Swedish vikings were probably both merchants and in some cases robbers. Vikings gave name to the era in Sweden from the iron age around 800 AD til the battle of Hastings 1066 which marks the beginning of the medieval ages.
According to stories written by swedish viking author Snorre Sturlasson quite a few norwegians fled their king Harald Hårdfagre and came to settle in Sweden and Jämtland Härjedalen around the start of the viking age. These vikings enjoyed the warm period following with rich possibilities to cultivate the land together with the hunting and fishing possibilities in the area. And, they probably intermarried with the hunters, gatherers and farmers living in the area from before. Still today there are many names of villages in Jämtland Härjedalen reminding us of the norse mythology these swedish vikings believed in.
Among the most remarkable find from the viking era in Sweden and Jämtland Härjedalen are the colourful tapestries found in the church of Överhogdal village in 1910. The textiles are the crown jewels of Jamtli Museum’s collections and still a well kept secret to most of the world. The viking age tapestries are covered by figures of people, horses and wild animals, as well as legendary creatures. They hurry from right to left in rows, passing houses, churches and ships on their way.
Some people believe that these viking age tapestries show the story of the missionary Staffan bringing Christianity to Härjedalen. Others see scenes from the Völsunga saga. The latest theory is that the images are about the end of the world – known as ”Ragnarök” in Norse mythology, or the Apocalypse in Christianity.
There is no doubt that the motifs are a mix of both Norse and Christian beliefs and it was therefore no surprise when the different parts of the woven tapestries were dated from between 800 to 1100 AD in a C14 test. They are a perfect testimony on how the swedish vikings lived in an era when Norse and Christian beliefs co-existed as they were made in a period of transition between the two faiths.
The tapestries were probably not made in Sweden. They may have been woven in Norway or someplace else coming to Jämtland Härjedalen as the vikings returned home to Sweden from their journeys.
In Överhogdal there is an exhibition/visitor center focusing fully on the tapestries. How these viking age weavings were found, how they can be interpreted in different ways and there is a fantastic copy of the tapestries made just decades ago (it took ages to make…)
Today, these unique items from the swedish viking era are exhibited at Jamtli Museum in Östersund – the county official museum, were a special room has been designed to make sure that they are preserved in optimal conditions. In addition there is a slide show to get you in the viking mood.