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Viking Weddings : Norse Traditions, Ideas, Rings, Vows, Dress / Attire

Posted by Sons Of Vikings on

Marriage was a sacred Norse tradition. For the Vikings, survival and life itself revolved around tightly-knit networks of family and friends. The right marriage was crucial to continuing these relationships into the future and passing on land, wealth, and honor. Some scholars contend that marriage dynamics played a role in initiating the Viking Age itself (more on this later). But how did these marriages occur, and what was a Viking wedding like?

Marriage in the Viking Age: Who, When, Where, and Why?

According to numerous sagas, when a Viking decided to start a family, he discussed options with his parents, brothers, or friends. In pre-modern times, marrying for love was the luxury of the poor, so most Vikings of the land-holding karl class or the jarl nobility looked at marriage strategically.

One wanted the best match one could get to enhance social standing and networks of protection. Of course, the attributes of the bride were also considered. While being attractive is always a plus, sagas mention Vikings weighing a potential mate’s industriousness and good nature as desirable factors.

Negotiations and Financial Obligations

When the potential groom and his family set their sights on someone, they would travel to visit the would-be bride’s family. They would come bearing gifts. The suitor and his entourage would then make their case as to why he would be an ideal match for the young girl. Pivotal to these negotiations would be the mundr or bride price – the amount of wealth in land, cattle, silver, or other valuables that would serve as compensation for the family’s loss of their daughter’s labor and the proof that the groom was worthy. In the Viking Age, bride prices became extremely expensive.

The bride's family also brought wealth to the table as an heimangerð (dowry). This was wealth (often in land, cattle, herds, or sometimes even fighting men) that the new couple would live off of – but in case of divorce, the dowry was to revert to the bride's family. A woman’s dowry was the object of several strong legal protections to prevent it from being squandered by a husband’s bad decisions.

The Groom

The groom would also have to provide additional wealth for the morgen-gifu or "morning gift" once the wedding was consummated. A rule of thumb for the value of the morning gift might be about one-third the value of the dowry. It would usually be clothing, jewelry, or household items. Needing to come up with even more capital after meeting the bride price may be one reason sagas show so many young men go on Viking expeditions immediately after becoming betrothed.

If the suitor's case won over the girl's father, and the bride price was acceptable, the daughter and her mother would typically be offered a chance to agree to the marriage or reject the suitor.

Once all the negotiations were out of the way and terms were accepted, the suitor and the bride's father (or other representatives) would shake on the bargain. Yes, shaking hands to seal a deal was a Viking tradition. The date would be set for the marriage, usually within the year.

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The Bride

Girls might be betrothed when they were as young as 13, but the marriage would usually only happen once they reached 16 or so. Of course, it was not always the woman's first wedding. Being a Viking came with many occupational hazards in addition to the dangers that everyone faced during those hard times. Divorce was also legal and could be initiated by women and men. Rune stones and saga accounts mention some women being married four times or more.

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Love and Marriage

Though most Viking weddings were arranged, this does not mean Vikings had loveless marriages. Indeed, socioeconomic, political, and military advantages might prompt the wedding, and harmony may seem more important than romance in the years to come. Nevertheless, the sagas and poetry of the Norse are brimming with love stories, romantic words and notions, and touching examples of emotionally-bonded couples at every stage of life. Though (then as well as now) not everyone finds love, many Vikings grew in love with each other as they faced their futures together.


Viking Wedding Traditions

Though the Eddas and sagas are full of stories of marriages, there are few details available about how Vikings got married. One reason for this lack of information is that those who wrote down the sagas were 13th-century Christians who – while eager to relate the tales of their ancestors faithfully – did not have much reason to describe non-Christian rituals. Therefore, most of what we find about historic Nordic Pagan worship, feasts, festivals, christenings (yes, Pagan Vikings had their babies ceremonially “sprinkled with water”), marriages, and funerals come to us in snippets and inferences within the saga and poetic literature. Archaeology bridges the gap with some of this – but there is not much archaeology regarding weddings since these were brief events that did not leave a lot of specific traces.

Furthermore, scholars think that Viking weddings varied considerably between time and place and between the classes of Vikings that were marrying. A wedding of a jarl chieftain would look very different from a wedding of two poor shepherding families. Indeed, diversity of practice was a feature of Nordic Paganism, where different gods were dominant in different areas, and oral tradition was so supreme that written ceremony was unnecessary.

Nonetheless, there are a few clues about how Vikings celebrated weddings, and we will look at these now.  



