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Viking Trade

Exchange Networks within Viking Trade


Cod Drying on a Rack Near Lofoten, Norway

Cod Drying on a Rack Near Lofoten, Norway

Andrea Raviglione

The Viking trade network included trading relationships throughout the world, into Europe and Charlemagne and Asia and the Abbasids, evidenced by items such as coins from North Africa recovered from a site in central Sweden, and Scandinavian brooches from sites east of the Ural Mountains.

Documentary evidence indicates that there were several groups of specific people who traveled between the Viking trading centers and other centers throughout Europe, as envoys, merchants or missionaries. Some travelers, such as the Carolingian missionary bishop Anskar (801-865) left extensive reports of their travels.

Viking Trade Commodities

Traded commodities included slaves, but also coins, ceramics, and materials from specialized crafts such as copper-alloy casting and glass-working (beads and vessels). Some commodities could make or break a colony: Greenland's Norse relied on trade in walrus ivory and hide and polar bear skins to support their difficult farming strategies. Beginning near the end of 10th century AD, arctic Norway cod played a major role in Viking trade, when commercial fishing and sophisticated drying techniques allowed them to expand the market throughout Europe.

In the Viking homeland, major trading centers included Ribe, Kaupang, Birka, Ahus, Truso, Grop Stromkendorf and Hedeby. Goods were brought to these centers and then dispersed into the Viking society. Many of these site assemblages include an abundance of a soft yellow earthenware called Badorf-ware, produced in the Rhineland; Sindbaek has argued that these items, rarely found on non-trading nodes, were used as containers to bring goods to places, rather than as trade items.

Viking Trade Weights

In a 1989 study of formal weights discovered at the Viking site of Paviken in Gotland near Vastergarn, Sweden, Erik Sperber reported three main types of weights:

  • ball-shaped weights of iron clad with a layer of bronze or solid bronze; these vary between 4 and 200 gm
  • Cubo-octaedric weights of lead bronze, tin bronze or brass; up to 4.2 grams
  • Leaden weights of different shapes and sizes

Sperber believes at least some of these weights conform to the Islamic system of the Ummayyad dynasty leader Abd' al Malik. The system, established in 696/697, is based on the dirhem of 2.83 grams and the mitqa of 2.245 grams. Given the breadth of Viking trade, it is likely that several trade systems may have been utilized by the Vikings and their partners.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Guide to the Viking Age and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Barrett, James, et al. 2008 Detecting the medieval cod trade: a new method and first results. Journal of Archaeological Science 35(4):850-861.

Sindbæk, Søren M. 2007 The Small World of the Vikings: Networks in Early Medieval Communication and Exchange. Norwegian Archaeological Review 40(1):59-74.

Sindbæk, Søren M.. 2007 Networks and nodal points: the emergence of towns in early Viking Age Scandinavia. Antiquity 81:119-132.

Sperber, Erik 1989 The weights found at the Viking Age site of Paviken, a metrological study. Fornvannem 84:129-134.

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