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New Viking Discovery Reveals a Surprising Artsy Side of the Brutish Raiders

Were Vikings the most cultured warriors in history?

Vikings have long carried a reputation for pillaging and plundering. However, a recent discovery of thousands of artifacts in Ribe, Denmark revealed that the fearsome warriors also had some gentler hobbies—beyond attacking monasteries, burying their esteemed warriors in lavish ships, and navigating the seas via crystals.

The Vikings appear to have enjoyed quite a lot of cultural activities, such as playing music, making beads, and crafting ornaments.

The discovery in Ribe proves that the Vikings had a well-established trading culture even before they started raiding Europe in the 8th century. Wooden "solid houses" dating back no later than the 720s offer evidence that the city wasn’t just a seasonal trading site; it was a permanent settlement. Other telling discoveries include jewelry, coins, and a lyre, a stringed musical instrument.

Colorfull vikings trinkets

Glass beads found at Ribe.

These items suggest that the Viking city was populated by craftsmen, seafarers, innkeepers, and musicians, not only warriors and farmers. The timeline of the settlement is also significant, as seafaring was still just developing in the early 700s and wouldn’t rise to prominence until nearly a century later.

The beads found in the excavation show that the city relied heavily upon maritime trading. Raw materials were collected and used to produce beads and jewelry, that were then traded via ship. But eventually mass produced beads from present-day Syria arrived in Ribe, and undercut the local market. 

How the Vikings went from building a complex and seemingly stable society to gaining their status as brash and hostile warriors is still unknown. However, it has been suggested that the tales of the Vikings as we know them today were told by those Europeans who were either victims or witnesses to their attacks, not by the Vikings themselves.

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