Washington, Feb 26 : Women who lived in the major Viking settlement called Birka in the 9th and 10th centuries dressed more provocatively than previously thought, according to a Swedish archaeologist.
Uppsala University archeologist Annika Larsson has suggested that the ancient Vikings enjoyed wearing vivid colors, flowing silk ribbons and glittering bits of mirrors, with the men being especially vain, and the women dressed provocatively.
"They combined oriental features with Nordic styles. Their clothing was designed to be shown off indoors around the fire," Larsson said.
To reach her conclusion, Larsson studied textile finds from the Lake M¤laren Valley, the area that includes Stockholm and Uppsala and was one of the central regions in Scandinavia during the Viking Age.
The findings show that what we call the Viking Age, the years from 750-1050 A.D., was not a uniform period. Medieval Christian fashions were seen in Sweden as early as the late 900s and new trade routes came into use then as well. The oriental features in clothing disappeared when Christianity arrived.
"Textile research can tell us more about the state of society than research into traditions. Old rituals can live on long after society has changed, but when trade routes are cut off, there's an immediate impact on clothing fashions," she said.
She added that Swedish Viking women in the pre-Christian period probably dressed much more provocatively than we previously believed.
Her theory is based partly upon a recent discovery in the Russian town of Pskov, Novgorod, which is located on the trade routes which took the Vikings eastward. Substantial finds in Russia of Viking women's wear have provided a better understanding than could previously be gleaned from the small bits of fabric discovered at Birka, a major Viking island settlement some 30 kilometers West of Stockholm. Previously it was thought that Viking women wore a long suspender (brace) skirt, with both the front and back pieces consisting of square sections, held together by a belt. lasps, often regarded as typical of the Viking Age, were attached to the suspenders roughly at the collar bone. Under this dress they wore a linen shift, and on top of it a woolen shawl or sweater.
However, Larsson dismissed the theory, saying, "The grave plans from excavations at Birka outside Stockholm in the 19th century show that this is incorrect. The clasps were probably worn in the middle of each breast." Traditionally this has been explained by the clasps having fallen down as the corpse rotted. That sounds like a prudish interpretation," she added.
She maintains instead that the Birka women's skirts consisted of a single piece of fabric and were open in front. The suspenders held up the train and functioned as a harness that was fastened to the breasts with the clasps.
Larsson's theory is strengthened by that fact that a number of female figures have been preserved whose outfits both have trains and are open in front. But if we are to believe the archeological finds, this style of clothing disappeared with the advent of Christianity.
"It's easy to imagine that the Christian church had certain reservations about clothing that accentuated the breasts in this way and, what's more, exposed the under shift in front. It's also possible that this clothing was associated with pre-Christian rituals and was therefore forbidden," she said.