Viking Economics

Sheep grazing in Landmannalaugar, Highlands of Iceland
Yevgen Timashov / Getty Images

Over the 300 years of the Viking Age, and with the expansion of the Norse landnám (new land settlements), the economic structure of the communities changed. In 800 AD, a well-off farmstead in Norway would have been primarily pastoral, based on the raising of cattle, pigs, and goats. The combination worked well in the homelands, and for a time in southern Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

Livestock as Trade Goods

In Greenland, pigs and then cattle were soon outnumbered by goats as conditions changed and the weather became harsher. Local birds, fish, and mammals became supplemental to the Viking subsistence, but also to the production of trade goods, on which the Greenlanders survived.

Commodities to Currency

By the 12th-13th centuries AD, cod fishing, falconry, sea mammal oil, soapstone, and walrus ivory had become intense commercial efforts, driven by the need to pay taxes to kings and tithes to the church and traded throughout northern Europe.

A centralized government in the Scandinavian countries increased the development of trading places and towns, and these commodities became a currency that could be converted into cash for armies, art, and architecture. Greenland's Norse in particular traded heavily on its walrus ivory resources, in the northern hunting grounds until the bottom fell out of the market, which may have led to the demise of the colony.


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Hirst, K. Kris. "Viking Economics." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Hirst, K. Kris. (2020, August 27). Viking Economics. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Viking Economics." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).