norway did the same.

This is a huge blow for many small businesses and also for the everyday life of Danes and Norwegians.

But we need to do something to break that dangerous curve of more and more people infected and the best way is to make sure everyone stays at home.

Borders closed

The Danish prime minister just announced that the Danish borders will be closed until April 13th. We can probably expect the other Nordic countries to do the same soon.

I’m so excited. My very first book was published today and I’m running around myself, not really knowing what to do except bite my nails and feeling proud.

Cosplay: A Scandinavian Romance by Thyra Dane
My very first book has been published and I am so excited!

Cosplay: A Scandinavian Romance

Cosplay: A Scandinavian Romance is the story of an American who heads to Europe to meet her online Norwegian friend. Cue hilarious misunderstandings, culture clash, and a surprise big reveal.

How well do you know your online friend?

The cover of Cosplay: A Scandinavian Romance by Thyra Dane

Cosplay: A Scandinavian Romance is for sale through Amazon. It’s on Kindle Unlimited too so you can read it for free if you’re a KU-member.

Cosplay: A Scandinavian Romance is a short story that was originally published in the anthology Love in Bloom. Today is the very first day you can buy it separately.

I’m opening a champagne bottle. Who gets the glasses out? There’s champagne for everyone here!

Amazon US
Amazon UK

I am SOOOO exited right now. My very first short story, Cosplay: a Scandinavian Romance, just went live for pre-order on Amazon!

Cover of the book Cosplay: A Scandinavian Romance by Thyra Dane
Cover of the book Cosplay: A Scandinavian Romance by Thyra Dane

This story was part of the anthology Love in Bloom which was a project to raise money for breast cancer research. Now the anthology project is over and my story is live for pre-order.

I’m also a part of another anthology project. Check out my Viking romance in Kissing and Other Scandalous Pastimes.

Mistaken identity

Cosplay: A Scandinavian Romance is a romantic comedy about two people who are friends online. But online friends are not always what they seem.

Charlotte has one close friend. Unfortunately, that close friend lives in Norway, and Charlotte has never seen her before. A cosplay convention in Oslo is Charlotte’s chance at finally meeting her online BFF, but when the masks come off, Charlotte is in for a big surprise.

Cosplay: A Scandinavian Romance

Cosplay: A Scandinavian Romance is up for pre-order now and will be live on the 29th of February.

Order your copy of Cosplay: A Scandinavian Romance today!

Background

Did you know that a Viking would wonder what you meant if you called them Viking? They used the word viking as something you did—you went viking when you traveled out to fight, conquer and raid—not as something you were.

Today we use the word Viking to describe all Scandinavians who lived between 793 (the attack on Lindisfarne) and 1066 (the battle of Stamford Bridge). Some use rounder dates and say from the year 800 to the end of the 11th century.

Facts – what are our sources?

It may come as a surprise, but we actually know very little about the Vikings compared to, for instance, the ancient Romans.

The Vikings themselves were an oral people. That means all their stories, their tales, their religion and their communication was by mouth. They wrote very little down—at least very little that has survived until today.

Were Viking men feminine and Viking women masculine?

Runes

What they did write down were runes. You may know them as these odd symbols that look vaguely like our letters but are almost impossible to read. The runes were seen as magical and something one made for very special occasions. We have runes that show the birth of Denmark as a nation, we have runes that celebrate people and achievements, runes from thralls who became free men, and runes we just don’t know the meaning of.

What we don’t have are Viking texts of any length that tell us anything about their lives, their history or their religion.

One of two Rune stones that are named the birthstones of Denmark. They tell the story of King Gorm the Old, Queen Thyra Danebod and their son Harald Bluetooth.

Sagas

We do have the Sagas, the 29 Icelandic Sagas, the king Sagas, the religious Sagas and all the other Sagas. They were long and detailed and incredibly interesting tales about the Vikings. Saga means “what is said,” so they are supposed to be a written version of all the oral tales.

