Women Rights in Viking Societies

The topic of women’s rights in Viking societies allowed the emergence of the biggest prejudices regarding human history. Between the 8th and 12th century A.D. people inhabiting northern Europe in the areas of today’s Denmark, Norway and Sweeden engaged into the series of conquest in their attempt to acquire wealth. Due to their skill and brutality in battles that encompassed the destroying of religious buildings and objects, most of the angry Christian considered them for uncivilized barbarians. It is why uninformed people would assume that they treated women with the same cruelty. However, the truth is exactly the opposite. Scandinavian ladies held the absolute prevalence when it comes to the question of women’s rights in human history. Positions females enjoyed in Viking societies could, even after more than a thousand years, easily beat multiple modern states which are very repressive in the treatment of women.


The Vikings: A New History

Here are some astonishing facts regarding women rights in Viking societies:

  • Women had right on private property.
  • Women engaged in the process of choosing a husband and were entitled to refuse a family’s choice.
  • Laws allowed Viking women to initiate a divorce and leave her husband.
  • Females in Viking societies could advance to high ranks without having a man at their side.
  • Ladies were warriors too and they participated in many raids as both followers, nurses, hunters, cooks, and brothers in arms.

Marriage Waters – Choice and Divorce


Divorce Was one of the options for women in Viking societies

Divorce a Viking

When it comes to marriages, it was common for a girl aged around 12-15 to enter the union. Choosing the groom was a matter in the hands of the woman’s family. However, contrary to the rest of the world, the girl had a word in the discussion and was able to decline a man if she felt like it. In addition to this, they were also allowed to divorce and ask their dowries back. If a woman wanted to initiate a divorce, she needed witnesses. They would enter inside the bedroom where the woman would declare that the man she was in union with is no longer her husband. However, even for Viking ladies, things weren’t so smooth either. There were multiple conditions that had to be settled in order for a divorce request to be successful.

Marriage Rules and Divorce Conditions

Although women in these parts of the world had greater rights than anywhere else, they were still below a man. When it comes to marriage, Viking ladies had to be loyal. If adultery was proven, females suffered severe punishments. In some tribes, if a man was to catch his wife with a lover while committing adultery he had a legal right of killing them both. On the other hand, the husband was allowed to have mistresses and was even able to bring them into the house. The legal wife would have authority over them. Even then, laws around the areas of today’s Norway, Scandinavia, and Denmark were featured by very little tolerance when it comes to violence over women.

Anti-Violence Policies

In modern times severe consequences ensuing from punching women are present on a global scale, especially in developed countries. However, a thousand years back in places like England, France, or Rome, if a man was to punch his wife it wasn’t even considered for an offense but rather a private matter. However, when it comes to Norsemen(another name for Vikings) and their countries if a man punched his wife more than three times she would be granted an immediate divorce.

Being Left Alone and Unsatisfied

Leaving women alone meant consequences. If a male who went on some expedition would be absent for long periods of time due to his decision to settle somewhere else, his wife had a right to divorce. Still, there was a little catch. Breaking union apart was possible only if a man neglected to go to bed with his wife for three years. This way, the proof of the lady’s honesty through solitude was provided.

Sudden Poverty

Another eligible reason for divorce was sudden poverty in the husband’s family. This was mostly present in higher social circles. Neither did rich born ladies, nor their parents wanted to see the branch of their reputable family being stomped by poverty. In addition to this, many marriages were, as well as in the rest of the world, based on interests. That is why Norsemen made laws to protect their marriage investments.

Remarrying – Widows and Divorced ladies

Remarrying was a normal occurrence in Viking societies. There were many recorded cases of both widowed and divorced ladies finding a new groom willing to enter into union with them.

Marriage Contract – Kids and Property

In advance to every marriage, a contract would be created. Its content would define the divorce outcome in both the sphere of properties and custody over children. Younger kids would go with mother while older kids, according to the agreement, would most of the times, be equally split along parents and relatives.

