Viking Age Marriages

The earliest weddings were very different from our ideas of what marriage is today. Germanic girls of the Late Iron Age were married between the ages of 12-16. The girls had no say in the marriage and they were then expected to run a household. Current anthropologists suggest that our primitive ancestors came together as a collective in the main for protection and survival rather than for meaningful romantic love or hormonal based relationships. The Vikings did not practice courtship, where a man and a woman could evaluate their compatibility, or in which love could blossom. Marriage amongst the ancient heathens was meant to provide a financially stable environment in which children could be raised and a contract or bargain between two families.

But according to Germanic law in elder times, there exist five different types of marriages but only the first three would have been considered lawful marriages or a matrimonium:
1) Contract Marriage
2) Friedel Marriage (ON friδla)
3) Concubinate
4) Abduction (with consent)
5) Abduction (without consent)

Marriage amongst the ancient heathens was always considered an important institution. It meant a financially stable environment in which children could be raised. Essentially this was thought of as a business contract or bargain between two families. Many of the pre-marriage rituals were set up to ensure that the future wife and any offspring of the marriage may produce were cared for. Thus marriages were negotiated by both parties involved. A Viking male wishing to have a woman in marriage would approach her family first, hopefully with prestigious friends to negotiate on his behalf. If an agreement was struck, these friends served to witness on handa sellan, that is the handshake that ended the agreement the couple should be wed. At this time the morning gift was agreed upon as well as the hand geld or dowry, and other specifics.

Consider also that when Viking children grew up as teenagers, their adult life really began. By contrast, at the age of fifteen, both boys are girls were likely to be married. A husband was chosen for the girl and was usually part of an agreement of peace and support between two families. The girl brought with her bedclothes made of wool and linen, a loom and a bed as her contribution to the marriage agreement. There are strong arguments for the father of the bride seeking the daughter’s approval of his choice for her husband but I feel that it was a contractual matter between two families to which the father of both the households involved had the final say. After all blood feuds resulted very often when Viking Age courtships go wrong. Examples of this are depicted in the sagas
1) Jochens, Jenny M. Women in Old Norse Society. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press. 1995.
2) Lotte Motz Mythological Women


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