What was life like in Viking Britain?

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1. The Viking way of life

The Vikings were not all bloodthirsty raiders. Some came to fight, but others came to Britain to live peacefully.

Their longships brought families who settled in villages. There were farmers, who kept animals and grew crops, and skilful craft workers, who made beautiful metalwork and wooden carvings. Everyone lived together in a large home called a ‘longhouse’.

The Vikings also brought with them their way of life and beliefs. The Norse people worshipped many gods and loved to tell stories of magic and monsters around the fire.

2. What was life like for a Viking family?

Click on each of the Viking family members to find out more about their life

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3. What jobs did Vikings do?

Everything had to be done by hand on a Viking farm, so life was tough. Farmers grew oats, barley and wheat. Then they ground the grain to make flour, porridge and ale. They planted vegetables too, and kept animals like cows, sheep, pigs and chickens.

Other Vikings were craft workers. They made the things that people needed. Woodworkers and leatherworkers made plates, cups, belts and shoes. Jewellers made rings and brooches from precious metals. Blacksmiths hammered and twisted red-hot iron into tools, knives and swords. Potters baked clay pots in an oven heated by wood fires.

People took these goods to market to sell. Here a family could buy anything from amber beads and apples, to walrus tusks and wolf-skins. Viking traders sold their goods even further away. They sailed the seas to buy silver, silk, spices and furs to bring back home.

4. What was it like inside a longhouse?

Many Viking families lived together in a longhouse. This was built from wood or stone and had a thatched or turf roof on top. Click on the labels to find out more about what was inside.

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With just one room for all the family to share with their animals, a longhouse would have been a crowded and smelly place to live. There was no bathroom inside, but the Vikings kept clean by washing in a wooden bucket or beside a stream. Instead of toilets, people used a cesspit, which was a hole outside dug for toilet waste.

5. What did the Vikings believe?

The Vikings loved to tell myths and legends about their gods.

Find out more about what the Vikings believed

6. Did the Vikings have laws?

The Norse people had their own laws and government. The community would gather together at a meeting called a ‘Thing’. Here they would settle problems and make decisions.

People could vote on what should happen. For example, the Thing might decide who owned a piece of land or how to punish a criminal. All this was overseen by a chieftain or a judge known as a ‘law-speaker’.

Viking laws were not written down, so laws were passed from person to person by word of mouth. People who broke the law became 'outlaws'. They were forced to live in the wilderness and anyone was allowed to hunt them down and kill them.

Vikings could also settle arguments with a fight. They held a type of duel, known as a ‘Holmgang’. Whoever won the duel was seen as being favoured by the gods.

7. What was Viking society like?

At the top of Viking society was the king. He was the most powerful person in all the land and everyone looked up to him.

Being a king cost a lot of money, because they had to make sure their kingdom was safe and that their followers were loyal to them.

Below the king were the nobles or wealthy Vikings known as ‘jarls’. They were rich landowners or traders and they employed men to work for them.

Then there were the ‘karls’. They were the everyday people and did jobs like farming and craft work. Karls weren't as rich or important as the jarls, but they weren't poor either.

At the bottom of the pile were the 'thralls' or slaves. They did the hardest, dirtiest jobs and if they tried to run away they could be killed. However, if thralls could earn enough money they could buy their freedom.