After many laborious hours, she presented new details on the Norwegian Vikings' trade in the book "Silk for the Vikings," showing that their silk trade was a more elaborate endeavor than originally thought.
There are many examples of silk fragments from the Viking Age found in Norway, and the oldest pieces were found when the Oseberg ship was unearthed.
The ship contained over 100 different silk fragments, silk from 15 different textiles, as well as embroideries and tablet-woven silk and wool bands.
However, the Oseberg ship is not the only place where old Viking silk has been found in Norway; other places include Gokstad in Vestfold county and Nedre Haugen in Østfold county.
Viking silk in Sweden
In Sweden, old Viking silk has also been discovered at Birka, just outside the capital of Stockholm.
There, researchers actually found the highest number of burial sites containing Viking Age silk. Yet, Oseberg stands as the site with the highest quantity and most variety of silk found.
The prevailing belief was that the Vikings' silk stemmed from their many attacks on, and lootings of, English and Irish monasteries and churches.
Instead, Vedeler's work shows that the silk had an eastern origin. She has investigated silk production and trade in Byzantium, Persia, and along the Russian rivers, as well as how this silk was traded in the Nordics.
Purchased in the East?
On her findings, Vedeler comments to Apollon magazine that "When seeing it all in its totality, it's more logical to assume that most of the silk was purchased in the East, rather than being looted from the British Isles."
She thinks that the Vikings imported silk from two places: Byzantium, which the Vikings at their time called Miklagard, and Persia. However, some of the silk in the Vikings' possession also had origins from even further east, including China.
Overall, the evidence points toward the Vikings getting more of their silk from Persia than they did from Constantinople.
For example, of the silk found in the Oseberg ship, most of the patterns could be traced back to Persia. This was evident through both the technique used and how the motifs related to Central Asian religious motifs.
They also featured an imperial bird, called a Shahrokh, which stemmed from Persian mythology and was a popular motif in Persian art. Ironically enough, these motifs of religious and mythological importance were featured on the silk used in both European churches and in the Vikings' heathen burials.
The Vikings considered silk a status symbol. Photo: Berna Namoglu / Shutterstock
Use of silk
At the time, silk was used for many purposes. It was used not only as a diplomatic gift but also by churches in Europe to wrap their sacred relics.
While the Vikings did acquire their silk through trade, they also got it through plundering, diplomacy, and the exchange of gifts.
For example, one of the pieces of silk found in the Oseberg ship seems to have been looted from an Irish church. This is evident by the silk having the symbol of a cross while stemming from a time before Norway had become Christian.
Though the Vikings saw silk as a status symbol, the majority of what the Scandinavians got was likely of sub-par quality. This is explained by how both Byzantium and Persia strictly regulated the sale of silk to foreigners.
In Byzantium, there were harsh punishments for illegal silk sales, and traders could not spend more than ten numismata on silk, when in comparison, a horse cost twelve.
The Persians were also strict when it came to both the sale and production of silk. Nevertheless, trade privileges were still awarded to the Northern tradesmen.
Transport of silk
During transport, Vedeler thinks that the silk likely passed through the Russian rivers Dnieper and Volga, as they were the main rivers to Constantinople and the Caspian Sea, respectively.
The transport of silk was not always an easy journey, and it could, at times, turn very dangerous. One of the sources Vedeler researched described such an instance.
While traveling on the river, a group of tradesmen was not only attacked by tribesmen but also had to confront the rapids and cataracts of the river.
While it is no secret that the Vikings acquired goods through their many plunders abroad, Vedeler's work not only adds to the information on how the Vikings' sourced their silk but also highlights the global nature of their economic endeavors.
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