The problem with the Sagas we have today is when they were written. The oldest Saga was written in 1120 and most of them were written between 1200 and 1400. That’s quite a lot of years after the Vikings roamed the oceans. The Sagas were written by Christians, but the Vikings only took the new religion fairly late, and a large part of the Vikings believed in the Norse gods.

And even though we have quite a lot of Sagas, historians assume we’ve lost about 90% of them. Many were lost during the Protestant book burnings. We may have lost vital Sagas that could contradict or give light to the Sagas we do have.

Some of our knowledge is based on grave findings

Saxo Grammaticus

We also have another historical source from Scandinavia: Saxo Grammaticus started writing his enormous History of the Danes in 1185 and the Viking age played a central part.

I find Saxo’s stories incredibly interesting, but you must take them with a grain (or a Viking ship) of salt. Some are based on myths, some on oral tales, but they’re all colored by Saxo’s main purpose, which was to write a “heroic tale about the history of the Danes.”

Foreign monks and Arab travelers

There are quite a few contemporary written sources, but none of them were from the Vikings themselves. There are accounts of the doings and sayings of Vikings written by monks and priests from what’s now Great Britain, by Arab travelers who visited Viking settlements, and by people the Vikings were at war with.

Most of these contemporary sources aren’t very flattering to the Vikings. If you have Vikings breathing down your door, threatening death and destruction, you’re hardly going to write an essay to lament on the beauty and strength of the Northern brutes.

The same goes for the Arab travelers. They may not have been enemies of the Vikings, but they did find Viking customs odd and different from their own. That certainly shows in their writings.

Graves and other archeological findings

Our last, but certainly not least, source is everything the archeologists find from the Vikings age. They’ve found graves, ships, remains of houses and cities, clothes, jewelry, and thousands of everyday items that show us a lot about how the Vikings lived.

The problems with all these archeological findings are the lack of information. It’s not like a body in a grave will stand up and say, “Hello, I’m Olaf the Handsome, and I was the Jarl of Kaupang. I have pots and pans in my grave because I made a mean porridge when I was alive. My grave also contains my favorite horse because I’m going to need it in Valhalla.” The graves don’t have gravestones and we often don’t even know if the bodies are men or women.

The archeological findings tell us that Vikings were very busy grooming themselves—they’ve found SO many combs, tweezers, and even instruments to rid their ears of earwax—but they tell us little about who was who and what relation they had to one another.

They’ve found quite a few Viking ships. Either ships that were used as graves or, as with these ships exhibited at the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum in Denmark, ships that were sunk on purpose.

The archeological findings may tell us tales of the people who lived over a 1000 years ago, but the tales need to be interpreted, and those interpretations are often based on the life and prejudices of the interpreter, namely archeologists and historians.

Archeologists have found quite a lot from the Viking age, but what about everything that hasn’t been found? Can we deduct that what hasn’t been found, doesn’t exist? Of course not.

No pants

I was told by a Viking teacher here in Norway (yes, we have teachers who can teach you how to become a Viking) that they’ve never found Viking age pants. They’ve found an older grave—from before the year 793—with a man wearing pants, but they’ve never found any pants in Scandinavia that can be dated from the Viking age. Does that mean Vikings ran around bare-assed? Probably not (I do have a vivid imagination, though, and could imagine it very well!). It’s just that pants have never been found.

Viking reenactors *with* pants

That same teacher told me something fascinating: Men did not remove their upper body clothing when they were hot. They removed whatever they were wearing on their legs. So, all these romance covers with naked male chests should probably have naked butts instead.

Hands up, everyone who agrees!

Blood on the walls. 300 to 500 guests. Three days of partying. Vikings made a blast when they celebrated Midwinter Blot.

Vikings knew how to hold a party

The English word Christmas is closely related to the Christian faith. The Scandinavian word for the same holiday is Jul. The use of that word–or rather Jól–can be traced back to before Christianity came to the North. And back to before the Vikings.

Viking Warrior was a woman

So how did the Vikings celebrate Christmas (or Jól)?

