ANST - Re: Viking Dance and Music

Gunnora Hallakarva gunnora at
Fri Aug 1 14:42:32 PDT 1997

At 10:45 PM 7/31/97 -0700, you wrote:
>Greetings Herskerinde Gennora Hallakarva!
>The information presented on your pages is much appreciated, you do
>indeed seem to have delved quite deeply into the Viking Era.
>Do you have information available , or, perhaps, a source to suggest
>about Viking music and dance? I have drawn nearly a blank on these
>subjects, with only rather vague mentions in my sources.
>Any knformation would be appreciated!
>Thank you kindly,
>	Polydore Pike
       The Vikings did indeed dance.  Two of their dances were preserved on
the Faroe Islands (a part of Great Britain that was originally settled by
the Vikings and which has manitained much of the language and culture of
the Viking Age).

        The first type of dance is called a Ring Dance, and is also known
as the Tangle.  These are danced to a ballad sung by a leader in 5/6 time,
while everybody joins in on the choruses.  The basic step is very easy...
step left with left foot and right foot, step left with left foot, kick
left with the right foot, kick right with the left foot, and repeat.  The
dancers hold hands using a special grip where you reach inside and grip the
next person's thumb while he or she grips yours. You can see a picture of
Faroe Islanders dancing the Tangle which shows the handgrip at:

Sometimes the dancers join hands to form a large circle, but most commonly
the leader (who also sings the song the group is dancing to) will be at the
head of a long line of dancers, holding a hat or garland of flowers aloft.
The leader then leads the dancers around, under people's arms and back
through, knotting the dancers up (i.e., tangling them) until no one can
move:  much flirting goes on while the tangling is occurring, and sometimes
people steal kisses.  Then the person on the other end of the line becomes
the new leader, and the step is reversed (step right with right foot and
left foot, step right with right foot, kick right with the left foot, kick
left with the right foot, and repeat) until everyone is untangled.

        One song that is used for dancing the Tangle is called Ormen Lange:

Original text:
Vilja de hoyra kvedet mitt
Og vilja de ordi tru
Om han Olav Tryggvason
Skal songen her seg snu.

Dansen glyme i halli
Sa danse me me do i ring
Galde ride Noregsmenn
Til Hildar ting.

Kongen let seg ei snekkje byggja
bort tho den slette sand
Ormen den lange det storste skipet
Som bygdest i Noregs land.

Skipet det bygdest i Noregs land
Utav dei beste emnom
Sytte alner og fire til
Var kj len imellom stemnon.

Kongen uti hogsaetet sit
Talar til sine drenger
No skal me sigla den salte sjo
Det heve eg tenkt sa lenge.

Bere no da dei herkledi fram
Dei brynjor og blanke sverdi
Sa leggja me sidan fra landet ut
Sa gyeva me oss tha ferdi.

Vundo dei opp sine silk-eh-sail
Vinden a taka i fanget
Og sa er det sagt at kongen sjolov
Han styrde Ormen lange.

Translation:  Ormen Lange = The Long Serpent
Would you like to hear my song?
Then hear these words all true
About King Olaf Tryggvason
I'll sing this song for you.

Glad sounds of song fill the hall
As we dance and sing
Gladly ride the Northern men
'Til Hildar rings.  (Hildar was a famous bell)

The King, he said he'd have a ship
All built upon the strand
"Ormen Lange" - the biggest ship
Ever built in Norway's lands.

The biggest ship in Norway's lands
They built of birch and fir
Seventy-four long ells she was
laid out from stem to stern.

The king in the high seat set himself
And spoke to all the throng:
"Let us sail the swan's salt road
As I have wished so long."

"Bring you out your war-gear good,
Your byrnies and your swords,
Soon from these shores we'll make our way
Out over the fjords."

They let them out the silken sails
The wind did fill then strong.
They say the King himself did steer
At the helm of the Ormen Lange.

        The second type of dance resembles a game of Red Rover, and is
called the Kissing Dance.  Here the dancers form two lines, men on one
side, women on the other, and the dancers place their arms on each other's
shoulders.  The basic dance step here is exactly like the tangle, except
you dance one repitition to the left, then one to the right, so the line
doesn't travel.  A song is sung first by the men, followed by the women,
until finally the men break ranksand run towards the women, who scatter.
the men try to catch a woman, who must give them a kiss if they succeed.
The song goes like this:

Men sing:
"Here comes Ragnar, Here comes Ivar, Here comes all of Ragnar's kinsmen"

Women answer (scornfully)
"Who is Ragnar?  Who is Ivar?  Who are all of Ragnar's kinsmen?"

