Baggy Trousers: A Scandinavian Fashion

There is considerable evidence for a fashion of baggy trousers being popularly worn by Norse men in the Viking Age. This is documented in images across Scandinavia, from Norway in the 9th century Oseberg tapestry and to Sweden in standing picture stones. A couple of literary references refer directly to baggy trousers but archaeological information is quite scarce and is limited to interpretation of fragments from Hedeby and Birka. Though the details of what these images represent is still quite vague, and I think often misunderstood, these images are easily identifiable as baggy trousers, and depict a similar style, showing, where detail allows, a baggy upper leg gathering in at the bottom hem, just below or at knee level.
This seems to have been a rather short lived fashion, and does not seem to have continued in popularity outside the Viking Age. I have heard these called various names, such as pumphose, påsbyxor, or Rus pants after the idea of a strictly Eastern fashion. I have decided to refer to them as Haubrok, after Thor Ewings suggestion, which comes from the nickname of a follower of Harald Finehair, named Hauk Hábrók, whose nickname is translated as 'high breeches'. Hábrók is also the name of the mythological 'best of hawks' listed in Grímnismál, which is preserved in the Codex Regis, and belonged to King Hrolf Kraki. The term is used in Viking poetry as a kenning reference to hawk, whose feathered upper legs may look similar to baggy knee-length trousers. I think Haubrok, or high breeches in English, is a reasonable use of a period term for a rather enigmatic garment.
I am of the opinion that these are a particularly Scandinavian fashion, worn across the Viking world and while perhaps sharing an eastern influence along with other Viking fashions, did not developed from eastern style of leg wear and was not restricted to ‘Eastern Vikings’ or travellers.

Evidence for High Breeches

Images of High Breeches

A Viking Age silver figurine found at Uppäkra in south Sweden.
Lund University Historical Museum.

Figures in baggy trousers shown in the Oseberg Tapestry. Fragments 1 and 2(left) and the 2 fragments reconstructed together (right).

Stylised figures in baggy trousers carved on the Oseberg Ship. Made before 834AD.
On display at the Viking Ship Museum in Bygdøy.

A guldgubber foil from Bornholm showing a man wearing baggy breeches. Image S. Ratke.

High Breeches Shown in Picture Stones

Tängelgårda picture stone from Lärbro parish, Gotland, Sweden, erected in the 9th century.
Now at the Historiska Museet, Stockholm.

Runestone G 268 from Stenkyrka, Lillbjärs.
Displayed at the Historiska Museet, Stockholm. Photo source Wikipedia Commons.

Stone from Halla, Broa, Gotland.

The Smiss Stone from När parish, Gotland. 9th century.
Now in Historiska Museet, Stockholm.

Another stone from Smiss (Smiss I) that may show baggy trousers.
Image source: Wikipedia Commons.

The Runestone Stora Hammars I has a similar scene as the above Smiss stone. Though whether it depicts baggy trousers or long coats is hard to tell.
From Stora Hammars, Lärbro parish, Gotland, Sweden. Photo source: Wikipedia Commons.

Sockburn Stone 3a in Conyers Chapel, Durham.
Dating to the first half of tenth century, showing a mounted warrior, with similar imagery to the Bora and Stenkyrka Stones.
Image source: Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture.

There are also what may be baggy trousers shown on the lid of the Franks Casket. Note in particular the bent over character toward the centre of the image, though these may also be leather pteruges as worn from the waist of some Roman and Greek armour.


Archaeological Evidence for High Breeches

Fragments ( 72A-B and 91A ) from the Viking harbour at Hedeby that had been reused as caulking rags have been identified by Inga Hägg as the remains of baggy trousers. They were made from a woollen tabby and are dated to between the 8th and 10th century. Though they are far from a complete pair of trousers, what survives amounting to little more than the crotch pieces, the way the fragments are assembled are strikingly similar to the pattern of other pre-Viking age trouser finds such as the Thorsberg trousers, which was used to identify them as trousers. There are several pre-Viking finds of trousers of similar construction that follow an almost identical pattern. What must have been the same style of trousers; "seat-gored breeches" (setgeira-brækr) are mentioned in Laxdæla saga. Other fragments from Hedeby (22a-c and 39a-b) are also identified as trouser remains due to the pattern similarities, though were made from a diamond twill.</>

