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How Viking Longhouses Shaped the Lives of Ancient Norse People

6-minute read


The long house was not only a shelter to the Vikings, but also the epicenter of their community, a place where every aspect of daily living unfolds under one roof. This was the world of the ancient Norse people, who built these interesting buldings. In this blog, we will take a look at the Viking home and how they served as multi-functional spaces that defined the very essence of ancient Norse society.

Step Inside a Viking Longhouse: How Norse Families Lived, Worked, and Thrived

Imagine living in a long, narrow structure built to withstand the harsh Scandinavian winters, where the central hearth and open fire provided warmth and light for the entire household. This was the reality for Viking families who resided in longhouses - the heart of their community life. These unique architectural marvels not only served as living and working spaces but also reflected the Viking culture and beliefs. Their longhouses and the lives of those who called them home are very fascinating.

Viking longhouses were typically rectangular in shape, with curved walls, The shape kind of reminds us of a longship. With an open floor plan that allowed for multi-functional spaces. The large central hearth was used for cooking and heating, while raised platforms along the walls provided sleeping areas and storage for the family. Spaces were even designated for animals during winter, with storage under benches and possible lofts above for additional storage. Smoke management was a crucial aspect of longhouse design, ensuring proper ventilation by carefully placing fires and smoke holes. Interestingly, Viking longhouses did not have chimneys as we see in modern homes. Instead, they featured openings on each end of the house, just under the roof ridge. These openings allowed smoke to escape through a natural draft. Known as "vindauga" in Old Norse, which literally translates to "wind eye," these openings eventually evolved into the English word "window." Apart from the door, these "windows" were often the only openings in the longhouse.

The interiors of Viking longhouses were often sparse, with simple furniture such as storage boxes or trunks, collapsible tables, and basic bedding. Wealthier families might have had tapestries, rugs, and better-quality bedding to showcase their status. Natural light entered through smoke holes and gaps between walls and the roof, while fires and oil lamps provided additional illumination.

Life in a Viking longhouse meant living in close quarters with large extended families. The agricultural lifestyle dictated early mornings and nights, creating a noisy environment with little privacy. Despite these challenges, the Vikings thrived in their communities, with the majority living in small villages consisting of 6-7 farms. Each farm revolved around agriculture and domestic animals.

As we reflect on the architecture and lifestyle of Viking Age longhouses, it's fascinating to consider how these unique structures shaped the lives of those who lived within them. How would our modern lives change if we adopted some aspects of the Viking way of living?

A Closer Look at the Materials and Methods Used by Norse Builders

What do timber, turf, and thatch have in common? They were the primary materials used in the construction of Viking Age longhouses. These structures not only housed large extended families but also showcased the ingenuity and adaptability of Viking builders.

Viking longhouses varied in size, ranging from 15 to 75 meters in length, depending on the owner's importance and wealth. Wealthier families had more elaborate longhouses, sometimes with additional rooms or outbuildings. The main construction materials were wooden columns, roofs made of wood, thatch, or turf, and walls built with clay, wooden planks, or wattle and daub.

In areas with scarce timber, such as Iceland, turf houses were more common. The roofs could also be covered with tufts, and the walls lined with clay for insulation. It´s likely that moss was used between planks in the walls to provide additional insulation against the cold Scandinavian weather.

Internal posts supported the roof. Due to the harsh weather conditions, these structures required constant repairs and maintenance to ensure their longevity.

Home, Workshop, and Gathering Space

A bustling hub of activity, where families lived, worked, and gathered to celebrate life's milestones. This was the essence of a Viking Age longhouse, which served as the centerpiece of Viking farms and played a vital role in the daily lives of these ancient people.

At its core, a longhouse was a family dwelling, providing shelter and warmth for its inhabitants. However, it was much more than just a home; it also functioned as a workshop, storage space, and a venue for social and community gatherings. Longhouses were important gathering spaces for feasts, celebrations, and religious events, symbolizing the strength and unity of Viking families.

Despite their reputation as fierce warriors, most Vikings lived a simple, rural life as farmers. Longhouses played a central role in this lifestyle, as they were the focal point of Viking farms. Animals were often housed in stalls at one end of the house if there were no separate stables, further emphasizing the multi-functional nature of these structures.

In addition to their roles as living and working spaces, longhouses were also important venues for hosting travelers and celebrating festivals, weddings, and funerals. Viking saga literature and eddic poems contain rules and advice on hosting and guest behavior, highlighting the significance of hospitality in their culture.

As we ponder the diverse roles of Viking Age longhouses, it's intriguing how these buildings influenced the lives and principles of those who resided in them. The lessons we can learn from the longhouses' ability to foster a sense of community and belonging are valuable, and applying these insights to enhance our contemporary living spaces can create a more connected and harmonious environment.

A Glimpse into the Elite Social Life of Norse Society

At some places, one could find a dimly lit hall, filled with the sounds of laughter, clinking glasses, and the shimmer of gold jewelry reflecting off the firelight. This was the feast hall, also known as the mead hall, a sacred and political building for the elite in Viking society.

Feast halls were large, single-room buildings intended to receive guests and serve as a center of community social life. They were the residence of a jarl or king and his retainers and were also where jarls could formally receive visitors and oversee the social activity of their subjects. The Great Hall was central to Viking society, symbolizing values of obligation, loyalty, and hospitality.

Politics and religion were the primary functions of the feast hall, with the chief in charge of throwing elaborate feasts and gift-giving to maintain and expand power. Feasting and pledge-giving were significant components of the hall, and beer was the most common alcoholic beverage during the Viking Age, with mead reserved for the elite and used for blot.

The halls were richly decorated with bright and vibrant colors, carvings, and tapestries depicting important stories and ancestral heritage. Gold jewelry worn by the jarls and guests shimmered in the firelight, adding to the atmosphere of wealth and power. Viking society was unstable and dangerous, with constant tension between those at the top and those trying to move up the social ladder.

Feast halls were surrounded by other buildings and settlements, and they played a central role in Viking life. The old name for such halls may have been "sal/salr," with related words in various languages all meaning "hall" or "large room." Norse mythology also contains numerous examples of halls where the dead may arrive, such as Valhalla.

The use of feast halls became obsolete with the arrival of Christianity, and no hall of this type was built after that period.


As we've discovered, Viking longhouses were more than just dwellings; they were central to the lives and values of ancient Norse people. These structures provided shelter, warmth, and a focal point for community life, fostering a sense of belonging and unity. Although our modern living spaces have evolved significantly since the Viking Age, there is still much we can learn from the principles and ingenuity of these ancient builders. By embracing the idea of multi-functional spaces and creating environments that promote connection and togetherness, we can enhance our own homes and communities, drawing inspiration from the remarkable Viking longhouses that once stood at the heart of Norse life.

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