Men sing (boastfully):
"I am Ragnar, I am Ivar, We are all of Ragnar's kinsmen!"

Women answer (scornfully)
"Who is Ragnar?  Who is Ivar?  Who are all of Ragnar's kinsmen?"

Men sing (boastfully):
"A herder's son is Ragnar, a herder's son is Ivar, a herder's son are all
of Ragnar's kinsmen!"

Women sing (scornfully)
Go away Ragnar!  Go away Ivar!  Go away all of Ragnar's kinsmen!"

Men sing (boastfully):
"A farmer's son is Ragnar, a farmer's son is Ivar, a farmer's son are all
of Ragnar's kinsmen!"

Women sing (scornfully)
Go away Ragnar!  Go away Ivar!  Go away all of Ragnar's kinsmen!"

Men sing (boastfully):
"A king's son is Ragnar, a king's son is Ivar, a king's son are all of
Ragnar's kinsmen!"

Women sing (eagerly)
Come on over Ragnar!  Come on over Ivar!  Come on over all of Ragnar's

The men break and chase the women.

There is more information on the preservation of Viking age song and dance
in the Faroe Islands at:

As for the type of music enjoyed by the Vikings, we know they had a variety
of instruments.  The first were bone or wood wind instruments.  The
easily-hollowed branches of the elder tree have been providing simple
whistles for children and musicians alike in every land in which the tree
grows since antiquity.  Bone whistles and recorders have also been
recovered, most commonly crafted from the legbone of a cow, deer, or from
large birds (the Romans had a similar tradition at one point, for the Latin
term for a flute is "tibia").  Bone wind instruments produce a remarkably
plangent sound.  The ones which have been recovered are all end-blown, with
the sound being produced by an inset bone or more often wood fipple.  The
normal number of finger holes is three, although examples with up to seven
holes has been found.  (For a photo of such instruments, see Modern musical instriments
that play the same way (though the tonality is a bit different) include the
tabor pipe or the flageolette.

Another type of wind instrument would be the blast horn made from a cow
horn, many made with ornate silver rims and mouthpieces.  A type of
cow-horn woodwind was probably also used, though we have no examples from
Viking Age Scandinavia: this is a gemshorn, an instrument that continued in
use throughout the Middle Ages in many parts of Europe.  The cow horn has a
plus inserted into one end and holes drilled for fingering.  (go to
nds for a picture of this instrument and to listen to the sound it makes)

For more detail on bone or horn instruments, see Arthur MacGregor, "Bone,
Antler, Ivory & Horn: the Technology of Skeletal Materials Since the Roman
Period"  Totowa: Barnes & Noble.  1985.

The Norse also knew of brass instruments, since the enormous trumpet like
lur-horns were in use from antiquity to the present day.  It is unknown
whether these were considered musical instruments, as the primary use for
the lur-horn was to call the cattle home. Horns like this may also have
been used for summoning warriors or sending warnings.  (Mary Wilhelmine
Williams.  Social Scandinavia in the Viking Age.  1920; New York: Krause
Reprint Co., 1971, p.323-324). A similar instrument, made entirely of
sprucewood or birchwood, called an Alphorn or Alpenhorn, is still played
for a photo, or for an entire website
dedicated to this instrument, including a nice *.WAV file of how the
alpenhorn sounds at

The next type of instrument is  the lyre or harp. The sagas mention the
harp as a gentleman's instrument, however we do not have a surviving
example from Scandinavia.  It is believed, however, that the Norse harp
would not be too different  from the lyre or harp found in the Sutton Hoo
burial. (for an image of a reconstruction of this information see  

An excellent discussion of this instrument, with plans for making your own,
is located at:

Apparently some sort of fiddle or rebec-like was likewise known, but was
apparently not native to the North, being imported at the start of the
Middle Ages from the Continent (Peter Foote and David M. Wilson. The Viking
Achievement.  London:  Sidgewick & Jackson.  1970.  p. 188; Williams p. 323).

