Did the Vikings really hand out oath rings, as depicted on the hit tv show, Vikings? It was previously believed that oath rings were connected to the Icelandic sagas and were used for paying fealty in court (National Museum of Denmark).
The so called ‘oath rings’ found in Nebel, Germany were more than likely typical arm rings worn as a decorative item, with no connection to fealty. However, these bracelets are not from the Viking age at all, they actually date from the Bronze age, c.1700-500 BCE. These bronze arm rings like the one shown below are still referred to as oath rings, and turn up in sacrificial deposits, meaning that they were given as offerings in the Bronze Age.
Basically, oath rings did not look like the used depicted in vikings. In fact, from series two onwards, they used our large dragon bracelet. (See below)
Our Large Dragon Bracelets are our variation on two finds found in graves in Gotland, Sweden. These finds are the original of our Large Dragon bracelet and our tapered band Dragon bracelet. The heads of each of these silver arm rings found in the graves shows an extraordinary example of animal headed Viking age jewellery. It is the animal heads which allow archaeologists to date the arm rings to around 1000 ad (Wilson, 1980, 61). Believe it or not, animal headed bracelets are not a common find from the Viking period. There are very few examples recovered to date. Many finds are the flattened cuff type bracelets like the ones from the Huxley Hoard.
Finds of bracelet fragments tell us that they were in fact a form of wearable currency rather than an oath ring. Vikings used a bullion economy, and they traded for goods and services in silver. It is believed that Vikings would cut off a piece of the silver bracelet in exchange for goods and services. Many examples of hack silver have been found in Gotland, dating after 1000, which suggests that there was an economic climate in which there was a lack of constant exchange. It suggests that personal items of value (such as silver dragon arm rings) could be altered into currency whenever the situation called for it (Graham-Campbell & Williams, 2016, pp.89; 130).
Graham-Campbell, J. and Williams, G. (2016). Silver economy in the Viking age. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.
Hall, R. (2007). The World of the Vikings. 1st ed. London: Thames & Hudson.
National museum of Denmark (2018). The mysterious oath rings. [online] natmus.dk. Available at: https://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-bronze-age/arm-rings-of-gold/the-mysterious-oath-rings/ [Accessed 27 Sep. 2018].
Wilson, D. (1980). The Vikings and their origins. 2nd ed. London: Thames & Hudson.