By Hilde Thunem (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Last updated January 5th 2012)
NB! This is a work in progress.
This article represents my attempt to collect archaeological facts, and interpretations of the different trousers worn by the Vikings. As usual, my intention with gathering this information is to be able to make my own best guess, which of course may differ from yours :-)
The excavation of Birka was mainly conducted in the 1870s by Hjalmar Stolpe. Although Stolpe made fairly accurate drawings of the different graves, textiles was not considered to be important at the time, and was omitted from the drawings. The textile fragments were later analysed by Agnes Geijer (in 1938) and reanalysed by Inga Hägg (in 1974 and 1986).
Only the latest of Hägg's reports are relevant when chasing evidence for trousers, and I have unfortunately not had access to it. There is, however, a relevant find mentioned by both Holger Arbman, and Agnes Geijer.
Grave 905 contained a skeleton and various metal artefacts. Among these were two bronze hooks shaped as animal heads that are unique among the Birka finds. They were found in a position just below the knees of the skeleton.
Photograph by Christer Åhlin SHMM
Geijer and Arbman both believe that they were used to fasten some kind of woollen hose or leggings, and were hooked into linen trousers that would have reached down over the knees. Only tiny fragments of these garments are left, and so it is impossible to say anything more about what form they took.
According to Geijer, these hooks are the only remnants of leg and foot coverings that were found at Birka, with the exception of crampons, which occur in some tombs.
...2 tiermaskenförmige Bronzehaken, Länge 3 cm, an der Stirnseite drei durchbohrte Vorsprünge zum Annähen an einer Art Unterbeinkleider aus starkem Wollstoff, die in die leinenen Hosen eingehakt wurden...
Holger Arbman: Die Gräber, p 353
Eine im Birkamaterial ganz einzig dastehende Erscheinung ist ein Paar tierkopfförmiger Bronzehaken, die wir versuchsweise Gamaschenschlüsse nennen wollen. Die unverrückte Lage im Grab 905 ergibt, dass die Haken Wickelgamaschen oder Unterbeinkleider aus starkem Wollstoff festgehalten haben, die in den leinenen Beinkleidern eingehakt wurden, welch letztere über das Knie hinabreichten.
Abgesehen von Steigeisen, die in manchen Gräbern vorkommen, sind diese Haken die einzigen Überreste an Bein- und Fussbekleidungen, die vorgefunden wurden.
Agnes Geijer: Die Textilfunde aus den Gräbern, p 144-145, grave plan p 147
In 1936 a body was found in a bog on Andøya, Norway. Unfortunately, it was not properly excavated by archaeologists. Instead it was dug up, reburied in a different place in the bog, dug up again by a farmer and sent to Tromsø museum, where it was analysed by Guttorm Gjessing. Gjessing reported on the find in 1938, and it was re-examined in Dan Halvard Løvlid's master thesis from 2009. The body was dressed in several garments and wrapped in a large woollen blanket. Based on the cut of the clothing, Gjessing believed it to be from the late medieval period. Later uses of carbon dating have shown it to be significantly older, and the most recent dating places it at 1050-1090.
There are five fragments in the find that are identified as belonging to a pair of trousers. They currently appear to be golden brown in colour, but according to Løvlid a more thorough analysis indicate that the trousers originally were made of lightly felted undyed white wool.
The lower parts of both trouser legs have been preserved. There is only one seam on each leg, and this seam ends in a split (7-9 cm long) at the bottom. The circumference of the legs at the bottom is fairly narrow; 36-38 cm.
Dan Halvard Løvlid: Nye tanker om Skjoldehamnfunnet, photograph p 110, drawing p 108
Both legs have been decorated. There is a striped woven band (2,2 cm wide) running along the bottom of each leg. Two braids (ca 0,5 cm wide) have been stitched along the bottom of the band; first a teal braid and then a red braid at the very bottom.
The seam on each leg has been covered with alternating red and teal embroidery. On either side of the embroidered seam there is a line of blue couching stitches, with a line of red couching stitches running outside it. The embroidered seam and blue couching stitches appears to end about 18-19 cm over the split. The red couching stitches keep on running paralell to the seam, but it is unclear from these fragments exactly how far it goes.
Of the three remaining fragments, two must come from the top of the trousers, as they have remains of a drawstring channel running along one edge. The largest of these fragments appears to consist of three (possibly four) pieces of fabric. Two large pieces are connected by a side seam and one of them has been lengthened at the top by one (or two) strip(s) of fabric roughly 12-13 cm wide. The drawstring channel is created by folding the fabric, fastening it with couching, and then folding the entire thing outwards, fastening the resulting fold with running stitches from the face side. Thus the raw edge with its couching stitches would have been visible on the outside of the trousers. The fifth fragment has no drawstring channel, but there are traces of a seam along one edge, with traces of red couching stitches running paralell to it.
Long bands, decorated with small silver rings, were wrapped around each ankle of the body. According to Løvlid there are small discolorations that probably stem from these rings about 7-12 cm above the bottom of each trouser leg, indicating that the ankle bands were tied here and wrapped downwards towards the ankle. This raises the question of why the bottom edge of the trousers had been decorated, when that decoration was subsequently covered up. One possibility is that the trousers occasionally were worn without ankle bands, leaving the decorated area visible.
Unfortunately, the report from 1938 has absolutely no documentation regarding exactly where on the body the different fragments were found. While Gjessing and his wife has created a reconstruction, positioning the different fragments accordingly, Løvlid points out that some of these placements are highly uncertain, and that there are details that Gjessing missed that calls his whole reconstruction into question.
Gjessing positions the fragments as shown below.
|Dan Halvard Løvlid: Nye tanker om Skjoldehamnfunnet, p 105-106|
He believes that the decorated leg seams would have been running along the outside of the leg, so that they may be easily seen.
The two fragments with remains of a hem (A and B) are both placed on the left half of the trousers. The long seam in fragment B becomes part of the side seam along the outside of the leg, and the strip of fabric lengthening a part of B runs along the back of the trousers. This strip may have consisted of two pieces of fabric joined together, but is so badly preserved at the location of the possible seam (upper red line in the illustration) that no firm conclusion can be drawn.
Fragment A have a vertical fold at the left edge, and although there is no trace of stitches left Gjessing interprets this to indicate that there was a vertical seam here.
På venstre forside er broken delvis bevart helt frem til midten. Tøiet var her på to steder i en lengde av henholdsvis 5,5 cm og 5 cm brettet inn langs en loddrett linje, slik at alt ligger meget nær å tro at broken har hatt en loddrett midtsøm. Noe sikkert bevis har en riktignok ikke da det ikke var noen løse tråder efter selve sømmen bevart; men på den annen side må broken efter den måten buksebeina er klippet på ha vært avdelt på ett eller annet vis her.
Gjessing, Guttorm: Skjoldehamndrakten. En senmiddelaldersk nordnorsk mannsdrakt, p 48
Finally fragment D is placed so that the edge with traces of a seam matches up with the left side seam. Since there are traces of the red couching stitches on fragment D, but not on fragment B, it is likely that this part of the decoration stops somewhere around the area above the knees.
Based on this, Gjessing proposes a reconstruction pattern where the trousers are made from two identical pieces, one for each leg (see illustration). These legs have a seam running along the outside, and one or two strips lengthening the back of the trousers. A vertical seam runs from the front to the back, connecting the two legs in the crotch area. Using the length of the upper edges of fragment A and B he calculates the width of the trousers at waist height to have been 130-140 cm.
Dan Halvard Løvlid: Nye tanker om Skjoldehamnfunnet, Gjessing's pattern p 154
Løvlid is sceptical to this interpretation. According to him, fragment A could just as well belong to the right half of the trousers, and the fold that Gjessing interprets as seam allowance for a crotch seam could instead be the side seam of the right trouser leg. This means that both the construction of the crotch and the total width of the trousers are uncertain.