The fragments H72A-1, H91A belong to the front and crotch area, while fragments H72A b-g comes from the upper front of the trousers. The fragments are made from a fine tabby weave wool described by Hägg as 'crepe like'. Though note that the fragments were not modern crepe fabric which is not a tabby weave. All pieces had a very uneven weave, with more warp threads than weft. The seat and crotch pieces (H72A-1, H91A) were of a denser repp weave than the legs (H72A b-g) which were a much more open weave. No dye analysis has been performed, but according to Hägg there is a clearly visible difference in the colour of the front and the back of the trousers. All fragments from the front have a reddish colour, while the back pieces of the trousers are yellow-green.</>

All the fragments had small wrinkles running across the fabric, that were probably made by immersing the fabric in hot water, and these pleats have been used to indicate that the fragments came from a baggy garment. It is possible the wrinkling may be from the hot pitch when the fragments were reused as ships caulking, but wear on the inside of the pleats show that they were in place when the garment was being worn.</>
The fragments from the crotch of the trousers showing the pleating.
Photos from Wikinger Museum Haithabu.

Fragment H72A consists of crotch (a), and edges of six pieces (b-g) of cloth sewn to it (legs and seat).

Fragment a: Reddish long narrow gore, 12.5cm long and 5-7cm wide, probably the crotch gore. Tabby weave Z/Z spun rep, 21 x 8 threads/cm. Thickness 1 mm.
Fragment b: Green rectangle with shallow wrinkles 10cm long and 14cm wide, from the seat of the trousers. Made of fine Z/Z spun tabby weave 0.5 mm thick, 18 x 11-12 threads/cm.
Fragment c: Fine reddish tabby with dense wrinkles, from front of leg. Z/Z 25 x 18 threads/cm. fastened to fragment a, b and e with a double row of stitches seam (4-5).
Fragment d: Fine reddish tabby with wrinkles, front of leg. Z/S woven. 17 x 10-11 threads/cm. Mirror to fragment c, but poorly preserved. warp is set at an odd angle.
Fragment e: Green piece,gusset or rear of leg. Z/S woven tabby, 17 x 11 threads/cm. The fabric has been pulled at an angle and is very deteriorated.
Fragment f: Green, gusset or rear of leg, similar to e. Z/S woven tabby, 12-14 x 10 threads/cm.
Fragment g: Possible seat reinforcement in the seam between a and b. Little remains except for isolated stitches and warp and weft threads (z/s).
H72B: Part of leg, similar to H72A-c, Seems to be made from the same red cloth as fragment c. A Z/Z tabby with 25 x 16-18 threads/cm. Also has the same dense wrikles.</>
H91A: Interpreted as upper part of crotch panel H72A-a. Red tabby with wrinkles, and torn at both top and bottom. Remaining section is 16cm long and 3- 5 cm wide. and 1mm thick. Fragments attached by seams to each side are badly preserved but one piece is a very fine red fabric with Z/Z weave and the other is of a similar fabric with Z/S weave, both are .5mm thick (probably from fragments c and d).

Fragment A is from a frontal centre gore, while B is the remains of a rectangular gore forming the seat of the trousers. Parts C, D, E and F all belong to the legs, with C and D in the front and E and F from the back, E and F being the seat gores. Part G probably represents some form of strengthening seam or double layering of the cloth over the central crotch seam. Hägg also mentions the possibility that the legs had double layers of fabric.
The badly preserved fragments along the sides of 91 A appear to be identical to 72 Ac and Ad, it is thus assumed that 91 A is a continuation of the frontal centre gore from right above where 72 Aa ends, creating a central gore roughly 30 cm long.

The textiles fragments found at Hedeby. Drawing: Inga Hägg.

How the fragments fit into the trousers, as reconstructed by the Hedeby Viking Museum.

There are fragments (fragments S19A-O) of what may be a second pair of baggy trousers from the Hedeby settlement mentioned by Inga Hägg (1991, p. 35-37). The pieces are too tiny to say anything about construction but were of a similar finely wrinkled tabby wool fabric, dyed blue or green, with some remains of seams (sewn with flax thread), and some evidence that the garment was double-layered.

