Mads Dengsø Jessen, Senior Researcher at the National Museum of Denmark, with a piece of Window Glass fragment from the Viking Age. Photo: John Fhær Engedal Nissen, the National Museum of Denmark.

The Vikings Had Glass in Their Windows

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New research has shed light on the sophistication of Viking culture, challenging common stereotypes.

Fragments of glass windows discovered at Viking Age sites in South Scandinavia have been dated to between 800 and 1100. This revelation challenges the notion that glass windowpanes were not prevalent in Denmark until the medieval era when churches and castles were built. The discovery suggests that Viking elites had access to technology and materials similar to their European counterparts, and they may have acquired glass through trade rather than pillaging.

The research, conducted by conservator Torben Sode, research director Bernard Gratuze, and senior researcher Mads Dengsø Jessen, analyzed 61 fragments of glass panes found in Viking noblemen’s farms, pre-Christian temples, and early urban areas in southern Scandinavia and Schleswig. Chemical isotope analysis of the glass revealed that it was made of materials dating back to well before the 12th century.

-“Several fragments of glass windows found on important Viking Age sites in South Scandinavia, made us wonder if it was just a mere coincidence that they were there. And it wasn’t, they can be dated to the Vikings Age and most likely must have been in use in that time-period as well”, says conservator Torben Sode, who first noticed the special find material.

The Vikings likely obtained glass technology and inspiration from their interactions with the south, where political networks and trade links existed. This suggests that Vikings, including notable figures like Harald Klak, may have been familiar with glazed windows found in the buildings of the southern elite.

Glass windows in Viking halls were reserved for the upper echelons of society and had religious significance. These windows were not large or transparent like modern ones but were likely smaller, composed of flat pane glass in various shades of green and brown. They served to introduce colorful light into the buildings and were considered special and magical for letting in sunlight while protecting against the elements.

-“This is yet another shift away from the image of unsophisticated barbaric Vikings swinging their swords around. In fact, we are talking about a cultivated Viking elite with royal power that equalled that, for example, of Charlemagne, king of the Franks. This is something that is often omitted in the simplistic Hollywood portraits of Vikings,” says the National Museum’s senior researcher Mads Dengsø Jessen.

The result has been published in the academic Danish Journal of Archaeology

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