DAAD P.R.I.M.E Project (2018-2019)

Amazons of the North: Armed Females in Viking Archaeology and Old Norse Literature


This project will examine the motif of female warriors in the Viking Age through an interdisciplinary approach to archaeological materials and textual sources. In traditional studies, Norse women were seen as confined mainly to the domestic sphere, with only a very limited role in the social arena. Recently, this cliché has undergone major transformations due to an increased interest in how gender roles and identities were conceptualized and negotiated in the medieval past. A broad spectrum of textual and archaeological material demonstrates that there is much more to be learned about Viking Age women and that their activities were not only restricted to ‘household chores’, as previously believed. A number of written accounts describe women who actively engaged in martial activities, led men, and fought savagely at the forefront of armies. Archaeological excavations have also revealed graves of women buried with weapons, and there are a wide range of iconographic depictions of armed females. By adopting an interdisciplinary methodology, this project will explore whether and to what extent ‘warrior women’ were a product of the vivid imagination of medieval writers and artists. Was it typical to encounter female fighters in Viking warbands, or was this a rare occurrence regarded as a form of social deviancy and transgression of norms? What other circumstances lead women to take up arms? To find answers to these questions, this project will draw from the rich textual heritage of the North, critically combining it with specialist studies of archaeological materials, including a comprehensive museum-based analysis of funerary evidence from the Viking Age.

Keywords: Viking archaeology; Old Norse studies; Viking Age; Early Middle Ages; Scandinavia; women; weapons; warfare; gender; religion