Viking Burial Ritual: Human Sacrifice?

With the deeply ingrained faith in Norse Gods, the Vikings believed in the afterlife with Gods. They believed as long as they died an honorable death, the Vikings could be chosen to live among Gods. Also, in the Viking customs, funeral was a way for the living to honor the dead. That is why Viking burial ritual always draws much attention of the mass.

Cremation and Burial in Viking Burial Ritual

The two common ways to carry out the Viking funerals were cremation and burial. There were types of burial, such as ship burials and land burials.

We should take a look at cremation first because it was quite common during the Viking age. A pyre would be erected waiting for the dead to rest. Then once the fire lit, ash remained. The remnant would be kept in a jar buried in the graveyard or the living would spread it along the sea. According to some materials, the pyre somehow presented the position of the dead. 

Image of Viking burial ritual
Viking funeral ritual burning the ship

Ship burial was the most expensive and luxurious of that time. Because the ship only cost a fortune, not to mention the labor to construct the grave mound and other personal items to bury with the ships. So ship burial was for the noble and the wealthy only. The way of burying with ship was one of the best ways to honor their death and to show their family’s social rank. Apart from burying the ship, the Vikings could also let the ship carrying the dead set sail to the ocean. From the shore, the Vikings would shoot their arrows with fire and set the ship on fire.

Ship Burial For The Wealthy and Great Warriors Found

Ship burials were for those who deserved it only. There were archaeological findings revolving around the ship burials of the wealthy and great warriors.

The most famous Viking ship burial site discovered must be the Oseberg Ship. The dawn of the 20th century witnessed the excavation of a Viking ship burial site which helped shed light on many mysteries. The skeletons found with the ship belonged to the women. This detail strengthened the point that the Viking women had social position. Another famous Viking ship burial was the Gokstad ship which has become the best preserved ship by far. Inside Gokstad ship, archaeologists found skeleton belonging to a Viking warrior. With the wound in the skeletons, they could conclude what led to the death of the Viking warrior. (See more: Top 3 Greatest Viking Ships)

Image of Oseberg ship excavation Viking burial ritual
Oseberg ship excavation

The Vikings Sacrificed Human In Burial Ritual?

This theory has yet to be proven historical. But there seem to be many materials supporting this theory. To put it simply, human sacrifice was the action of sacrificing a slave into the burial of his/her master.

For example, in the Oseberg ship, archaeologists believed the two skeletons belonged to two women of different classes. One woman was the mistress from the higher social rank and the other was the slave who would escort her mistress and serve her in the afterlife. Because with the high position of the mistress, nobody would think she was willing to share her tomb with anyone. So the strong possibility was that the other woman was the slave. This can be a proof attesting to human sacrifice in the Viking burial ritual.

Image of Oseberg ship skeletons
Skeletons of two women from the Oseberg ship excavation

In Norse mythology, when Baldur Odin’s son died, Gods carried out the same ritual on Baldur’s funeral. They rested Baldur on a ship and pushed it to the ocean. Dwarves were the figures that Gods sacrificed along the ship of Baldur. In the modern sense, people believe that this tale from Norse saga to some extent affected the traditional ritual of the Vikings. Though there has been no official conclusion upon the human sacrifice in Viking burial ritual, the theory of human sacrifice in Viking tradition is so awesome a topic that can captivate our attention.

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