Although most attention during this period is turned to the exploration, conflicts, and battles of the seafaring Viking warrior, these adventures and events could not have taken place without the aid and support that farming provided. Indeed, farming allowed for the basis of an economy as well as provided the nutrition of the Viking warriors as well as allowing for survival in harsher environments which would eventually see Viking settlement. techniques, crops, and arability of land varied from country to country, and the way in which farming played a role in the lives of the Vikings was integral to the events of this period.

CONTENTS

THEMES

Importance of Farming in the Viking Age
Organization, Techniques, Crops, and Livestock

FARMING THROUGHOUT THE NORSE WORLD

Denmark
Sweden
Iceland
Greenland
Vinland

THEMES

Faroe_stamp_517_everyday_life_in_the_viking_age.jpg
Daily life in the Viking Age, as depicted by Martin Mörck. Notice the longhouses, oxen, and grain, which emphasize the centrality of agriculture in Scandinavian life.

Importance of Farming in the Viking Age

An often overlooked component of the Viking Age is the agricultural support provided by the farms which not only helped provide nutrition to Viking raiders but also allowed for increased trade throughout the Norse world and helped to create an economic basis for emerging countries or strengthening existing ones. As they came of age, young Norse men would choose to either live a life on the farm, which up to that point was all they knew, or they could join a chieftain's lið and embark on the risky but rewarding campaigns of the Viking warrior. Outside of the Vikings, most people survived on subsistence farming, and this is seen not only in the Norse homeland of Scandinavia but in most places settled during this period. The trade of crops such as wheat, rye, and oats as well as livestock brought together cultures and spurned Viking Age economies. Farming and grazing, the staples of most Viking Age families, provided the basis for survival while also adding rich incentive for settlers traveling to unknown lands in hopes of a better life. For example, if Greenland's grazing land had not been able to support a population during this period, then it is unlikely that many settlers would have chosen to live there rather than Iceland.

Organization, Techniques, Crops, and Livestock

Farms in the Viking Age varied from settlement to settlement in terms of density and effectiveness, but the main components are seen in the majority of excavated sites. The longhouse was the standard form of farming shelter. It housed both the farmers and their animals.[1] The density of these settlements differed depending on climate and arability of the land. For example, in Greenland and Iceland, where the climate was harsher and land was less arable, farms are more spread out. In Denmark and Sweden, however, farms are more closely compacted due to the richness of the soil. The settlers of warmer climates did not have to worry about stripping the soil of its nutrients as rapidly as those in more unforgiving areas. The main crops of the lands included barley, rye, and grains. In prosperous areas, cabbage, peas, and beans, and wheat could be grown. The farmers would use spades to till their fields, though plows driven by oxen would be utilized in larger farmsteads. Overall though, growing crops was secondary to livestock. Prime grazing land throughout the Norse world was highly sought in order to feed their cattle and oxen. Pigs and sheep were also commonly raised during this period.Livestock's importance is supported by the fact that in the Norse language, 'cattle' and 'money' were the same word: fé.[2]




800px-Stöng_Viking_Longhouse.jpg
A Viking longhouse, located in Stöng . Picture taken by Thomas Ormston


FARMING THROUGHOUT THE NORSE WORLD

In this section, locations where extensive evidence of Viking Age farming have been discovered (Denmark, Sweden) as well as unique cases of Norse ingenuity (Iceland, Greenland, Vinland) will be discussed, in order to highlight the farmer and give more of an idea as to why farming was so important to those existing in the Viking Age.

Denmark

Land in Denmark proved to be the most productive out of all the areas in the Norse world, thanks to its abundance of farms and favorable climate as opposed to the harsh environments of other Viking Age settlements, specifically Iceland and Greenland. Possessing both arable land suitable for large farming settlements as well as a surplus of grazing land, Denmark's population did not have to worry about modifying their methods to suit changing weather conditions or climates. Through excavation, it can be surmised that a tool used to make thin scratches in the dirt, most likely an ard, were used.[3]

Sweden

Sweden's main method of agriculture was pastoral, relying on the grazing of cattle to sustain their villages. Sheep, cattle, and goats proved essential in the average Swede's life.

