This document was originally compiled to help individuals in the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. create more historically accurate feasts with Viking-era themes. Some suggestions based on the compilation were added at the original time of webbing. Others have been added since, as new sources were uncovered. This document is neither comprehensive nor definitive--just a starting point. Last modified 19 May 1999.

This document is a work in progress. It is provided as is without any express or implied warranties. While every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information contained, the author assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.

Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Archaeological Finds of Ninth- and Tenth-Century Viking Foodstuffs

Copyright © 1994, 1998, 1999 Carolyn Priest-Dorman.

Jorvík [York], Danelaw [England]

Birka, Sweden

Hedeby, Denmark

Oseberg, Norway

Jarlshof, Shetland Islands

Dublin, Ireland

Some Suggestions

Vikings did not rely on the same set of dried fruits and nuts as did later Europeans. One really basic way to readjust a feast (or a camp kitchen) toward a Viking food aesthetic is to replace your other dried fruits with prunes and cherries, your almonds with hazelnuts and walnuts. Plums and prunes especially seem to have been very popular; both domestic and imported varieties are found at Viking sites, suggesting that domestic supply was insufficient to sate the appetite for these goodies. But be careful: developing a Viking palate can transform your daily habits. Before long you may be insisting that all your peanut butter sandwiches be eaten with imported plum preserves!

Viking Age cooking gear included large pots for boiling, hooks and spits for roasting, and ovens for baking. Frying pans and warming griddles were also known. Eating utensils were the knife and spoon. Some Viking Age spoons had fairly flat bowls, making them more shovel-like than modern soupspoons; presumably these were used to eat foods with a texture somewhere between roasted flesh (to be eaten with the help of a knife) and the broth resulting from seething flesh (to be drunk or eaten with a soupspoon).

Although there are no extant "Viking recipes," there are a few books that might be helpful. One is Mark Grant's translation of Anthimus' De observatione ciborum, which is a West Roman's-eye view of sixth-century Frankish cuisine. It makes recommendations for preparation methods involving most of the basic foodstuffs that Vikings were likely to have cooked. Another helpful set of books is Ann Hagen's pair on Anglo-Saxon food and drink, although there are no recipes.

For some more information, you can consult the books listed in the Sources and/or visit these links:


[Anthimus.] De obseruatione ciborum: On the Observance of Foods, trans. and ed. Mark Grant. Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books, 1996. ISBN 0907325-750.

Translation of a letter from Anthimus, a west Roman who styles himself "Count and Legate to his Excellency Theuderic, King of the Franks," concerning diet. Includes specific (although terse) instructions for preparing many kinds of meats, fish, poultry, vegetables, and legumes, plus information on dairy products, eggs, and fruits. Even mentions beer! The information conveyed is clearly post-Roman in many respects, and the methods of preparation are much simpler than, say, Apicius.

Arbman, Holger. Die Gräber. Birka: Untersuchungen und Studien, vol. 1. Stockholm: Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akadamien, 1943.

The granddaddy of Viking archaeological write-ups. Appears in two books, one all descriptions of graves with their finds and the other all plates of finds grouped together by types. Plate 282 shows several finds of bread from cremation graves plus some from a woman's inhumantion. They look rather like well-risen cookies, and some have holes through the centers.

Arwidsson, Greta. "Haselnüsse und Kerne." Birka II:1, Systematische Analysen der Gräberfunde, ed. Greta Arwidsson, pp. 273-274. Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell, 1986.

Information on nuts and grains from Birka.

Graham-Campbell, James. The Viking World. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1980.

Hagen, Ann. A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food: Processing and Consumption. Pinner, Middlesex: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1992. ISBN 0-9516209-8-3.

Based on a great number of literary and archaeological sources, this book provides an excellent overview of food, nutrition and health, and the social backdrop in which food was consumed. Carefully footnoted.

..... A Second Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food & Drink: Production & Distribution. Hockwold cum Wilton, Norfolk: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1995. ISBN 1-898281-12-2.

A consideration by type of the many foodstuffs used in Anglo-Saxon England and Wales. Again, based on a great many sources and carefully footnoted.

Hall, Richard. The Viking Dig: The Excavations at York. London: The Bodley Head, 1984.

Hamilton, J.R.C. Excavations at Jarlshof, Shetland. Ministry of Works Archaeological Reports 1. Edinburgh: HMSO, 1956.

Hjelmqvist, Hakon. "Botanische Analyse einiger Brote." Birka II:1, Systematische Analysen der Gräberfunde, ed. Greta Arwidsson, pp. 263-272. Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell, 1986.

Information on the types and blends of grains found in breads at Birka.

Kenward, H.K., et al. "The Environment of Anglo-Scandinavian York." Viking Age York and the North, ed. R.A. Hall, pp. 58-70. Council for British Archaeology, Research Report 27. London: The Council for British Archaeology, 1978.

Mitchell, G.F. Archaeology & Environment in Early Dublin. Medieval Dublin Excavations 1962-81, Series C, Volume 1. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy and the National Museum of Ireland, 1987.

National Museum of Ireland. Viking and Medieval Dublin: Catalogue of Exhibition. National Museum Excavations, 1962-1973. Dublin: Ard-Mhúsaem na h-Éireann, 1973.

Radley, Jeffrey. "Economic Aspects of Anglo-Danish York." Medieval Archaeology, 15 (1971), pp. 37-57.

Roesdahl, Else, and David M. Wilson. From Viking to Crusader: The Scandinavians and Europe 800-1200. New York: Rizzoli, 1992.

This page was created on 10 April 1997 and last updated on 19 May 1999.

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