Rigsthula (The Song of Rig, or Rig’s List) is a fascinating poem collected within the Poetic Edda (a.k.a., The Elder Edda). The poem describes the god Heimdal’s journey through the world of humankind and the role he played in the development of society. The poem is thought to date to the early 900s and is said to be "One of the most transparent social commentaries of its time" (Crawford, 2015). In Rigsthula verse 23, we see mention of a Viking middle-class (karl) wedding with a few intriguing details.

Home did they bring | the bride for Karl,
In goatskins clad, | and keys she bore;
Snör [Daughter-in-Law] was her name, | 'neath the veil she sat;
A home they made ready, | and rings exchanged,
The bed they decked, | and a dwelling made
(Bellow’s 1936 translation)


The wording for "home did they bring," used here, specifically means the bride rode in a wagon. So, we can imagine the young Norse bride making a grand entrance. Her goatskin dress (kirtle – an outer dress – in some translations) would have been an unusual and costly garment. We find no other references (that we know of) where women wear a leather outer dress. Her veil and "bridal linens" (in some translations) are also mentioned. (We will talk more about veils later). We see that the bride and groom exchanged rings, perhaps much as they do now.

View over a dozen different Viking Wedding Rings / Bands here.

One of the most intriguing details mentioned here is the bride bearing keys. Keys have been recovered in many Viking Age female graves, seemingly symbolizing the woman’s status as mistress of the homestead. Norse women were responsible for the running of the household (including many economic decisions), especially while the men were often away on Viking expeditions.  



Thrymskvitha (The Lay of Thrym) is another Eddic poem partially set at a wedding. This poem has been a fan favorite since it was written down in the 9th century. It is a bawdy comic adventure with driving action, and it is easy to imagine the Skalds, who publicly performed poems like this having a lot of fun with it. Thrymskvitha tells how the Jötunn (“giant”) Thrym stole Mjölnir (Thor’s mighty hammer).  Thrym demands that the beautiful goddess, Freyja, be given to him in marriage, or he will bury Mjölnir where it could never be found. Heimdall hatches a plan for Loki to accompany Thor to the wedding – with Thor dressed as the bride!  After much innuendo, humor, and building tension, Thor recovers Mjölnir and takes revenge on the Jötnar. The Viking artifact replica seen here (commonly known as 'Sitting Thor') is believed to depict this celebrant moment.

Thrymskvitha includes another description of the bridal costume the Vikings knew (with another reference to ceremonial keys):

"Bind we on Thor | the bridal veil,
Let him bear the mighty | Brisings' necklace;
Keys around him | let there rattle,
And down to his knees | hang woman's dress;
With gems full broad | upon his breast,
And a pretty cap | to crown his head."


The poem describes the great size of the wedding feast the unlucky Thrym provides, making much of how Thrym’s "bride" eats an entire ox and eight whole salmon and drinks three vats of mead (honey wine). Loki (posing as the bridesmaid) is left to explain away the bride's ravenous appetite while Thor polishes off “the dainties set aside for the ladies” – one of the few references to sweets (perhaps) one finds in Norse poetry.

A few other wedding details are dropped in passing, including a nine-day (eight-night) purification period a bride passes before the wedding. There is a similar reference to this in the Eddic poem, Skírnismál. Such a period of “fasting," bathing, sauna, and other purifications – done all in the company of only women- may have assured that any child born of the new marriage was definitely the groom's.

Brising’s necklace was the amber necklace of Freyja and was to help deceive Thrym that the burly champion eater beside him really was the goddess. Still, we can infer from this that Viking brides were decked in their family's best jewels and ornaments.

Thrymskvitha may also allude to the meat at the wedding feast being sacrificed before being cooked and served (standard Indo-European procedure for sacred occasions). It jests of Thrym trying to lift the veil to steal a kiss (perhaps a nod to the “bad luck to see the bride before the wedding” still around today). It also mentions Thrym’s sister demanding a gift of gold from the bride as a "bridal fee." This may be no more than a reference to the Viking expectation of mutual gift-giving, but it may be that a bride was expected to give small bribes to important family members to ensure her smooth reception in her new home.

The poem culminates when Thrym brings forth Mjölnir itself to sanctify the marriage. In the Prose Edda (or Snorri’s Edda), the 13th-century lore master, Snorri Sturluson, mentions Mjölnir’s role in “hallowing.” Thus, it seems that Mjölnir (or, in reality, perhaps Mjölnir amulets or some other symbolic depiction of Mjölnir) played a crucial role in making the wedding official.