Birka grave bj.905 contains the remains of what might have also been baggy trousers. Bronze hooks were found below the knees attached to a wool twill, and each hook was hooked into an iron ring which had been sewn into the lower edge of a knee-length garment made of linen or with a linen lining. Inga Hägg belives these may have been baggy trousers, however not enough material remains to reconstruct the garments.

Birka Grave BJ.905 showing the location of the garment hooks.

Literary Evidence for High Breeches

Baggy trousers are mentioned in the Icelandic sagas. In Hauk þáttr Hábrókar, after a fight with King Eiriks men King Harald tells Hauk that he .."must have really been flaunting his high breeches",
( mjök mundir þú hábrókast þá, Haukr, er þú sigraðir kappa Eireks konúngs.) After which he is called Hauk High-Breeches. Hauk Hábrók is also mentioned in Harald Finehairs saga (which takes place prior to Hauk Hábróks' Tale), and in chapter 2 of Eyrbyggja saga.

In his 'Book of Precious Records', completed around 913AD, the Persian traveller and geographer Ibn Rustah wrote of the Rus:
"...They wear full trousers of 100 ells of fabric a pair, and when they put them on, they roll them up to the knees and fasten them there..."
They are also mentioned in the anonymous Hudud al-'Alam, written circa 982AD:
"...Out of 100 cubits (gaz) of cotton fabric (karbas), more or less, they sew trousers which they put on (andar pushand), tucking them up above the knee (bar sar-i zanu gird karda darand)..."

It is likely both the descriptions from the Hudud al-'Alam and Ibn Rustah are based on another earlier common sources and are not first hand accounts. Including large sections of other works verbatim was common before modern copyright laws. Thor Ewing (2006) claims Ibn Rustah allocates 100 cubits per leg to the trousers in his description, this is not evident in any of the translations I have referred to, and may be a transcription error.</>

A Note on the Rus
A problem with both the above sources is it is not exactly clear who the 'Rhos' being referred to are. It's possible Ibn Rustah is referring to the Rus of Novgorod, but the term Rus has been applied to different peoples by different peoples (Later 10th and 11th century Latin sources often confused the Rus with the extinct East Germanic tribe of Rugians). The Hudud al-'Alam describes the Rus as living in a vast country bordered by the mountains of the Pechenegs to the east (the Urals?); river Ruta (upper Volga?) to the south; west of it, the Slavs; and the Uninhabited Lands of the North. Kubaba is the southernmost town of the Rus, which has been identified with Kiev. The term is first found in western sources in the Latin Annales Bertiniani, as a group of the Swedish race calling themselves Rhos accompanied a Byzantine embassy to Louis the Pious. It later became the standard name for the Scandinavians in Kiev, but the term was not used in the Scandinavian homeland. It may derive from the Finnish name for Sweden, though some consider the Rus to be a Slavic tribe. Ibn Khordadbeh, a Persian geographer of the 9th century, also believed the Rus people were Slavic, though Byzantine sources seem to perceive the Rhos as a different people from the Slavs.

Interpreting the Fashion

The majority of this evidence comes from within Scandinavia, though is known as far west as England, and is found in many circumstances that are not linked especially with, or being worn only by Vikings who had visited the east. Nor are they exclusively worn in the Eastern Viking lands. The baggy fashion is often directly compared with eastern fashions, or interpreted as synonymous with the sort of loose fitting clothing assumed to have been worn by nomadic steppe cultures. I do not believe this is a correct interpretation. While there is good evidence that pre-Christian Nordic fashions were influenced by eastern fashions, the evidence shows they are not worn the same way as the sort of long baggy trousers linked to nomadic people and their excessive bagginess does not represent the same style of clothing either in cut or manufacture. The evidence does not show full length baggy trousers, but agrees they were knee length or fastened at the knee. Furthermore evidence from the east during and prior to the Viking Age does not show baggy trousers to be a popular fashion, further debunking the eastern link. I think it is likely ideas of this style is a misconception of a later Turkish or Mongolian import to Eastern Europe, that was not necessarily worn in the Viking Age, even though baggy trousers are associated with Eastern fashions today. Though I admit to limited research and knowledge in this area. Hose or close legged trousers seem to have been the norm in both eastern and western sources of the early middle ages.