The same goes for the length of the trousers. According to Gjessing, fragment B, D and E could be fitted together down the length of the left leg, giving a total length of 1 meter.
Den samlede lengden fra linningen til underkanten av buksebeina har vist sig å være helt sikker. De ulike tøistykkene har kunnet passes til hverandre i hele sin lengde på venstre side.
Gjessing, Guttorm: Skjoldehamndrakten. En senmiddelaldersk nordnorsk mannsdrakt, p 48
Løvlid points out that Gjessing has placed the three fragments slightly apart in the reconstruction in order to achieve his length of 1 meter. If these gaps were to be bigger, the trousers would be longer. Thus, provided that all three fragments belong on the left side of the trousers (not unlikely, but still undocumented), the 1 meter only represents the minimum length of the trousers.
Lastly, Løvlid observes that fragment B ends in a selvedge in the back (lower red line in the illustration) that runs paralell with the side seam, roughly 19-21 cm from it. This selvedge must have been sewn together with something, and so there was probably two seams running down the upper part of the left leg, but the bottom part (fragment E) has only one seam.
Løvlid poses a possible explanation, namely that at least the left leg must have been divided into an upper part and a lower part, connected by a horizontal seam. There is no trace of this seam on B, D or E, but it could have run in the gap between B and D or between D and E. On the right side of the trousers, fragment C reaches 71 cm upwards, without any trace of a horizontal seam. This could mean that there was no horizontal division of this leg, or that it was placed significantly higher than on the left leg, or that the trousers were longer than 118 cm, creating a gap between the height where C ends and the height where B begins.
Due to the different uncertainties detailed above, Løvlid feels unable to conclude on a reconstruction pattern for the trousers. He does however, find the suggested pattern by Gjessing to be unlikely, both because it doesn't fit all the evidence (like the selvedge) and because when testing the pattern he finds the resulting trousers somewhat impractical in use.
During the years there have been several debates as to whether the corpse found at Skjoldehamn was male or female, and Norse or Sami. In a follow up article to his master thesis, Løvlid states that while the DNA evidence is uncertain, there are several similarities in e.g. the decoration with sami clothing. He argues that more research is needed to conclude on the ethnicity of the wearer, but that sami origin cannot be excluded as a possibility.
In some ways this is bad news for those of us interested in Viking clothing, because it means that one of the few finds of trousers from the Viking age could turn out to show Sami fashion instead of Norse. However, even if this should be the case, the Skjoldehamn trousers demonstrates tailoring techniques that would have been observed by the Vikings, and might also have been in use by them.
One of the major excavations of Viking clothing was in Haithabu in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. The textile material is from the 10th century and was analysed by Inga Hägg, who wrote reports in German, with short summaries in Swedish. Unfortunately my German is poor (it is my third language), so I am very grateful to Lena Palt for her assistance with my translations. Any mistakes are mine alone.
Most of the finds at Haithabu come from the harbour and consist of used clothing which was coated with tar and used as ship's caulking. This has preserved the clothing better than what is usually the case in graves, but the downside is that we can't use the layer in the grave or the position on the body to identify what garment a given fragment belonged to.
In addition to the harbour finds, Inga Hägg also analysed the textile remains from the settlement and graveyard of Haithabu. This provides additional information about what the Viking inhabitants of the town were wearing.
The textile material from the settlement and the harbour is very similar, with the same garment types being found and the proportion of the different weaves being roughly the same.
The graves on the other hand, differ from this by generally having textiles of higher quality, and a much larger proportion of tabby weave (73% instead of the 25% in the harbour and settlement). According to Hägg, the differences could indicate that the content in the graves reflect beliefs and social standing, while the textiles from the settlement and harbour may give a truer picture of what people was wearing every day.
There are three fragments, 22 A-C, that are believed to belong to the waist band of a pair of finely woven red wool trousers. The trousers appears to have been made in a mix of lozenge twill, broken twill and 2/2 twill, and had been dyed with walnut shells.
Fragment 22 A-C. Vermutlich fragmentarischer Gurtabschluß einer Hose aus ziemlich feiner rötlicher Wolle in Rauten-, Spitz- und Gleichgratköper. Erhalten sind drei Teile (Teile A-C), die beim Auffinden um zwei Holzstäbe gewickelt waren.
Teil A: Abwechselnd Rauten- und Spitzköper. Zwei Kanten abgesäumt (Naht 1-2) und eine dritte Kante mit einer Reihe von überwendlichen Stichen (Naht 3). Länge 26-29 cm, Breite 9-10,5 cm. Teil B: Zwikkelförmiges Fragment aus Rautenköper mit einer Webkante und zwei stark ausgefransten Kanten. Keine Nähte erhalten. Länge der Webkante 9 cm, Breite 6 cm. Teil C: Schmaler Streifen aus ziemlich feinem Gleichgratköper 2/2. Kanten ausgefranst. (Ursprünglich vielleicht Schlaufe vom Gurtabschluß.) Länge 13 cm, Breite 1,5-2,5 cm. Stoffstärke in allen Teilen 0,15 cm.
Inga Hägg: Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu, p 28, illustration modified from p 29
The largest fragment (22 A) is made of alternating lozenge and broken twill. Two of the edges have a hem stitched in place (1 and 2 in the drawing), and there is a third edge with a series of overcast stitches (3). The fragment is 26-29 cm long and 9-10.5 cm wide.
Fragment B is a fragment of lozenge twill shaped as a gore with a selvedge (along the top) and two strongly frayed edges. There are no remains of seams on this fragment. It is 9 cm long (along the selvedge) and 6 cm wide.
Lastly, fragment C is a narrow strip (13 cm long, 1.5-2.5 cm wide) of fairly fine 2/2 twill. The edges are frayed. This strip may originally have been a belt loop fastened to the waist band. All of the fragments are roughly 0.15 cm thick.
The next set of relevant fragments, 39 A-B, are interpreted as possibly belonging to the crotch piece of a pair of trousers made from lozenge twill and broken twill. The fragments are worn, but the fabric has been dyed.
Fragment 39 A-B. Fragmente, die möglicherweise vom Schritteil einer Männerhose aus Rauten-15; und Spitzköper stammen. Stark abgenutzt und deutlich sekundär zerschnitten.
Teil A ist aus drei Teilstücken (Teile a-c) zusammengenäht. Teil Aa: Mittelstück aus feinem Rautenköper mit Verbindungsnähten (Nähte 1-4) an drei Seiten. Höhe 15,5 cm, Breite 13,5 cm. Teile Ab-c: Schlecht erhaltene Seitenstücke aus sehr feinem Spitzköper, die durch feste Nähte (Nähte 1-2, 4;) mit auffallend dunklen Stichen und breit umgeschlagenen Kanten am Mittelstück befestigt waren. Ein drittes Teilstück war ursprünglich offenbar bei Naht 3 vorhanden.
Teil B besteht aus dem gleichen Rautenköper wie das Mittelstück und ist rundum stark abgenutzt und zerrissen. An zwei Kanten befinden sich Reste von Nähten. Ihrer identischen Bindungsart sowie diesen Nähten nach zu urteilen, läßt sich eine ursprüngliche Vernähung mit Fragment 39 Aa vermuten; eine Annahme, die indes letztlich unsicher bleiben muß.
Möglicherweise bilden die Fragmente 39 Aa und 39 B zusammengehörende Reste vom Mittelzwickel einer Männerhose. Die erhaltene Gesamthöhe beträgt etwa 23 cm. Die Seitenstücke (Fragmente 39 Ab-c) gehören demnach zu den Hosenbeinen oder zu Zwickeln an diesen. Alle Teile zeigen starke Gebrauchsspuren und sind wahrscheinlich umgenäht, jedoch nicht geflickt worden. Jetzige Stoffstärke ca. 0,1 cm.
