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Viking Male Necklaces


David Constantine (Northumbria)
It is well known that Vikings loved jewellery graves, hoards and chance finds show us that
various decorative personal items in bronze, silver and gold abounded and that they are found
across the Viking world. In addition to the pins, brooches and such, there is also a (usually)
humbler alternative for the Viking looking to adorn themselves necklaces. In re-enactment
there is a tendency for both male and female pre-Christian Vikings to wear multiple necklaces
with all manner of teeth, beads, amulets etc dangling from them. It is recorded that, at least in
certain Scandinavian cultures, women wore many beads and were used to show off the wealth of
their husbands. However, what about the men? Were they as ostentatious with their wealth when
it came to their own jewellery?
Beads
Beads (usually glass or amber) are one of the most regularly seen additions to necklaces. In the
present day they are plentiful, (relatively) cheap and can easily make up a large visual appealing
necklace. However, the archaeological evidence from graves does not suggest that they were
worn in any great quantity by men1. The majority of Viking male graves with beads have only 1,
2 or 3 beads2, either worn alone or occasionally with a Thors Hammer 3. Finds of more than 3
beads in a male grave are exceptionally rare4. This is quite a long-standing tradition during the
period and can be seen continuously from the Late Iron Age, through the Migration period and
into the Viking Age5.
Given that single beads are frequent finds in male graves 6, it is possible that they fulfilled a role
other than as a necklace. One of the few surviving Viking period tunics known uses a bead as a
neck closure7 and it is possible that the finds of individual or odd beads 8 were used in a similar
manner.

At Kaupang for example, 19 out of 22 female graves contained approximately 214 beads, yet only 1 in 3 (18/60)
males graves contained beads and the total was only 50 (Heyerdahl-Larsen 1999, p59)
2
e.g. Graves 4 and 5 (1 & 2 beads) at Cumwhitton, Cumbria (Paterson et al 2014, p94 & 106) and 3 beads at
Balnekeil (Batey & Paterson 2012, p634) from Britain, Hemla (1 bead in Grave 1) and 3 beads from a burial
Karlsnes in Iceland (Zugaiar 2012, p26 & 42)
3
The grave at Repton had a Thors Hammer found with a pair of beads (Biddle Kjlbye-Biddle 1992, p48-49)
4
Grave 3 from Cumwhitton had a necklace of 7 beads and 3 silver rings (Paterson et al 2014, p82). However this is
(as far as I know) unique and with no evidence to suggest it wasnt a one off ritual deposit
5
See the table of male grave finds in (Petr, 1993)
6
(Duczko 2004, p92)
7
(Lvlid 2009) p97

Written for the members of the The Vikings! re-enactment society (http://www.vikingsonline.org.uk/).
Copyright 2014 David Constantine.
Revision 1 (11/11/14)

The overwhelming majority of found beads are glass. While other materials such as amber or jet
may have been used they are rare finds.
Fig 1: The beads from the young male grave at Balneikeil.
(image: http://www.nms.ac.uk/)
The large bead in the bottom right could be to close the neck of a
tunic rather than be part of the necklace.

Amulets and pendants


There are many pendants that can fall under this category, but the majority of finds are Thors
Hammers. While evidence for male necklaces is sparse in general9, where pendants are found,
the Thors Hammer seems to be the most frequently worn10.
Other examples that have been found are crosses, miniature strike-a-lights, scythes and weapons
(small axe heads etc). However in total these other amulet types have only been found in fewer
than 20 graves, so it does not appear that they were at all common11. The perforated coins and
other possible amulets that are occasionally found in female graves also appear to be lacking in
male graves.
Even once Scandinavia had largely converted to Christianity, the wearing of necklaces (and
particularly amulets) was a predominantly female action. In Birka, only a single grave out of the
excavated 1100 contained the body of a man that could be associated with a cross pendant 12, and
a study of male and female graves found only that in a group of 36 amulets attributed to male
graves only 2 were crosses13.

