The Roles of Women in Medieval Scandinavia

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When people think about Medieval Scandinavia they usually think about a cold northern region inhabited by a warrior people who spend all of their time sailing around in Viking warships and plundering from one another or going to war with their neighbors. While our archaeological evidence from this period may be rather scarce, many cite the Scandinavian pagan religions as a evidence of this warrior society due to the fact that men were encouraged to fight in order to be chosen by the gods to live in Valhalla, the pagan equivalent, loosely equivalent, of heaven. However, this only accounts for the men of the society, and no society can continue if it consists only of men. Were the women as concerned with war as their male comrades? Recent research into Scandinavian women suggests that they were a far more powerful force in Medieval Scandinavia than the previously voiceless onlookers they were believed to have been. Due to high rates of infanticide - particularly female infanticide, women’s role in creation of the realm’s currency, and even the pagan religion that so many cite as evidence of a male-centric war society gives us evidence of the many women who were able to attain both societal and familial power in Scandinavia. Female infanticide was a common practice throughout the medieval world and while on one hand this is evidence of misogyny, on the other hand it is empowering to those females who do manage to make it to adulthood. The commonality of infanticide created a scarcity of women in Scandinavia and allowed these women to cut across both social and economic ranks. Women were also the primary weavers of homespun cloth, which before the use of fish in the fourteenth century, was the Scandinavian realm’s common currency. Thi... ... middle of paper ... ...niversity Press, 1990. Dahmus, Joseph. Seven Medieval Queens. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, INC., 1972. Damsholt, Nanna. "The Role of Icelandic Women in the Sagas and in the Production of Homespun Cloth." Scandinavian Journal of HIstory 9, no. 2 (1984): 75-90. Hill, Mary. Margaret of Denmark. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1898. Jochens, Jenny. Women in Old Norse Society. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1995. Sawyer, Birgit and Peter. Medieval Scandinavia: From Conversion to Reformation, Circa 800-1500. The Nordic Series. Vol. 17. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992. Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology. Translated by Jesse L. Byock. Penguin Books, 2005. Sturluson, Snorri. King Harald's Saga: Harald Hardradi of Norway. Translated by Magnusson, Magnus and Palsson, Hermann. England: Penguin Books, 1966.

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