The Oseberg Tapestry And Other Artifacts Show Strong Colors Were A Viking Symbol Of Status And Wealth

Ellen Lloyd - - If you were a Viking warrior you didn’t paint your shield with just any color. Picking the right color was not a matter of taste. It was a decision based on careful selection because color revealed a Viking’s status and wealth.

Strong Colors Were A Viking Symbol Of Status And Wealth

 Credit: Adobe Stock: Fotokvadrat

Rich Vikings liked to show off using certain colors as a symbol of their high place in society. Based on old paint remnants, a Danish chemist and a conservator have managed to recreate a palette of 17 beautiful and magnificent colors used by the Vikings to emphasize their high status.

Strong colors were popular because they were rare and therefore used to symbolize status.

Chemist Mads Christian Christensen and conservator Line Bregnhøi from the National Museum in Copenhagen and examined a piece of wood from a church built in Hørning in Denmark around 1060. After so many years, the colors were not visible to the naked eye, and therefore chemical analyzes were required to recreate them.

Red And Yellow Were A Viking Symbol Of Status And Wealth

The red and yellow shades are derived from minerals that are not found in Denmark, but in Spain and Turkey, among others.

Strong Colors Were A Viking Symbol Of Status And Wealth

Hørningplankan, a piece of wood examine to discover the importance of Viking colors. Credit: National Museum of Copenhagen

The mineral arsenic sulphide is used to produce yellow colors, and it can be obtained in countries like Germany and Turkey. The red color is made from cinnober, which comes from Spain.  Researchers think that such minerals must have been expensive because they had to be transported a long way to Scandinavia. Colors like red and yellow were only used by rich people who could afford them. Importation of expensive minerals must have been a lucrative business.

Strong Colors Were A Viking Symbol Of Status And Wealth

The seventeen colors from the Viking era. Credit: National Museum Of Copenhagen

Researchers believe that because of the cost, it’s unlikely more than minor details were highlighted with these colors.

Researchers have so far identified 17 colors used by Vikings and they hope they can discover more in the near future. It’s an important discovery because it gives us a better understanding of what the Viking society looked like.

Scientists have also learned plenty about the importance of colors from artifacts discovered Oseberg burial in Norway.

"The magnificent Oseberg ship was used as a burial ship for two Viking women who died in 834. A burial chamber was dug right behind the ship's mast. Inside, the walls were decorated with fantastic woven tapestries and the dead women lay on a raised bed.

The women had a number of burial gifts with them. There were personal items such as clothes, shoes and combs, ship's equipment, kitchen equipment, farm equipment, three ornate sledges, five carved animal heads, five beds, and two tents. There were fifteen horses, six dogs, and two small cows. A remarkable collection of wooden and textile artifacts were left behind and the colors are striking.

The Oseberg tapestry tapestry is poorly preserved, but it is clear that it was a long, narrow (20–23 centimeters wide) strip that probably was meant to hang on a wall. It is made from wool dyed different colors, mainly red,
yellow, and black.

The Oseberg Tapestry

A fragment of a tapestry from the Oseberg grave in Vestfold, Norway. Credit: irik I. Johnsen/Kulturhistorisk museum - CC BY-SA 2.0

The Oseberg tapestry portrays a procession of two rows of horses with knotted tails. Three of the horses pull carts, one of which contains two people, apparently women. Scholars have speculated whether they represent the two women buried in the Oseberg burial (with a cart among their grave goods), and whether the tapestry was specially made to portray the burial procession. The procession in the tapestry also features a large number of men and women walking.

The women wear long dresses with trains and cloaks, and some of them carry spears, as do many of the
men. Their hair appears to be stuffed into bulging headdresses.³°
In their attire, the women on the Oseberg tapestry are reminiscent of the valkyries welcoming slain warriors to Valhalla as portrayed on the Gotland picture stones. On these stones, many women do not have their hair hidden by headdresses, but have let it down, as Ermengard is reported to have done when Earl Ragnvald visited her in Narbonne.

The valkyries of the picture stones serve food and drink to the dead warriors, and their having let their hair down may suggest sexual availability. Some women portrayed on picture stones hold drinking horns in their hands, as does a small silver figure of a woman found in Birka; they have been interpreted as valkyries serving drink to dead warriors arriving at Valhalla. The warriors typically arrive by horse. Sometimes they ride a horse with eight legs, suggesting that they are so important that the ruler of Valhalla, Odin, has sent his own
eight-legged horse, Sleipner, to pick them up. Such picture stones often depict ships." 1

All these discoveries and studies are important as they give us a better idea of Vikings decorated their objects and how they perceived different colors.

Written by - Ellen Lloyd –

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