Norse Viking Soap

The Viking chief Ottar from Hålogaland visits King Alfred

Far-traveling Viking chieftain

In the year 890, the North Norwegian Viking chieftain Ottar from Hålogaland (in the same area as Norse Viking Soap is located) visited the English king Alfred. In the king’s castle, Ottar told many stories about the country he came from. King Alfred’s scribes carefully wrote down everything the long-faring Viking chief told about geography, nature, shipping and all the new and exciting goods his land in the far north could offer.

What we know of Ottar’s history today comes from the notes that were written back then. Based on these parchments, we see that Ottar probably did not have much in common with the other Vikings who ravaged and plundered the monastery at Lindisfarne a hundred years earlier, in 793. An attack that is seen as the start of the Viking Age.

The Vikings were also traders

Ottar was not a warrior, but a trader, a different type of Viking than the bloodthirsty beserkers the English had learned to fear. From the middle of the 8th century, the great Viking chieftains realized that trade could generate enormous income, and they sent traders out to the entire known world.

The trading Vikings followed the same shipping routes that their more warlike brethren had taken to the British Isles. They also rowed along Eastern European rivers and ended up deep into Russia. Along the way, they exchanged a lot of expensive goods that they took home to trading posts that were established along the coast of Scandinavia. Trade meant that these places eventually became larger cities where merchants from all over the known world met to exchange goods.

Walrus teeth were popular in the Viking Age

Among other things, Ottar from Hålogaland had walrus teeth as a gift to King Alfred. About these it was noted down: “The walrus has very fine bones in its teeth, and the skin is well suited as rope on ships”.

Furs and animal skins were in demand in the Viking Age.
Furs and animal skins were in demand in the Viking Age.

Ottar also said that he had taken part in whaling, and says that the entire hunting team killed 60 whales in just two days. Historians are doubtful about this figure, and some speculate that it may have been a walrus they were hunting. However, it is somewhat unclear whether there were walruses in northern Norway at that time.

In any case, walrus teeth were in high demand among the buffoons of Europe, and they had the money to pay well for them. The teeth could be used to carve decorative figures, or to make jewelery and game pieces.
It is also written that Ottar had other valuable things from Northern Norway. Valuable animal skins, whale bones and bird feathers. Probably also eider down*, which could be sold at a good profit all over Europe.

* Eder down is eider down, which is collected from the nests after the birds have left them. Even today, eider down is considered one of the most luxurious and exclusive duvet fillings you can get.

Three major trading places in the Viking Age

We can assume that Ottar, like most traders at the time, sold his goods at the three major trading centers in Scandinavia: Kaupang in Norway, Hedeby in Denmark and Birka in Sweden.
Ottar is said to have visited two of these trading places on his trip to England, Kaupang which was Norway’s first city, located at Larvik in Vestfold, followed by Danish Hedeby. He must have spent about a month on the voyage from Hålogaland to Kaupang, and 5 days from there to Hedeby.

 

Kaupang means place of purchase

The Norse word for market place or town was “kaupang”, and these texts from King Alfred’s time are the oldest source we have about this trading place. In Kaupang, the traders exchanged and sold furs, skins and ropes for silver from the Arab countries, foodstuffs and luxury goods. In addition, there was extensive export of ironware and soapstone (which the Vikings called soapstone because it was easy to shape) to the Danes.

The big market at Kaupang, which took place every summer, also had great competition. Most preferred to sell the goods in the British Isles, and especially in the large market place in Dublin.

Source: The magazine Historie.