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Bibliography of Sources for Viking Age Womens' Studies

Gentle Readers:

One of the most frequent types of questions I am asked is about locating sources that offer information about women in the Viking Age. Therefore I present here a beginning bibliography of sources on Viking Age women.

As a note, many of the items listed below are journal articles, which probably won't be available in your local public library. There are a couple of ways to access these if you are not a student at a university or college:

The first is to visit a university or college library. Most allow non-students to use the library, although often you won't be able to check out books. However, it's simple to photocopy a journal article, and every university library I've ever visited had copy machines for public use.

The second method would be to go to your library and ask the reference librarian for information on obtaining materials through Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Surprisingly small libraries have been able to get really obscure documents for me via ILL. Sometimes your local branch library can handle an ILL request, sometimes you have to go to the main branch of the library - just ask, the librarians will be happy to tell you how it's done in your library. Usually ILL involves a small fee to cover photocopying and shipping articles to you. You can also get books this way, and in the case of books they usually loan the book to your library, and you will then either check it out from your library or else you may have to use it while at the library, depending on the practices of the library which owns the work.

And, Gentle Readers, if you have suggestions for other books or articles which should be listed here, please contact me at!


  • Benidictow, Ole Jorgen. "The Milky Way in History: Breast Feeding, Antagonism Between the Sexes, and Infant Mortality in Medieval Norway," Scandinavian Journal of History. 10 (1985): 19-53.
    [This interesting article discusses infanticide but is making the point that the introduction of European "Christian" culture into Norway during the middle ages led to a considerable net increase in infant mortality, especially during the first month of life. One aspect of this was the medieval European medical belief that the mother's first milk (colostrum) was injurious to new-borns (despite what we know today, that colostrum boosts the child's immune system and protects it against infection). This article also presents evidence showing that it is erroneous to believe that prolonged breast feeding has an unlimited or virtually unlimited contraceptive effect, and that the period of amenorrhea related to childbirth ranges from 2 to 18 months only.]

  • Clover, Carol J. "Maiden Warriors and Other Sons," Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 85 (1986):35-49.
    [This is an excellent article examining the theme of the Viking warrior woman. Clover has determined by examination of the laws, particularly the Baugatal section of Gragas, the sagas and Saxo Grammaticus's depictions of women warriors, as well as ethnological comparisons, that the woman warrior was a rare and specialized role. The only case in which a woman was allowed to take up arms was if (1) she was never married, (2) she had no living male relatives in the degrees listed in Baugatal who would have received weregild for the death of a family member, and (3) a crime had been perpetrated against her family that required vengeance by the social code of the day, often the murder of her last male relative. This role was temporary, but for its duration conferred the social role on the warrior woman as "son". Excellent and insightful essay.]

  • Clover, Carol J. "The Politics of Scarcity: Notes on the Sex Ratio in Early Scandinavia." Scandinavian Studies 60 (1988): 147-188.
    [An interesting and insightful article, hypothesizes that women were extremely scarce in Viking Scandinavia (particularly Iceland) due to several factors, including higher rate of mortality due to childbirth and preferential exposure of female infants. If Clover is correct, her explanation completely reconciles the apparent gap between women's status as reflected in the laws versus women's status as shown in the sagas.]

  • Clover, Carol J. "Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe," Studying Medieval Women. ed. Nancy F. Partner. Cambridge: Medieval Academy of America. 1993. pp. 61-85.
    [Clover's article argues that the defining social polarity in early Iceland was not male/female, but rather a dynamic between teh capable, as represented by able-bodied men and a few exceptional women, versus everyone else, including the "normal" woman, children, the unmanly man, elderly people, and the infirm. Clover also makes the point that this dynamic shifted with the introduction of medieval Christian European cultural norms as the medieval period began and the Viking Age faded away.]
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  • Damsholt, Nanna. "The Role of Icelandic Women in the Sagas and the Production of Homespun Cloth," Scandinavian Hournal of History 9 (1984): 75-90.
    [An insightful discussion of the implications of the fact that the gross national product of Viking Age Iceland was homespun, a cottage industry managed entirely by women, and how this affected the status of these women.]

