Women of the North: feminine ideals in the Viking Age

The feminine beauty ideal in the Viking Age

What was the beauty ideal in the Viking age, and how did women dress for beauty in this time? The last question is best answered by grave-finds. It is likely that Viking women were buried in their finest garments. Two of the most common findings in female Viking graves are brooches and pearls. Brooches were often worn in pairs – one on each shoulder – to secure a robe over the shoulders of the woman. Many of these brooches were incredibly detailed and beautiful, and they were probably made by specialized craftsmen.

Freja (1905), John Bauer
Freja (1905), John Bauer

Pearls were also a very common way to dress up in the Viking age. The pearls could be worn as a necklace, or sewn into the garment. The pearls were made of a bunch of different materials: Stones, metals and amber among many others. Some of the most precious pearl necklaces we know have hundreds of pearls. Pearls and brooches, as well as jewellery in general, were also common among men, who were also back then known to dress up to enhance their beauty.


The highest symbol of a woman’s beauty was neither pearls nor brooches, but hair. The sagas seldom point to details of women’s looks, but when they do, they generally talk about hair. A woman’s hair was seen as a defining trait of her beauty and femininity. Even the hair of goddesses such as Siv, Tor’s wife, was a known kenning for gold. Hair was seen as sexual, and it was normal that married women covered their har, or at least wore it up, when they were in public. In Njåls saga one can read of the Icelandic woman Hallgerd, who successfully uses the power of her hair to her advantage. Hallgerd literally lets her hair down, and walks around the Allthing with her golden locks, knowing full well of the effect it has on the men in her vicinity. As a result, the nobleman Gunnar falls for Hallgerd’s beauty and asks for her hand, despite being warned of the consequences. In other words: Women knew how to wrap men around their little finger, also in the Viking age.


There were of course other, more important ways Viking women could exercise power – such as seid, politics, magic and social pressure.

Beautiful and wise

One of the most common terms of praise in the Viking age for a great woman was “væn og vitr”, which means “beautiful and wise”. For women, to be wise was considered equally important to bring beautiful. Saga-literature contains numerous examples that female wisdom and cleverness was highly valued in Norse society, and that it often saved a potentially dangerous situation. An example of this is the powerful Astrid Olofsdatter, who was queen of Norway, and who on many occasions caused huge political turnarounds due to her cleverness and great human qualities. Queen Astrid was highly regarded, as shown in old poems praising her. Note that queen Astrid’s power is compared to Jesus‘ in the second verse: 

Now I wish to richly describe
With praise to Olav’s daughter
Who wed the great king
For all precious gifts
Met at the Ting at Hangrar
With many men in svea-army 
The time that Astrid in the east 
Spoke for the son of Olav 


At the thing with army
No bigger progress
She wanted for Magnus
If mother to him she was 
Second powerful Christ
Most to that she seemed
That Magnus Haralds land
Was all the way back 


The mild Magnus shoots
Astrid for powerful help
Kingdom grew wide
Man’s friend was this 
The wise women stephson 
Supported like no others; 
With true words I honor
Her, the precious woman.

Frigg (1915), Helen Stratton

Norse mythology is also interesting here, in that it shows that the goddesses, together with the gods, were present during council, and many goddesses were renowned for their wisdom. 

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About the author

Norse Tradition

Norse Tradition is a Norwegian non-profit organization working to promote and convey the rich Norse spiritual tradition. We regularly host lectures, private training and rituals, and retreats centered around seasonal celebrations. We work according to a reconstructive method based on Indo-European syncretism. This means that in order to better understand the Norse heritage and tradition, we see it in the light of its roots in the proto-Indo-European culture.

We do not practice historical reenactment, nor do we intend to invent a modern spiritual practice spiced with Norse words and symbols; we transmit a living tradition. All lectures and rites by Norse Tradition are founded on recognized academia or historical sources of Norse, Vedic, Anglo-Saxon, Greco-Roman, or other Indo-European origin. We are thus not innovators; what we teach and practice has ancient roots. 

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