Despite their small stature, these two skilled artisans exemplify the importance and reverence of dwarves in Norse mythology and legend.

Skilled artisans

Despite their unfair reputation as mere barbarian raiders, people in Viking societies produced delicate, intricate, and beautiful works of art, particularly in metal crafts

Brooches, necklaces, axes, and other pieces of elaborate jewelry have been discovered to help break down the age-old stereotype of these people as mere ravenous brutes and help paint the broader picture of art and design in early medieval Europe. 

One only must look at, for example, the gold jewelry discovered in the Hiddensee hoard to realize that people in Viking societies were as artistic and skilled in the arts as any of their contemporary cultures or civilizations.

Like most early medieval societies, most towns and villages throughout the Nordic region during the Viking era (c. 750 – 1100 CE) would have had skilled artisans, metalworkers, and blacksmiths. 

Carefully crafting a range of metals, for both fashionable and functional reasons, many were so prized that they were buried in their owners' graves. 

The importance of such skilled metalwork to people in Viking societies can also be illustrated by the characters of Brokkr and Eitri, ripped out of the rich tapestry of Norse mythology and sagas.

Two brothers

Norse mythology is home to a wide variety of entities and beings, from the Norse gods on high in Asgard to the famous jötnar (giants) - sometimes friendly, sometimes not – to several mythical creatures, beasts, and even the walking undead

Some of the most enduringly popular beings in Norse mythology, however, were the dwarves. They were often portrayed as small, study and skilled artisans associated with the underground realm of Svartalfheim, one of the nine universes of Norse cosmology.

Despite a rather limited appearance in the Norse sagas, two of the most famous dwarves were brothers called Brokkr and Eitri (sometimes also called Sindri). 

These brothers, residing in Svartaflahiem, were so renowned for their precocious metalworking skills that a whole plethora of characters, including many of the Norse gods, called upon them to utilize their artisanal skills.

Brokkr and Eitri were so renowned for their precocious metalworking skills that many Norse gods called upon them to utilize their artisanal skills. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Loki's wager

One of the most famous stories from the Norse sagas involves the Norse god Loki placing a bet with the brothers to fashion three creations of unparallel beauty and power. 

The first item they created was none other than Mjöllnir, the mighty (and magical) hammer that could only be wielded by Loki's brother, the Norse God of Thunder, Thor. Yet Brokkr and Eitri didn't simply bang this hammer into being; they imbued it with the power to control thunder and lightning.

The second item the brothers created may sound familiar to all those J.R.R Tolkien fans. They fashioned a mighty golden ring for the chief of the Norse Gods, Odin. 

This ring, Draupnir, was not only delicately crafted but also had the ability to produce eight identical rings every ninth night, symbolizing the power and wealth of Odin. This no doubt inspired "The One Ring"- a magical golden ring also fashioned by dwarves - a central plot element in J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of The Rings novels.

The last creation fashioned by these brothers was perhaps the most beautiful. The two brothers created a magical boar, Gullinbursti, entirely out of gold. 

This golden animal was not only aesthetically pleasing but also had the ability to brighten the darkest place as it could light up and glow. Unsurprisingly, this was gifted to Freyr, the goddess associated with sunlight and prosperity.

It appears that Loki underestimated the two brothers and their skills as they proved themselves not only magnificent artisans but also could create pieces of art that were imbued with magical properties. 

In the end, Loki – who had wagered his head – shirked his way out of paying his dues by saying the dwarves were more than entitled to his head (he had lost the bet) but had no right to take any of his neck. 

It should also be noted that during their creation of the three magical items, Loki did his best to put the brothers off by shapeshifting into a fly and biting Brokkr...typical Lokki!

Revered artisans and colorful characters

This tall tale, one of many that help color the rich tapestry of Norse mythology, highlights the importance of dwarves to people in Viking societies. 

Though they may, in fact, be magical and mythical, dwarves, like Brokkr and Eitiri, were revered as skilled artisans and the creators of more than impressive items and artifacts. 

The brothers are responsible for one of the most iconic symbols of Norse mythology – Thor's hammer, Mjöllnir, an inspiration for artisans down through the ages.

These two dwarf brothers are another reason Norse mythology has continued to inspire people and make them fall in love with its rich cast of colorful characters for over a millennium.

The Staatliche Museeun zu Berlin has more on elaborate Viking treasures, like those discovered in Hiddensee, available here

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