Hello friends how are you? My name is Arith Härger and today I’m going to talk about what the Nordic peoples’ consumption habits were during the Middle Ages This is December and what’s the season all about? he birth of Christ? No, no, no… Not quite This is a time to celebrate with the family and the community the wonderful yule traditions, and eat all sorts of good stuff That’s what this season is all about, food! This video was requested by one of my patrons, Mr. Paul Dobson, thank you so much my good friend There’s a lot to say about the food and drink of the Nordic peoples during the Viking Age I could honestly write a book solely about this subject, so I’m assuming this is going to be a long video So with no more delay, let’s get started I’ll start this video by giving you a quick panorama of agriculture during the middle ages in Scandinavia so you can better perceive the eating habits of the Norse Agriculture in the Viking period was not very developed Traces of land plowed by vikings show that the furrows were very shallow, the trenches were you plant the seeds These furrows were open up using a primitive plow, most likely pulled by an ox The Vikings essentially cultivated grains, such as wheat, barley, oats etc. In Denmark agriculture was a disgrace since forever During the history of Denmark agriculture was never very successful, hich is why during the Iron Age there were great migrations to the south, into Germanic lands, and over the seas into Britain So it wasn’t different during the Viking period, the Danes were quite used to sea voyages and their economy depended greatly on trading In Sweden agriculture was successful in the south, to a certain extent, due to its geographical features It’s no coincidence that in southern Sweden people had a great adoration for the god Freyr, the god linked to fertility, agriculture, wealth and plenty Freyr was indeed the king and god of the Swedes But the further north you go, the lands start to be more mountainous, the soils are harder to work, frozen, rocky, and to the west lies Norway, a country even harder to make agriculture The most fertile lands lie near the sea, in the Fjords, the region of Trondheim for instance, everybody was fighting for that land precisely due to its fertile lands, and a very reasonable location for agriculture and other economic activities So in the case of Norway there was a lot of political pressure and internal conflicts so agriculture was also scarce So we have three main factors that shaped the eating habits of the Norse: Climate, lifestyle and isolation Winters in Scandinavia are longer and darker, you can’t do much agriculture, so your survival depended on storing food, gathering food in the forest as much as you could, all sorts of edible berries and dried fruits, fishing, hunting and of course you really needed to preserve the food and store it, to have something to eat when it was absolutely impossible to go out to gather food when winter was harder and unforgiving Precisely due to the harsh and cold climate, a lot of plants simply don’t exist in Scandinavia so in terms of vegetables the menu was limited Smoked, dried and salted foods was certainly the most consumed during the Viking period Because the lifestyle of Nordic peoples during the Viking Age was turned to the sea, you can expect a lot of dishes based on fish Hákarl, fermented shark, for instance t was dried in the open for several weeks and the smell was abominable Hardfiskur, dried fish, it’s still very much consumed in Iceland, it is as hard as a shoe Rökt Fisk, smoked fish Fiskisúpa, fish soup of cod or striped bass. Etc. Of course not everyone was able to go out into the sea or live as a fisherman Isolated populations far from the sea had their own eating habits Viking farms were very small, like I said there wasn’t much to cultivate aside from grains But there were farm animals, ox and goats for instance Normally, Vikings were not like hobbits, sadly A typical family in a farming community had at least 2 meals a day Dagmal, was the first meal of the day, literally day-meal This meal depends on the historical accounts really, could be the very first meal after rising, or could be the meal after breakfast – rismal Dagmal would be more or less at about 8 o’clock in the morning, which is pretty late for a farming community, so I’m assuming that was the second meal of the day What we have to take into consideration is that to the Norse a day was divided into 8 moments and each with 3 hours, forming a total of 24h And then there was the nattmal or night meal at the end of the working day During the day children would usually eat porridge and dried fruits or perhaps buttermilk and bread, while adults had something more consistent, a stew, some bread, butter etc. During the evening meal it could be fish or meat, even stew with vegetables and the leftovers were probably the next day’s morning meal Nowadays we are used to eat a cookie or some sweet after a meal To the Norse I’m sure it wasn’t different, although they had few options, because Honey was the only sweetener the Vikings knew, so everything sweet would have been made of honey, practically almost like everyone else across Europe But about honey I shall develop further ahead Yes I know, you are