The Mjölnir was placed on the bride's lap (sexual innuendo intended) to bless her fertility. Since the entrance of Mjölnir marks the climax of the poem, one imagines that a priest using a hammer or Mjölnir amulet to convey a blessing may have been the climax of a Viking wedding ceremony as well. 

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Other Gods and Goddesses at the Viking Wedding

Thor was not the only divinity invoked at a Viking wedding. Frigg, queen of the Aesir and goddess most associated with motherhood and the wife role, was vital. Whenever possible, weddings began on Frigg's Day (Friday). Frey and Freyja (brother and sister Vanir divinities of fertility) were also central. Two other Viking love goddesses, Sjofn (“who turns the hearts of men and women towards love”) and Var (also a goddess of oaths), would have also been observed. Not one to be left out, Odin was the object of a special ceremonial toast by the groom. Though we do not have mention of it, we might reasonably assume the Vikings also formally recognized the Disir – the female spirits of the ancestors that played an essential role in the fortunes of families. 


Things That Might Have Been Included in Viking Weddings

Viking experts and enthusiasts alike have spread a wide net trying to recreate the Norse wedding customs of a thousand years ago. Some customs have become popularly associated with Viking weddings through partial evidence. This is fine, of course, since it is certain that Viking weddings varied and that the Vikings themselves adopted customs from those around them quite readily. Indeed, many Vikings had cross-cultural weddings, such as traditional Medieval Christian weddings, when circumstances dictated.

Here are a few of the better-known customs that might have been included in Viking weddings:


Sword Exchanges

In this part of the ceremony, the groom presents the bride with his ancestral sword. This symbolizes the husband taking his wife fully under his protection and serves as his oath of loyalty to her. (Ancient swords often had an oath ring built into the hilt. The wife, in turn, would keep the ancestral sword until it was time to bestow it to their firstborn son, continuing the chain of ownership of this precious heirloom.

The Roman geographer and commentator Tacitus first mentioned this custom. He wrote of the Germanic and Proto-Norse tribes around what are now northern Germany and Denmark. This was several hundred years before the Vikings, and though many things remained the same, many changed as well. It is not known if this tradition continued into the Viking Age. Indeed, swords took a lot of steel and skill to forge, so not every Viking was lucky enough to have a sword (much less an ancestral sword to devote to this purpose). Still, it seems reasonable that some high-status Vikings may have continued this ancient tradition in their weddings.



Hand-fasting (or simply, handfasting) is a wedding custom where the bride and groom each stretch out a hand (over an altar, if there is one) while an officiant or witness (or sometimes just themselves) loosely binds these hands together with a long cloth or soft cord. This custom has been seen in many movies and TV shows (such as Braveheart or Outlander). Hand-fasting was originally a Celtic marriage custom. While a few Neo-Pagan sects use hand-fasting to perform an eternal marriage across reincarnations, hand-fasting was often associated with the trial marriage of “a year and a day” in the past.

Despite being a Celtic custom prevalent in Ireland, Scotland, and so on, hand-fasting caught on in Anglo-Saxon England. Cognate terms appear in several Germanic languages, and there is ample evidence that this custom was practiced over a wide area of geography and time.

We say two people who get married are “tying the knot” after this custom. The act of hand-fasting receives no mention in the sagas (that we are aware of). However, because of this custom's timelessness and widespread appeal, Vikings certainly may have incorporated it.


Drinking Horns, Mead and "Honey"moons

One thing is clear. Mead (the fermented honey drink known to be a favorite with Vikings) should be included with your Viking themed wedding. It is unclear if Vikings observed a structured honeymoon period (but it is likely enough). However we know that Vikings loved drinking mead (fermented honey) and the term honeymoon refers to the ancient European tradition of newlyweds spending about a month focusing on each other mentally, socially, and physically while drinking ample amounts of mead (hence the term honey + moon). Thus, mead and drinking horns played a big part in a Viking wedding, including the ceremonial drink the bride and groom drank from a unique vessel. This ceremonial drinking happened shortly after the Viking groom carried his bride across the threshold of the feasting hall.

The honeymoon was essentially an extended fertility ritual, hailing from a time when getting pregnant early in a marriage was considered a good thing. 

Viking Drinking Horns are available here.


