The Symbolic Key to a Viking Woman’s Independence

This bronze key from Heggum farm in Røyken in the Oslofjord is dated to the Viking Age.
A large number of ornate keys from the Viking Age (c. 800-1066 AD) have been found in female graves and as individual findings. Bronze keys made with superb craftsmanship were used as a status symbol by women and were often small works of art worn on a belt around the waist.

The key from Heggum farm (Old Norse: Heggheimar) is 9.5 centimeters long and ornamented with intertwined animal figures. It was found in a burial mound and may have belonged to a powerful housewife. The day she got married, she got the keys to the farm doors and treasure chests as a visible sign of her position and power.

Replica: A push key padlock from the Viking Age was found on the Björkö island in Lake Mälaren, Sweden.
© historicallocks.com
Replica: A push key padlock from the Viking Age was found on the Björkö island in Lake Mälaren, Sweden.
A Viking woman's responsibility was "inside the doorstep," the man's outside. Her work duties were housekeeping and making food, including drying and smoking fish and meat, working wool, spinning yarn and sewing and weaving.


Pregnancy, breastfeeding and raising children also took up time in a woman's life. In practice, it was probably the women who looked after the elderly.

She also had to perform heavy work like carrying water and participate in haymaking. In addition, she would have had knowledge of herbs to make medicine for the sick and wounded.

When the man went hunting, fishing, on Viking raids or got sick, the wife had responsibility for the operation of the whole farm, which in wealthy families also included many trells (slaves).

The married woman was seen to belong to the family she had grown up with and for that reason never quite became an integral part of her husband's family.

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