  • Dommasnes, L. H. "Women, kinship, and the basis of power in the Norwegian Viking Age", in Ross Samson (ed.), Social Approaches to Viking Studies. Glasgow: Boydell & Brewer. 1991. pp. 65-74.
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  • Fell, Christine. "Viking Women in Britain." Women in Anglo-Saxon England. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1984. 129-147.
    [Included as a chapter in Fell's excellent book on women in Anglo-Saxon England. Provides a brief summary of the status and historical position of women in the areas of England settled by the Vikings.]
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  • Frank, Roberta. "Marriage in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Iceland." Viator 4 (1973): 473-484.
    [Discusses the marriage laws of Gragas as well as the portrait of marriage presented by the sagas. An excellent paper on women and marriage in medieval Iceland.]

  • Frank, Roberta. "Why Skalds Address Women," Poetry in the Scandinavian Middle Ages. Atti del 12 Congresso Internationale di Studi sull'alto medioevo. Spoleto: Centro Italiano di Studi sull'alto medioevo. 1990. pp. 67-83.

  • Gräslund, Anne-Sofie. "The Position of Iron Age Scandinavian Women." Gender and the Archaeology of Death. Bettina Arnold & Nancy L. Wicker, eds. Gender and Archaeology Series 2. New York: Altamira. 2001. pp. 81-102.
    [To a fairly high degree, women figure in the runic inscriptions in the Mälar area of central Sweden. In Uppland, the province in this region that is richest in rune stones, women are mentioned in 39% of the inscriptions either as the erector of the stone or commemorated by it, alone or together with men. The family pattern showed that up to six sons were mentioned but not more than two daughters. Gräslund's hypothesis is that this is due to the fact that female infanticide was practiced in the Mälar area at this time.]
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  • Jacobsen, Grethe. "Pregnancy and Childbirth." in: Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia. Phillip Pulsiano, et al., eds. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities 934. New York: Garland. 1993. p. 516.
    [A brief overview of the very little that is recorded about childbirth in the Viking Age and medieval Scandinavia.]
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  • Jacobsen, Grethe. "Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Medieval North: A Typology of Sources and a Preliminary Study." Scandinavian Journal of History 9:2 (1984). pp. 91-111.

  • Jacobsen, Grethe. The Position of Women in Scandinavia During the Viking Period. MA Thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1978.
    [Presents a comprehensive look at Viking women as reflected in law and literature, with separate discussions of conditions in Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. An excellent source, and surprisingly, quite readable. May be ordered from University Microfilms Inc.]

  • Jacobsen, Grethe. "Sexual Irregularities in Medieval Scandinavia." Sexual Practices and the Medieval Church. eds. Vern L. Bullough and James Brundage. Buffalo: Prometheus Books. 1982. 72-85.
    [A survey of the attitudes of medieval Scandinavians toward non-marital sex, with good discussions of how those attitudes reflect the role of women in Scandinavian society.]
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  • Jesch, Judith. Women in the Viking Age. Woodbridge: Boydell. 1991.
    [Jesch's book was the first English language book on women in the Viking Age. She gives an introduction to the scholarship up to 1991 dealing with women of the period. While the work is not in-depth, it is extremely useful as a place to begin learning about this topic, and furthermore, Jesch paves the way here for others to follow in her footsteps. Excellent book.]
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  • Jochens, Jenny M. "Before the Male Gaze: the Absence of the Female Body in Old Norse," Sex in the Middle Ages. ed. Joyce E. Salisbury. New York: Garland. 1991. pp. 3-29.
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  • Jochens, Jenny M. "The Church and Sexuality in Medieval Iceland." Journal of Medieval History 6 (1980): 377-392.
    [Particularly focused on the concept of clerical marriages, also provides insights into the status of women and non-marital sex.]

