At home in Scandinavia, the Vikings lived in small communities of farmers and traders. Most were farmers that grew crops, raised farm animals, fished, and hunted.
The landscape of Scandinavia is quite varied. Norway is very mountainous; Sweden is flatter, with farmland and forests; Denmark is doted with hundreds of small islands. Though each country has it’s own language now, they all probably spoke versions of Old Norse in Viking Times.
Most Vikings lived in longhouses. These were large, one roomed houses that were made of wood and had an earth floor. They were rectangular in shape, with the length being much longer than the width. 50 meters long by 5 meters wide is a good example of a large one. They lived in these houses with members of the immediate family and often other relatives. The living quarters of the house had a hearth in the middle to provide heat, light, and cooking facilities. There was no chimney and the smoke escaped through gaps in the roof. There was usually very little furniture. The walls were lined with broad benches that doubled as beds, and there would also be a table and a few stools and chests.
During the long, cold winters life is especially hard. Farmers had to store away enough food to last them to the spring, or starvation threatened.
The Vikings’ most important crop was grain. They used it to make bread and porridge. Farmers also grew barley, rye, and oats. Only the rich could afford wheat. They also collected wild nuts and berries.
Longhorn cows, goats, sheep, pigs, geese, and chickens were all Viking farm animals. They used them for meat, milk, eggs, wool, and leather. Every part of them was used, with no waste. A large number of animals were slaughtered before winter and the meat preserved by salting or smoking. This was to prevent them from eating valuable stored food during the winter months.
The Vikings had three main classes: the jarls, the karls, and the thralls. The jarls were the aristocracy. The karls were the farmers, traders, and craftsmen. Thralls were the slaves(usually prisoners of war or criminals). Freedom could be earned or bought.
Women were very important in Viking life. Since the men were often gone for long periods of time the women ran the home. The wife would raise the children, look after the farm, conduct family business affairs, and tend domestic chores.
For entertainment the Vikings liked to play games. They played a board game called hneftafl which was a form of checkers. During the summer months they played outdoor ball games, and also challenged each other to wrestling and swimming matches. Story telling was another favorite form of entertainment. Storytellers were called Skalds, and they would recount great tales of adventures, heros, and gods. Skalds were always in demand for feasts and at the courts of chieftains.
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