Blue Ribbon

This is a brief critique of the clothing and accessories information contained in the book The Viking, by Bertil Almgren et al., first published in 1966. This critique was intended for use by members of the Society for Creative Anachronism and was originally posted to their Usenet newsgroup,, on 23 June 1996. It is copyright by me, © Carolyn Priest-Dorman

This document 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.

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Subject: Re: Viking books--info

Date: 23 Jun 1996 23:41:00 GMT

I'd like to take issue with something a gentle known only as "" wrote:

"The Viking" by several people . Crescent Books, 1975. (good details for garb!)

This book is a reprint of the 1966 edition of _The Viking_ (Gothenburg, Sweden: Tre Tryckare, Cagner), edited by Bertil Almgren. In my opinion, it is NOT a good source for garb in the Viking world. Its reconstructions of men's garments are 25 years behind the times and even misunderstand much of the material that was available when the book was written. Let me list some of the more glaring inaccuracies.

The man wearing the cruciform headband and the little scarf with the stag on it is based on incorrect interpretation of the find locations of several Birka artifacts. The headband was actually a straight piece of wire trim used on (depending on size) either a man's riding coat or its matching hat. The little stag appears to have been some sort of insignia and was [or might have been] worn on a riding coat[, not on a scarf. The scarf itself seems to have been based on some silk belts worn with riding coats]. The embroidered trim on the edge of the scarf is taken from the Valsgarde embroideries, which may have belonged to a cloak but definitely did not appear in a transverse fashion on a scarf.

The overgament the man on page 229 wears, a buttoned coat with transverse trim strips, is based on an incorrect interpretation of a specific Birka tunic, not a coat. The original was not a buttoned garment but a closed-torso blue-green wool tunic with a samite overlay on the chest to which many strips of silver brocaded tablet-weaving were stitched. His hat, with its prominent fur brim, would be fine if the fur were taken off (i.e., the peaked cap from Birka with its dangling silver mesh balls is correct); there's no evidence mentioned in the literature that any of the Birka hats were fur-brimmed. There's also no evidence for the cross-garters he wears: instead, there is a great deal of evidence in several places in the Viking world for spirally-wrapped leg coverings, many about 4" wide. The silver-embroidered collar he wears is based on the Valsgarde embroideries, which are as likely as not to have been cloak ornamentation; they definitely did not belong to a riding coat of this sort.

The ubiquitous headscarf depicted in this book as being worn by all women is, as nearly as I have been able to tell, a misinterpretation of the Oseberg queen's headgear. To my knowledge, there is only one mention in the archaeological literature of a scarflike garment even remotely similar to this depiction, and it wasn't discovered (and analyzed) until some years after this book was published.

The pleated undergarment worn by many of the women depicted in this book has been found at one location and one century only [Birka, tenth century, and it was thought to have been a Slavic import]. It can not be demonstrated to have been by any means a ubiquitous fashion. The same is true of the short cloaks most of the women are drawn wearing: the archaeological evidence for that layer of garment is sparse and, in many locations, nonexistent. The cap sleeves depicted on page 200 are not, to my knowledge, based on any speculation by textile or costume historians (I have no idea who dreamed that up and why). There is no evidence for trim around the bottom of the woman's apron-dress as is depicted in so many of these drawings, and the wrapped apron-dress is only one of the forms now believed to have been worn in the period.

Lastly, there's no depiction at all of several other garments, both men's and women's, that are now known to have existed then.

In sum, while this book has a great deal to recommend it in terms of its coverage of jewelry, weaponry, etc., it is fatally flawed with respect to information on clothing. For someone who is just investigating a Viking persona, I recommend the Osprey Men-at-Arms Elite series book on Vikings. It too has a few flaws, but not nearly as many as this book. But the best one-page summary can be found on page 67 of Cultural Atlas of the Viking World (Facts on File, 1994), ed. James Graham-Campbell. This too is an imperfect source, particularly with respect to the fictional cross-laced shirt one of the men is wearing, but it has the benefit of introducing to a wide audience some of the excellent work in Viking textile and costume archaeology that has taken place in the last 15 years.

For more sources on Viking clothing, visit Þóra's Viking Resources.

This page was created on 13 March 1999 and last updated on 13 April 1999

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