thinking about mead We will get to that Well, I’ve spoken about stew Meat was cooked with vegetables and breads over the earth, in an open fire pit in the middle of the house The meat most often was cooked in holes dug in the floor, which were used as earth ovens In the centre of the house there was a long fire The meat was placed in holes with hot embers and the holes were covered The meat was also either roasted on a spit over the fire or boiled in a soapstone pot or iron cauldron hot stones were placed into the liquid to make the stew and the hot stones made it boil Stew was a very typical Norse dish Of course the stew was different, depending on how wealthy the family was, or their direct contact with urban centres and trading activities It could just be a stew made of meat from a farm animal, wild greens, some basic vegetables like turnip and with bread, or for wealthy families, in great feasts, the stew could contain all sorts of meat and vegetables and even foreign products such as pepper Costlier spices were imported and added to the foods of wealthier Vikings Speaking of meat and the preservation of food, it wasn’t just smoking and letting it dry, there is something quite interesting the Vikings did to preserve meat Something very characteristic of Viking food products is skyr It was introduced in Iceland by the Norwegian settlers and to this day it’s still consumed in Iceland Skyr is a cultured dairy product, similar to strained yoghurt It’s a semi liquid and solid white thing, with a very sour taste, bitter taste I actually like it and consume it quite a lot The whey left after making skyr was left to go sour and used to store meat I mean, the sour whey was used to preserve cooked meats in the winter Alright this was just an introduction, a shallow idea of what the Vikings consumed and the factors that influenced their eating habits Now let’s move on to the good stuff Let’s develop this a bit more When it comes to mythological accounts, we often find it amusing the stories of the gods and their adventures But if we look close enough the myths tell us a lot about the mind of our ancestors and also their life, how things were conducted Myths are the reflection of a culture And there is one particular mythological account that gives us some indications of what the Vikings ate The poems is Rígsþula or Rigsmál – The lay of Rig This poem is about the god Heimdall and his Journey to the world of Mankind, he comes in his disguise as Rigr This is an interesting poem because the social differences in the Norse society are marked by what people consumed The poem describes the different living conditions of certain members of the Norse society For instance, Rig enters in contact with a Thrall, which is commonly translated as a slave, but not in the sense of the word we are accustomed to Thralls were paid workers, but even so they were very low on the ranking position of the Norse society Anyway, he comes to the house of a Thrall, and there is the description of what a slave consumed Essentially a bowl of soup, and hard bread; I’ll quote: Great-grandmother fetched a coarse-baked loaf, all heavy and thick and crammed with husk she bore it forth in the middle of the dish with broth in a bowl, and laid the board I’m not going to develop on the poem because on this video we are focusing on what type of food the Vikings consumed, so let’s move on After Rig enters in contact with the Thrall, he moves on to a farm, to people higher in rank compared to the Thrall free folk, farmers, with their own property, but still quite humble, their clothes were not richly made, just simple people I’ll quote the part about the food: Grandmother set forth plenteous dishes cooked was the calf, of dainties best Thence Rig uprose prepared to rest Well he knew how to give them counsel he laid him down in the middle of the bed and the home-folk twain upon either side So what we have to retain here is that farmers consumed cooked meat, and in this case a calf, which means they most likely had cows, and oxen to plow the fields, you didn’t own such animals just to eat their babies, so most likely what is implicit here was the type of food I’ve spoken earlier, stew, with cooked meat, vegetables and wild greens Owning a cow there is the possibility of having milk and butter even So clearly a farmer’s eating habits were way better and healthier than a Thrall’s Then Rig moves on to the house of a Jarl, a member of the nobility, a chieftain These were the sort of people who could afford their own private army, various properties with tenants who paid their taxes and could afford to have boats and launch their own raids to increase their wealth After a description of the rich garments the people of this house wore, we move on to the part of the food: Then took Mother a figured cloth, white, of linen, and covered the board thereafter took she a fine-baked loaf white of wheat and covered the cloth next she brought forth plenteous dishes set with silver, and spread the board with brown-fried bacon and roasted birds There was wine in a vessel and rich-wrought goblets they drank and revelled while day went by So as you can see the food was much better in this case Fine wheat bread, bacon, birds, possibly chicken, goose, duck, pigeon, etc. so