Urnes Norse Pendant
(About) The Door Between Worlds
As well as producing the finest arms and armour, Darksword Armory’s best kept secret is their period-inspired historical jewellery. Their master-jewellers have taken the mystical naturalism from the zenith of late-Viking art and culture, and distilled it into a unique hand-crafted pendant.
Our Urnes Norse Pendant uses the animalistic symbolism of the ‘Urnes Style’, which developed in the cultural melting pot of the High Viking Age, as traders and vikingrs brought wares and art objects from across the whole of the known world. It features two abstract horses, back-to-back: through tales of famous horses such as Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse of Odin, the Vikings saw horses as spiritual shamans, a gateway between the worlds of the living and the dead. Such powerful symbology can be a ward of the afterlife – or a swift ride to the eternal glory of Valhalla.
Sterling silver has been chosen as the material for this Norse Viking pendant. The Vikings were cunning mentalsmiths with a detailed knowledge of the properties of metals, and many of the hoards of Viking silver jewellery we have found have been alloyed with copper at around 90% purity. They knew that this would produce more resilient jewellery that would not bend and break under everday use, and that was critical for hard working, hard fighting and hard partying peoples. Therefore, sterling silver (also known as .925 silver) has been used for our Urnes Norse Pendant as the best historical analogue for Viking silver.
It is affixed at two points to a delicate but strong sterling silver chain with a secure modern clasp to finish this beautiful silver Nordic pendant necklace. As an art object in itself, it is an item of rare beauty – but it is as an accessory for a LARP outfit or re-enactment costume that it can really shine. Its deep other-worldly connotations make it perfect for a historically accurate re-enactment impression of an Icelandic goði (Norse priest), or it could be the perfect superstitious talisman to complete a LARP outfit of a Norse-inspired Dark Ages berserker. With such a stunning Nordic Viking pendant for sale, the possibilities are limitless.
(History) Viking Jewellery
Without doubt, there were many Vikings in Northern Europe in the High Middle Ages who were big hairy warriors with a penchant for ultraviolence. But that’s like saying that everyone from Liverpool is a member of the Beatles – the Vikings were an enormously diverse group of peoples, the vast majority of whom were not vikingr raiders; farmers, shepherds, colonists, traders, craftworkers and skalds. It’s only by having this understanding of who the Vikings were (and why they were like that) that we can understand their jewellery.
They emerged at the end of a period of European history called the Migration Period, where (spoilers) lots of European peoples moved around as the Roman Empire fragmented and withdrew. Their technological innovations of large, flat-bottomed longboats that could navigate a long way up shallow rivers, combined with the use of sail, meant that suddenly the coastlines of Europe and the Mediterranean were suddenly at their fingertips. It’s important to realise that trading and raiding stemmed from the same technological and social impetuses: the status associated with exotic goods, the pressures of demographic growth on comparatively poor agricultural land, and forms of inheritance that meant you ended up with lots of bored kids getting under your feet.
The Vikings began systematic raiding from the 750s CE, and it remained an important part of Viking culture and economic activity for two-hundred years – at the same time, they struck up fruitful trading relationships with others, most profitably the Islamic states around the Mediterranean. But by the 1000s CE, Viking leaders had grown powerful and wealthy, and had begun to turn their eyes away from small-time monastery raids to the real prizes: the thrones of Europe. There was a marked shift towards accepting (or taking) land for colonisation, for example the settlement of the Danelaw in England and the Viking colonisation of the Kievan ‘Rus in modern Ukraine, setting their sights on the pursuit of power through dynastic politics.
Handiwork and Hacksilver
Frustratingly, the Vikings were not a literate people interested in recording their own history in ways that we can analyse until the Christianisation of the Viking fringe at the very tail-end of the Viking period – but we have plenty of other sources that can shed light on what jewellery meant to them.
Much Viking jewellery appears to have a practical function, as well as being decorative. For example, Ahmad ibn Fadlan was an Abbasid theologian who was attached to a diplomatic mission sent to the Bulgar capital, where he met a trading group of Volga Vikings. He describes in his account that women were equal participants in the Viking trading expeditions, and that they wore ‘boxes’ that were worn at the chest, made from iron, bronze, silver or gold depending on the wealth of the individual. These are likely the functional concave brooches which appear to have been commonly used for affixing in place clothing such as cloaks – a sumptuous gold example was found in a grave in Birka, Sweden. As well, Ibn Fadlan mentions ‘neck rings’ worn by the women, possibly some kind of Nordic pedant necklace, as well as fine beads of green glass that the Vikings prized highly – we know that glassmaking was a complicated and expensive process, and so it likely held a special status.
