The Nordic Bronze Age: Weapons, Art & Clothing

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The introduction of bronze had big impacts on cultures around the world. In this lesson, you''ll see what it meant in Scandinavia and how it influenced daily life.

The Nordic Bronze Age

Everyone knows what happens when you touch your tongue to metal in the middle of winter. It's a lesson we're all familiar with. But imagine living in a world without metal. You'd never learn that lesson, so when metal is first introduced…

Archaeologists will probably never be able to tell us who the first person was to get their tongue stuck on cold metal, but it's not hard to imagine that there were some very confused people who had this experience when metal was first introduced to Scandinavia. Copper first appeared in Scandinavia sometime in the 3rd millennia BCE, but by 1700 BCE, local artisans had learned to combine it with tin to create a new alloy called bronze. The Bronze Age of Scandinavia lasted from roughly 1700 to 500 BCE, and in this time, a lot changed. With the expansion of metal in a region known for its cold temperatures, there must have been many new lessons to learn.

Scandinavian Societies of the Bronze Age

So, what was life like in the Nordic Bronze Age? The Bronze Age, while defined by the adaptation of new metals, is characterized by a number of changes. One big one is the change in social structures. The late Stone Age in Scandinavia still showed many signs of egalitarian societies with little to no class differentiation. That's not the case in the Bronze Age.

Most of what we know about Bronze Age life comes from a new class of powerful nobles and aristocrats, who had fine things and lots of power. For the first time, we see real signs of social hierarchies and stratification. Rather than the semi-communal graves of the Stone Age, Bronze Age princes and kings were buried in massive burial mounds, filled with grave goods. Likely as a sign of status, many of those grave goods were metal.

Metal can be found widely across Scandinavia in this time period, which is interesting because neither copper nor tin are actually native to the region. To make Bronze, Scandinavian craftspeople had to import all the base metals. It seems that a lot of their metal came from the Danube region of Germany. We don't know exactly what they traded in exchange for the metal, but there is evidence that Scandinavian amber was a prized commodity across Europe.

Perhaps because it was difficult to get, metal seems to have been particularly important to Scandinavian nobles of the Bronze Age. Tremendous effort was put into obtaining and refining the metal, and we actually find some of the highest quality bronze in all of Europe in Scandinavia, as well as some of the highest rates of bronze per capita.

Weapons, Art, and Jewelry

The Bronze Age was a long time ago, so little remains of these societies beyond their material cultures. We see an expanse of artwork in this time period, from carved stone figurines to etchings on rocks to mysterious cup-shaped markings carved into rocks and associated with astrological events.

Of course, a lot of the arts we find in this time period were made of metal. As artisans refined their skills at using bronze, they became better with other materials like gold as well. Bronze Age craftspeople used metal to make weapons, tools, and clothing items like jewelry. We'll look at each of these individually, but it's important for us to remember that considering the time, effort and skill it took to work metal, all of these must be considered parts of Scandinavian artistic culture. Even bronze weapons show signs of incredible and time-consuming craftsmanship and were valued for aesthetic as well as functional traits.

Gold jewelry was very important in many Nordic Bronze Age societies

Let's start by looking at clothing items. Gold and bronze jewelry were major items in all noble burial mounds, associated with both men and women. These objects were clearly valuable, and the gold, in particular, was worked with a very high degree of craftsmanship. There are many kinds of jewelry found across Scandinavia, but perhaps the most ubiquitous are oath rings, large golden armbands found in many burial sites.

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