Viking Age Women's Lives in Runic Texts


Like the archaeological evidence, runic inscriptions bring us into direct contact with Viking Age women. This contact may not be quite as immediate as when we come face to face with the skeleton of a woman, undisturbed since she was laid in her grave a millennium or so ago. On the other hand, the runic evidence can often be more informative about the lives of women than the mute objects that come out of archaeological investigations about which we can only guess whether, how and when they were used by women. Runic inscriptions rank alongside archaeological evidence in that they are strictly contemporary evidence, and come from within the culture we are studying rather than being the biased or partial view of an outsider. Yet the inscriptions are superior to the archaeological evidence in that they enable us to identify real people and learn something about them: their names, their family relationships and, occasionally, some of the facts about their lives and deaths. In a limited sense, most runic inscriptions are narratives, and it is narrative that we need in order to fill out the concrete picture we get from the archaeological sources.

Source: Judith Jesch, "Women's Lives in Runic Texts" in Women in the Viking Age, (Woodbridge, Suffolk and Rochester New York: The Boydell Press, 1986), 42.

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