Map showing the location of evidence for high breeches.
Red dots indicate physical evidence and green dots refer to literary references (The Hudud al'Alam marked at Kiev as the southernmost reference for Scandinavians wearing baggy trousers, and Hauk Haubrok's Tale is marked at Tønsberg as the seat of the Norwegian kings.)
Beyond showing that evidence for these baggy trousers is found across the Viking world, there is too little evidence for any kind of meaningful analysis of this information. The evidence seems to show them popular in the Baltic, and in the Danish kingdom, including the south of modern day Sweden. If an imported eastern fashion you would expect the evidence to show up following trade routes or in similar find locations to dirhem finds. While this is certainly true of Birka, Gotland and Hedeby, this is less true of other sites. However this information is significantly weighted by the Gotlander's practice of carving rune stones and the perishability of textiles.

Bagginess is usually regarded as feminine in Viking fashions, though obviously this cannot be directly applied to men’s trousers, the style of wearing does not correspond to the loose fitting clothing of any eastern fashion I have identified. Eastern and hot climate fashions are often loose and airy for comfort in the heat, with open cuffs and hems to allow airflow, in contrast with the close fitting fashions of the Germanic tribes and therefore these trousers are not likely to be of eastern origin.

During Roman times and well into the Middle Ages, trousers were regarded as a lower class or barbarian fashion. Most men, and especially men of status, seem to have worn hose over a looser semi undergarment often called braies. They are mentioned in the Vita Karoli, (an account of the life of Charles the great written ca. 829-836), when the author describes the everyday dress of the emperor: "He wore the clothes of his nation, that is of the Franks: Next to his body he wore a linen shirt and breeches of linen; next a tunic edged round in silk, and hose; then bands enfolded his shins, and shoes his feet; and a jacket made of otter skin or ermine protected his shoulders and chest in winter..."

In Chapter 143 of St Olaf's Saga a character wears similar clothing, though in a much more casual fashion; "...He was bare-legged(or bare-footed), and had linen breeches on tied at the knee..."
These knee length breeches, which are often loose, could be worn as an outer layer. But were often worn under hose, especially in colder weather according to the 11th century Conflictus Ovis Et Lini, and are often shown slightly bloused when worn tucked into hose or legwraps. I think it is an easy step to develop this fashion into baggy high breeches.

Images of labourers wearing braies from the Hunterian Psalter (circa 1170, left) and folio 90v of the Salzburg Codex (ca. 9th century, right).

I think it most likely this fashion that developed within Scandinavian from these breeches. The use of the word brok to refer to them, illustrates the fact that they were regarded as a regular form of trousers, not a separate item, or at least did not bring their own terminology as other imported fashions often can. Russian hats are mentioned in the Icelandic sagas, such as Thorkel in Gisli Sursson's saga or Gilli in Laxdaela Saga, but I have found no mention of 'Russian trousers'. When these fashions came to rise is impossible to pinpoint, much of the evidence comes from the 9th and early 10th centuries and is limited to the Viking Age and areas within Scandinavian influence. It is likely they developed and became fashionable with the economic boom of the Viking expansion and disappeared with continental fashions and Christianity that were introduced into Scandinavia towards the start of the Middle Ages
Inga Hägg suggests and eastern link, not from Norse contact with the middle east or Russian Steppe, but proposes they derived from the baggy trousers worn by the Scythians, which were transmitted by the Roman army to Europe and became the knee length breeches worn the Germanic homelands and later influenced Scandinavian fashions.

Academically the consensus is that these were a fashion for the affluent, and the evidence does show the wearers to be such people as; warriors, courtiers or shipowners. If we accept Ibn Rustah's evidence for the huge amounts of fabric that were used, the style can only be justified as a fashion choice, and must have been impractical for a general workman. Though baggy trousers have been worn by the poor in other periods and are shown being worn by labourers in early medieval manuscripts, such as the ones shown above as well as in later manuscripts such as the 12th century Fécamp Psalter and the 13th century Maciejowski Bible.

As Thor Ewing states, for best effect these trousers would be worn with a short tunic, and it could also be argued, the style of shorter cloak that became more fashionable in the Viking Age, much to Charlemagne’s chagrin, and replaced the larger cloaks of the Vendel era that are represented in cloaks such as the Thorsbjerg find. Some baggy trouser-wearing figures are shown in short shirts, however characters from a picture stone from Smiss, Gotland are wearing baggy trousers with longer tunics or coats, showing that a shorter tunic is not a prerequisite. It is impossible to come to any firm conclusions on how this fashion was viewed socially. The 12th century Kings Mirror warns against wearing red trousers to court (as the Hedeby fragments were), and baggy trousers are unlikely to be regarded appropriate for all social occasions.

The recurrent image of a warrior being welcomed, often by a woman (a valkyrie?) with a drinking horn, may refer to a certain mythological scene that has not been recognised, and therefore may have connotations or refer to specific incident that would discredit their use as evidence for the styles popularity. The Stora Hammars I stone has been interpreted as showing Hjaðningavíg (the battle of the Heodenings) and at least one of the Smiss stones seems to show the same legend.</>

Wool for clothing, was a valuable product and a measured currency in the Viking age, and was used sparingly with cutting patterns minimising waste. That the Hedeby fragments were dyed bright colours as well as being a fine material reinforces the idea of ostentatious display. Thor Ewing also mentions in Hauks Tale, the term hábrókast is used as a byword for pride or pre-eminence. I think this is a play on Hauk's name and is a difficult line to interpret. Perhaps referring to a hawk's preening itself, and inferring showy dressing. However I think the level of affluence is overstated, the level of dye and fabric found at Hedeby being within the reach of merchants or the caste of people the poem Rigsthala calls "Churls":

Children reared they thus they called them:
Youth and Hero, Thane, Smith, Yeoman,
Broad-limb, Peasant, Sheaf-beard, Neighbour,
Farmer, Speaker and Stubbly-beard.


Other Styles of Breeches

Narrow legged, ankle length trousers were also certainly worn by Scandinavians as when Flosi from Njals Saga "...wore trousers in one piece as he would be walking...", though they were likely to be regarded as a lower class item. There is also evidence for other styles of short breeches being worn before the Viking Age such as the Dätgen and earlier Marx-Etzel trousers, both made out of wool and reaching about knee length.

The Daetgen and Marx Etzel trousers.

A labourer wearing short breeches in the 12th century Fécamp Psalter.

Something resembling loose knee length trousers are shown in the Bayeux Tapestry, though as these are all the same colour as the shirts it may be some sort of full body garment or trying to represent another style being that was limited by the medium. Gale Owen-Crocker does think some of the images in the Bayeux Tapestry represent culottes like trousers, especially in the case of Guy, perhaps to emphasise his foreignness, or to depict him as an evil character with Scandinavian fashions.

Analogous Trousers
Voluminous or baggy trousers in various forms were not uncommon in historical clothing. They were still fashionable in 20th century pumphose for horse riding, and have even appeared in fashion fads today. Similar loose, pleated breeches were especially common around the 15th century and are frequently shown in images of Landsknechts. Also similar are the 'slops' popular amongst sailors of the 16th and 17th centuries. The Tailleur Sincere from 1671 mentions "open knee breeches", and "sailors breeches" and describes them as being full in the leg and tucked into a band below the knee. The kilts worn by Scottish Highlanders which were a conspicuously decorated garment worn in in a reasonably cold climate that used a large amount of gathered and pleated wool also draw some unlikely parallels.

Some Thoughts on Ibn Rustah's Description
The passages above from Ibn Rustah’s writings and the Hudud al-'Alam are often interpreted as evidence for these baggy trousers. I have given this much thought and believe they could also be referring to the leg windings worn in Europe in the early Middle Ages. The above translation of a long amount of material, rolled up to the knee and fastened describes this perfectly. However the weaknesses of this is it would still require exaggeration to explain the large amount of fabric used, and different translations I have read cannot be interpreted this way. Unfortunately I have found Ibn Rustah's book 'Kitab al-A'lak an-Nafisa' hard to find in translation, let alone in the original Arabic, which I am unable to read, so would require another knowledgeable and experienced translators input to expound this theory.

