The Homestead

Agriculture

The land would be ploughed using an ard that cuts a groove in the soil but does not turn the furrow, therefore the field would sometimes be cross-ploughed. Smaller fields would be worked with hoes, picks or dug with spades. The plough with iron blade and mould-board that turns a proper furrow, was not known in Scandinavia until the later Viking Age.

Once the land had been prepared, the seeds were sown by hand and the crops allowed to grow. Children, especially, would be used to scare away the birds and to weed the crops, ensuring as good a chance of it growing, as possible.

At the end of the summer, the grain was harvested using a sickle and was a family activity. Animal feed for the winter would have to be considered at this point and hay was harvested using a scythe. Foliage may have been cut down to supplement the feed.

Once the land was cleared of crops, slaves (where available) were given the job of dunging the land, in preperation for the next cycle of ploughing and harvesting.

Cattle

An important source of meat and dairy products were the various domestic animals kept on the farm. Cows, sheep, goats, pigs and sometimes horses were grazed and it depended on the land as to whether they were generally left to their own devices or herded up to higher ground when the snows came. Across this country, animals may have been brought inside when the weather got bad.

Hunting and Fishing

A further source of meat would be obtained by hunting and, depending on where one lived and the available natural resources, this would be for elk, deer, boar, bear, reindeer, whale, seal, hares and ducks.

The sea held an abundance of food such as cod, haddock, herring and eel which would be fished for and then preserved for future consumption.

Farm buildings

Maintenance of the farm buildings and tools was an essential activity and would include the roof of the barn being re-thatched. These activities, and indeed the whole farming process, would have occupied the time of man, woman, child and slave. Although the main domain of the women was certainly inside the house, there would be plenty to require extra hands outside and if the menfolk go off exploring, raiding, travelling or fighting, then the woman of the house would be in charge of both inside the farmhouse and out.

Farm

The main building would be rectangular in shape and built with a timber frame that was then wattle and daubed. With a thatched roof there would be a hole for smoke ventilation – there is no evidence of chimneys. A poor building would probably only have one room with a central hearth and the walls may be lined with wooden benches that serve as seating during the daytime and beds at night.

A richer home might have an additional room at one or both ends that could serve as storage, a kitchen, containing a bread oven, or a small byre that kept humans and animals under one roof. This would certainly contribute to the warmth of the house, and apparently, the fumes from the animal urine could protect the humans from some respiratory diseases!

A prosperous farm may well have several buildings in addition to the longhouse, for example, a smithy for the maintainence of tools and equipment, a bakery, a byre or stable, a bath-house or a threshing-barn.

Bibliography: The Viking World by James Graham-Campbell and Vital Guide to Vikings by Diane Canwell.

This entry was posted in 9th Century History. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.