The Vikings were a seafaring people who originated in Scandinavia and raided and settled wide areas of Europe from the late 8th to the late 11th century. When it came to the age at which Vikings were considered adults, it varied based on factors like social class and gender.
Viking boys from the warrior class were generally considered to be adults around age 12 or 13. At this age, they would start participating in raids and take on roles as warriors. Before this age, Viking boys would begin training with weapons and taking on responsibilities around the farm or longhouse from as young as age 5 or 6. So by their early teens, they were already helping the adults and learning skills like sailing, hunting, and fighting.
One important milestone for Viking boys was their first hunting trip or raid. This signified their transition into manhood. Boys of lower social classes like thralls or servants likely had more fluid transitions based on their skills and abilities rather than a set age.
Viking girls seem to have been considered ready for adulthood earlier than boys, some as young as age 12. One reason is that girls would be eligible for marriage at 12, so at this age they were expected to assume the roles and responsibilities of an adult woman in family life. Their childhood would end as they became wives and mothers.
However, most Viking girls did not actually marry until their late teens or early 20s, even if they were seen as ready earlier. But the age of 12 marked a transition into preparing for adulthood duties. Viking girls would learn skills like cooking, weaving, childcare, and homemaking as they approached adulthood.
Coming of Age Rituals
The Vikings did mark the transition from childhood to adulthood with some rituals and ceremonies:
- Boys may have had a ceremony celebrating their first successful hunt or battle at around age 12-15.
- Girls may have had a first haircutting ritual when they were old enough to wear their hair like adult women rather than little girls.
- Both boys and girls received adult clothes marking their change in status.
- Feasts and celebrations were held to honor children becoming adults and entering their new roles.
- Boys took oaths committing to the warriors’ way of life around ages 12-15.
These types of coming-of-age rituals gave Viking youths a sense of their new status and responsibilities. Family and community recognized their changed roles through celebrations.
Later Teen Years
While considered adults earlier than today, Viking youth still went through a kind of adolescent period in their late teens. Boys would continue military training and raiding practice. Girls would gain more experience running a household under the supervision of their mothers. Both boys and girls would likely marry in their late teens or early 20s once seen as fully ready for those responsibilities.
Thralls and Servants
Thralls occupied the very bottom rung of Viking society as servants and slaves captured during raids. Their transition to adulthood would not have been a choice or marked by rituals. Instead, thrall children began laboring as soon as they were physically able, taking on adult work loads by their early teens if not before.
Servants may have had more flexibility based on their skills and the needs of the household. A servant girl talented at weaving or baking may take on those duties earlier. A young male servant with sailing skills might join raids sooner. There were not firm age limits for these lower classes.
Later Viking Age Trends
In the later Viking age as they became more settled and Christianized, some of their customs shifted. Boys may have gone through rites of passage later, in their mid-teens. Girls married later too, with less pressure at age 12. As Viking culture changed through the eras, so did markers of adulthood.
Vikings had earlier transitions to adulthood than modern Western culture, driven by their warlike culture, lower life spans, and need for all members of the clan to contribute. Boys became warriors as young as 12 while girls became wives and mothers soon after reaching puberty. But within this framework there was still variety between not just genders but also social classes. Thralls labored as soon as they were able while servant youth had more fluid duties. Becoming an adult meant embracing a role in furthering and protecting the clan, at whatever age one was deemed ready.
|Warrior||12-13 years old||12 years old|
|Thrall||Early teens||Early teens|
|Servant||Based on skills||Based on skills|
Viking Children’s Lives
To provide more context, here is some insight into Viking childhood before adulthood:
- Children began training to use weapons as young as age 3-5.
- Between ages 6-12, they learned crucial skills like swimming, skating, sailing, and horseback riding.
- Poor children likely began laboring at earlier ages than children of warriors or landowners.
- Girls learned household skills like cooking, cleaning, weaving and childcare from their mothers.
- Both genders helped with farming or livestock tasks.
- Only wealthy families sent children to school where they learned history, law and fighting.
Viking children grew up fast, taking on adult responsibilities at ages where modern children would still be considered far too young. But within their culture, they were given the training and skills needed to transition swiftly into their adult roles, whether those be battle, marriage, or labor.
Viking Adulthood in Summary
Here are the key points about when Vikings were considered adults:
- Viking boys from warrior families entered adulthood around ages 12-15.
- Girls were seen as adult women ready for marriage at 12 or soon after.
- Markers of adulthood were ceremonies, rituals like first hunt or haircutting, and adult clothes.
- Later in the Viking period, transitions to adulthood may have occurred slightly later.
- Thralls and servants had more flexible transitions based on labor needs and skills.
- Viking youth still matured through their later teens before marrying.
- Becoming an adult meant embracing clan roles and responsibilities.
While Vikings became adults at much earlier ages than today, it was normal within the context of their society. Their harsh world required younger transitions to contribute to clan welfare and defense. Both boys and girls accepted adult duties as warriors, spouses, parents, and laborers as soon as they were able.
Frequently Asked Questions
Did Viking girls go through any rituals when becoming adults?
Viking girls may have gone through a haircutting ritual when they reached the age of around 12, allowing them to wear more adult hairstyles. They likely received gifts of jewelry or tools to symbolize womanhood as well. Feasts and celebrations were also held in their honor.
What kinds of work did Viking children do?
Viking children took part in a lot of the same work as adults. Boys hunted, fished, farmed, herded animals, sailed and fought in battle. Girls cooked, weaved, made clothing and shoes, and cared for younger siblings. Both genders contributed to farming, livestock, and home maintenance tasks.
Did all Vikings follow the same customs?
No, Viking customs varied across Scandinavia and evolved over the centuries they raided and settled in Europe. Rural farmstead Vikings likely had different coming of age patterns than wealthy chieftain families in larger settlements. Rituals also adapted as Vikings gradually converted to Christianity in later eras.
How did Viking childhood compare to childhood today?
Viking childhood was much shorter than modern childhoods. Children trained from as young as 3-5 for adult roles and had mastered many adult skills by ages 6-10. Most were contributing substantially to the clan’s work by their early teens at the latest. Viking children did not have a period focused just on play and education like children today.
What kinds of schooling did Viking children receive?
Most Viking children received training directly from parents in skills like farming, sailing, and household work. Only wealthy children of chieftains or warriors attended schools where they learned history, law, and fighting techniques. But this schooling still had a practical focus on readiness for elite adult roles.
The Vikings valued self-sufficiency, strength, and courage from an early age. Their warlike culture and tough environment required young transitions to adulthood. While Vikings became adults earlier than we could imagine today, it was normal in the context of their society at the time. Both boys and girls learned the abilities that would allow them to fully contribute to their clans, whether through fighting, farming, or homemaking. For the Vikings, the rise into adulthood was a community affair, celebrated and welcomed for the prosperity it brought to all.