Sheep and Wool

The importance of sheep to the Vikings

Sheep were important to the Vikings. They provided milk, skins, leather, bone, meat, and wool. Viking sheep were hardy animals, although they were kept indoors during the winter. The Vikings took their sheep with them on their travels. Sheep breeds found today in Greenland, Iceland, Faroe, Shetland, Orkney, the Isle of Man and the island of Ouessant, in northern France, are all descended from Viking sheep.


Their fleece contained two main types of wool. There was a long, outer covering of fibres that were coarse and hairy. These fibres shed rain and kept the animal dry. They were important in making textiles, as they were spun to make warp yarns for weaving. They could also be used for lightweight ropes, sewing thread, and fishing line. Under the coarse fibres were shorter, fine fibres. These kept the sheep warm and were used for weft yarn and all manner of textiles, including padding for shoes.

Viking sheep had coloured wool. There were shades of brown from very dark to pale fawn colour; there were also dark to light grey and some white. The longer, coarse fibres were usually darker than the softer underwool, so that when these two fibre types were separated from each other, they made different coloured yarns. The Vikings used this natural colouring to make designs in their fabric, with dark or light stripes or checks.