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What Crops Did Vikings Grow?

What Crops Did Vikings Grow?

The Vikings were a group of ruthless raiders known for their violent battles and unrelenting forces.

Although they are best known as raiders and pirates, they were inadvertently excellent farmers. The Viking society was characterized by a structured farming system that thrived on growing crops of different kinds for survival.

After the raids and battles, they were believed to have come home with their stolen goods to operate their farms. In this article, we will explore their different farming practices and how they managed to flourish their agricultural legacy. 

The primary crops that the Vikings grew were: hay, barley, rye, oats, wheat, millet, peas, and linseed.

What Did the Vikings Do for Farming? 

The farming practices of the Vikings can outdo today’s agricultural infrastructure. Although they were feared during the Middle Ages, they had much more to offer in terms of their heritage and cultural practices. 

Archaeological evidence suggests they were agriculturists that grew crops and livestock on small, independent farms. They were strategic farmers that prioritized the best lands close to the community for growing crops. 

Warmer phases were dominated by farming activities, while areas less suitable for crops were used for breeding livestock. 

According to Manon Bajard, who found extensive evidence of farming and food preparation activities in Lake Ljøgottjern, warmer phases were used for cultivating crops while colder areas were assigned for rearing animals. [1]This means that the Vikings relied on animals for colder periods, and warmer months were fixed for growing crops. 

Pastoral land in Vatnahverfi (Vatnahverfi was a district in the Norse Greenlanders). Modern farms in the district are almost always on former Norse sites.
Pastoral land in Vatnahverfi (Vatnahverfi was a district in the Norse Greenlanders). Modern farms in the district are almost always on former Norse sites.
jtstewart, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What Were Viking Farmlands Like? 

Viking farms were usually self-sufficient and were grouped together in small farming villages. 

These farms were well separated despite being clustered into villages. Since the Vikings lived in the snowy landscapes of Northern Europe, they had to adjust their cereal production and animal husbandry practices accordingly. 

In the Viking age, typical farmland looked like a central cluster of buildings surrounded by various fences. Outside this homestead, there were fields used for cultivation and grazing. 

Most of the excavations of the Viking Age can be found in Denmark, one of the three Scandinavian countries. In the earlier Norse period, it was found that Viking farmers used a longhouse to contain their animals, farming tools, and food storage. 

As time passed, they adopted the new practices of Western Europe and started building farmhouses on higher slopes for better drainage. In the late-Viking age, farmhouses were built on top of a hill above a stream where farmers could alert neighboring farms in case of emergencies. 

These farming techniques contributed to the flourishing economy and gave them the freedom to grow different crops and practice animal husbandry even though the Scandinavian countries were primarily cold and dreary. 

What Crops Were Grown During the Viking Age? 

The Vikings grew crops and vegetables to sustain humans and cattle in their farmhouses. Since they were strategic farmers, every crop had a specific purpose in their livelihood. 

Listed below are some crops they grew to sustain themselves throughout the year. 

Hay 

Due to the sub-zero temperatures, cattle had to be kept inside during winter. Hay was an essential crop for the Vikings as it provided warmth to the cattle when the temperatures were extremely low. 

A freshly baled round bale.
A freshly baled round bale
I, Montanabw, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At the beginning of autumn, they would compare the number of livestock to the amount of hay in storage. The weakest animals were slaughtered if there was insufficient hay. Studies of several Viking farms even suggest that they would produce 0.5 and 0.9 tonnes of hay per year for their livestock. [2]

It was harvested using sharp knives and iron sickles, arranged in stacks, and covered with sturdy turf so that it could be used in winter. 

Barley 

The Danish name for this grain is known as “the cultivated grain,” and its cultivation goes as far back as the Stone Age. Barley was a staple throughout the Viking lands due to its potency and versatility in many dishes. 

Harvested barley fields, Viborg area, Denmark.
Harvested barley fields, Viborg area, Denmark
Slaunger, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It could be eaten on its own or fermented to make ale, a sweet alcoholic beverage consumed by most people in Scandinavia. According to archaeological evidence, barley grains and pollens have been extensively found in the earliest settling layers in Iceland. [3]

Rye 

Rye started becoming a staple crop since the Bronze Age and continued to become prominent in the Viking Age. While barley was used to make beer, rye was used to make bread; a typical Viking meal consisted of bread, meat, and beer.

Rye field.
Rye field
Alupus, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During Viking feasts, roasted and boiled meats, along with buttered bread and root vegetables, were lavishly indulged in. 

Wealthy Vikings opted for expensive meats like goat meat or horse meat for opulent feasts. As a result, rye was harvested throughout the year as it was resistant to the winter cold and could be grown on the sand and in less fertile soil. 

Oats 

Oats were another crop cultivated in the late Bronze Age. Denmark has a long tradition of porridge dishes that usually contain oats, fruits, or cereals. In the Viking Age, their use considerably declined, although it was extensively grown in Viking farms. 

Men and women harvesting oats in Jølster, c. 1890.
Harvesting of oats in Jølster, c. 1890
Axel Lindahl, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Apart from these crops, wheat, millet, peas, and linseed was also cultivated on Viking lands. They focused on a rather simple diet and only consumed expensive meats during feasts. 

Conclusion 

The crops grown by Vikings were highly influenced by the climate of the Scandinavian plains. As strategic farmers, they always implemented tactical methods to increase yield depending on the region. 

Their farming methods can compete well against the agricultural advances of the modern world. We hope this article was helpful and gave you an insight into the life of a common Viking.