Reconstructing the High Breeches

Inga Hägg identified the fragments from Hedeby as trousers based on the similarity of the pattern to that of the Thorsbjerg trousers. As so little survives the pattern is largely conjectural, and uses the placement of the surviving fragments to establish the width and approximate shape of the front panel and the seam placement joining the legs to the gusset panels. Not enough of the legs survive to indicate the original length and width.
An aspect I've found a problem with is that the seat and gores are roughly the same size as in other trouser finds. This was one of the features used to identify the Hedeby fragments as trouser fragments. This makes the seat quite narrow in comparison with the legs. This is visible below in my reconstruction, and also in this reconstruction by Historiska Världar. Perhaps the gores should be reconstructed larger or this may be a failing of early medieval tailoring.

Trousers and construction pattern of the Thorsbjerg trousers.

Trousers and construction pattern of the Damendorf trousers.

The fabric should be a very fine woollen tabby, Birka grave 905 may not have been high breeches but I think linen is also acceptable. Characters in the Icelandic sagas often wear linbrók (linen breeches). If a too heavy or stiff a fabric is used the trousers will not sit or fall properly and may be rather difficult to wear. It is interesting that most other evidence for trousers made with pattern used a diamond twill, including the other fragments from Hedeby (22a-c and 39a-b).

How baggy should they be? Evidence does agree the trousers were overly baggy, and baggy enough to make pleating practical. Several images show the legs are pleated or gathered with many folds of the cloth. Using the entire loom width of the fabric would seem to be a practical and likely making the legs to the required width. Early medieval loom widths were generally narrow but there are enough exceptions to this rule than it cannot be said to limit how wide the trousers could be. The Icelandic 'Grey Goose Laws of 1196 required wadmal (a homespun twill cloth, translated as cloth-measure) to be two ells wide. This standard measure for cloth is calculated to have been 49.2 cm. In Iceland this was regulated against a 20 ell line on the wall of the church at Þingvöllr and a two ell line was marked on every burial church. Constructing the trousers with the fabric warp running around the leg would allow them to be made any width with one piece of fabric woven to the correct width and length, but this is not how the Hedeby high breeches were constructed. The fragments being red at the front and the rear being green suggests the Hedeby legs could have been made from two pieces of cloth, giving a maximum width of 196.8cm per leg if the fabric was cut along these lines. Of course fabric could be woven both wider or narrower, and its is worth noting that the Hedeby fragments were not made from Wadmal, but from a fine tabby. Though this falls short of Ibn Rustah's description these are still enormously baggy trousers. Exaggeration is the most likely reason for this discrepancy, wearing trousers made from nigh 50 metres of cloth is beyond practical, though it has been suggested by Prof W. Watson of Immaculata College that the trousers referred to by Ibn Rustah could have made with a huge amount of wastage due to manufacturing techniques, or may refer to breeches being made for several people. I think the pulling of the Hedeby fragments 72Ae and f that were from the leg gores show that the trousers were not so huge that there wasn't some stress on the fabric.

Through correspondence with Dr. Peter Beatson I learnt that the measurement used by Ibn Rustah is "dhira", which translates as 'cubits' or 'forearms'. This was a Sharia measurement said to have been established by the first Imam of the Zaydis. The legal cubit (dhira' al-ammah) was 46.2cm, though interpretations vary this number considerably. There were also different versions depending on the subject being measured, such as a cubit to measure land (dhira' al-misahah 106.69cm) and a cubit to measure fabric (dhira' al-qumash of 53.9cm), not to mention measures were not standardised across the Islamic world. Measures and Weights in the Islamic World translated by M. Ismail Marcinkowski gives it as a very usable 6.5cm, which would make trousers out of 6.5 metres, though suggests this may be a printing error as it is a very small unit for land measurement. It is probable Ibn Rustah used the Abbasid "black" dhira' and equal to 54.04cm, or the slightly smaller "hand" dhira' of 49.875cm. The "gaz" used in the Hudud al-'Alam also translates as cubits. It is considered as equal to the dhira, and treated as a synonym for it.

The double layering of the Hedeby fragments suggested by Hägg is difficult to understand. This is based on the way fragment 72A-g is attached, apparently giving the impression that the material was usually in two layers. It is not from an underlayer of another garment or the pleats, which were too shallow to cause this effect. I interpret the reinforcing stitches of fragment H72A-g in the crotch area of the trousers, which I have found is the weakest point of this pattern, and the different thread spin and angle of the warp of fragment H72A-d as likely to be evidence of patching of the garment, as the wear on the pleats show the trousers were well worn by the time they were reused for caulking. The differing seam treatment on either side of fragment H91A also supports this.

