How was Viking society organized?
About Viking's life
Most cultures have a standard of beauty, and Vikings were no different. Blonde hair was preferred. Men and women used strong soap containing lye to bleach their hair, including the men’ s beards. Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, a tenth-century Arab traveler, called the Vikings “the filthiest of God’ s creatures. ” But at least wealthier Vikings were known for their cleanliness. Tweezers, razors, combs, and ear-cleaning tools made from animal bones and antlers have been found at excavation sites.
Viking men wore jackets and pants. Women wore dresses. Both wore a long cloak fastened at one or both shoulders over their clothes. (Cloaks fashioned over one shoulder made it easier to carry and use a weapon. ) Wealthier people wore silver or gold brooches on their cloaks. Shoes were made of calf or goatskin. Vikings wore skates or spikes on their feet to cross ice-covered surfaces in winter.
Women married young, as young as twelve years old, but still held some rights, more right than in many other cultures. They could inherit property, request a divorce, and get their dowry back after a divorce. Historians generally believe women were not soldiers, though some legends relate stories of women warriors called shield maidens.Viking society was organized by families and clans. Clans lived in villages or towns. Several families often lived together in long wooden houses with thatched roofs. Families worked together to accumulate wealth and protect the interest of the clan. Chieftains were chosen from powerful families to rule over the clan.
THRALLS, KARLS, JARLS, AND THINGS
The Vikings had a rigid class system. Thralls were of the lowest class. They were captured in raids, sentenced to slavery through crimes, or were working to pay off debts. Thralls enjoyed few rights even after they were freed.
Karls were people of the middle class. They were farmers, artisans, traders, and soldiers. Unlike a thrall, a karl could own land, a mark of true wealth. A karl could attain enough wealth, land, and status to become a jarl. Jarls were the most powerful Vikings. They held much land and demanded tribute from people living in their region. Karls gave jarls support willingly in times of war and foreign expeditions, for jarls were the ones who provided ships for trading or raiding parties. A few jarls were able to defeat rivals and achieve status as kings. Scandinavians also had a highly developed legal system, perhaps the most democratic in the world at that time. An assembly called the thing allowed the community to reach decisions on matters by voting. All freemen could participate. The thing was also a place to settle disputes and try people for crimes. Sometimes two people at odds settled by fighting to the death. Guilty people could also be banished from the community, becoming exiles who by law could be killed on sight.
Such a developed civilization does not correlate with the Viking savage barbarian stereotype. But Viking raiders did not turn to pillaging for arbitrary reasons. Rather, historians believe Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish warriors were probably prompted to undertake raids by a combination of factors including overpopulation at home, a shortage of land, and the helplessness of victims abroad.