Further evidence that the Vikings weren’t just beer-swilling, raping, and pillaging savages comes out of Denmark with the discovery of two grape seeds that may indicate the Norsemen didn’t just drink but may have even produced that most sophisticated beverage: wine.
It seems not everyone in Viking society was allowed to drink the more refined beverage, but many of them did enjoy their tippling of whatever kind of alcohol they could get. The lower echelons drank beer, which was easier to produce in the northern climate. The higher strata of society apparently enjoyed wine - when they could get it.
Viking drinking horns. (Mararie/ CC BY SA 2.0)
The question is, was the wine produced locally, or was it imported from France or other parts south? An article on Videnskab.dk explores these questions with interviews of archaeologists involved in the research of the two tiny grape seeds. Botanical archaeologist Peter Steen Henriksen, a curator at Denmark’s National Museum who found the two tiny seeds said:
"This is the first discovery and evidence of viticulture in Denmark, and all that it entails in terms of status and power. We do not know how they used the grapes. Was it just has to put a great bunch of grapes on a table, for example? But it is reasonable to believe that they made the wine."
Dr. Henriksen found the seeds in soil at a distance from each other of about 600 meters (1968.5 ft.), and they grew between 100 and 200 years apart. He mixed the sand and dirt from the settlement of Tissø with water and found plant material, including the grape seeds. The remnants of the settlement are in Zealand.
An analysis of the strontium content in the two seeds proved one of the seeds was grown in Denmark, according to National Museum Professor Karin Margarita Frei. As Professor Frei says:
"We can safely say that it has a local strontium isotope signature, suggesting that it could be a grape grown in Zealand. This means that the first time we can say that they may have produced wine in Denmark. Before we had only conjecture, now we can see that they actually had grapes, and thus potential to make it themselves. Suddenly it becomes much more real.”
Harvesting grapes for wine. (Public Domain)
The speculation that elites enjoyed wine may be confirmed by the nature of the settlement of Tissø, which the article calls “one of our richest sites from the Viking Age in Denmark. It is an example of how a royal family—or at least something resembling—has manifested itself in the same place for a very long period. It stretches from the late Iron Age to the end of the Viking Age, from 550 to 1050 AD.”
The settlement of Tissø, which was rich and may have been the seat of a Viking monarch, was near this large lake, which is connected to the sea by a river. (Vastgoten/CC BY SA 3.0)
Sandie Holst, a co-author of the article explaining the results of the research, published in the Danish Journal of Archaeology, says the wine may have set the elites apart from ordinary people in Viking society. It was like saying, “I can drink wine, and you can only drink beer,” she tells Videnskab.dk.
Top image: Drinking from a Viking drinking horn. (CC BY SA 3.0) Oak wine barrels. (Sanjay Acharya/ CC BY SA 3.0)
By Mark Miller