According to this article (in Norwegian) Vikings probably celebrated Jól when the days turned longer–when the gods brought the sun back–and it was celebrated as a blót and a large party.

Blót was a sacrifice of animals. Everyone brought sprigs and sprayed the walls–inside and out–with the blood of the sacrificed animals. People were sprayed too.

Toasts were made to Odin for victory and power, to Njord and Frøy for a good farming year and for peace, and to Brage in the memory of lost friends. Blóts were also held at Midsummer and on other important days.

A more modern celebration; the Fire Festival on the Shetland Islands

The party was probably held by the chieftain who invited all the local farmers to a potluck–everyone brought something to the party–and 300 to 500 people would party for three days.

Meat and beer were central to the party. The meat was boiled on fireplaces at the center of the party and the beer was poured generously.

Why were Vikings superior in battle?

Poems and songs

The Vikings were an oral people. They did not write down their stories, they told them to each other. Parties like Jól would be a perfect time to captivate hundreds of people with tales of the gods and of conquests and great achievements.

Long and great poems would be told of kings, queens, jarls, and chieftains. Music and songs would also be a central part of the party.

The Jól party was probably held around the shortest days and longest nights of the year. In Scandinavia that meant very short days (in some areas to the far north there were no days at all) and very long nights. If one prayed to the gods they might turn the season around and grant longer days again.

We know today that the longer days will come back every Winter, but for the Vikings, there was always the fear of the Fimbulvinter, the harsh Winter that comes before the end of the world.

Do you want to read a Viking romance and support breast cancer research? Check out this great anthology which my Viking romance, The Challenge, is a part of.

Mobility, knowledge, skill and the element of surprise. Those are some of the answers to how the Vikings seem to have won all their battles.

The ships were often built for speed and gave the Vikings a major advantage.

Viking researcher Else Roesdahl answers the question about why Vikings were so superior in battles in this article (in Norwegian).

“Archeological findings and written sources show that Vikings didn’t always win their battles,” she says. “Viking mass graves show that some raids went terribly wrong.”

Surprise attacks were important

Vikings did manage to raid villages, churches, monasteries and cities and one of the main reasons was their surprise attacks. Especially at the beginning of the age of Vikings, the element of surprise was incredibly important.

The Vikings also had a well-developed intelligence service so they knew exactly when and where to strike, according to Else Roesdahl. She uses the attack on Nantes in 843 as an example. Vikings attacked the French city just when it was filled with large crowds of people celebrating John the Baptist.

Heavily armed

The Vikings didn’t always go back to Scandinavia for the Winter but would stay in Europe and attack when the opportunity came. That meant knowing more about the locals and therefore striking when the opportunity arose.

They would use inner conflicts and make their move when a country or a city was weakened by political unrest.

The men and women from the north were heavily armed and very skilled as it was a requirement for all men to learn how to handle their weapons, even if they were farmers and never planned on going to war.

It was also to their advantage that dying in battle was considered an honor and not something to fear.

Curse like a Viking

Read a Viking romance

The Vikings were much more complex than just the raiding wildmen they’re usually portrayed as. This is why I’m so fascinated by them.

You can read my story about Borghild and Eivind–and the battle of Holmgang she challenges him to–in my romance The Challenge.

It’s part of the anthology Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes. All proceeds from Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes go to breast cancer research!

Read more about The Challenge–A Viking Romance

Hair candles? Singing about an Italian saint? Lusekatter? It’s Lucia Day in Scandinavia today.

Every year on December the 13th you’ll see thousands of Scandinavian children (and adults) with white dresses and candles in their hair, singing the Lucia song in schools, kindergartens, and workplaces.

This is in memory of Lucia of Syracusa who suffered the martyr death in year 300. This is kind of odd given that Lucia was a Catholic saint–and the Scandinavian countries are very far from Catholic.

The Lucia song

I don’t think you can find many Scandinavians who can’t sing at least some of the Lucia song–the song we sing in the Lucia procession.

This is the song with Norwegian lyrics:

Why does Norway celebrate Mother’s Day on the wrong day?