Inga Hägg: Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu, p 28 illustration modified from p 30
Fragment 39 A is stitched together from three sections of fabric (Aa-c):
Fragment 39 B consists of the same lozenge twill weave as the centre piece, and is very worn and torn. There are remains of seams at two of the edges. The identical weave and the edge seams may be seen as indications that fragment 39 B and 39 Aa originally was sewn together, possibly as fragments of the centre gore of a man's trousers. The resulting overall height of the piece would then be roughly 23 cm, and the side pieces (Ab and Ac) would then belong to either the trouser legs or gores connected to the legs. Unfortunately there is no way to be certain of this.
All the fragments show clear signs of wear. They have been hemmed, but don't seem to have been patched. The current thickness of the fabric is 0.1 cm.
Although quite a few construction details are available from both 22 A-C and 39 A-B, the original design of the garments cannot be determined with certainty. The fragments share fundamental similarities with trousers from older finds, but it is also possible to interpret e.g. fragment 39 as part of the sleeve of a coat.
With this in mind, Hägg still believes that the two set of fragments belong to two different, but similarly designed men's trousers. Both trousers appear to have been made predominantly from lozenge twill, but other types of weaves have been used in some pieces. I wonder if the mix of weaves were to achieve specific properties (like stretch) in different pieces, or if it were a matter of taste or of economy (using "cheaper" fabric for certain pieces).
Both the type of weave and the pattern of the pieces indicate that these trousers were of the same type as represented in e.g. the early Iron Age Thorsberg find. This type is often made from lozenge twill, is tailored to tightly fit the body and is characterised by a waist band, a wide square in the back, sometimes a centre gore in the front, and long, narrow legs.
In addition to the two Thorsberg type trousers, fragments of a third and different pair of trousers were found in the harbour. The fragments 72 A-B belong to the front and crotch area, while fragment 91 A comes from the upper front of the trousers. All of the fragments are made from a thin tabby woven cloth.
Fragment 72 A-B. Reste von Vorderseite und Schritt einer Männerhose aus dünnem Stoff in Tuchbindung.
Fragment 72 A: Aus sieben verschiedenen, symmetrisch geordneten Teilen zusammengenäht (Teile a-g). Stoffstärke, Teil a, 0,1 cm, Teile b-g und Fragment 72 B, 0,05 cm. Teil a: Garndrehung z/z. Bandförmiger Zwickel aus feinem, rötlichen Gewebe in ripsartiger Tuchbindung mit Falten. Nach oben abgerissen, seitlich und unten Schnittkanten und Nähte erhalten. Höhe 12,5 cm, Breite 5-7 cm. Teil b: Garndrehung z/z. Rechteck aus feinem, grünlichen Stoff in Tuchbindung mit niedrigen Falten, unregelmäßig verteilt wie bei einem Kreppgewebe, und mit starken, länglichen Gebrauchsspuren am Rücken jeder Falte. Eine Kante des Stückes mit Teil a zusammengenäht (Naht 1), die übrigen abgerissen. Länge 10 cm, Breite 14 cm. Teil c: Garndrehung z/z. Dünnes, rötliches Gewebe in sehr feiner Tuchbindung mit dichten Fältchen. Durch doppelte Stichreihen (Nähte 4-5) mit den Teilstücken a, b und e verbunden. Die übrigen Kanten abgerieben und abgerissen. Teil d: Garndrehung z/s. Sehr wenig erhalten. Gegenstück zu Teil c und wie dieses aus dünnem, sehr feinem rötlichen Gewebe in Tuchbindung mit Fältchen. Teile e-f: Garndrehung z/s. Wenig erhalten, Gewebe schräg gezogen und größtenteils aufgelöst, aber deutlich in Tuchbindung mit Falten. Beide Teile von grünlicher Farbe. Teil g: Nur noch ausgefranste Kett- und Schußfäden (z/s) und vereinzelte Stiche vorhanden.
Inga Hägg: Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu, p 34
Fragment 72 A consists of seven symmetrically placed different pieces (a-g) that have been stitched together:
|Fragment 72 A (position of a, c, d and e shown)||Fragment 72 A (right side, position of b shown)||Fragment 72 B|
|Inga Hägg: Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu, drawings modified from p 32 and 33, photograph p 36|
Fragment 72 B is made from the same thin, reddish cloth in very fine tabby weave as fragment 72 Ac, and it has the same dense small wrinkles with clear traces of wear on the back of each wrinkle. The fabric in all of the fragments is very thin; piece 72 Aa is 0.1 cm thick, the rest, including fragment 72 B are 0.05 cm.
Fragment 72 B. Dünnes, rötliches Gewebe in sehr feiner Tuchbindung aus dem gleichen Stoff wie Fragment 72 Ac und wie dieses mit dichten, länglichen Fältchen versehen. Am Rücken der Fältchen sind Abnutzungsspuren in Form von dünnen Stellen und Verfilzung deutlich zu erkennen.
Inga Hägg: Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu, p 34
The last fragment from these trousers, 91 A, is a band-shaped piece made of a fine reddish tabby weave with wrinkles. Both the top and bottom have been torn, but along the side edges there are remains of adjoining pieces stitched in place. These side pieces are very badly preserved, but it is possible to discern that one piece have been made from a loose, very fine, reddish fabric with z-twisted yarn both in warp and weft, while the other piece is from a similar thin fabric with z-warp and s-weft (cf fragment 72 Ac and Ad). The band-shaped fragment is 16 cm long, 3-5 cm wide and 0.1 cm thick.
Fragment 91 A. Bandförmiges Stück aus feinem rötlichen, ripsartigen Gewebe in Tuchbindung mit Falten. Beide Enden abgerissen, Seitenkanten mit Verbindungsnähten und Resten von anschließenden Schnittmusterteilen. Länge 16 cm, Breite 3-5 cm. Gleicher Stoff wie Fragment 72 Aa. Die seitlich angenähten Teile sind sehr schlecht erhalten. Erkennbar ist allerdings einerseits ein lockerer, sehr feiner, rötlicher Stoff mit z-gedrehtem Garn sowohl in der Kette als im Schuß, andererseits ein ähnlich dünner Stoff mit z-Kette und s-Schuß (vgl. Fragmente 72 Ac-d). Teil a, Stoffstärke 0,1 cm.
Inga Hägg: Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu, p 34 illustration p 32
Interpreting the fragments, it is fairly clear that 72 Aa-g belongs to the crotch area of the trousers.
Fragment Aa is from a frontal centre gore, while Ab is the remains of a rectangular gore in the centre back of the trousers. Parts c, d, e and f all belong to the legs, with c and d in the front and e and f in the back. Part g probably represents some form of strengthening seam or double layering of the cloth over the central crotch seam. Hägg also mentions the possibility that the legs had double layers of fabric.
The badly preserved fragments along the sides of 91 A appear to be identical to 72 Ac and Ad, it is thus assumed that 91 A is a continuation of the frontal centre gore from right above where 72 Aa ends, creating a central gore roughly 30 cm long.
Drawing: Inga Hägg: Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu, p 32. Photograph taken at Wikinger museum Haithabu
Although the fragments are far from complete, the relationship between the different pieces of the trousers is clearly recognizable. Interestingly, the way the trousers have been pieced together follows the same basic pattern as the much earlier Thorsberg trousers.
There has been no analysis of the dyes, but according to Hägg there is a clearly visible difference in the colour of the front and the back of the trousers. All fragments from the front have a reddish colour, while the back pieces of the trousers are yellow-green. This must have created a striking impression when the trousers were new.
