The Vikings drank from horns – but their helmets did not have any. (Photo: Ribe Viking Center)
It is probably no surprise, but the Vikings drank from drinking horns – both water, milk and mead. Traces of several horns are found in Viking Age burial mounds, the vast majority in female graves. The reason may be that women had the responsibility to brew mead and serve guests.
The Vikings used the whole animal, and animal horns were made of a lightweight and durable material available on all Scandinavian farms. In addition to drinking from horns, the Vikings drank from wooden and ceramic bowls, and the wealthiest from imported glass made in Europe and Byzantium (Asia).
In the NTNU University Museum’s collections in Trondheim, there are preserved complete, or parts of, at least twenty drinking horns. The oldest stems from grave findings from early and late Iron Age (Norway: c. 500 BC – 1050 AD, i.e. up to the Viking Age), and many have been handed down through generations.
Reconstructed Iron Age (c. 300-400 AD) drinking horn from the Veien farm in Ringerike. (Photo: Norway’s National Collection of Antiquities)
There are also remains of a horn, which probably has been sacrificed in a bog. Of the drinking horns found in soil, strikingly many origins from richly equipped female graves.
Odin, Thor – and the Three Holy Kings
The horns from late Middle Ages (ca. 1300-1500 AD), are usually well preserved since they have not been buried in soil, but inherited – several of which are art pieces with beautiful decorations.
Around the mouth, there is usually a wide brass fitting, often with an inscription in Latin letters with the names of the Three Holy Kings: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.
The medieval horns were called memory horns and used to honor a deceased in the same manner as in the Iron Age. The difference was that now it was drunk to the memory of Christian figures instead of Odin and Thor.
Horn With Runes
One of the horns in the NTNU University Museum’s collection stands out. It looks like a simple salt horn, closed with a wooden board covering the mouth and with a spike on the end. But upon closer inspection it is clear that it once has been metal fittings both on the mouth and on the end.
It had been kept in a summer farm in Rennebu in South Trøndelag county, used as a salt container after a larger portion of the mouth had been cut off due to a crack, and came into the museum’s possession in 1923,
Partially readable runes are engraved and have been part of a larger inscription that disappeared with the chunk that was removed. In addition to the runes, there are some indistinct Latin letters.
This object hides many secrets. (Photo: Per E. Fredriksen, NTNU University Museum)
The runes that can be deciphered have been translated to: “….s Asmundar son á mik” (Aasmund’s son owns me) or “….s Asmundar kona á mik” (Aasmund’s wife owns me). The missing word that ends with s is probably the name of the owner.
The runes, as well as the language form, is suggesting a high age. The horn is probably not younger than early Middle Ages and it is tempting to believe that it dates back to the late Iron Age (c. 550-1050 AD).
Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews