The Lejre Freya Miniature

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Apparently the Lejre excavators still haven’t realised that the lovely silver miniature they found depicts an aristocratic woman who can’t be Odin, regardless of who may be the owner of the throne she sits on. A Danish news site contacted me today and asked me about the issue. Here’s what I said (and I translate).

In the art of the Vendel and Viking Periods, just as in today’s art, there’s a set of conventions for how men and women are depicted. Largely it’s a question of clothing and jewellery that real people used as well. The main difference is that Iron Age art only depicts aristocrats, so it doesn’t show us all kinds of attire used at the time. The Lejre miniature is dressed in a) a floor-length dress, b) with an apron, and c) with four bead strings on the chest. A, B and C are stereotypically female attributes that never occur on depictions of men. The figure has no male attributes. Ergo, it’s a woman.

The issue is already quite settled among scholars who study the period’s gendered imagery, Danes as well as Norwegians and Swedes. Just ask, for instance, Margrethe Watt, Lise Bender Jørgensen and Ulla Mannering. What I said here on Aard wasn’t controversial. I just happened to be the first to say something that every specialist in the field of Late Iron Age gender studies realises immediately.

Update 28 January: And here’s the story on Videnskab.dk, the Danish science news site.

Update 29 January: Ulla Mannering has written about the figurine in Weekendavisen and classified it as female. Lise Bender Jørgensen has told me in e-mail that she agrees. And just now Margrethe Watt wrote me (and I translate),

I’m 100% certain that it’s a lady. It is similar to a figurine from Trønninge in Denmark that you are no doubt familiar with. It has been illustrated repeatedly, for instance in Brøndsted’s Danmarks oldtid. I am convinced that the dress copies the “Byzantine” empresses’ dress with the hanging frontal piece (which can be seen in other elite female representations such as St. Agnes (also commonly illustrated, such as in Herman Hinz 1978, Zur Frauentracht der Völkerwanderungszeit und Vendelzeit im Norden. Bonner Jahrbücher 178)). The same combination of an “apron” and several bead strings is also seen in gold foil figures (a few of them actually illustrated in the pop-sci book about Sorte Muld).

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Comments

  1. #1 Kevin
    January 22, 2010

    Haha Martin knows a woman when he sees one dammit!

    I am imagining this cute little thing sat on a doily on the knickknack shelf of some ancestor of my mother who dusted it once a week. Probably pestered her husband for months to loot it for her because it was kjekt å ha.

  2. #2 Kevin
    January 22, 2010

    Seriously, though, does this change your mind at all? I got it from a comment on Old Norse News by commenter Carsten Lyngdrup Madsen:

    http://oldtiden.natmus.dk/udstillingen/aeldre_jernalder/guder_i_jernalderen/traemanden_fra_rude_eskildstrup/

    Dude looks like a lady, yeah, but isn’t that a beard?

  3. #3 Martin R
    January 22, 2010

    The Rude Eskildstrup statuette wears the likeness of a gold filigree collar and most likely dates from about AD 500. Here’s what the collars look like:

    http://www.historiska.se/ImageVault/Images/id_751/conversionFormat_82/scope_0/webSafe_1/width_480/height_480/ImageVaultHandler.aspx

    The Lejre miniature dates from about AD 900 when no gold collars were around anymore. Its bead strings are separated from each other unlike the tightly soldered rings on the Rude Eskildstrup statuette.

  4. #4 Kevin
    January 22, 2010

    Ooh like Mardi Gras beads, thanks!

  5. #5 Krystal
    January 22, 2010

    Nice post, Martin. Could the Lejre excavators think that this is a man in drag? I’m just saying …

    Sounds like a major mea culpa.

  6. #6 Martin R
    January 22, 2010

    Trouble is, if we decide that this is a man in drag, then we have no female representations left at all. This is what they look like. Ockham’s razor.

  7. #7 Mike Olson
    January 23, 2010

    Very informative. Thanks Martin.

  8. #8 Akhôrahil
    January 26, 2010

    Wikipedia has it as Odin at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odin .

    You’re a Wiki guy, aren’t you? To work! :-)

  9. #9 Akhôrahil
    January 26, 2010

    And more specifically, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odin_from_Lejre .

  10. #10 Akhôrahil
    January 26, 2010

    Oh, and further from Wikipedia: In the Grímnismál (in the Poetic Edda) Frigg is described as sitting in Odin’s throne (albeit with Odin at her side).

    From there, it’s not a large step to conclude that “Odin” in the figurine is Frigg, sitting in Odin’s seat.

  11. #11 Martin R
    January 26, 2010

    The miniature shows Frigg at a moment when Odin has gone off to take a leak.

  12. #12 Akhôrahil
    January 26, 2010

    Or just out wandering and sowing his wild oats (it’s a job benefit of being the top god).

  13. #13 dexa dog
    May 3, 2010

    Maybe it’s Odin’s Mommy?