  • Jochens, Jenny M. "Consent in Marriage: Old Norse Law, Life, and Literature." Scandinavian Studies 58 (1986): 142-176.

  • Jochens, Jenny M. "Gender and Drinking in the World of the Icelandic Sagas," A Special Brew: Essays in Honor of Kristof Glamann. Odense University Studies in History and Social Sciences Vol. 165. Thomas Riis, Ed. Odense: Odense Univ. Press. 1993. pp. 155-181.
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  • Jochens, Jenny M. "The Illicit Love Visit: An Archaeology of Old Norse Sexuality," JHS 1 (1991): 357-392.

  • Jochens, Jenny M. "The Medieval Icelandic Heroine: Fact or Fiction?" Viator 17 (1986): 35-50.
    [A revealing examination of the "Germanic-Nordic model of strong, independent womanhood" via a comparison of the heroines of the sagas and evidence drawn from Scandinavian law codes, with special attention to women and marriage.]

  • Jochens, Jenny M. "Men, Women, and Beasts: Old Norse Sexuality." Handbook in Sexuality. ed. Vern Bullough. New York: Garland Press. 1995.

  • Jochens, Jenny M. Old Norse Images of Women. Philadelphia. University of Philadelphia Press. 1996.
    [Jochens examines the literary views of Viking Age women, examining stereotypes and various themes. A very helpful aide in understanding women's roles in the sagas and mythology, as well as being fascinating reading.]
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  • Jochens, Jenny M. "Old Norse Magic and Gender: Thattr Thorvalds ens Vidforla," Scandinavian Studies 63 (1991): 305-317.

  • Jochens, Jenny M. "Old Norse Motherhood," Medieval Mothering. Feminea Medevalia 3. eds. Bonnie Wheeler and John C. Parson. New York: Garland. 1995.
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  • Jochens, Jenny M. "Old Norse Sources on Women," Medieval Women and the Sources of Medieval History. ed. Joel T. Rosenthal. Athens: University of Georgia Press. 1990. pp. 155-188.
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  • Jochens, Jenny M. "Vikings Westward to Vinland: Problems of Women and Sexuality." Cold Counsel: the Women of Old Norse Literature and Myth. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities Vol. 1894. eds. Karen Swenson and Saray May Anderson. New York: Garland Press. 1995.
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  • Jochens, Jenny M. "Voluspa: Matrix of Norse Womanhood," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 88 (1989): 344-362.

  • Jochens, Jenny M. Women in Old Norse Society. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1995.
    [A fascinating wealth of detail of the lives of women in Viking Age Iceland and Norway, including work, sexual behavior, marriage customs, reproductive practices, familial relations, leisure activities, religious practices, and legal matters relating to women. An outstanding book.]
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  • Karras, Ruth M. "Concubinage and Slavery in the Viking Age," Scandinavian Studies 62 (1990): 141-162.
    [An excellent discussion of the role of the concubine in Old Norse Society.]

  • Lauritsen, Tina and Ole Thirup Kastholm Hansen. "Transvestite Vikings?" Viking Heritage 1 (2003). Accessed 19 December 2005.
    [A number of prehistoric graves from Scandinavia, Holland and England challenge traditional assumptions about gender roles in the Viking Age. These prehistoric graves contain men buried in women's clothes and with what we perceive as typical female grave goods; and in death women have been supplied with weapons for their journey to the other side.]

  • Norrman, Lena. "Woman or Warrior? The Construction of Gender in Old Norse Myth". Old Norse Myths, Literature and Society: Proceedings of the 11th International Saga Conference 2-7 July 2000, University of Sydney. eds. Geraldine Barnes and Margaret Clunies Ross. Sydney: Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Sydney. 2000. pp. 375-385. Accessed 19 December 2005.
    [Norrman examines the Norse literary stereotype of the woman warrior or the maiden king, especially focusing on Hervôr. She looks at the gender roles that are articulated in these stories. A woman in the Norse sagas who dressed like a man was mostly regarded as being headstrong or bold, a troublemaker, so Norrman asks if the authors of the sagas accepted women warriors or maiden kings as belonging to a different gender, as the narratives do not mention prosecution or punishment. The article goes on to discuss the Norse social construction of gender, which seems to strongly focs on powerful/powerless dichotomies rather than male/female ones.]