Lastly, the winkles, combined with the traces of wear on the back of each wrinkle are a clear indication that the fabric originally was creased or pleated. These "pleats" do not run over the entire surface like e.g. the pleated fabric from Birka, but run in discontinued waves (like a crepe fabric). The use of z-spun yarn in both warp and weft on most pieces may have contributed to a fabric with a natural tendency to wrinkle. Hägg concludes that this particular set of trousers must have been of the so-called "Pumphosen" or high-breeches type, with wide, knee-length, pleated legs. These trousers are known from illustrations on e.g. rune stones, but the find from Haithabu harbour is the first to yield archaeological evidence of their existence.
The finds from the settlement tend to be more poorly preserved than the harbour finds. The proportion of high quality weaves found is similar, but the remains from the settlement are significantly more worn and often show traces of being patched, unlike the garments from the harbour. Still, the finds from the settlement confirms and in some cases expands the view of daily wear among the inhabitants of Haithabu as presented by the harbour finds.
Unfortunately, there is almost no evidence of trousers preserved in the settlement. The only fragments that are considered to be a possibility are S 19 A-O.
These fifteen fragments are small, between 0.7 x 1.0 cm and 3.0 x 15 cm, and made of thin, possibly crepe woven, wool tabby that may be dyed (in a colour that was blue or possibly green). There appears to be two slightly different qualities of fabric, whereof fragments A, B, C and D are slightly finer than the others.
On some fragments there has been preserved a short stretch of folded fabric along an edge. These folds have a thin decorative wool yarn stitched along the outer edge and are whip stitched along the inner edge with bright wool yarn. The three fragments with such decoration are all of the slightly inferior quality (E, N and L).
The two largest fragments (A and E) show traces of a secondary cut along one edge, which is interpreted to mean that they probably were cut from an edge or seam of the original garment. Hägg believes that this also holds true for the smaller fragments, namely that S 19 A-O are pieces that was left after the original garment was repaired or reworked. The cutting lines are wavy instead of straight, which indicates that the fabric lay in wrinkles or pleats when it was cut.
Lastly, it can be established that the fragments (and thus the garment fabric) has lain in double layers, which were stitched together (probably with thread made from vegetable fibres - like linen). One such pair of fragments are A and E, which still have traces of the double row of stitches that bound them together. Fragment A is of slightly finer fabric than E, raising the possibility of a lining and an outside that differs in fabric quality.
The S 19 fragments are unfortunately far too small to allow a reliable interpretation of the original function or shape of the garment from which they originate. Some guesses can be made though. The garment in question was made from a fine crepe woven tabby, and was wrinkled or pleated. This is very similar to the trouser fragments found in Haithabu harbour (72 A-B and 91 A). Another possibility is that it was an undertunic - there are traces of such a pleated garment in the find material in Haithabu and a crepe fabric sleeve fragment has been found in Elisenhof.
None of the undertunic fragments are stitched in double layers however, while there are indications of a possible double layer among the remains of the pleated trousers from Haithabu harbour. This leads Hägg to conclude that the S 19 fragments belong to a similar pair of trousers.
In addition to trousers, there has been found other legwear from the Viking Age. There are fragments of leg windings, hose and socks, items that could be worn alone, but were probably worn in combination with trousers most of the time. They deserve their own article however, so all I will do here is to note their existence.
Most of the archaeological evidence for clothing from the Viking Age is fragmented and hard to interpret, and this is definitively the case for trousers. As the finds are so few, it may be useful to consider the well-preserved early Iron Age trousers found in Germany when trying to construct plausible patterns. These finds are hundreds of years earlier than the Viking finds, so caution must be used when trying to extrapolate between the two periods. However, the finds at Haithabu as interpreted by Inga Hägg indicate that the basic construction pattern of e.g. the Thorsberg trousers may have survived into the Viking Age.
I have selected five finds that I believe is relevant to use as comparison material. Seen together, these finds should also give a feeling for how much variation there was in the construction pattern, for what is in essence the same functional garment from roughly the same time period and geographical place.
In 1860-1861, Conrad Engelhardt excavated the Thorsberg bog in northern Germany. In addition to weapons, ceramic vessels etc. a large amount of textiles were found, including fragments of two pairs of trousers. Many of the items had been broken, bent or otherwise rendered useless before being deposited in the bog, indicating that they had been left there as a sacrifice. The deposits were made over a long period of time, and while the exact date is unknown, the textiles were deposited between 100 and 300 AD.
The trousers have been analysed several times, among others by Margrethe Hald in 1950 and Karl Schlabow in 1976. The latest analysis was made by Susan Möller-Wiering and published in 2011.
The first pair of trousers (3684) is made from a fine reddish 2/2 diamond wool twill, and is intact with the exception of the lower part of one of the legs, where the last 30 cm is missing. From top to toe, the trousers measure about 125 cm; and the circumference at the waist appears to be about 90-100 cm.
Due to the excellent preservation of the trousers one should expect the construction pattern to be clear and undisputed. Unfortunately, Schlabow's pattern differs somewhat from the one presented by Hald. Möller-Wiering refers to an unpublished analysis made by Anna Nørgard that finds Hald's diagram to be closer to reality. (I am a bit puzzled by this, as Hald's pattern lacks one of the crotch pieces and one of the foot pieces mentioned by Möller-Wiering. However, it might be that Nørlund mainly considered the shape of the leg pieces, which is slightly different in the two prospective patterns.)
|Pattern from Margrethe Hald:|
Olddanske tekstiler p 341
|Pattern from Karl Schlabow: |
Textilfunde der Eisenzeit in Norddeutschland, figure 165
Only the front of the trousers is visible in the current exhibition. Upon her examination Möller-Wiering found that they consist of one large piece of cloth for each leg up to the waist, plus several smaller pieces made from the same fabric. A large, trapezoid piece makes up the back, while two smaller ones were used for the crotch and the middle of the front.
This confirms the rough pattern presented by Schlabow and Hald (although Hald misses one of the crotch pieces), but because of the way the trousers are mounted, Möller-Wiering cannot give details as to exactly how the leg pieces are shaped.
|Photographs of trousers
|Front of trousers||Back of trousers|
|Inga Hägg: Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu, p 31|
Along the top of the trousers there are two narrow strips running along the waist.
[The strip around the left hip] is 4-7 cm wide (seam not included) with the warp running parallel to the waist. <...> The strip around the right hip is 7,5 cm wide throughout which results in an asymmetrical middle section in the front of the trousers as there, near the middle, the strip on the left side is only 4 cm wide. In the back, both strips <...> meet in the middle.
The strips around the waist are used as a basis for six loops for keeping a belt in place. Two of them are attached in front, two at the sides and another two in the back. Their lower end seems to have reached down to the horizontal seam which could have served as a strong basis. Their upper ends were folded around the edge of the trousers and fastened on the inside.
Susan Möller-Wiering: War and worship, p 49
The preserved leg ends in a "stocking", with a 2 cm wide strip of cloth running around the ankle and a foot made from one larger piece and a gore that runs from the back of the ankle and down under the foot.
There is one peculiarity; the seam running up along the leg has been left open from the ankle to roughly 32 cm above the heel. Along this open seam, there are several bluish cords that have been stitched through the cloth.
Schlabow believed these were used to tie the leg closed, while Möller-Wiering argues that if that were the case, the cloth in the immediate area around the cords should show wear from being pulled - which it doesn't. She poses that the cords are probably part of some decoration, although she admits that if the opening was closed by using some kind of leg wrapping, this decoration would not be visible. The use of leg wraps is supported by the two fragments from such wraps that were found at the site.
The second pair of trousers (3685) is much more fragmentary. Like the other Thorsberg trousers they are made from a fine reddish brown 2/2 woollen diamond twill, and have integrated stockings at the bottom of the legs.
The pattern presented by Karl Schlabow shows the stockings as a part of the same piece as the rest of each leg. However, Susan Möller-Wiering believe that the stockings are made from separate pieces, like the stockings of trousers 3684.