The Vikings also probably had drums.  These would be of the bodhran or
Celtic hand-drum type, similar also to the skin-headed drums used by the
Saami (Lapp) shaman. (There is a picture of the Saami drum in my Viking
Answer Lady article on Norse poetry located at -- A picture of the Celtic
bodhran may be seen at
s and you can hear the sound of this drum there as well.)  These drums
consisted of a round or oval wooden frame supported by one or two cross
bars inside placed like wheel spokes.  The frame would not be very deep,
ranging from 6 to 8 inches in height.  Over the frame was stretched a taut
rawhide head.  The instrument was played while gripping the crossbars from
underneath: this meant that the fingers could contact the drum head for
tuning or dampening, and also that the diameter was limited to a size that
one could hold in such a manner.  The drum itself was played with some type
of striker.  The Celtic drum uses a double-ended barbell shaped striker,
while the Saami use a striker shaped like a Thor's Hammer.

This brings us to what the music of the Vikings might have sounded like.
The simple answer is that we do not know.  No tablature or written music
was recorded or if recorded, survived to the present day.  Some modern
experts have made educated guesses as to what Viking music may have sounded

Some recordings of what Viking music may have sounded like are currently

CD by Musica Sveciae called "Fornnordiska Klanger/The Sounds of Prehistoric
Scandinavia"(MSCD 101).  It doesn't try to recreate tunes much, but
showcases the uses of reconstucted instruments in various ways. Bones,
gongs, drums, flutes from all regions of Scandinavia. Extensive notes
included.  It has 41 tracks and tracks 24-41 are of Iron Age  instruments,
including the Viking Period. Available from

CD by Musica Sveciae called "ANCIENT SWEDISH PASTORAL MUSIC" (S 1483)
$16.00 from  Contains recordings made
between 1949-1964 herding calls, kulning singing, birch bark horns, goat
horns, willow flutes and more.

"Ancient Swedish Pastoral Music"  is also available from  (CAP 21483)

CD by Musica Sveciae called "THE MEDIEVAL BALLAD (Double CD)"  (S 2035)
$30.00 from This would include the types of
songs that were sung while dancing the Tangle.

45 rpm called "VIKING 401: TOTUR FRA VEJLE, DEN HALVE KAEDE " $3.00 from Again, I haven't heard this one, so I'm not
certain what's on it.

CD with book called "Svarta Jordens sång / Song of the black earth" by
Per-Ulf Allmo & Styrbjörn Bergelt, English translation included.  Förlaget
AllWin 1995 Bergelt takes us on an extraordinary journey into the music,
the sounds and atmosphere of the Viking era. Includes ancient music for
frame drum, wooden trumpet, goat's horn, jew's harp, flute, bark whistle,
etc. Available from

"Song of the black earth " is also available from (AWCD 6)

Den Medeltida Balladen "The Medieval Ballad" (2CD set including 41
recordings of medieval ballads from Swedish Radio archives, 1950s-1960s.
Extensive notes.) available from  (CAP 22035)  

"HYRDESTUND" Ancient music for ancient instruments: horns, flutes etc.
Featuring Bjørn Aksdal, Eilif Gundersen, Atle Lien Jenssen, Heidi Løvlund,
Magnar Storbækken. Hyrdestund (HCD 7116) is available from

Record/CD called "Alder" by Violina Juliusdotter & Per Runberg. (AWCD-21)
Traditional music with inspiration from the Viking era.Available from

A tape called "Sounds of the Viking Age", purchased from the Jorvik Viking
Center.  On the back there is an address:Archaeologia Musica, P.O. Box 92,
Cambridge CB4 1PU, England

The Norse Film & Pageant Society in England publish a CD aimed at Viking
reenactors, details at:
The title of the CD is "Brunanburh", and includes music for anything from
rowing a longship to a victory feast and viking funeral.

Although not Viking music, a recording of ancient Finnish music, "THE
KALEVALA HERITAGE" Archive recordings of ancient Finnish songs (1905-67)
(Ondine ODE 849-2) is available at

I hope that this information helps as an introduction.

Wæs Þu Hæl (Waes Thu Hael)


Gunnora Hallakarva
Ek eigi visa þik hversu oðlask Lofstirrlauf-Kruna heldr hversu na Hersis-Aðal
(Ek eigi thik hversu odhlask Lofstirrlauf-Kruna heldr hversu na Hersis-Adhal)


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