Gender Roles

Viking Warriors Charging

Viking Warriors – a job for male population

The man was head of the house, but the woman was in charge of managing the household. Cooking, sewing, raising the children and other similarities were in the area of a female’s main focus. In towns, women also worked with crafts. Archaeological discoveries have proven that the production of textiles was reserved for women. The managing of the household was more than that. It encompassed high influence on husbands who, as it is expected from men, did the fighting, hunting, farming, and trading.

Social Status and Private Property

In the absence of the husband, the full authority would be passed on the woman who would then be treated as an equal to man. In the case of a husband’s death, the lady of the house would inherit everything he possessed. If a deceased man was managing some business, the wife would become an eligible business owner allowed to do as she pleased.

High Social Ranks

Women were able to achieve high social ranks. This is a fact confirmed through archeological discoveries of graves which, together with the female remains, found the house keys which symboli\e the main role of managing a property. In some cases, besides keys, great treasurers were acquired within the tombs implying that self-managing women were able to acquire great wealth through their entrepreneurship.

Women Warriors

Many historians believed that women couldn’t be Vikings as the term referred to men who participated in the raids regardless of their origin tribe. This is far from the truth. It is a fact that not too many women were capable of being warriors, but there were more than a few recorded cases of ladies participating in battlefield clashes and proving the opposite. One of these examples was a battle against Bulgarians that took place in 971 A.D. Women were fighting on the side of the Varangian Vikings.

Ragnar and Shieldmaiden

The Saga of the Volsungs: With the Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok (Hackett Classics)

Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus recorded some information about the communities of “shieldmaidens”. This group consisted of women who devoted themselves to mastering war skills. On battlefields, they were dressed as men. Their main weapon was sword though some of them, the stronger ones, used long axes. Shieldmaidens were very skilled with bows and arrows too. Around 300 of these shieldmaidens held the field in the Battle of Brávellir in the mid-eighth century. The most famous lady-warrior was Lagertha, who fought alongside the famous Viking Ragnar Lothbrok in a battle against the Swedes. According to some of the historical records, Ragnar was astonished by her courage to the degree that he sought and won her hand in marriage.

Women in the Mythology

Freja – Viking Goddess

Despite being oppressed in most parts of the world, as goddesses, women had high positions in mythologies of every known culture. They were associated with wisdom, war, fertility, luck as well as death. Viking tribes were no exception.

Freyja – Goddess of Many

In Norse mythology, Freyja is a goddess associated with love, beauty, fertility, gold. By some features, this diety is equalized with Odin himself. According to folk tales Freyja ruled over her heavenly field, Fólkvangr. It was the place where she acquired half of those who die in battle. The rest was going to Valhalla – Odin’s Hall. The fact of Vikings had a goddess that claimed a full half of the prize implies of importance women had to them in the old times.

Life and Death Were Ladies Choice – Valkyries

According to Norse mythology, Valkyries were the choosers of the slain. They decided who dies and who gets to live on a battlefield. They had a right to pick half of the soldiers fallen in battle and bring them to Odin’s hall while the rest was reserved for Freyja. Sometimes, they appear as lovers of great heroes and other mortals who had some kind of different significance to their tribe.

Disadvantages of Viking Women

As can already be seen, ladies had a prominent role in Viking societies. However, there were many disadvantages they faced:

  • A Woman was below man.
  • Females could not appear in court.
  • Females had to be faithful to their husbands which were allowed to bring mistresses to their homes. If a woman was caught in the act of cheating she could be killed.
  • Despite being in a better position than the rest of the women at that time, they still had to endure a certain degree of violence(three punches) before being able to divorce.


Regardless of not being perfect when it comes to treating women, Scandinavian folks were, during old times, true gentlemen. As such, they deserve to be unchained from prejudices that represent then in the context of barbarians. Other groups of people that are unjustly show as brutal towards women are true Muslims. Due to a widespread fact revealing pieces of information, the questions of how men should treat women according to Islam are now available.

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