The skills and jobs of a Viking woman
For a woman to be successful in ancient Scandinavia she would need to have a multitude of skills used in daily life.
Cooking was one such skill, and the Viking woman would have to not only cook and prepare food, but to also manage the stock levels for the cold winters. Smoking fish and meats, making broth, baking bread and producing ale were all skills that would help a Viking woman keep a household running successfully.
Additional skills like cloth making, fabric work and sewing and stitching were all necessary too. The Viking woman would get her husband to buy fabric and would make and cloth the family in the traditional clothing style.
Keeping the family healthy was another important facet of a Viking woman’s life. While old Norse medicine was not as advanced as today, a Viking women would still make medicine, and tend to the ill should it be needed.
Finally a women would also have to be adept at managing the farm. There would be times where her husband, or father would be away on trades or raids. The Viking woman would look after the animals and crops, or at the least manage the farm hands or slaves to ensure the farm was managed correctly.
The day to day responsibilities of women included: food preparation and serving; housekeeping and laundry; child care; milking and dairy chores; and clothes making, from spinning and weaving to cutting and sewing. The dividing line between men’s and women’s responsibilities typically was located at the doorway to the house; women were in charge of everything indoors while everything outdoors was the responsibility of the men.
Most of the Icelandic family sagas are about men and probably were written by men. Women tend to play only minor roles, but those roles are varied. In general, the female characters are strong. The female characters in the sagas are praised for beauty, but more frequently for their wisdom. Many of the character traits regarded as positive in men (such as a sense of honor, courage, and a strong will) are also regarded as positive traits in women.
Within the male-dominated Viking society, women had a certain amount of personal power, depending on their social status. When Viking men were away from home—raiding, fishing, exploring or on trading missions—Viking women took over all the men’s work as well as doing their own. Women were valuable members of the society and it was shameful for a man to harm a woman.
Women’s role was domestic, taking care of the family, preparing food, laundry, milking cows, sheep and goats, making butter and cheeses, preserving food for winter, gardening, cleaning and the most time-consuming task of all, making the family’s clothes. Spinning, carding, weaving, cutting and sewing took a long time. It could take a Viking woman 35 hours to spin enough yarn for a day’s weaving, to give you some idea of how much time it took to make clothing.