The entire piece of clothing consists primarily of five parts: two for the legs, two for the feet and a quadrangular one set in on the back and the waist. The stockings are mounted in a way that they point straight outwards to the left and right. The long seams on the back go down in a position where they are very comfortable when riding. Further down on the legs, these seams sit on the calves where they are left open. <...>
As stated above, the seams were left open along the calves, namely on a length of c. 20 cm, starting about 17 cm above the seam beneath the foot. It is not possible to ascertain how it was once fastened. However, it is clear that the stockings were not merely the elongation of the trouser-legs but separate pieces sewn onto the legs: further up, the z-system [in the z/s weave] runs from top to bottom while down at the stockings, it is placed around the leg.
Susan Möller-Wiering: War and worship, p 52-53
Illustration from Schlabow Karl: Textilfunde der Eisenzeit in Norddeutschland, figure 172-174
The preserved parts of the stockings are very fragmentary and currently mounted in an arbitrary way, and there is no way to ascertain how the open seams along the calves were closed. Nor are the remaining fragments of the legs directly connected to whatever remains of the stockings, and the upper edge of the trousers is not preserved, which means that the original length of the trousers cannot be determined (although it was at least 120 cm).
The circumference at the current top is 90-95 cm and the cut of the legs is narrow, leading Möller-Wiering to conclude that the wearer was a tall, slim person.
The preserved length and the missing upper edge suggest that the trousers once reached rather far up the body. Therefore, it seems unlikely that loops for a belt as on trousers 3684 should be assumed for the missing part still further up. Another explanation for how to keep the trousers in place is that the uppermost part was rolled down over a simple, hidden belt.
Susan Möller-Wiering: War and worship, p 53
A bog body was found in the Damendorf bog in Germany in May 1900. The body was covered by a cloak, and at its feet was deposited a pair of trousers wrapped around two leg wraps, a leather strap and a pair of leather shoes.
The trousers have been analysed by several people during the years, including Johanna Mestorf (in 1900), Karl Schlabow (in 1976) and Heide Marie Farke (in 1994). They were also mentioned by Susan Möller-Wiering in her book from 2011.
According to carbon dating, the trousers are from 135-335 AD. They are made from a z/s woollen diamond twill with slightly coarser weave than the Thorsberg trousers.
Narrow, tablet-woven edges occur as starting and finishing borders and as side edges of the weave. The trousers were originally dyed red. All seams had disintegrated, probably on account of being made with linen thread, but five woollen pieces were well preserved.
Due to the rounded edge in the crotch area of the trouser legs, Schlabow believed that there must have been a semicircular piece inserted in the front that fit these edges, although no trace of this piece was found. According to Möller-Wiering, the existence of such a piece was disproven by Heide Marie Farke in 1994.
Thus the dress pattern is quite similar to [the Thorsberg] trousers 3685: the two main parts constitute the legs, reach up to the hips and meet in front of the belly. An almost quadrangular piece was inserted in the back, in this case supplemented by two triangular pieces below. As the upper end, a strip of cloth was added using the starting border as the outermost edge. On this strip Johanna Mestorf observed traces of former buttons or laces. Down at the bottom, the legs end in flaps which were interpreted by Mestorf and Hjalmar Falk as straps in the sense of stirrup pants. These flaps are irregularly cut and torn. This contrast to the other features of the trousers may suggest that this shape, although old, is not the original one. Yet Mestorf wrote that the flaps seem to have been sewn together under the feet.
Susan Möller-Wiering: War and worship, p 114
Illustration from Lejre Forsøgscenter: Sy dine egne Jernalderbukser
Textile experts Anne Batzer and Lis Dokkedal at Lejre forsøgscenter in Denmark have made a reconstruction of the Damendorf trousers. They observe that if the flaps are stuffed inside the shoes, they keep the trousers from sliding up, and so may have been a part of the original design after all.
A pair of trousers, two woollen belts (one of them tablet woven) a cloak and the remains of a pair of sleeves were found along with a bog body in Dätgen in Germany. The trousers were analysed among others by Karl Schlabow in 1976, and are mentioned in passing by Susan Möller-Wiering.
According to carbon dating, the trousers stem from 345-535 AD. They are woven in 2/2 plain twill (z/z). The natural colours of the wool are used to produce a decorative effect, with the threads varying in colour from almost black up to light brown.
Basically, the dress pattern of these breeches seems to be identical to the trousers from Damendorf, with two pieces of cloth for the legs and the hips, joined on the belly, and with a rectangular addition in the back. The triangular insertions are larger here, reaching up to the upper edge of the trousers. This edge is hemmed and runs around the hips, i.e. it does not reach as far up as the other trousers do.
Susan Möller-Wiering: War and worship, p 114
|Karl Schlabow: Textilfunde der Eisenzeit in Norddeutschland, figure 188 (pattern) and 190 (back of trousers)|
The inside seam of the trousers stop at knee-height, and Schlabow observes that they were probably worn with leg wraps covering the lower leg in cold weather.
Interestingly Schlabow states that the fine weave of the sleeves and the outstanding decorative pattern of the tablet woven belt that were found together with the trousers indicate that the Dätgen bog body was a woman, because they were too fine (and thus too feminine) to be worn by a man.
Der für die Eisenzeit typische Mantel liegt vor, und von der Bekleidung der Oberkörpers sind nur die mit dem Torfspaten abgetrennten Ärmel überliefert. Sie sind in der Webart so fein gearbeitet, daß sie auf die halblangen Ärmel einer Frauenbluse hindeuten <...>. Außer der Hose gehören zu dem Fund noch 2 gewebten Gürtel. Der eine im schlichten 2 cm breiten Bandgewebe wird der Gürtel der Hose gewesen sein. Aber ein zweiter Gürtel im hervorragenden Muster der Brettchenweberei deutet auf ein Frauenschmuck hin.
Es ist nicht anzunehmen, daß ein Mann einen solchen Schmuckgürtel getragen hat. Vielmehr berechtigt dieser, nach wochenlangem Fleiß mit Brettchen gewebte Schmuck zu der Annahme, die sich auch mit dem Hinweis von J. Mestorf im 44. Bericht des Museum Kiels 1907 deckt, daß die Moorleiche von Dätgen eine Frau gewesen ist, die ihre Wollhose mit einem Gürtel unter ihrem starken Leib verschnürt getragen hat.
Karl Schlabow: Textilfunde der Eisenzeit in Norddeutschland, p 79
If this is the case it is the first archaeological evidence I am aware of that indicate that Iron Age women occasionally wore trousers. I am sceptical in regards to Schlabow's thesis though, as we know too little of Iron Age custom to easily determine what would be considered to be feminine decoration. Unfortunately, there seems to be no information of the bog body itself, which may indicate that it was not preserved after the excavation. Without the possibility of a DNA analysis, the gender of the wearer of the Dätgen trousers may remain unknown.
Karl Schlabow also analysed a pair of trousers found together with a a bog body near Marx-Etzel. These are mentioned in Susan Möller-Wiering's book, but in very little detail.
The trousers are from 45-125 AD according to the carbon dating. Like the Dätgen trousers, these are short (above knee-height) and so might more properly be described as breeches.
Karl Schlabow: Textilfunde der Eisenzeit in Norddeutschland, figure 194, 195a and 195b
They were made from a single piece of woollen cloth, woven in the exact size needed, and cut and folded in a way that used all the available fabric. (A technique that reminds me of e.g. the way the tunic worn by the Egtvedt girl (Bronze Age Denmark) was constructed.) The weave is a z/s diamond twill in dark brown wool, with some variations in colour from almost black to light brown.
The circumference at the waist is roughly 135 cm, leading Schlabow to believe that the fabric would have been gathered in folds and held in place at the waist by a belt.