they had access to both farm animals and wild animals, and there was wine, probably imported, wine mixed with species, the famous hypocras – heated wine mixed with sugar and spices, usually including cinnamon Practically the same thing as the famous Gløgg – The Traditional Scandinavian Mulled Wine tremendously popular in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, especially throughout the Christmas holidays By the end of this video I’ll give you the recipe The last person Rig visits is a King Although the King’s food choices are not described, but we can only imagine how great the feasts must have been judging by the food choices of his subjects as previously demonstrated Although it does speak about hunting, and hunting as always been an activity greatly linked to nobility, hunting big game, so we can expect all sorts of meat, the best food choices without a doubt This poem demonstrates the foundations of the Norse society and the people who were the backbone of these medieval communities Servants, Farmers, Nobles and Kings I think this poem is very interesting to understand the different social status within the Norse society, and the higher their status the best and healthier the food choices So far in this video what do we know about the eating habits of the Vikings? They consumed Meat from livestock: Cattle, pig, sheep, horse, and we will get to that further ahead, goat, chicken, and most likely other products linked to these animals, such as milk, butter, cheese and eggs And they probably ate dog as well, and I’ll leave that for later Meat from hunting: Nobles would eat deer, and wild boar, these were considered luxury foods; nobles controlled the hunting grounds Seals, and whales were hunted by must Scandinavians living closer to the sea, and of course Reindeer made a large part of the Scandinavian diet Reindeer was exactly what led people to settle in Scandinavia after the end of the Last Ice Age They came from the south, from nowadays Portugal and Spain during the last glacial period, and followed Reindeer to the North, into Scandinavia Pre historic Reindeer herders migrated to Scandinavia during the Palaeolithic and Reindeer remained in their diet to this day In terms of Fish: In coastal areas, for the menu Vikings had herring, garfish, salmon, cod, and let’s not forget about marine molluscs such as mussels, cockles and oysters. I’ll show you further ahead when we get to the archaeological findings, because I’ve spent 6 months dealing with food remains left by Nordic and Germanic peoples, and there were loads of oysters Fruits, vegetables and berries, most gathered in the forest, including roots, but turnips, cabbages and leeks were the most common among farmers Barley, oats, wheat; we also know of some seeds that were found in grave mounds and then of course we have Honey, which was the only sweetener and was used in both food and drinks, such as mead In terms of Drinks, the main Viking alcoholic beverages were mead and beer Mead made from honey, of course, and the beer was ale made from barley And yes the wine, most likely either imported or it was wine made with fruits, from the various fruits that grew in their homelands, depending on the country really Wine made from grapes was imported Archaeology is what gives us a lot of information about the Viking diet. For instance, speaking of beer, in archaeological excavations of farms dating back to the Viking Period, fire-cracked stones have been found And then you ask, but Arith… stones? What does that have to do with beer? And then I answer, Nordic peoples brewed beer by using stones It’s magic, of course! Alright, Vikings and their descendants brewed beer by tossing hot rocks into wooden kettles Stones were used for cooking and to brew beer; this was before the existence of iron pots The stones were heated until they were quite hot and then placed into wooden vessels to heat things up The great majority of these stones are found in ancient farms of the Viking Period, which shows this type of activity was almost exclusive from farming communities We must not forget that Beer was an important part of social and religious institutions at that time There were laws on the brewing of beer at least three farmers were required to work together to brew beer, which then had to be blessed An individual who failed to brew beer for three successive years had to give half his farm to the bishop (when Christianity took hold) and/or the other half to the King and then leave the country Only very small farms were exempt from this strict regulation Speaking of mead, everybody loves mead I for one, will be honest with you: I don’t know what the fuss is all about, I’m sorry Give me a cold black or golden beer and I’m a happy man Mead it’s made of honey, of course Now, I would like to share with you something that I find interesting about the production of honey during the Viking period and the middle ages of other countries In Scandinavia there were stone constructions of the Viking Period that no one knew what they were used for They were thought to be traps to catch wolves Now, I’m going to try to explain the configuration of these structures They were round, made of stone, they become gradually narrower at the top, almost like a cone, and