  • Pentikainen, Juha. "Child Abandonment as an Indicator of Christianization in the Nordic Countries." in: Old Norse and Finnish Religions and Cultic Place-Names. ed. Tore Ahlbäck. Åbo. 1990. pp. 72-91.

  • Phelpstead, Carl. "The Sexual Ideology of Hrólfs saga kraka". Scandinavian Studies 75 (2003) pp. 1-24.
    [This article looks at the ideology of sex and gender that underlies the sexual themes in Hrólfs saga kraka. The discussion looks at Queen Ólof of Saxland, who embodies the Norse literary "maiden warrior" stereotype. The article also discusses some male homosexual themes in the saga.]

  • Sørensen, Marie Louise Stig. "Identifying or including: approaches to the engendering of archaeology". Kvinner i arkeologi i Norge 21 (1996) pp. 51-60.
    [Two different approaches to the analysis of women's involvement with metal-working are outlined. It is argued that instead of finding gender, we should aim to explore productive technologies by including women and focusing upon the social context of the production.]

  • Sørensen, Marie Louise Stig. "Women as/and Metalworkers." Women in Industry and Technology: From Prehistory to the Present Day. A. Devonshire & B. Wood, eds. London: Museum of London. 1996.
    [Two different approaches to the analysis of women's involvement with metal-working are outlined. It is argued that instead of finding gender, we should aim to explore productive technologies by including women and focusing upon the social context of the production.]
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  • Stalsberg, Anne. "Visible Women Made Invisible - Varangian Women in Old Russia: An Example of the Influence of Women's Finds on Historical Interpretation." in Gender and the Archaeology of Death. eds. Bettina Arnold and Nancy L. Wicker. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. California. 2001. pp. 65-79.
    [Stalsberg is saying that despite a number of historians/authors stating baldly that the Varangian movement into Russia was a completely masculine activity, with trade, raiding, and state-founding being performed by Scandinavian men, surprisingly when one examines the archaeological finds that can be fairly confidently assessed as being Varangian, the great majority are *women's* graves. Stalsberg points out that Scandinavian women are very identifiable because of the large metal brooches, whereas men's ethnic origins were probably more indicated by the textiles, colors, cut of clothes etc. that don't survive as well. She says that there were undoubtedly more male Varangians than females, they just aren't as identifable in the archaeological context. Stalsberg argues that this gives a very clear indication that Varangians were bringing their women and families into Russia rather than moving into a district, conquering the Slavic or Finnic inhabitants and thenceforth taking local wives. Another fascinating bit of evidence is that about a quarter of all traders' scales found in Old Rus' and Birka are in women's graves.]
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  • Strand, Birgit. "Women in Gesta Danorum." Saxo Grammaticus: A Medieval Author Between Norse and Latin Culture. ed. Kirsten Friis-Jensen. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. 1981. 135-167.
    [A comparison of parallel portrayals of women in Saxo's Gesta Danorum and those in the works of Snorri Sturluson. Contains a good discussion of the perception of women by Christian authors of widely differing backgrounds: really points up the differences between medieval Scandinavia and the rest of Europe.]

  • Wicker, Nancy L. "Selective female infanticide as partial explanation for the dearth of women in Viking Age Scandinavia" in: Violence and Society in the Early Medieval West. ed. Guy Halsell. Woodbridge: Boydell. 1998. pp. 205-221.
    [This is a very interesting but very disturbing discussion of the use of infanticide in the Viking Age. Old Norse literary sources mention fewer females than should be the case according to natural sex ratios in sources such as Landnámabók and in the Swedish Upplandic runestones, and one suggestion as to the cause is that female infanticide may account for the scarcity of daughters.]
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