New findings: Vikings used glass windows

Published 29 October 2023
- By Editorial Staff
The Vikings probably had glass windows in shades of brown and green.

New Danish research shows that the Vikings probably used stained glass windows, something previously thought to have been used only in medieval castles and church buildings. The researchers argue that this indicates that the Vikings were more sophisticated than previously thought.

In the study, published in the Danish Journal of Archaeology, 61 fragments of colored glass found at six different excavation sites over a 25-year period were analyzed. The excavation sites included Viking-era noble estates, pre-Christian temples, and also urban environments. Five of the excavations took place in southern Scandinavia, and one was conducted in Hedeby in northern Germany. It was previously believed that the glasses ended up at these sites due to “contamination” from later periods, but after analysis, it was concluded that the glasses were most likely used by Vikings.

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 Torben Sode at the National Museum in Copenhagen, the main author of the study.

Window glass was first documented during Roman times and is associated with exclusive residences. It has been assumed that the spread of window glass during the early Middle Ages was limited to the Christian-Roman cultural area. In Scandinavia, the first painted glasses are documented during the Middle Ages at churches and castles, according to Arkeonews.

“Cultured viking elite”

Regarding the Vikings, it was assumed that windows were covered with animal skins, if there were any windows at all. However, the new findings suggest that the Vikings were more advanced than previously believed and probably often used glass windows tinted in green and brown. The glasses are dated to the period from 800-1100 AD.

This is yet another step away from the image of unsophisticated barbaric Vikings swinging their swords around, says senior researcher Mads Dengsø Jessen of the National Museum.

– In fact, we’re talking about a cultured Viking elite with royal power equivalent to that of, for example, Charlemagne, king of the Franks. This is often omitted in the simplified Hollywood portrayals of Vikings, says Dengsø Jessen.

Facts: The Nordic origin of the word "window"

Originating around 1200, the term window directly translates to wind eye, derived from the Old Norse term vindauga. This comprises vindr, meaning wind, and auga, old norse for eye. This term took the place of the Old English words eagþyrl, meaning eye-hole, and eagduru, meaning eye-door. A related term can be seen in Old Frisian with andern, which translates to breath-door.

Initially, a window was simply an unglazed opening in the roof or wall. However, as the concept of windows evolved, many Germanic languages adopted variations of the Latin word fenestra to denote the glass version. Examples include the German word Fenster and the Swedish word fönster. In English, fenester was used alongside window until the mid-16th century.


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