December 17, 2022 — While working on new songs, we felt inclined to draw inspiration from ancient Svitjod and its historical winery traditions.
In the Viking Age, Scandinavia experienced a natural period of warmer weather that allowed for the growth of wine in places like Mälardalen near Birka, close to Stockholm.
Mälardalen roughly corresponded to the area of “Svitjod” in the sagas and was centered around lake Mälaren, whose name originates from the Old Norse word mælir, meaning gravel. The word is first attested in Swedish literary sources from the 1320s — a couple of centuries after the Viking Age ended.
Older and more intriguing names for the Kurgan-decorated region of present-day Mälardalen (in addition to Svitjod — Sweden) include Aros, Vendel, Roden, and Tiundaland, to name a few.
The Viking Age wine period (the Medieval Warm Period) was a time of naturally occurring mild temperatures and increased rainfall. However, it was not the first or last time such a period occurred.
Key factors contributing to the pleasant climate of ancient times were high solar activity and intense sunlight. Paired with favorable ocean currents and atmospheric circulation patterns, ideal conditions for grape cultivation in Scandinavia became a reality.
The wise and powerful Swedes, or “Svíar,” utilized their advanced agricultural techniques and ancient knowledge of viticulture to nurture the sacred grapevines and produce heathen yet divine wine.
The Swedes built terraces on the hillsides to prevent erosion and used manure and ash as fertilizers to enrich the soil. The wine grapes were then harvested, pressed to extract the juice, and fermented to produce wine.
Not only did Viking Age Scandinavia allow for the local production of wine, but the naturally warm weather also impacted the economy and way of life for the Norse tribes and family dynasties.
The next time you enjoy a glass of wine, keep in mind that Scandinavia, from time to time, enters into ideal weather for the production of the finest of “rugged land wines” in the world.
While wine was certainly an important part of Viking Age culture, it was by no means the only intoxicating substance enjoyed by the ancient Scandinavians. Mead, for example, was a popular choice, made by fermenting honey with water and sometimes flavored with herbs or spices. Soma, a beverage mentioned in Hindu texts, was also believed to have been consumed by the Vikings, although it is unclear exactly what it was made of or how it was prepared.
In addition to these more traditional intoxicants, the Vikings also had access to various other substances that could be used for their psychoactive effects. For instance, they have used a type of mushroom called fly agaric, which contains the psychoactive compound muscimol and other plants and herbs such as henbane and mandrake root.
The use of these substances was not limited to the Vikings. Throughout history, many cultures have used intoxicants to relax, celebrate, or facilitate spiritual or artistic endeavors. The ancient Greeks, for example, famously used wine as a social lubricant and a source of inspiration for their poetry and music.
Despite their widespread use, intoxicating substances were not without risks and drawbacks. In the Viking Age, as in any other time, overconsumption of alcohol and other substances could lead to negative consequences such as accidents, injuries, and health problems. Additionally, powerful individuals or organizations often controlled the production and distribution of these substances, leading to conflicts and tensions within society.
The traditions of winemaking and brewing have been passed down through the ages. Today, the production and enjoyment of wine, mead, and other intoxicants is an important part of many cultures worldwide, and the legacy of the Vikings and their love of a good drink lives on.