Lusekatter

We eat a special kind of buns on Lucia Day; Lusekatter. They’re yellow from saffron, have a special shape and one raisin on each end.

Here is how you make Lusekatter (in Norwegian):

Read more about the Lucia day (Wikipedia)

He broke her nose when they were children. Now he’s telling her to be his wife. Telling her, not asking her.

Borghild meets her childhood friend again. He a Jarl, she’s the woman he left behind.
“His smile? She would force that smile off his mouth, with her sword if necessary. “

Borghild doesn’t have much but she has her honor. The only way to keep it is to challenge Eivind, the new jarl, to a holmgang.

Eivind is home from his long trip abroad. He’s laid claim to the throne, now he needs his childhood friend to marry him. Borghild is as proud as he remembered.

A challenge? Let the battle begin.

This was the blurb from my new short story The Challenge – a Viking Romance.

It’s a part of the great Historical Romance Anthology Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes. Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes has ten wonderful historical romances. All the proceeds go to breast cancer research.

New Historical Romance anthology

You can read all about Borghild and Eivind in my new short story The Challenge in the historical romance anthology Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes. It was published yesterday and, apart from my Viking romance, it has wonderful stories about dukes, Indian princes, and love through the times.

He tells her to marry him. She challenges him to a Holmgang.
“How much time do you need to prepare to fight your future husband?”

Vikings are fascinating

I’ve been fascinated by Vikings since I was a kid. When I grew up in Scandinavia there was always another excavation site, another Viking festival, and a new piece of information uncovered about the proud men and women who roamed these lands 1000 years ago.

What fascinates me the most is how men and women had equally strong roles back then. Both men and women fought–men, probably, more than women–and women carried the keys to the family treasures.

Women could hold important positions. They could also get a divorce–and keep their fortunes when divorced–if their husbands were violent, if he was gone for too long or if he didn’t satisfy her in bed. Actually, the two latter were connected because “being gone for too long” meant “not being there to satisfy her in bed.”

Eivind knows what he wants from Borghild.
“The gods made us as a pair, never to be separated”

Read more about Vikings on my blog

Read this blog for more random tidbits about Vikings–and modern-day Scandinavians.

Did you know that Vikings had sick pay? Do you know how to curse like a Viking? Did you think Vikings were dirty? No, Vikings were actually pretty clean with a weekly day for washing.

Eivind asks all the important questions
“You want to marry me for my cock?”

Follow me on Facebook and get a ton of weird jokes and random information about Vikings and Scandinavia.

Buy Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes now!

All the images are by the lovely Anna Volkin <3

Do you like Viking romances? Of course, you do. Who doesn’t love guys with swords and …

Hold on. In my Viking romance, the heroine holds the sword. Granted, the hero does as well. And they fight eachother.

Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes. Anthology with my very first Viking romance
Order Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes now!

Buy Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes now

What would you do if your Jarl told you to marry him? Would you smile and jump into his bed? Bend your neck and accept your fate?

Borghild Brokennose does neither. She challenges the mighty Eivind Fairhair to a Holmgang.

Will the tall, strong Eivind or the smaller Borghild win the battle for love and honor?

Meet Eivind Fairhair:

“How much time do you need to prepare to fight your future husband?”

Eivind Fairhair

And Borghild Brokennose:

“She would force that smile off his mouth, with her sword if necessary.”

Borghild Brokennose

Buy Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes now

Dukes and Indian princes

I’m so exited about my first Viking romance, but this anthology contains so much more. You’ll get all of this:

  • Victorian dukes
  • Regency rakes and wallflowers
  • Indian princes and palaces
  • Viking jarls and badass shieldmaidens
  • The American Gilded Age
  • And World War II

Buy Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes now

Support breast cancer research

The best part of buying Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes? All the proceeds are donated to breast cancer research!

This anthology is a part of a series of anthologies published by the Romance Cafe. Every dollar, pound, euro or kroner you pay for any of the anthologies, go directly to fund breast cancer research.