With the exception of the Marx-Etzel find, all of these trousers share some elements in their pattern. They have a relatively narrow fit, and the long trousers come with some kind of "footies". All of them have a single fabric piece for each leg, with a seam running along the inside, and a quadrangular piece (sometimes with added gores) in the back. These trousers may have developed from separate leggings, which have simply been joined together with extra pieces at the top of the leg. While the majority of the trousers just have the leg pieces meeting in the front, the more sophisticated Thorsberg trousers (3684) have additional gores in the crotch area.
As mentioned above, this type of construction pattern may have survived into the Viking Age.
That is the end of the hard evidence, and we're entering the land of interpretations. Due to the limited and fragmentary archaeological evidence for Viking Age trousers, we need to combine it with other (and less reliable) sources, like poetry and illustrations, when attempting to reconstruct these garments.
The usual method for preserving textiles in e.g. graves is by being close to a metal artefact. Unfortunately, trousers are seldom worn in direct contact with a lot of metal, which may explain why there is so few trouser finds from the Viking Age.
The trouser fragments found at Haithabu and Skjoldehamn are all made of wool. The only trace of linen trousers that I am aware of is Birka grave 905 with the bronze hooks. However, while the archaeological evidence for linen trousers is scant, there is quite a bit of circumstantial evidence for their existence.
In his book on Viking clothing, Thor Ewing points out that the Icelandic sagas explicitly mentions linen breeches (lín-brækr), and the saga phrase "in linen clothing" (í linklæðum) suggests that while it was unusual to wear only linen outside the house, linen clothing was ubiquitous. While the sagas were written after the Viking Age, the Hudud al-'Alam, a tenth-century Persian source, and the account of Ibn Rusta are both contemporary sources. They describe the clothing of the Rus (Vikings in Russia), including wide and baggy linen trousers.
Together with the archaeological evidence these sources confirm that Viking trousers could be made from both linen and wool. The choice of material may have varied according to geography, custom and personal taste however. The eleventh-century writer Adam of Bremen remarks that the Norwegians rely upon their flocks for their clothing (indicating that linen was seldom used). The same might have been true of the early Icelanders - when Ketill puts on woollen shirt and breeches in the Fljótsdæla saga, the saga writer notes that equivalent linen clothing was not worn "at that time".
On the other hand, according to Ewing, cost would not have been a barrier against the use of linen. He compares prices on linen and wool from an edict of Diocletian, from the late Roman period, finding coarse linen to be cheaper than fine wool. In addition, the Viking poem Rígsþula which focuses on showing the social differences of the classes, describes that even the slaves wrap their baby in linen. This supports the supposition that linen could have been in common use.
Unfortunately, the existing finds are far too few for us to draw any conclusion as to whether one type of material was more prevalent than the other in the making of trousers. All we know for sure is that both types existed.
As demonstrated by the finds from Dätgen and Marx-Etzel, knee-length breeches were worn by Germanic people during the early Iron Age. This is somewhere between 650 and 250 years before the Vikings, however, knee-length trousers still seem to have existed as a part of Frankish dress in the Viking Age. They are mentioned in Vita Karoli, (an account of the life of Charles the great written in 829-836), when the author describes the everyday dress of the emperor:
He wore the clothes of his nation, that is of the Franks: Next to his body he wore a linen shirt and breeches of linen; next a tunic edged round in silk, and hose; then bands enfolded his shins, and shoes his feet; and a jacket made of otter skin or ermine protected his shoulders and chest in winter; he wore a blue cloak...
Vita Karoli, translated by Thor Ewing in Viking Clothing p 76, my underlining
A later account of Charles the great's reign, de Carolo Magno, written by a monk around 883-884 describes the traditional Frankish dress worn by people of rank and riches:
This was the attire or apparel of the Franks of old: shoes gilded outside, adorned with laces of three cubits, kermes-dyed bands on the shins, and under these, hose and breeches of linen, of the same colour but varied with the most intricate work. Above these and the bands, in and out, before and behind, the long laces were arranged in the style of a cross.
De Carolo Magno, translated by Thor Ewing in Viking Clothing p 78, my underlining
These accounts describe a costume that includes knee-length linen breeches, worn without woollen overtrousers, but with hose and leg windings. According to Thor Ewing, this description is being supported by the archaeological evidence from the eight century grave of a young nobleman in St Severinus Cathedral, Cologne, Germany, that was found wearing white linen hose under long, cross-gartered, sheep-skin laces.
Ewing considers Frankish dress to be a useful departure point when theorizing about what the Vikings wore. It shares a common ancestry with Viking clothing, and there was continuous contact between Franks and Scandinavians through the Viking period.
With this in mind, he argues that the set of bronze hooks found in Birka grave 905 indicates that Vikings sometimes wore knee-length trousers with hose and leg windings, just like their Frankish neighbours.
With the exception of the Skjoldehamn trousers, which were at least
ankle-length, the other finds of woollen trousers from the Viking Age
are too fragmentary to give information on the length of the original
trousers. As mentioned earlier, however, fragments of hose have been
found at Viking settlements, strengthening the hypothesis that
knee-length trousers were sometimes worn. When made of linen these
breeches would have been part of the linklæðum
mentioned in the sagas.
Ewing believes that the cut of these breeches followed simple patterns, like the Marx-Etzel trousers instead of the more complicated patterns from the Dätgen, Damendorf and Thorsberg trousers. According to him they would have looked somewhat akin to medieval braies, or like the breeches worn by Christ in the eleventh century crucifix from Gotland in Sweden.He also proposes that woollen overbreeches might sometimes have been worn, of similar length to the linen breeches or longer.
|Yliali Asp SHM|
One of the finds from Haithabu harbour (72 A-B and 91 A) appears to be the crotch area of a pair of trousers that have been constructed according to a similar pattern as the one used in the Thorsberg trousers. Ewing points out that the use of a Thorsberg-type pattern fits well with the reference to "seat-gored breeches" (setgeira-brækr) as indicative of men's clothing in the Laxdæla saga. If this type of pattern remained in use during the Viking Age, the early Iron Age trousers can provide us with information on the basic trouser pattern beyond what can be read from the few existing Viking Age trouser fragments.
Unlike the Thorsberg trousers however, the trousers from 72 A-B and 91 A seems to have been pleated or creased, something that indicates a baggy garment. Hägg believes that these fragments are from a pair of wide and pleated trousers of a type described in the tenth century Persian source, Hudud al-'Alam, as worn by the Russian Vikings.
Out of a hundred cubits of fine linen, more-or-less, they sew trousers, which they put on tucking them up above the knee.
Hudud al-'Alam, quoted by Ewing in Viking clothing, p 96
The Arab Ibn Rusta gives a similar description in his account of the Rus, but even more incredibly allots a hundred cubits of cloth to each leg.
Thor Ewing suggests that the Viking name for this garment might have been hábrækr. He refers to the right hand man of Haraldr Hárfagri, Hauk Hábrók ("high breeches") who is supposed to have visited Russia, and so could have adopted the trousers that gave him his nickname from the Rus. In addition, hábrók is a term that also is used as an epithet in Viking poetry for hawks, whose feathered upper legs may look somewhat similar to a baggy knee-length trouser.
The depictions on picture stones from Gotland and on a small silver figurine found at Uppäkra in south Sweden give an indication of how these trousers must have looked when they were "tucked up above the knee" as described by the Hudud al-'Alam.
According to Hägg, the wide trousers worn by the men in the Oseberg tapestry were first interpreted as front and rear slotted skirts. Lately an alternative interpretation has surfaced, namely that they are hábrækr that haven't been tied (or otherwise gathered) at the knee. This hypothesis is presented by among others Thor Ewing. Similar knee-length wide trousers can be seen on several picture stones. If Ewing's interpretation is correct, this may indicate that it was not unusual to wear hábrækr this way.
|Picture stone from Stenkyrka,
|Male figure, Oseberg tapestry
Thor Ewing: Viking Clothing, p 85
|Picture stone from Lärbro, Tängelgårda, Gotland||Silver figurine from Uppäkra
Barbaricum, p 62
As shown by the finds from Haithabu harbour (72 A-B and 91 A), the hábrækr could be two-coloured. The harbour example had a front that had been dyed red and a back that was yellow-green. The fragments of a similar pair of trouser found at the Haithabu settlement (S19) indicate that at least some of these trousers were constructed by stitching together fabric in double layers, with the "lining" being of a lesser quality than the outer layer.
