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  1. Vikings

    Major Sponsors:

    The exhibition was organized by the Swedish History Museum in Sweden, in partnership with MuseumsPartner in Austria.

  2. explore

    Think you know the Vikings?

    The popular image of the Vikings—fierce raiders with horned helmets—is being challenged by a more complex picture. Vikings, the exhibition, reveals new insights brought to light through archaeological discoveries. See into the lives of these legendary people through more than 500 artifacts, many never before seen outside of Scandinavia.

    Real Vikings — 0:58 (Associate Curator William A. Parkinson)
  3. Who they wereFarmers

    Working the land, building communities

    The majority of people who lived across Scandinavia during the Viking Age were not warriors or mercenaries. Instead, most lived as farmers. They did not even call themselves Vikings unless they were out on “a viking,” an Old Norse term for a commercial trip or a raid.

    • Keys for the “Lady of the House”

      Keys for the “Lady of the House”

      Viking women wore keys—fully visible
      on the outside of their clothing—as symbols of power. Old Norse
      written sources indicate that women ruled the households and farms
      while men plowed the fields. Archaeological evidence suggests that
      women also took part in trade and sometimes
      carried weapons, too.
    • Land, family, and farming

      Land, family, and farming

      The farm was at the center of Viking life
      and the extended family was the basic community on the farm.
      Women and men—both free and unfree—lived and worked
      on farms growing crops and raising animals.
    • Longhouses

      Longhouses

      Farm settlements consisted of a large dwelling house—called a longhouse—surrounded
      by a few smaller buildings. Archaeological evidence indicates that a longhouse
      was a sign of a family’s ownership of land and played an important role as a
      ceremonial banqueting hall—possibly a link to the mythical halls of
      Valhalla and Fólkvangr in Norse religion.
  4. Who they wereTraders & Craftspeople

    Crafting valuable objects, exchanging goods and ideas


    The Vikings founded trading centers across Scandinavia where townsfolk manufactured and exchanged a wide range of goods. During the Viking Age, highly skilled craftspeople worked with many different materials including textiles, wood, metal, bone, leather, glass, and ceramics.

    European Context — 1:16 (Associate Curator William A. Parkinson)
    • Iron Axe Iron Axe

      Iron Axe

      Art during the Viking Age was primarily decorative and used to ornament
      a variety of objects. Even functional weapons often had artistic elements.
      This iron axe head includes a design motif based on vegetation.
    • Imported Beads Imported Beads

      Imported Beads

      These beads of carnelian and rock crystal came from
      the Caucasus area around the Black Sea. Their origins reveal
      the Vikings’ connections to distant lands and cultures.
      Beads were valuable and desirable
      commodities for trade.
    • Ring-Headed Brooch Ring-Headed Brooch

      Ring-Headed Brooch

      This brooch of bronze, gold, and silver features
      a “gripping-beast” ornament along with a bearded demon.
      Crafts, especially metal crafts, were associated with
      the Norse gods, who were at times described
      as metalsmiths who forged the world.
    • Gold Filigree Pendant Gold Filigree Pendant

      Gold Filigree Pendant

      This elaborate filigree pendant features tightly woven
      patterns and bird of prey imagery—both characteristic
      of Old Norse motifs.
  5. Who they wereVoyagers

    Sailing the seas, connecting to distant lands

    The ship was an ancient symbol in Scandinavian culture and a vital factor in Viking expansion, travel, and trade. Archaeological finds, written sources, and rock carvings (or “Picture Stones”) indicate that the Vikings built many different types of ships.

    Voyagers — 0:44 (Associate Curator William A. Parkinson)
    • Warships Warships

      Warships

      Longships, which could hold 50 to 100 rowers, were mainly used
      for combat and raiding trips. It’s estimated that one
      30-meter-long warship (excavated in Denmark)
      could cruise at a top speed of 11.5 MPH and
      sail from Scandinavia to Britain
      in just a few days.
    • Cargo Ships Cargo Ships

      Cargo Ships

      The Knarr was the largest cargo ship of the Viking Age.
      It had a deep hull with high sides and was big enough to carry
      live animals, including cattle. These qualities made it ideal
      for settlers crossing the North Sea to the British isles,
      the Faroes, Iceland, and beyond.
    • Coastal and River Ships Coastal and River Ships

      Coastal and River Ships

      To explore lands east of Scandinavia, the Vikings used smaller ships,
      which could be pulled across land between rivers. Accommodating
      a crew of 10 or 11 people, the Krampmacken, a reconstructed
      Viking river ship (on display in front of the exhibition), could
      navigate the waves of the Baltic Sea and the
      shallow rivers of eastern Europe.
  6. Who they wereBelievers

    Honoring the dead, revering the sacred

    During the Viking Age, practitioners of Scandinavia’s Old Norse religion worshipped many gods—both male and female. Although no contemporary sources survive that describe Viking rituals, later medieval written sources record Old Norse beliefs including descriptions of the Viking gods and the story of how the world was formed.

    • The Living and the Dead The Living and the Dead

      The Living and the Dead

      Burial rituals provide clues about the Vikings’ beliefs regarding life and death.
      Cremation was thought to free a person’s soul from the body, so that it
      could begin a new existence in the realm of the dead. Valhalla was the
      realm of death for warriors and the aristocracy. In Valhalla,
      the hall of the fallen, Odin receives dead warriors
      chosen by the Valkyries.
    • Norse Gods and the Days of the Week Norse Gods and the Days of the Week

      Norse Gods and the Days of the Week

      Some of our weekdays were named after the Old Norse gods and goddesses:
      Tuesday
      is the god Tyr’s day.
      Wednesday
      is the god Odin’s (or Wotan’s) day.
      Thursday
      is the god Thor’s day.
      Friday
      is named either for the goddess Freyja or the goddess Frigg (it is unknown which).
    • Christianity Christianity

      Christianity

      At the beginning of the Viking Age, around AD 750, Christianity was established in
      many parts of Europe. Over the next few centuries, Christianity spread slowly
      over Scandinavia. By around 1100, it had become the only religion, at least
      officially. Old Norse traditions and Christianity co-existed for
       several centuries, as evidenced by rune stones and
      ornamentation on jewelry combining Norse
      and Christian symbols.
      
  7. DiscoverThe Vikings

    Visit The Field Museum and experience Vikings

    through October 4, 2015

    Get your tickets now

    The Field Museum is open from 9am-5pm every day of the year except Christmas Day. Last admission is at 4pm daily.

    The Museum is located at 1400 South Lake Shore Drive in the heart of Chicago's Museum Campus and is easily accessible via car, by bike, or public transit.