IASSRT Papers: Viking Warriors Dressed In Silk

IASSRT Papers: Viking Warriors Dressed In Silk

This is the fifth in a series of posts showcasing papers most relevant to the Nara to Norwich project from ‘Reconnections along the Silk Road: Restoring and Reconstructing Textiles from Afar: 7th Symposium of the International Association for the Study of Silk Road Textiles (IASSRT)’.

Here we reproduce the abstract of the paper by Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, a member of the Nara to Norwich Project, on silk fragments from the eastern Mediterranean found in Scandinavian burials.


Viking Warriors Dressed In Silk

Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, Associate Professor in Archaeology, Senior researcher at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University and the Swedish History Museum, Sweden.

Silk in Viking Age burials has captured the interest of archaeologists and textile researchers since the first fragments were identified in the late 19th century. The delicate and exotic fabric connected Viking Scandinavia with long-distance trade routes, and provided a slightly different perspective to the type of trade that the Scandinavians engaged in. The archaeological material is highly fragmentary, with few larger pieces, and dominated by fabric cut into long straps, without consideration to the pattern. While this might have been true during the early stages of import, silk became a recurring feature in east Scandinavian elite burials during the 9th and 10th centuries. During this time period the contacts along the eastern trade route, Byzantium and even the markets of the Silk Roads in Central Asia, were extensive, leaving comprehensive and varied archaeological evidence. The east Scandinavian warrior in particular had close connections to the Byzantine cultural sphere, as well as the nomadic groups of the steppes. This is visible in dress and accessories, but also in weaponry and battle techniques that require in-depth contacts and transfer of knowledge, something that could imply a more informed use of silk as well. Both the Byzantine and Arab armies fought dressed in silk garments. Within the Byzantine army, silk borders were used as a means of indicating rank and experience. This presentation aims at contextualizing some of the silk retrieved from Viking burials and explore the possibility that part of the material may represent a transferred practice of warriors wearing silk.