Vikings loved jewelry. Both Norse men and women wore jewelry, with rings most common. But Viking rings weren’t like the rings we know today. Rather than small rings worn on fingers, Viking rings wore bulkier rings on the arm. These arm rings played a significant role in the day-to-day life of the typical Viking. Viking arm rings: why did Norsemen wear them? Read on to learn more about this significant jewelry.
Vikings wore arm rings for various reasons. Men and women wore them to enhance their appearance and display wealth and status. Vikings also used jewelry as a form of currency. Most Viking bracelets were plain and unornamented. Arm rings were made to break easily so the wearer could pull off pieces called hacksilver to trade for goods.
Viking rings weren’t just for fashion and trade. They also showed fealty. A Viking’s word was everything. Many Vikings would have rather perished than break a promise. Vikings considered a person who broke their word dishonorable and weak-willed and shunned them from society.
Word alone was binding, but Norsemen and Norsewomen could fortify their oaths by attaching them to sacred items, like their axes, deities, or jewelry. There are several accounts of the Norse using armlets to solidify treaties, most notably in 941 with the Byzantines and in 867 with King Alfred. In the latter case, the Viking King Guthrum broke the promise he swore on the ring and attacked King Alfred’s men. Soon after, he lost around 200 ships and 5,000 men in a storm and suffered a humiliating defeat in battle.
Another common purpose for armbands was the coming of age ritual. Traditionally, male Viking children received arm rings as gifts to symbolize becoming a man. When a boy received an arm ring, he was no longer considered a child and could join his brothers on their adventures pursuing wealth and glory.
Finally, Viking arm rings also had sentimental meaning. Viking men spent a lot of time away from home. It wasn’t unusual for them to spend months away from their wives and children. To show their love and commitment to their wives, Viking husbands made beautifully engraved armbands for their wives to wear. These armbands were their way of saying, “I am loyal to you, and I hope you will be loyal to me even while I am away.”
So, why did Norsemen wear Viking arm rings? For a wide variety of reasons! Vikings used armbands as fashionable accessories, as currency, and as meaningful symbols of growth and commitment. Their many uses are what made arm rings so important in Viking society.
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