Women and men of the Viking Age - an inaugural professorial lecture from Professor Alexandra Sanmark

The Viking Age is often connected to violent raiding and pillaging, with much emphasises on the activities of men. Viking women have also been paid some attention, especially in recent years, when the roles of some women have been highlighted. These tend to be the ‘strong women’ of the Icelandic sagas, highlighted as exceptional, while the lives of other women remain rather underexplored.

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Valkyrie - credit Historika Sweden
Photo credit: Historiska Museet, Sweden

This lecture will discuss gender roles in the Viking Age, with particular attention to how women and men have been perceived in previous research. Despite much attention, normative and essentialist views of women and men continues to colour interpretations of the primary evidence, be it archaeological or written. Research produced over a long period of time is examined in order to highlight and discuss preconceptions that have influenced the research results. The main focus of the analysis is placed on ‘housewives’ and their assigned roles at the farms, as well women with other roles - in modern research often labelled ‘norm breakers’ - such as ritual specialists, warriors, travellers and settlers. The presentation will end by proposing new approaches to the study of the roles of women and men, stressing that all lives are worthy of examination, regardless of their roles and status, and ability to influence society.

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