E.g. Balnekeil, where a blue bead was found in addition to two amber beads (Batey) and Skamby where the burial
had a single red bead (Rundkvist & Williams 2008, p84)
9
(Jensen, 2010) the survey used anatomical and grave-good evidence to determine the gender of 136 graves, of
these only 15 were male.
10
(Jensen 2010, p107 and table 5.2.10) however, as noted previously, the sample is quite small.
11
ibid
12
(Jesch, 2003) p22
13
(Jensen, 2010) table 5.2.10

Written for the members of the The Vikings! re-enactment society (http://www.vikingsonline.org.uk/).
Copyright 2014 David Constantine.
Revision 1 (11/11/14)

Fig. 2 (left): Silver Thors


hammer from grave 750 at
Birka. Along with a cross this
was found in the double burial
of a man and a woman.
(image: http://mis.historiska.se/)
Fig 3 (right): The front and rear
of the filigree cross found with
the Thors hammer in Birka
grave 750.
(image: Arbman, 1940, pl 103
1B & 1b)

Neck-rings
Evidence for the wearing of neck-rings is somewhat sketchy when compared even to necklaces.
Certainly there are plenty of them known from across Western Europe during the period and they
may be made from bronze, silver or gold, but the majority are found in hoards though and have
no evidence for whoever wore them.
Documentary evidence certainly suggests that women wore them14 and there is some
archaeological evidence to support this. However, that evidence is missing from male graves 15.
In short, there appears to be no direct evidence to show that men wore neck-rings.
Cords and chains
Even rarer than pendants themselves are the cords used to wear them. The evidence from graves
would suggest that most of the pendants (if not all) were suspended on a perishable organic cord
rather than a metal chain 16.
Conclusions
The evidence from male Viking burials would suggest that necklaces were not commonly worn
by men17.
Small amounts of necklace components are found, but very rarely are multiples of the same class
found. Therefore a Viking might wear a Thors Hammer, but not usually an axe head pendant
alongside a miniature scythe and Thors Hammer. The exceptions to this are beads, and two or
14

(Jesch, 2003) p120


E.g. (Petr, 1993) tables on pages 152-153 show that while neck rings are present in female graves during the
Migration, Vendel and Viking periods, no male graves in his survey have any neck rings. While this is just a small
sample from one area, I could not find a single male Viking grave with a neck ring.
16
As with neck-rings there appears to be no examples of pendants found in male contexts that were attached to wire
chains, trichinopoly etc, any time such metalwork was mentioned it either accompanied a female skeleton in a
double burial or was associated with clothing trim.
17
(Grslund, 1992) p191.
15

Written for the members of the The Vikings! re-enactment society (http://www.vikingsonline.org.uk/).
Copyright 2014 David Constantine.
Revision 1 (11/11/14)

three beads worn with an amulet pendant would not seem out of place. However, large strings of
beads are not found and more than 3 beads together is exceptionally rare (see footnote 4).
One element that is apparently completely absent from male Viking necklaces is an organic
component. There are no records of perforated antler tines, animal teeth, carved bone pendants or
anything similar 18. Skeletal materials tend to survive quite well (as testified by the presence of
skeletons in graves and artefacts such as combs), so there is no reason to believe this should be
taken as anything other than demonstrating a lack of utilisation of such objects.
Another element that is absent is the wearing of touchstones, or pendant whetstones. While
there are many perforated examples of these objects, there is no solid evidence to suggest that
they were worn around the neck rather than on a belt. In fact, in archaeological reports and
various surveys of such items19, any time the position of a stone in the grave is mentioned, it is
around the waist as if hanging from a belt. This is not to say that a hone or touchstone was never
worn around the neck for ease, but if so it was seemingly a purely practical action with no
decorative function or amuletic overtones i.e. the stone should not be worn as part of a necklace
assemblage. The same also applies to the wearing of small knives on a cord around the neck;
none appear to have been found, but as a practical possibility it cannot be discounted.
So while it is true that Viking women did indeed wear many beads and it has even been recorded
that the use of neck adornments was a display of the wealth of their husband 20, the men tended to
not wear very much in the way of necklaces.
An acceptable necklace for a male Viking should be considered as something comprising no
more than 2-3 beads and possibly an amulet suspended on a leather or textile cord. Certainly the
massive multi-bead necklaces strung with teeth, antler tines, pendants etc, and massive
decorative hammers worn on silver chains have no provenance in the archaeological record and
there is no apparent written evidence or depictions of such things being worn by men.
Bibliography
Arbman, H., 1940. Birka 1: Die Grber, Tafeln. Stockholm, Sweden, Almquist & Wiksell
Internat.
Batey, C., and Paterson, C., 2012. A Viking burial at Balnakeil, Sutherland. In Reynolds, A. &
Webster, L. (eds.) Early Medieval Art and Archaeology in the Northern World: Studies in
Honour of James Graham-Campbell. Series: Northern World (58). Brill, Leiden, Netherlands,
pp. 631-659.
18

