(About): Warrior, Rogue or Seer – Our Viking Leather Belt Will Guide your Urðr
Legendary German costume manufacturers Mytholon have imitated the most skilled of Viking leatherworkers to bring to life our stunning Viking Leather Belt. Its multi-part modular construction can accommodate the bulkiest of armor, and its authentic animal designs – available in Boar, Raven and Hound – echo the mysterious sagas and myths to create a peerless functional historical Viking belt.
Our Viking Leather Belt is made from eight separate pieces of black or brown upper leather that have been riveted and laced together in such a way as to permit it to be lengthened or shortened by the addition or subtraction of the four side segments. Each laced segment extends the belt by two inches each for an enormous range of fits, and we supply the belt with a long lace that you can cut up to lace the segments together to your liking. Each segment is fully detailed and individually inscribed with beautiful Celtic-inspired knotwork and riveted with period-authentic antiqued brass rivets. The rear segments are secured with a sturdy strap and antiqued brass buckle. The front panel is inscribed with an original piece of Viking artwork reflecting the mythological power of three magnificent beasts: Boar, Hound or Raven.
Boar – War, Strength, The Hunt
Boar imagery appears throughout Viking society, associated with warfare, physical strength and the spoils of plenty. The Boar’s Head, in Old Norse the ‘hamalt fylking’, was a fearsome military tactic associated with the chief-god Óðinn that was used to break shield-walls – Norse warriors would form a column three abreast, and then charge headlong at a weak-point in the enemy’s shield-wall, fragmenting it with the sheer pressure of numbers. The Viking sagas known as the Eddas talk of a magical boar called Sæhrímnir, which the gods hunt and slay for their dinner, it being cooked by the gods’ chef Andhrímnir and served by the most honoured Norse women warriors, the valkyrjur. Yet each day, the magical boar returns to life and they hunt it anew. The Boar Viking belt would be fantastic choice for a warrior or hunter LARP outfit, emphasising the board’s strength and Óðinn’s martial prowess
Hound – Loyalty, Service, Work
The most famous dog in Norse mythology is Garm (or Garmr), an immensely powerful hound who guards the gates to the Norse afterlife. Although we get our word for the Christian punishment-realm ‘Hell’ from the Old Norse afterlife ‘Hel’, the Viking afterlife is not a land of fire and brimstone – rather it is merely a forbidden, otherly place from which the dead cannot return. However, of course, the sagas are full of transgressions across these boundaries, detailing heroes venturing past Hel’s veil. Garmr is singled out as ‘the best pupper’ by Óðinn (approximate translation), carrying out his faithful duty of guardianship to maintain the proper order of things. Óðinn’s lover the goddess Frigg is sometimes depicted riding upon a chariot being drawn by two dogs, and her iconography almost associates her with a dog at her feet. If you have ever wondered whether dogs go to Heaven, Viking mythology gives you an emphatic yes: Óðinn’s hall in Valhalla is also home to the dogs of the great warriors who have earned their rest there. In daily life, dogs were faithful companions to the Vikings, with bloodlines amongst herd dogs and hunting dogs that can be traced back to Viking working animals – and having many dogs was seen as a sign of great wealth. The Hound Viking Leather Belt would be excellent for Viking-inspired trader or jarl, embodying both loyalty in service and prosperity.
Raven – Death, Knowledge, Sight
Many will have seen depictions of the one-eyed All-Father Óðinn with his pair of ravens Huginn and Muninn (‘memory’ and ‘mind’). As the arbiter of who was allowed to enter his hall in Valhalla to feast for all of eternity, Huginn and Muninn take on the aspect of carrion birds, with Óðinn referred to as Hrafnaguð (“raven-god”), and with blood named poetically as “Hugin’s sea” (Hugins vör) or “Hugin’s drink” (Hugins drekka). Fierce Viking warriors are referred to as “feeder of the raven” (hrafngrennir). Viking skalds were keen on their metaphors – you get the idea. However, ravens were certainly not one-dimensional; if they were mere bloodsuckers, they’d be called ‘Horrible’ and ‘Nasty’. Their deeper meaning is linked to the Corvids’ intelligence. Óðinn himself had gouged out one of his eyes in pursuit of ultimate knowledge, and thus Huginn and Muninn act as his eyes, traveling throughout the worlds to see and observe. This reflects the Viking trope of astral projection, where a seer or völva projects their spirit into an animal familiar – but without certainty that it will return… The Raven Viking belt is an excellent choice if you wish to add the mysterious, dark influence of the crafty and blooded raven to your shaman or rogue LARP outfit.
(History): Viking Leatherwork:
Viking leathercraft is an art that has been lost to time. Leather was likely a common material – animal skins were a by-product of meat production – but Viking leather was prone to decomposition and comparatively fragile, with precious few complete items made from leather surviving down to the modern day only in exceptional conditions, like in anaerobic bogs or freezing environments. Historians have had to painstakingly reconstruct the techniques of the period’s leather-work from minute fragments of semi-degraded leather which show tell-tale marks of their construction: types of stitching, size and shape of cuts, the artwork used in tooling, and so on.