Misconceptions About Viking Weddings

In modern times, we are used to weddings first as a formal ceremony (i.e., the church wedding) followed by a separate reception that still contains numerous traditions of a semi-ceremonial nature (cutting the cake, throwing the bouquet, and so on). However, the Church got into weddings gradually. While there were some Church wedding ceremonies perhaps as far back as the 5th century, it was not widespread until the late 12th century (about a hundred years after the Viking Age). Pagan Vikings (or even Christian Vikings) did not necessarily have this biphasic wedding system (the first part symbolic and formal, the second part social and fun). Instead, the Viking wedding combined formal and social elements into the same long event. Today's approach probably reflects this Church wedding plus folk wedding tradition, with the reception being somewhat closer to the wedding Vikings might have recognized.

Another popular misconception about Viking weddings is that of the six witnesses. In Viking Age weddings, at the end of the first night, at least six witnesses were to guide the bride and groom to the bridal chamber. This was to occur "in the light" (whether by torchlight or before it got fully dark) so that the bride and groom could be recognized. The wedding chamber may be a free-standing structure (sometimes made just for the occasion), or it could be the inner room of the long house. The bride and groom were observed to enter the bridal chamber and spend the rest of the night together to "ensure" that the wedding was consummated and so that there were no possible deceptions on the part of either family.

However, this does not mean (as many internet sources have stated) that the six witnesses watched the couple having sex. While some Arabic chroniclers mention Vikings openly and immodestly engaging in sex, most Icelandic sagas paint a different picture.

So, the six witnesses play a similar role to the modern wedding guests lining up and throwing birdseed at the couple as they leave the wedding in a decorated car. The purpose is that the couple was seen leaving together and can officially be considered married.     


How The Quest For the Right Match Shaped the Viking Age

If the right marriage could secure socioeconomic, political, and martial benefits, then more marriages would equal more of these benefits, right? Well, that is what some Viking elites thought. It is well documented in the sagas, the historical record, and eyewitness testimonies of commentators like Ibn Fadlan and Adam of Bremen that the wealthiest, most powerful Vikings had more than one wife. These were not just mistresses and concubines (though there were those, too) being entertained at the expense of the wife, but rather it was several wives of similar status all attached to one man.

Nature, in her wisdom, almost always produces a vaguely even number of human males and females in a given area. However, according to archaeology, another phenomenon besides polygamy was messing up the gender balance in early Viking Age Scandinavia. Archaeologists have found fewer female graves than they should have (Price, 2017). Now, this is easy enough to dismiss or explain away, and no one is sure why it might look that way. Nevertheless, taking this detail at face value, between 1) fewer total females and 2) high-status males taking more than their fair share, a marriageable Viking male might find fewer options than he had hoped.

This relative shortage of marriageable women – especially of desirable status – led to drastic inflation in bride prices. So, a young man might wish to start a family and might even know a girl he would like to ask but did not have the resources to make it happen. We see numerous references to this in the sagas.

A solution presented itself in 793 when Vikings used their blossoming ship technology to take advantage of Europe's political/military unreadiness and helped themselves to the wealth of her monasteries and towns. Suddenly, Vikings realized that if they went just beyond familiar territory, they could use their opportunistic raiding and trading brand to amass significant wealth while enhancing their prestige and reputation. All this meant that those bride prices (among other things) might be attainable after all.

Now, no one is saying that bride price inflation single-handedly led to 250 years of Viking activity stretching from Canada to Baghdad. However, the need for large amounts of silver and movable wealth for bride prices, alliance gifts, legal compensation, and all the other things necessary for becoming high status in the Vikings’ world were powerful push forces. Anthropologists studying tribal societies in the modern era have observed bride price inflation as a push factor in specific well-documented migrations (Anthony, 2010), so the idea is not as far fetched as it may sound.

Of course, once Vikings traveled and saw what the world had to offer, many never paid that hefty bride price back home. They married women in Ireland, Ukraine, Russia, France, England, Scotland, and elsewhere. Modern DNA research shows that up to 50% of the women in the founding population of Iceland were from Ireland and the British Isles. The quest for the right match was causing many Vikings to settle wherever they found that match to be, and to make lives for themselves in places they had never imagined.   



  1. Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda. (translated by J. Byock). Penguin Classics. London, England, 2005
  2. The Poetic Edda. Crawford, J. (translator). Hackett Classics. 2015.
  3. The Poetic Edda. Belows, A. (translator). 1936.
  4. Rodgers, D.G. & Noer, K. Sons of Vikings: History, Legends, and Impact of the Viking Age. KDP. USA. 2018
  5. Price, N. Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings. Basic Books, New York, 2020.
  6. Ward, C. Courtship, Love and Marriage in Viking Scandinavia. Viking Answers Lady. 7-3-23.
  7. Short, W.S. Families and Demographics in the Viking Age. Hurstwic. 2023.
  8. Anthony, D. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ. 2010.