However, the initiation and celebration of a Viking marriage had its own characteristics that differ from what we might be used to today.
The man was the one who initiated the process of getting married, and it was the woman's father that approved the marriage.
By law, the woman's consent was not needed, but it was still not unusual for fathers to consult their daughters before making the decision. As such, being forcibly married was not very common.
A business arrangement
Indeed, marriage was seen as a business arrangement between families, and it was often used as means to build alliances between the two.
Therefore, love between the prospective bride and groom was not a deciding factor when approving the marriage.
However, this does not mean that there never were feelings or emotions involved between the two.
Some couples were in love before they married, and some grew to love each other throughout their marriage.
Women generally married young, and some possibly at only twelve years old. Thus, by the age of 20, almost every woman was married.
A risky affair
When the man was ready to get married, he would sometimes consult his family to get advice before finding a bride. This is because he needed to tread with caution.
If he did not ask for the woman's hand in marriage immediately after courting her, he ran the risk of her family feeling embarrassed and insulted.
However, if he gave a marriage proposal and this was turned down, it brought similar feelings of embarrassment and insult to the man's family. For both sides, this could be grounds for blood vengeance.
While courting for marriage was common, it was not always considered favorable, and the woman's family could even consider the courting inappropriate.
Courting could be done by the man visiting the woman or by holding conversations with her. It could also be done by writing love poems, although this was riskier because writing love poems about a woman was forbidden by law.
The reasoning for this was that such poems could hurt the reputation of both the woman and her family. Moreover, there was also a belief that the words in these poems could carry magic and end up cursing the woman.
An illustration of the dangers of courting can be found in Kormak's saga, where Kormak wrote love poems for Steingerd. Steingerd's father saw this courting as bringing dishonor to his family, and he thus tried to have Kormak assassinated.
Rings - likely used as part of the wedding rites - symbolized birth, death, and re-birth. Photo: Bairyna / Pixabay
A Viking marriage consisted of two parts: the betrothal and the wedding. The wedding was a big celebration, and it would usually take place at the bride's parents' house.
During this celebration, the participants would feast and drink for several days.
While the wedding rites of Vikings are not well known, old myths and sagas have still given us some indication of what might have been common practices.
For example, apples likely took a part in the wedding ceremony as a sign of fertility. The same goes for rings, which symbolized birth, death, and re-birth.
As for their wedding attire, the bride and groom were usually dressed up in their finest clothes. The bride could also sometimes wear a veil, which likely would have covered her face.
When the bride and groom shared the bed for the first time as a couple, it was common practice for the wedding guests to follow along.
Indeed, for the marriage to be binding, there needed to be at least six witnesses who saw the couple go to bed together.
Lovers and infidelity
Since marriages often were initiated for alliance and business purposes, it was not uncommon for either party to seek love elsewhere.
Some men would have long-term relationships with lovers while also being married to their wives.
Sometimes these lovers would be of a lower social standing, so that marriage between the two was impossible. Other times, they could be of the same social standing as the man.
Whatever children this lover carried would have the same right to inheritance as the children of the husband and wife.
While the wife could have lovers, too, her husband would still be considered the father of the children she might have carried outside of wedlock.
In general, however, women would be punished for infidelity while the man was not.
The man could also bring his mistresses into their home, but if he did, his wife would have authority over these new women.
Nevertheless, if either the husband or wife died, it was not unusual for the remaining spouse to remarry again quickly.
Thus, Viking marriages were important for both business and alliance purposes, and the celebration could span over several days.
This article was written thanks to the support of subscribers to The Viking Herald's Facebook page. Do you enjoy our work? You can SUBSCRIBE here or via our Facebook page. You'll get access to exclusive content and behind-the-scenes access.
Feel free to reach out to discuss potential stories that may be in the public interest. You can reach us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the understanding that the information you provide might be used in our reporting and stories.