then there is no ceiling, just an opening like a chimney, and no entrances to these structures, just from the top Looks like a tower A couple of years ago I was still taking my degree in archaeology and with a professor of mine and other students and with a friend of mine who was writing his thesis on medieval farm-constructions we were studying those exact same structures from the exact same period, but in Portugal And they were not used to catch wolves, they were a sort of fortresses for bee hives To protect the bees and the hives from bears And this discovery completely changed the idea Scandinavians had of these structures So, bears couldn’t get in to destroy the beekeeper’s properties The only way in was through the ceiling, and if a bear could climb, it would fall down and there was no way of escaping, and the bear ended up being killed and it was another source of food, and the bee hives were kept safe We have already talked about meat consumption during the Viking Period And I would like to talk a bit about horses and dogs These two animals were by far the most sacrificed animals in religious and magical activities in ancient Scandinavia Both horses and dogs were considered noble animals, and in many sacrifices parts of these animals were consumed Nowadays our Western societies are shocked by the dog consumption in Asian countries but the truth is, eating dog in the Western society in many cases, including Ireland, was still a thing in the middle of the 20th century, just the past century There were butcher shops just for dogs That’s exactly where the concept of hot dog comes from Nowadays it’s not dog, of course, but those sausages used to be made of dog – hot dogs It was quite normal in prehistoric times to consume dogs We see this in archaeological records – there were dogs with the sole purpose of aiding in hunting and to protect settlements, and other specific dogs were food reservations for winter time I’ve spoken about this before, on a video I’ve made about Indo-European wolf rites Obviously, not all horses and dogs who were sacrificed were also consumed Many grave mounds, especially ship burials, the animals weren’t butchered, they were laid whole and intact to be used in the afterlife But there are many burials with only parts of the animal, depending on the spiritual purpose of course, but we see markings of scraping, so the meat was taken and consumed Sometimes just the head of the horse was deposited and the rest of the animal was consumed Horse heads have a great connection to black magic and curses, such as the case of the Nidstang, nithing pole I shall talk about that on another video But let me give you an example: I took these photos, and in a pile of bones there was a horse’s head There you have, I dug that up and it was in a pile of food waste And since I’m talking about my own work, see those bags? They are filled with food waste: mostly boar, goat, sheep and many oysters and clams Bread was also very much consumed The typical Viking age bread was made of barley flour, flax seeds, lard or butter and salt The chemical analysis of salt in various products of the Viking Age, especially from bread, shows is that salt was either explored in the coast of Scandinavia or was imported from the Baltic region We also find herbs, seeds, mushrooms and other psychotropic substances in burials, but in those terms we are entering in traditional medicine and also religious and magical activities and nothing to do with the consumption of something to acquire some sort of nourishment In terms of the most important archaeological excavations that gives us a lot of information about the Viking diet, comes from Jorvik, nowadays York, in England Birka in Sweden Oseberg in Norway, Jarlshof, Shetland Islands and Dublin in Ireland With the exception of York, in the other places we find almost the same type of diet 50 to 60 per cent is meat and fish pig, cow, ox, chicken, goat, wild goose In terms of fish obviously cod, herring In terms of Grains mostly it’s oats, wheat, barley Vegetables: Carrots, cabbages, turnips And dried fruits such as hazelnuts and walnuts In Jorvik due to its geographical features, different climate, river proximity, the Viking diet in there was quite diverse and healthy, there was a lot to choose from Jorvik Vikings ate all sorts of farm and wild animals, different vegetables, grains, fruits, and because it was a very important town right in the middle of Great Britain, there was a lot of tradings so these Vikings had access to spices and different beverages other than the usual beer and mead The most famous poop in history is from a Viking of Jorvik and that gave a lot of information about the diet of these people in Viking Age York And of course I took a picture I don’t know who dropped that but it must had hurt The Viking Poop is in exhibition at the Jorvik Viking Centre in the city of York Isn’t history fun? So that’s it my friends, I hope you have enjoyed this video A very special thanks to my patron Mrs Paul Dobson who requested this video Stick around a bit longer, I will give you a couple of recipes according to the archaeological findings ( more or less) Thank you so much for watching, see you on the next video, and as always, tack för idag!
(Thank you for today!)