In particular the practise of wearing boars tusks appears to be totally incorrect for Vikings (Constantine, 2014)
e.g. Jeek 2013 and Hansen 2009
20
(Jesch, 2003) p120
19

Written for the members of the The Vikings! re-enactment society (http://www.vikingsonline.org.uk/).
Copyright 2014 David Constantine.
Revision 1 (11/11/14)

Biddle, M., & Kjlbye-Biddle, B. (1992). Repton and the Vikings. Antiquity , 66, 36-51.
Constantine, D., 2014. Excuse me Sir, but you appear to be a cross-dressing horse (a discussion
of Viking warriors and boar tusk necklaces). [Blog] Halldor the Viking. Available at:
http://halldorviking.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/excuse-me-sir-but-you-appear-to-be-a-crossdressing-horse/ [Accessed: 11/11/14].
Duczko, W., 2004. Viking Rus: Studies on the Presence of Scandinavians in Eastern Europe.
Brill, Leiden, Netherlands
Ewing, T., 2006. Viking clothing. Stroud, Tempus
Grslund, A.S., 1992. "Thor's hammers, pendant crosses and other amulets" in Roesdahl E &
Wilson D.M (eds). From Viking to Crusader: The Scandinavians and Europe 800-1200.New
York, Rizzoli. pp. 190-191.
Hansen, S.C.J., 2009. Whetstones from Viking Age Iceland - As part of the Trans-Atlantic trade
in basic commodities. Unpublished MA Thesis
Heyerdahl-Larsen, B., 1999. Perler. Tilvirkning, proveniens in; Blindheim, C., HeyerdahlLarsen, B., & Ingstad, A. S. (eds) Kaupang-Funnene. Underskelsene 1950-1957, Bind 2, Bind
2. Oslo, Universitetets Kulturhistoriske Museer, Oldsaksamlingen.
Jensen, B., 2010, Viking Age Amulets in Scandinavia and Western Europe. Oxford: B.A.R.
International Series
Jesch, J. 2003. Women in the Viking age. Woodbridge, Suffolk, Boydell Press.
Jeek, M., 2013 Touchstones of Archaeology in: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology,
Issue 32:4, p713-731
Lvlid, D.H., 2009. Nye tanker om Skjoldehamnfunnet. Unpublished MA Thesis
Paterson, C., Parsons, A. J., Newman, R. M., Johnson, N., & David, C. H., 2014. Shadows in the
sand: excavation of a Viking-age cemetery at Cumwhitton, Cumbria.
Petr, B., 1993. Male and Female Finds and Symbols in Germanic Iron Age Graves in Current
Swedish Archaeology 1, p149-154
Rundkvist, M & Williams, H., 2008. A Viking boat grave with gaming pieces excavated at
Skamby, stergtland, Sweden. in Medieval Archaeology 52, p69-102

Written for the members of the The Vikings! re-enactment society (http://www.vikingsonline.org.uk/).
Copyright 2014 David Constantine.
Revision 1 (11/11/14)

Zugaiar, A., 2012. The orientation of pagan graves in Viking Age Iceland. Unpublished MA
Thesis

Written for the members of the The Vikings! re-enactment society (http://www.vikingsonline.org.uk/).
Copyright 2014 David Constantine.
Revision 1 (11/11/14)