Another curious character of the surviving jewellery we have from the Viking period is that lots of it is found in the form of ‘hoards’. Rather than ending up in the archaeological record having been lost or discarded after being damaged as part of everday life, or deposited in a grave as a burial offering, hoards are collections of wealth that appear to have been buried or hidden all together for often mysterious reasons. There are various theories for various different hoards: that they were buried in a rush during a time of strife, or that they are some form of religious offering. The inclusion of jewellery, including Norse pendants, in hoard finds sheds light on another use that Norse people had for it. The Viking economy was based around a sophisticated system of trade in silver-by-weight known as ‘hacksilver’, particularly with Arab states (many thousands of Islamic silver coins continue to be found associated with Viking sites), and jewellery likely formed a sort of handy wearable wallet: you could cut up a ring or Norse pendant to make weight. You can see this in finds such as the Silverdale Hoard, found in Lancashire, UK in 2011. The hoard consists of more than 600 fragments of silver found in a crushed silver bowl – and many of the fragments of hacksilver were clearly parts of jewellery: fragments of brooch, arm-rings, necklaces and rings. It seems plausible to speculate that a stash like this might have been stored by a Viking trader on the move (there was no nipping down the high street to the bank) – and that the jewellery was merely another form of makeweight currency.
It is curious that jewellery could fulfill such mundane purposes as utilitarian fastening and as silver currency – but clearly, the art and artistry put into Norse Viking pendants and jewellery more generally shows that they were at the same time overlaid with complex symbolic meaning. But hopefully you won’t be in the position of having to cut up your Urnes Norse Pendant to buy spices from an Arabian trader.
(History) The Church at Urnes
If you had crossed the Lustrafjord at the farmstead at Svolvorn toward the hamlet of Urneset in the early 1130s, you might have seen a group of devout Norwegians erecting a new stave church. Their master builder had staked out a foundation on the greensward based on that of a Christian basilica he had prayed at in his time in Frankia. The wreck of the mouldering old church they had taken down, several hundred years old and with a leaky roof that had doomed the structure, was piled up for the ceremonial bonfire once the work was done. The old wood was tinder-dry and soaked with pitch; it would be fast warmth for a feast. But one of the workers is hauling something from the stack. It is the old doorway from the original church. We should keep this, he says to the master builder. The master builder runs his hand over the fine carvings. Still salvageable. At least that means I won’t have to make a new doorway for the north door, he remarks, and takes up his hammer.
The Urnes Style
Nine hundred years later, those carvings in the north doorway of Urnes Stave Church on the western fjords of Norway still stand. They are now recognised as a seminal form of Viking art known as the ‘Urnes style’. This style is one of the latest and highest forms of Viking artwork, having developed through three hundred years of Scandinavian innovation in the context of interaction with Romanesque and Arabic forms. Following on from the innovation in artwork visible in our Oseberg Viking Pendant which took the exaggerated ribbon animal forms and turned them into wholly abstracted patterns and forms made from limbs and bodies, the Urnes style returns to the motif of the great beast: clearly defined, curvaceous animals of ambigious species that are surrounded and bound with graceful curving lines, set amidst entangling webs of animalesque shapes that are even further abstracted from the forms they echo.
The Urnes Style in Context
Our Urnes Norse Pendant uses these forms and shapes to create a continuum of Viking art based on the Urnes Stave Church carvings. We can see other examples of the Urnes style primarily focused in the Norse heartland around Stockholm known as Uppland. Most of the surviving examples of this art style are from runestones. The runestones are one of the very few contemporary Viking sources written by the Viking themselves in their own words: monumental standing stones inscribed with the Futhark runes of the Viking alphabet and decorated with incredibly fine carved stonework in Viking artistic styles. A group of them in the modern Swedish town of Täby appear to have been erected by Jarlabanke Ingefastsson, who used to own the town. They make specific and repeated reference to Jarlabanke’s Christian faith, leading scholars to theorise that this was exceptional – he may have been an early convert – and the symbology fuses the Urnes style with Christian iconography such as the Cross. The staggering Ardre Image Stones on the Swedish island of Gotland also contain some examples of the Urnes style, with a serpentine Urnes-style great beast surrounded by runic text inscribed upon the stone known as Ardre III. This style was clearly also used in jewellery, such as the gorgeous openwork brooch depicting another great beast in cast bronze, found in Lom, inland Norway. Lom itself has another magnificent original stave church, which is roughly contemporary with the Urnes Stave Church: they are the oldest surviving structures in Scandinavia.
Now that we understand the context and development of late-Viking art, it feels like an incredibly short step from these objects to the Urnes Norse Pendant – it is likely the closest any of us will get to holding a piece of real Viking history in our hands.
- Style: Norse/Viking
- Symbolism: Horse
- Material: .925 Sterling Silver