While the Haithabu finds are made of wool, both Inga Hägg and Thor Ewing propose that the hooks from grave 905 at Birka might possibly have been worn with a linen hábrók and woollen hose (and possibly leg windings). Unfortunately, the fragments of fabric preserved by the metal artefacts are much too small to make it possible to conclude on the type of trousers they were attached to.
Inga Hägg proposes that the baggy trousers may originally have derived from Scythian pleated trousers. According to her, the fact that foreign soldiers in the Roman army wore their native costumes contributed to the early emergence of a kind of "military uniform", which had absorbed many foreign clothing items. She suggests that the influence from the Scythian trousers may have become incorporated in the knee-length Celtic braca that Gallo-Germanic people were said to wear at home, and that these influences were re-transmitted directly to Scandinavia by North Germanic soldiers in the late imperial period. (This theory may account for some books calling the hábrækr "oriental trousers", although strictly speaking what Hägg proposes is that they originally derived from an oriental source.)
Ewing on the other hand points out that while baggy trousers are associated with oriental fashions today, the Arab and Afghan-Persian sources which describe the hábrækr are clearly amazed at the quantity of cloth used by the Rus. Thus he believes that these trousers either originated with the Rus and Scandinavians of the Viking Age, or that they must have taken an existing fashion for baggy trousers to new extremes.
Thor Ewing: Viking Clothing, p 101, picture stone from Sockburn, England
The hábrækr were not confined to Russian Vikings alone; the style was known in Sweden (as demonstrated by the picture stones and figurine), in Denmark (Haithabu) and in Norway (if the interpretation of the Oseberg trousers is correct).
They were even known in Viking England, as shown by the carving on a cross from Sockburn. Still, with the amount of fabric used, they must have been high status clothing.
The Skjoldehamn trousers are of a narrow cut (at least compared with the pleated hábrækr) with a drawstring at the top and decorated, slim legs, that ends at ankle-height. Because only fragments have been found, and there is no documentation as to their position on the body, the pattern of the trousers remains uncertain.
Gjessing suggested a pattern, but as shown by Løvlid, it doesn't fit the evidence (e.g. the presence of a selvedge in the back), and turns out to be impractical in use when reconstructed. Instead, in order to explain the discrepancy between the single vertical seam at the bottom of the trousers and the two seams at the top (a vertical seam plus a parallel selvedge that must have been stitched to something), Løvlid suggests that one or both of the trouser legs were divided into an upper part and a lower part. Because of the uncertainty regarding the fragments he doesn't go any further in suggesting a pattern.
The Thorsberg/Damendorf type of pattern appears to still have been use during the Viking Age (as shown by Haithabu 72 A-B and 91 A). One possible interpretation is that the Skjoldehamn trousers followed such a pattern, at least partly. For example, they might have had a rectangular piece in the back, that was sewn to the selvedge on the left leg. Unfortunately, the crotch area is too uncertain to allow for a conclusion.
Beside the Skjoldehamn find, the other evidence for narrow trousers in the Viking Age is the fragments 22 A-C and 39 A-B from Haithabu harbour. According to Hägg these were constructed along a Thorsberg type pattern (with seat gores and waistband), and were made from fine woollen twill. Unfortunately, only fragments from the upper area have been preserved, so we cannot tell whether these trousers ended at the ankle, or were footed like the Thorsberg trousers.
As the archaeological evidence is limited, it can be useful to look at other sources as well.
The picture stone from Ardre, Gotland give a rough illustration of how the Skjoldehamn trousers and other ankle-length trousers may have looked. The crewn on the ship depicted on this stone are all wearing ankle-length trousers.
Ankle-length trousers seem to be mentioned in the sagas as ökulbrækr, hökulbrækr or höklabrækr. There has been some discussion as to the meaning of these words, but Ewing argues that they are clearly linked to okkla or ökkla (ankle), making (h)ökul-skúaðr "ankle-shoed" and ökulbrækr simply "ankle breeches".
When this term appears in the sagas, it denotes low-status trousers, and seems to be used as shorthand for "ill-dressed bumpkin". Ewing therefore proposes that they would have been made from coarse cloth and cut to a simple pattern. I am a bit doubtful whether this assumption is correct however. While I fully accept that the ökulbrækr have a low status in the sagas, I am more uncertain as to whether the way the sagas view these garments truly reflects their status in the Viking Age.
It seems that Ewing is unaware of the Skjoldehamn find, or of the new dating that places it within the Viking Age. These ankle-length trousers were made of white woollen cloth, which would have required some effort to create, and decorated with woven bands and decorative stitches. The cutting pattern is uncertain, but Løvlid's thesis shows that it would at a minimum have been more complex than the simple pattern suggested by Gjessing. All of this suggests to me that while these trousers might not have been worn by the wealthy, it would be wrong to classify them as ill-fitting and low status. On the other hand, they may have been of Sami origin, and thus not directly applicable when interpreting Viking fashion.
The trousers found at Haithabu are clearly high status, as shown both by the fine twill cloth, the complex cut and the fact that they were dyed. However, it is impossible to tell whether they were indeed ökulbrækr, and so they can't be used as an argument either way. The picture stone at Gotland is interesting though. These sailors are carrying swords, signifying both wealth and status, which in my opinion makes it unlikely that they are simultaneously wearing trousers only fit for bumpkins.
In summary, there is some evidence for the use of ankle-length trousers by the Vikings. The Skjoldehamn trousers may be the closest we have to a pattern, with all its uncertainties. The status of ökulbrækr is unknown, but might have been more varied than the picture painted by the sagas.
Several of the early Iron Age trousers have legs that end in stockings enclosing the feet of the wearer. As mentioned earlier, the construction pattern of these trousers, with a single fabric piece for each leg and a quadrangular piece in the back (sometimes with added gores in the back and/or front) seems to have survived into the Viking Age. The fragments 22 A-C and 39 A-B from Haithabu appears to follow such a pattern and it is entirely possible that these trousers were footed. Unfortunately, no trace of the lower legs has survived.
While the archaeological evidence is limited, Thor Ewing points out that the sagas indicate that footed trousers still existed in the Viking Age. In Njáls saga, chapter 134, Flósi chooses to wear footed breeches (so-called leistabrækr) because he will be walking. Footed breeches also appears in Eyrbyggja saga, chapter 45, and a related style, with bands under the foot (reminiscent of the Damendorf trousers) occurs in Fljótsdæla saga chapter 16.
The sagas rate the leistabrækr higher than ökulbrækr status-wise. If this reflects reality, the dyed and finely woven fabrics used in fragments 22 A-C and 39 A-B indicate that the original trousers were leistabrækr, and thus were footed.
While the sagas indicate their existence, it is unclear how common such trousers were, however. There has also been some discussion as to their use. Hägg proposes that the Thorsberg trousers were derived from Parthian riding breeches, through the medium of Roman military uniform. She believes that they were worn by a horseman, probably an officer.
Not only would a foot soldier wear out the sewn-on feet very quickly but it would also be very unpleasant for him to have to walk on the middle join and indeed rather dangerous on long marches. In the case of riding breeches, however, the feet would be practical as they keep the trouser legs taut and prevent them from riding up when on the horse.
Inga Hägg: Sacrificed garments, p 29
According to Möller-Wiering, the experience of people wearing a replica of such footed trousers or stockings is that the seam under the foot slides aside, away from the sole, and does not constitute a problem when walking. However, she acknowledges that in a society where only the rich would own a horse, there might be special riding trousers that show status.