Leather City – Viking Jorvik
Perhaps one of the most valuable sites yet discovered with regards to the leather-making trade in the Viking Age is Jorvik, the Viking settlement which now comprises the northern-English city of York. York was originally a Roman legionary fortress called Eboracum; it was captured by the ‘Great Heathen Army’ which invaded Anglo-Saxon Northumbria in the 860s CE. The Kings of Jorvik ruled as an independent Scandinavian principality until 954 CE, and even though it was incorporated into a unified English Kingdom its distinct Nordic character remained throughout. It was finally brought to heel by the Norman William the Conqueror in the late 11th-century – but by this time it had become a population centre to rival that of London in size, teeming with trade and proto-industry. By the late 1200s CE, leatherworking was the single largest occupation in York (judging by the records which list admissions of freemen into the City). Imagine all of those Viking belts being made!
The Viking leather industry seems to have centred around the historic main street of Coppergate, likely undertaken on the small scale by individual craftsmen working in their own shops, or with small teams of apprentices. Rare anoxic (oxygen-free) conditions prevail in the soil layers laid down in the 10th-14th-centuries in Jorvik: where leather would merely fully disintegrate and rot in normal conditions, in Jorvik enough Viking leather has survived to the extent that it can be reconstructed and interpreted by archaeologists and historians. Nevertheless, the scale of the task for the restorers was titanic: even the modest ¼ acre development site dug by archaeologists in the late 1970s turned up the remains of four Viking tenements and more than 5,000 fragments of Viking-era leather – as well as vast quantities of subsidiary leatherworking artifacts such as leather-making tools, skinning knives, stretcher frames etc. The kind of leather found at Coppergate were almost all vegetable-tanned hides mostly from cows and calf, but also with sheep, goat and pig skins all represented.
A Viking Belt: From Animal to Wearer
The best way to get to grips with the Viking leather industry would be to follow the manufacture of a Viking belt from animal to wearer. Fortunately, 12th-century documents (from when Norman bureaucracy began recording events at any local granularity) describes a dizzying degree of specialisation in the leathermaking trades, and this allows us to chart the process of leathermaking in detail.
Butchers, fellmongers and barkers would have supplied the raw materials – documents seem to suggest a distinct difference between ‘calf’ and ‘cow’, meaning that calf-leather may have been sought after for fine applications. A skinner would have skinned and prepared the hide, likely assaying its suitability for various uses by quality and thickness, removing the animal hair and fat and preparing it for tanning. Tanning is an ancient process that involves using a naturally-occuring chemical called ‘tannin’, commonly found in oak bark during the Medieval period, to treat the animal skin in order to make it less susceptible to decomposition and decay. However, this process was spectacularly smelly (as we will see), and so most tanneries were on the edge of settled areas to avoid the pong!
Hold Your Nose
The tanner would take the prepared skins from the skinner and treat them further, soaking the skin, pounding it and slinging it over a wooden beam (hence tanneries were known as ‘beamhouses’). The remaining fur was removed with a caustic solution of lime and urine and the last of the flesh and fat was scraped off. They were then washed again (the fur at this point has become a ‘pelt’). It was then put into a ‘fluffing’ pit, filled with a heady mixture containing dove or chicken droppings to open the pores of the leather, and then it was finally placed into the tannin liquor. This was usually a shallow clay pit filled with a sticky mixture of tannin-rich oak bark and water – the tannin drives out the remaining water in the pelt, and binds to the collagen fibres, fixing it and inuring it to bacterial breakdown.
The result was a light, supple materials that was waterproof, rugged and fairly resistant to decomposition. This was not a quick process – in total, the series of pits and baths and processes the leather underwent would have taken about eighteen months to two years to produce a batch of finished leather. The finished leathers would have changed hands yet again, to be finished by a currier: the leather was carefully cut to size, an incredibly skilled job, and was then finished with a thick dollop of cod oil, smeared thickly on and worked in with a sheepskin.
At the excavations on Viking Coppergate, fragments of Viking belts were discovered in a state of amazing preservation – so modern leathermakers and artisans have a handful of specimens that give us direct clues into the processes of Viking leather belt making. As we have seen, the subdivision and specialisation of labour in Yorvik was likely pretty exceptional due to its density and size, but we can divine that there were probably specialised belt-makers and girdlers working in the city during the late-Viking period. A street called Girdelergate appears on a 1381 map; from the Middle English girdeler (girdler; belt-maker) and the Old Norse gata (street). These girdlers produced an enormous variety of styles and types of belt and strap. Some are found highly decorated: a strap found at Bedern Foundry near Coppergate shows evidence of being punched and painted in a contrasting orange-red with cinnabar. Another type have been decorated with wheeled copper decorations, punched through the leather to connect two shorter lengths of leather together. Several of these show evidence of being fringed with calfskin like a leather hippie jacket (who said there was anything new under the sun)! Rows of decorative studs and copper bar-mounts line some examples, some of which have been tinned or silvered, and others have been tooled with floral designs and repeating patterns. Some display fine stitching, the leather having been folded over for reinforcement. Many appear to have been simple girdles that would have likely been tied, but some have metal buckles that have been punched and attached with a crossways fitting.
In all, there’s a staggering array of styles across dozens of belts and belt fragments – these Viking belts would likely have been cheap, everyday items accessible to the majority of commoners. The finds at Jorvik have provided modern leatherworkers with an incredibly rich seam of history to recreate historical Viking leather belts – just like our Viking Leather Belt.
- Material: Upper leather
- Color: Black / Brown
- Style: Viking
Waist: 37.4 – 55.1 Inches
Width: 6.3 Inches
Side Segment Length: 2 Inches
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