Primary History

Vikings: Vikings at home

  • Viking farms

    Most people lived on farms. Farmers used iron tools, such as sickles and hoes. They grew oats, barley and wheat, and ground the grain to make flour, porridge and ale. Vikings grew vegetables such as onions, beans and cabbages. Their farm animals included pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, geese and chickens. They used manure from the animals to keep the soil fertile. In autumn, farmers killed some animals because there was not enough food to feed them all through winter.

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  • Viking houses

    Viking houses were built of wood, stone or blocks of turf - depending on local materials. The houses were long box-shapes with sloping thatched or turf roofs. The walls were made of wattle (woven sticks, covered with mud to keep out the wind and rain). The floor of a Viking house was often dug below ground-level; perhaps this helped keep out draughts.

    Most houses had just one room for a family to share. Rich people's farmhouses might have a small entrance hall, a large main room, a kitchen, a bedroom and a store room. In a Viking town, houses were crowded close together along narrow streets.

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  • What did the Vikings wear?

    Vikings wore clothes similar to those of people in England, Scotland and Wales at this time. Men wore tunics and trousers. Women wore long dresses, with a kind of long apron. Clothes were made from wool, linen and animal skins. Mostly people dressed to keep warm!

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  • Food and Drink

    From bones, seeds and other food remains at Viking sites, we know they ate meat from farm animals, and from wild animals that they hunted, and collected foods such as berries and nuts. They cooked meat in a big stew-pot over the fire, or roasted it on an iron spit. Fish and meat were smoked or dried to preserve it. Viking bread was made from rye or barley flour. They used milk mostly to make cheese and butter, then drank the buttermilk left over.

    At a feast, guests drank ale and mead (a strong drink made from honey). People drank out of wooden cups or drinking horns (made from cow-horns). Feasts were held to mark funerals and seasonal festivals, such as midwinter. Some feasts lasted over a week!

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  • Daily life

    Jobs such as collecting wood for the fire, weaving cloth and baking bread took up a lot of time. Vikings did not have much furniture - perhaps a wooden table and benches for sitting on and sleeping on.

    There were no bathrooms in Viking homes. Most people probably washed in a wooden bucket, or at the nearest stream. Instead of toilets, people used cess-pits - holes outside dug for toilet waste. The pit was usually screened by a fence. Slimy muddy cess-pits have been found by archaeologists studying the remains of the Viking town of Jorvik (modern York).

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Fun Facts
  • Vikings made vegetable dyes from plants to colour their clothes: blue (from the woad plant), red (from madder) and yellow (from weld).

  • Vegetables in Viking times were smaller than those we eat, more like wild plants. Viking carrots were dark-purple not orange

  • Viking women usually covered their hair with a scarf, but girls went bare-headed.

  • It was thought very un-cool for a Viking man to show too much bare chest!

  • Women and men fastened their clothes with thongs (ties) and brooches - no zips!

  • Viking traders from Iceland sold dried fish to Vikings in Britain.

  • Family possessions were kept in wooden chests, locked with padlocks.

  • Wooden cups and spoons were used for everyday meals.

  • A drinking horn would not stand up - people had to keep passing it round and drinking, until it was empty.

  • Pigs were killed in autumn in the 'Bloodmonth'. Pig meat was smoked to make hams, to last through winter.

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-S | T-Z

A to D

ale
A strong drink made from barley.
amber
Hardened tree sap, used to make jewellery.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
A history of England begun in the 800s.
archaeologist
A person who finds out about the past by looking at old objects or buildingsthat are buried under the ground.
blacksmith
Another name for a smith. A worker who makes things of metal, usually iron.
blood-feud
An argument between two families that involves fighting or killings.
brooch
Ornament used to fasten clothing.
buttermilk
Watery liquid left over when butter is made from milk.
carving
A design cut out of wood.
charm
A magical object or words, to protect a person from harm.
chieftain
The leader of a village or small group of people.
Christian
A person who follows the religion taught by Jesus Christ.
colonize
A settlement founded in one country by people from another country.
compass
A device for finding direction (east, west, north, south).
conquer
To beat an enemy and control them using force.
Danelaw
The area of England ruled by the Vikings.
descendants
People who are related to earlier people, in a direct line.
dragon-ship
Another name for a longship.

E to G

explorer
Someone who travels to unfamiliar places to discover new things.
feast
A special meal for a large group of people.
figurehead
A carved wooden piece at the front of a ship.
Freeman
A person who is not a slave and free to choose who he or she worked for.

H to L

helmet
Hat made of leather or iron worn by a soldier to protect his head.
hoard
A hidden treasure, usually buried in the soil.
jet
A kind of black stone used to make jewellery.
keel
Long wooden bottom part of a ship, that gives it strength.
invaders
People who try to take over land from other people.
landmark
A natural feature that helps a traveller find his way, such as a mountain, a rock, an island, or a group of trees.
launch
To put a new ship in the water.
longship
A Viking ship with a sail and oars. Sometimes called dragon-ship. A Viking ship with a sail and oars. Sometimes called dragon-ship.

M to O

mail coat
Armour made from chain mail (metal rings), worn like a shirt.
manure
Animal waste such as dung put on soil to make it fertile for crops.
mast
Tall wooden pole from which a ship's sail is hung.
merchant
A trader, someone who buys and sells things.
monastery
The building where monks live.
norse myths
Stories told by the Vikings about gods and goddesses, giants and strange creatures.

P to S

pagan
A person who believed in many gods.
raven
A large black bird of the crow family.
rivets
Bits of metal hammered into holes to join ship planks or metal sheets together.
runes
The name given to the Viking alphabet.
settlement
An area where people live.
shield
A large piece of wood or metal held in one arm for protection in battle.
sickle
A curved knife used for cutting grain stalks at harvest time.
slave
A person who is not free but is treated as someone else's property.
smith
A worker who makes things of metal, usually iron.
spices
Plants such as pepper which can be used to flavour and preserve foods.
spinning
Twisting and drawing out sheep wool into long thin thread.
spit
In cooking, a rod or stick on which meat is stuck to roast over a fire.

T to Z

thatched
A roof covered in straw.
Thing
An open-air meeting where Vikings gathered to discuss the law.
trader
A person who sells goods.
turf
A layer of grass cut with roots and soil, that can be used to roof a house.
walrus ivory
The tusk, or sticking-out tooth, of a walrus (a large sea mammal), which can be carved.
weaving
Making cloth on a machine called a loom.