Icelandic Sagas and the Fur Trade

icelandiclit

 

Icelandic Sagas recount the struggles and the conflict of family history. Conflicts over wealth, power and prestige which took place in the 9th or 10th centuries and the resulting accounts were later recorded in the 13th or 14th centuries.

Literature created a social differentiation between classes, and was later used to maintain or reconnect links with well known kings and heroes in Nordic countries to trace their origins. Nordic tales emphasized ethnic characteristics conducive to literary culture, an activity which was not banned by the continental kings of Europe. This helped pass the time during the long winters and cattle farming provided the necessary parchment materials.

They wrote of pillaging and plunder, of which the tribute and conquest accumulated wealth and a vast store of goods to trade. They traded furs of badger, bear, boar ermine, fox, hare, lynx, sable and wolf. Skins, bones, fleece and feathers of falcons, walrus, duck, otter, whalebone, ivory and amber as well as honey, tin and wheat. These goods in particular, the wool and fur from these animals were made into clothing, bedding, sword scabbards (sheep fleece). They were used in blankets, capes, hoods, gloves, scabbards and grave offerings. Basic hats made from felted animal fiber’s or plaited plant fibers. Some leathers found were cat skins which were used in burial, boar bristles were found on brushes, beaver testicles were used for medicinal purposes. They traded beaver fur to fashion as trim on king’s cloaks and fur headdresses for the rich. Fur trimmed cloaks of fox, hare, bear, otter and goats.

Clothing is still fashioned from these early beginnings. The Icelandic people were self-sufficient and traded in Scandanavian centers.  Wool appeared to be the most important trade good to them. From sheep, they gained wool, meat and dairy. All aspects of fibre processing including spinning, weaving, cutting and sewing was performed mostly with wool or linen. Wool came from sheep, while linen came from flax called Linum. Knitting was not known in the Viking lands and articles were constructed using a technique called ‘nalbinding’  which is creating fabric by knotting woolen yarn together. Brightly colored clothing was a symbol of wealth and power due to the expense of multiple fabric dyeing operations.

A narrative which describes the history of Icelandic peoples also gives insight to the beginning of fiber art. The tales which described in detail what people wore to events and to war had a purpose. The Icelandic Sagas often told of great warriors and the clothing that those warriors wore. Clothing that made the man was created by the women !

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