New archaeological research indicates that Viking women played a key part in the expansion of Viking society thanks to a vital trade in the textiles they produced.

According to Hayeur Smith, women's weaving helped launch the Viking Age period, when Vikings traded across Europe and extended their reach as far as North America.

"Textiles and what women made were as critical as hunting, building houses, and power struggles," Hayeur Smith said, according to the Scientific American.

Smith has a fashion degree in Paris and has focused on Viking women's cloth during her Ph.D. studies at Glasgow University in the 1990s. 

Thirteen years ago, Hayeur Smith started researching medieval textiles from the National Museum of Iceland. She extracted a lot of valuable knowledge from the fabric scraps woven around 900 years ago.

Developing a better understanding of the Viking social order

Often, metal and stone artifacts, which have a higher tolerance to the passing of time, influence the archaeological studies of the past. As these materials are typically associated with men, they don't present a complete picture of the past.

"The story we've built from brooches and swords is only one part of the story… We need to reassess our understanding of Viking social order," researcher Marianne Moen at the University of Oslo told the Inverse.

According to Hayeur Smith, while Viking men were pillaging and fighting, the women ran the farms and took care of trade. Their cloth became a form of currency in Iceland, and it was woven in line with exact specifications that aren't present in other historical textiles.

This standardized cloth made of wool, called vaðmál, became a commodity that was sold, according to artnet news. 

It was a key supporting pillar of the Viking trade and was in high demand in England. The trade of cloth generated substantial financial revenues.

Cloth specifications

The vaðmál had limited variation in the warp threads per square centimeter, with just four to 15, compared to the 75 to 300 warp threads in cloth from other areas. 

The yarn was made counterclockwise, or S-spun. Hayeur Smith stated that her analysis of historic textiles perfectly matches the standards laid out in Old Norse legal texts.

"Although its value was still measured, in theory, against silver, this cloth… came to be legally regulated as an exchange good in and of itself," Hayeur Smith stated in her book The Valkyries' Loom: The Archaeology of Cloth Production and Female Power in the North Atlantic.

The cloth changed as the Vikings expanded to Greenland, and women gradually began weaving in a more weft-dominated fashion with more horizontal threads. 

This change made the fabric warmer, and it coincided with the start of the Little Ice Age and associated lower temperatures.

Do you have a tip that you would like to share with The Viking Herald?
Feel free to reach out to discuss potential stories that may be in the public interest. You can reach us via email at with the understanding that the information you provide might be used in our reporting and stories.