The only information available about the use of footed trousers in Viking Scandinavia is in the sagas. In Njáls saga Flósi has chosen to walk instead of riding so that he will be on the same footing as his men. This leads Ewing to conclude that footed breeches were considered more suitable for walking than riding among the Vikings.
Identifying the colour of the archaeological evidence is challenging, partly because it is difficult to separate colour originating from dye from rust or other discolouration, and partly because plant dyes decay in the ground. In addition, the archaeological evidence can only take us so far. The fragments are just too few to give a correct picture.
So what can we tell about the colour of Viking trousers? With the exception of the Skjoldehamn find, all the existing fragments of trousers are dyed. However, all of the dyed fragments are also of a finely woven fabric, indicating that these are high status garments, and so should not be taken as proof that most trousers were dyed. It is likely that at least the less wealthy would have worn undyed clothing, made from cloth with a less careful selection of wool than the Skjoldehamn trousers.
There is little detail given about either 39 A-B or S19 from Haithabu. Hägg notes that 39 A-B was dyed (but doesn't say which colour) and reports that the hábrók fragments found at the settlement (S19) was dyed either blue or green.
The second hábrók (72 A-B and 91A) was dyed red in the front and yellow-green in the back. According to Hägg, the sagas have a term for parti-coloured garments, namely halflit, halfskipt or tviskipt, and that this clothing when mentioned often comes in a combination of red and green, just like the find at Haithabu.
The remaining pair of trousers from the harbour (22 A-C) had been dyed a reddish brown with walnut shells. This is a dye that is found on fragments from several other garments at Haithabu. It has an antibacterial effect, something that is very useful in clothes worn close to the body, like trousers or undertunics.
Finally, there is the fragments of linen left on the metal hooks in Birka grave 905 that might stem from a linen hábrók, or some other kind of knee-length linen trouser. Linen is very difficult to dye when you don't have access to modern chemical dyes, so one would expect most (possibly all) linen trousers to be undyed. Coloured linen did exist though, as demonstrated by the fragments of a blue smokkr in grave 563 and the red serk in grave 762 in Birka. Neither Geijer nor Arbman mentions colour when reporting on the content of grave 905 however, and it is probable that the linen fragments were too small for them to be able to ascertain whether they were dyed or not.
While the archaeological evidence only demonstrates the use of three colours in Viking trousers, it is not unlikely that a much wider range were in use. Collecting and summarizing the different studies by textile archaeologists in regards to which dyes were likely to be known and used by the Vikings is a separate research project though, and not one I have had time to do (yet). Instead I recommend the work done by Carolyn Priest-Dorman in her article on colours in the Viking Age.
The trousers would have been kept in place by several different techniques. The Skjoldehamn trousers are gathered around the waist by a drawstring running within a channel along the top of the trousers. The fragments 22 A-C from Haithabu include a possible belt loop, and so may have sported a Thorsberg-type waistband with belt loops and a belt. In addition, rolling the top of the trousers down over a belt (like Möller-Wiering believes was done in the case of one of the Thorsberg trousers), or using some kind of buttons or laces (possibly found on the Damendorf trousers), might also have been used in the Viking Age.
Thor Ewing suggests that many Viking men would have been wearing two belts; one to keep up the trousers, and one to secure the tunic. Interestingly, there is seldom more than one buckle in the graves (many graves have none), and where more is found, the extra buckles are rarely found in the waist area. And where buckles have been found with associated textile remains, it appears that they have been used to secure the shirt or tunic.
As metal buckles would have been both expensive and decorative, it makes sense that they would have been openly displayed rather than hidden under the tunic. Thus, Ewing argues that the trouser belt would not have been buckled, but instead would have been tied in place. According to him, tablet-woven bands are decorative and high-status, and thus unsuitable as trouser belts. Instead he suggests a simple leather belt with a slit at one end through which the other end passes before it is tied, or a belt of rope of some kind.
This reconstruction is presented by Historiska världar, a project run by the Museum of National Antiquities.
They don't set a specific geographic place or time for their reconstruction, but the pattern they suggest appears to build on the evidence from the Haithabu finds.
One difference though, is that the legs of the two-coloured hábrók from Haithabu must have been divided into two parts in order to dye the front and back in different colours. Thus, unlike the Thorsberg trousers, it must have had a seam running along both the inside and the outside of each leg.
As seen above, the Thorsberg pattern make a good starting point for leistabrækr, and possibly for ökulbrækr. None of the reconstructions presented here have added the stockings of the "footed" trousers.
Nille Glæsel presents a pattern as part of her report on Viking Clothing to the Viking museum in Lofoten, Norway.
She follows the interpretation by Margrethe Hald with the exception of the waistband, which is cut in one single piece instead of two that are sewn together. The front gore is also made from one piece, as per Hald's pattern. The original trousers have a front gore created by two pieces that have been sewn together.
Shelagh Lewins use an identical pattern, down to a single-piece waistband and front gore. She presents a detailed step-by-step set of instructions on how to fit the pattern to the prospective wearer.
Lastly, a slightly adjusted
pattern with step-by-step instructions is presented by Matthew Marino.
Arbman, Holger: Die Gräber, Birka : Untersuchungen und und Studien I, Uppsala: Almkvist and Wiksells B.A., Kungl. Vitterhets Antikvitets Akadamien. (Part 1 is available on the web)
Priest-Dorman, Carolyn: Colors,
Dyestuffs, and Mordants of the Viking Age: An Introduction
Ewing, Thor: Viking Clothing, 2006, ISBN 978-0752435879. Buy from Amazon
Hald, Margrethe: Olddanske tekstiler, komparative tekstil- og dragthistoriske studier paa grundlag af mosefund og gravfund fra jernalderen, Det kongelige Nordiske Oldskriftsselskab, femte bind, Nordisk Forlag 1950.
Hägg, Inga: Textilfunde aus der Siedlung und aus den Gräbern von Haithabu. Berichte über die ausgrabungen in Haithabu, Bericht 29. Neumünster: Karl Wachholz Verlag, 1991. ISSN 0525-5791/ISSN 3 529-01929 1. Buy from Wachholtz Verlag.
Løvlid, Dan Halvard: Nye tanker om Skjoldehamnfunnet, Masteroppgave i arkeologi, Universitetet i Bergen, 2009. (PDF 8,4 MB)
Løvlid, Dan Halvard: Skjoldehamnfunnet i lys av ny kunnskap. En diskusjon om gravleggingen, funnets etniske tilknytning og personens kjønn og sosiale status, 2010. (PDF 0,96 MB)
Schlabow, Karl: Textilfunde der Eisenzeit in Norddeutschland, Göttinger Schriften zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Band 15, Karl Wachholtz Verlag Neumünster, 1976, ISBN 3 529 01515 6. Buy from Wachholtz Verlag.
Möller-Wiering, Susan: War and worship, Textiles from 3rd to 4th-century AD Weapon Deposits in Denmark and Northern Germany, Ancient textiles series vol. 9, Oxbow Books, 2011, ISBN-13 978-1-84217-428-9. Buy from Oxbow books.
Glæsel, Nille: Vikingtidens drakter
http://www.lofotr.no/pdf/Rapporter/Lofotr%2005.08.pdf p 16-17
and Viking - Dress, Clothing, Klær, Garment, Forlaget Nille Glæsel, 2010, ISBN 978-82-998323-0-4. Buy from Nille Glæsel
Historiska världer: Vikingatida herreman - påsbyxor
Lejre Forsøgscenter: Sy dine egne Jernalderbukser efter bukserne fra Damendorf 200 e. kr. f., Sagnlandet Lejre, 2009
Lewins, Shelagh: Making a Pair of Thorsbjerg Trousers
Marino, Matthew P.: Pattern and Instructions for Viking Age Re-enactor's Trousers