Vikings and mead- cups and glasses of the days

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Vikings and drinking

Vikings loved their drinks, but what is perhaps less a known fact is the drinking as part of their culture – and its not all bad…

For the vikings, drinking and alcohol was much greater than simply consuming alcoholic beverages. Drinking ale and mead was an integral part of their ancestral way of life and had deep cultural importance. In this article we look a little closer on the craftmanship mead contributed to – drinking vessels.

Lets have a look at why people tend to partner Vikings and alcohol.
In our fast-paced, modern age, the general public have heard about the ferocious men of the North, their feats, and in many cases, the legends of how they would drink till they dropped – and then some. What is lesser known is how drinking was a cultural part of being a viking, and how this actually helped form other parts of their finer tastes – in earthly goods…

The drinking culture of the vikings is one of the few elements of ancient Scandinavian way of life that both archeology and literature agree on.
Norse / Icelandic sagas are literally full of tales of mead-consuming, ale-brewing and exquisite Valkyries serving refreshments to fallen warriors in Valhall.

In addition, documents and finds in Nordic archeological studies, are full of drinking items, brewing equipment and historic images of happy drinkers, not at least the vessels from which mead and beer were drunk from.

Did vikings really drink mead out of the skulls of their slain foes ?

No of course not. Vikings was fierce warriors, But hardy cannibals. Mead was drunk from vessels of all types, though probably not so much from old skulls ( i fancy myself a good viking – merchant type, but even i would balk at a skull for drinking…)
Imported Viking-Age glass and pottery has been found in many archeological finds across Scandinavia. As vikings were avid and seasoned travellers and traders, its only natural they came across drinking vessels from other cultures and even brought home quite a few of these.

Ranging from simple clay bowls, to glass and ornate gold and metal objects – Vikings would use it. It is well known that vikings enjoyed the finer aspects of life, and as such, many incredible drinking vessels have found their ways to our shores.
From archeological finds we have found a great way not only to determine that vikings were fond of their drinks – we know that – but also that their craftmanship were superb. From woodworkers to glassblowers – the craftmanship of the viking age was truly something to revere. Just look at some of the images below.

Clay drinking vessels

As boring as it might sound, clay drinking vessels are not just boring round cups. From viking finds and reasonable deduction we can safely deduct that a drinking vessel of clay gave the artists the greatest opportunity for creative licence. Clay was an easy material to work with, though quality clay could be hard to find. Real masters of their arts knew how to mix different types of clay in nature, and from that either make-do, or find ways to mix and match to create better types of moldable mass.

The wooden vessels

wooden tankard

For many – the wooden tankards are some of the most well known drinking vessels. a sturdy type of drinking vessel,which would last for years if kept well. However – a potentially more expensive vessel than the clay. One should not forget that it took much more resources to grind or scoop out a tankard in wood, than it would be to mold one in clay. But – a well made wooden tankard could also be chiselled and refined in oh-so many ways. unfortunately, few really elaborate wooden tankards has found their ways into the museums, as wood has a nasty tendency to .. you know.. de-compose over the centuries…..Want a cool tankard ?  Contact MIREK – he makes these…

 

The Glass vessels.

Viking glass- brika find   viking glass cup

Now we come to the far more elaborate drinking vessels. Remember that glassware was an extremely complex craft back in those days, on par with blacksmithing, both which had an element of mysticism and magic around them. Taming and utilizing flame, heat and the forges of ( insert mysterious deities), secretive knowledge management and decade, if not lifelong dedication to the craft – all to be able to produce…. drinking vessels? Indeed !
its in these and metal vessels we find the most amazing craftmanship. Back then the glassblowers didn’t have computer controlled forges with gas, or electricity which could easily be controlled. No – they used wood coals, billows and good old fashioned arm grease ( from a few apprentices ). These vessels were heritage items. Very expesive items, which got a lucky viking major bragging rights coming home with glassware like this, and something which was extremely well taken care of. So expansive and exclusive were these that finds of glass ware are nearly only found in grave-sites. ( i guess with few exceptions….)

Gold silver and precious metals; bling- bling – bling

Golden cup from museum - vikingGolden goblet for drinking meadSilverware cup for vikings and mead

Lets face it. people drinking mead out of this were richer than was healthy for them. When you could drink from gold cups, or goblets encrusted with precious stones – you belonged to the 1% richest , most noble families in the lands. Or you had pillaged a church  / monestary somewhere…
The level of craftmanship, time and resources that went into the finest of these works are simply outstanding. Again, remember these are hand made cups, made by fire, hammers – technology based on hands working the metal. One single cup in this class could cost more than a farm, more than a sword or more than a chainmail.
For reference- a good sword had could cost the equivalent of 15 good milking cows. A farm – far more 🙂

Vikings were just like the rest of us – fond of bling, fond of food and fond of the good drinking, and fond of good drinking cups….

Høvdingen
Høvdingen
Høvdingen - Norwegian for Chieftain, is the nickname of the main author on Viking-mjod.no This is a guy who despite having a full job at a normal company, dedicate all his free time to the pursuit of Viking knowledge, especially the use of natural ingredients in food and drinks. This is not to say that this guy is an expert on the subject - just very very interested ... Mead is one of the main interests, but the poor guy, this Chieftain - he has for some odd reason more an interest in the flavors, and less in the effect the alcohol has. Therefore- most of the mead he makes throughout the year - and that could be quite a lot - ends up with his VERY happy friends... ( and no .. there's no waiting list to be new mead-tasters ....)