Iceland

Discovered by two brothers, Ingolf and Hjorleif, the western settlement of Reykjavik was founded in 873 AD. As would always be the case when uninhabited land was found, settlers wealthy enough to expand elsewhere as well as those looking for a new life were eager to move elsewhere. Iceland saw settlers come from western Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.[4] The ​Book of the Icelanders (Íslendingabók) claims that the migration to Iceland from Norway was so great that, 'King Harald banned the practice, fearing that his land would be depopulated otherwise.'[5] Iceland was, unquestionably, a land dominated by pastoral farmer. due to this, the need for hay was an intensely crucial matter. William Short states that 'hay was so important to saga-age farms that growing sufficient hay was written into the law.'[6]

Greenland​

Greenland was settled by Erik the Red, whom, upon returning to Iceland in 986, convinced settlers to join him on an expedition to this new
Greenland.jpg
A view of Greenland and its pastoral capabilities {{PD}}

and interesting land.[7] By this time, most of Iceland's good farming land had been settled, so that made the idea of a new land much more appealing to potential settlers. Greenland was, however, almost completely covered in a thin sheet of ice, making farming, and even settlement, almost impossible. Erik and his settlers would lay claim to the southwestern coast, where there was great grazing land and the capacity for small, dispersed farming. At this juncture in history, Europe was experience a warm period, lasting from roughly 800-1200 AD, which made parts of this otherwise harsh climate arable. This warm period allowed for select growing of grain on the westernmost shores. The King's Mirror, an important thirteenth-century text, provides a thorough account of Greenland's pastoral and farming activities, stating that, 'Greenland is said to have good pastures and large, productive farms where they raise many cattle and sheep, and make a great deal of butter and cheese.'[8] Indeed, farmers who inhabited Greenland during the centuries preceding the 'Little Ice Age' of the 1300s experienced great success in using the land to their advantage. As the settlers of Greenland relied on grazing land to feed their animals,the harsh winters combined with the eventual deforestation of the island led to much hardship as the years went on. As Sveinbjörn Rafnsson notes, "the sensitive seasonal vegetation suitable for grazing varied greatly from year to year", and, "in harsh and cold years, the shielings were abandoned and the number of animals reduced."[9]

Vinland

Given its name by Leif Eiriksson who found its abundance of grapes most pleasing, Vinland is well-known for its unique crop, since most of the Norse world grew oats and barley.

800px-Christian-krohg-leiv-eriksson.jpg
Christian Krogh, 'Leiv Eriksson oppdager Amerika' (Leif Eirikson Discovers America), 1893

  1. ^ Haywood, John. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. London: Penguin Books, 1995. Pg. 36
  2. ^ "Villages and Farms in the Viking Age" http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/Villages.htm
  3. ^ "Viking Farming Methods" http://www.danishnet.com/info.php/vikings/farming-153.html
  4. ^ Haywood, John. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. London: Penguin Books, 1995. Pg. 92
  5. ^ "Icelandic Accounts of the Discovery and Settlement of Iceland"' in the Viking Age: A Reader, ed. Angus Somerville. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010. Pg. 336
  6. ^ Short, William R. Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas. Jefferson. McFarland and Company, 2010. Pg. 79
  7. ^ Haywood, John. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. London: Penguin Books, 1995. Pg. 96
  8. ^ "The King's Mirror on Greenland", in the Viking Age: A Reader, ed. Angus Somerville. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010. Pg.349
  9. ^

    Rafsnsson, Sveinbjorn. "The Atlantic Islands." The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings, ed. Peter Sawyer. New York. Oxford University Press, 1997. Pg. 124