top of page

Viking Art

Tabetha McHugh & Randy H. Sooknanan

ASAG Journal

November 4, 2020

The Vikings usually worshipped their gods in open-air forums located at ancient sites, sacred grounds or on Islands which they inhabited. Occasionally people congregated in wooden temples as well, which contained carved images of their various deities. The Viking culture was known to have practiced sacrificial offerings. Sacrifices of animals, crops and even sometimes humans were regularly made to their gods, and no matter of importance would ever be undertaken without first petitioning the relevant gods for guidance.

From their religious beliefs, the Norseman viewed their world as a flat disc, surrounded by a vast ocean and here to them, coiled around the earth, was the Midgard Serpent. Supporting the earth was a giant ash tree, known as Yggdrasill, whose roots stretched from the freezing depths of Hel (the world of the dead) to Jötunheimr (the home of the giants), which lay on the far side of the ocean at the world's end. In Viking mythology, it was said that beneath the roots of Yggdrasill that lay the great Well of Fates and Wisdom, which was tended by the Norns, who were three spirits that wove the threads of destiny for all life. Also, the Vikings believed that chained to a rock at the centre of the earth was the ravenous wolf known as Fenrir, whose jaws stretched across the entire universe.

According to their ancient religion, humankind dwelt in a realm known as Midgard and lived under the protection of many deities, the most important of which were the Aesir who lived in Asgard, the stronghold of the gods. First and foremost in this pantheon was Odin, the 'All-Father', the god of kings, knowledge, understanding, magic and poetry. He was also known as 'the helmeted one', the god of war. The worldly creatures associated with him were the wolf and the raven, battlefield carrion the feasted on the corpses of slain warriors. It was every Viking warriors wish to die a hero's death on the battlefield and be chosen by the fierce spirits known as Valkyries, who would carry the bravest of them to Odin's great 'Hall of the Slain' called Valhalla, a majestic and enormous hall located in Asgard.

Viking art refers to the art and decorative style produced by the Vikings during the Viking Age, which lasted from the 8th century to the 11th century CE. Viking art was characterized by its intricate designs, bold shapes, and use of natural materials such as wood, bone, and metal. One of the most distinctive features of Viking art is its use of intricate knotwork, interlacing patterns, and animal motifs. These designs were often used to decorate weapons, jewelry, and other personal items, and were intended to demonstrate the wealth and status of their owners.

Viking art also featured distinctive styles of metalwork, such as the use of filigree and repoussé techniques to create intricate designs in gold and silver. Viking metalwork was often highly detailed, with intricate patterns and designs that were both beautiful and functional. In addition to metalwork and decorative arts, Viking art also included distinctive styles of carving, particularly in wood and stone. Viking carvings often depicted scenes from Norse mythology, as well as everyday life and nature.

Overall, Viking art is significant because it reflects the cultural and artistic achievements of the Viking people, and represents a unique and influential artistic tradition that continues to inspire artists and scholars today. Viking art also played an important role in the development of European art and design, particularly during the medieval period, and helped to shape the artistic and cultural heritage of Northern Europe.

Let's take a look at some examples in art and artifacts that are dictated by their mythology and ideology...


Viking Religion

The Oseberg Ship

The Oseberg Ship is a Viking ship that was found near Oslo, Norway in 1905. It is built entirely of oak, is 70 ft long and 17 ft wide and is richly-decorated with carvings, especially on the posts and caprail.

The vessel is dated to about 800 AD and was part of an elaborate burial site belonging to a noblewoman, most likely a Viking Queen, along with her elderly female companion. Also part of the burial find here were 3 dogs, an ox, an ornately-carved wagon, and 13 horses, pulling three ornately-carved sleighs. There were also some collapsable bedsteads, an oak chest fastened with iron nails with tinned heads, a wooden bucket with brass fittings probably made in Ireland, and other household goods including tapestries. They are all incredible pieces of history nonetheless. However the most incredible artifact discovered by archeologists was the Well preserved ship itself, as it gives us a window into the construction, design and innovation of early seafaring vessels. It was in excellent condition when found. The Oseberg Ship has since been well conserved in the Viking Museum just outside of Oslo.


The Oseberg Ship (Viking Ship Museum)
Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

bottom of page