I have made several attempts at a reconstruction. Using a pattern similar to the Thorsbjerg trousers my first successful attempt used three metres of a very fine tabby per leg, and gave a good result, but I wanted to experiment with fabric widths closer to Ibn Rustah's description.

High breeches made with a fine brown tabby using three metres of wool per leg.

Though still falling well short of the fabric usage given by Ibn Rustah, using five metres of tabby wool per leg made trousers that were enormously heavy, though the wool wasn't as fine as my previous versions. The main body of the leg needed to be sewn into pleats and I ended up cutting down the inside of the pleat to allow the fabric to be gathered and to make them wearable, and sewed the top and bottom into drawstring tubes. The finished trousers no longer seemed to reflect the style shown in the available pictorial evidence.

Trousers made with five metres of cloth per leg, the crotch pieces were made out of a heavier twill wool. Worn with knee high hose.

The rear of the trousers, showing the seat and gores of sturdier fabric in a different colour. Worn with legwraps around the lower leg.
While I think Ibn Rustah's description is an exaggeration, it is important avoid making the trousers too narrow. Anything less than 150cm wide per leg will not give the required style, and some interpretations are more along the lines of casual loose fitting trousers that do not represent the deliberate baggy style depictions indicate.

The Hedeby fragments were wrinkled from deliberate shrinking of the wool. The direction of the pleats between the fabric panels shows the pleating was done after construction. Both the Uppäkra figurine and some of the stones from Gotland also suggests pleating (eg. Broa and Lillbjärs stones) though the trousers could be made unpleated and there is nothing to indicate the pleats were sewn in place. Pleating is known from other Viking clothing finds such as; Birka, Vangsnes, Køstrup, and in another grave from Hedeby (5/1964). Pleating is often associated with women's dresses. According to Hägg pleating is more common in the 10th century than the 9th. Due to the rarity of pleated linen Geijer suggests it is a Russian import.

Hedeby fragments 22 A-C include a possible belt loop and may have had Thorsberg-type waistband with belt loops and a belt, so it is possible a belt may have also been used to hold up high breeches. However without sewing in the pleats this would be impossible and a drawstring may be more likely. Trouser belts are a difficult subject to research. Words such as reip (rope,) svardreip (walrus hide), strengr (string), taug (cord), basttaug (cord made of bast, the fibre beneath bark on lime trees) and belti (for a more prestigious belt (ie. silfrbelti refers to silver belts)) are all used. Lindi is used to refer to the belt used to hold up the trousers, brok lindi (trouser belt) are mentioned in the sagas. Several references mention these snapping or coming apart, suggesting a tied knot or a lower quality fibre for the belt. Archaeology does not show multiple belts with fittings being worn, they may have been tied with a knot to fasten them rather than a buckle, or a simple belt made of a strap with a slit at one end, similar to that worn by Tollund man may have been used.
Draw string trousers are known from the Skjoldehamn burial and later medieval finds.

Ibn Rustah states specifically the trousers were fastened at the knee when dressing, and the legs need to be cut long enough to be gathered just below the knee at the top of the calf. If made too long they will sag below the level of the knee. Evidence does not suggest anything resembling full ankle length baggy trousers were worn. I would suggest a drawstring for gathering the legs in, some of the images seem to be very square at the knee, I still think these are high breeches, but may be left unfastened which would be similar to 16th century sailors slops were sometimes worn. Some reconstructions have been made by sewing the bottom into a kind of sock tube for the lower leg, while this may be convenient there is nothing to support this method was used and it has nothing in common with how Viking Age clothing was cut and sewn.
The high breeches can be worn with short knee high stockings or legwraps. There is evidence for short stockings being worn in the early middle ages which seem to be simply shorter versions of long hose. Some surviving examples are extremely elaborate, such as the 11th century hose shown below that belonged to Pope Clement II. Fragments of hose from Hedeby were just above knee high; short enough to expose the braies, but rather long to be worn with high breeches.

Silk samite hose of Pope Clements II.

There are many images of short knee high hose being worn in the art of the Early Medieval era. Some are simple lines drawn just below the knee, and may be garters, but others are very clearly short hose. These can show contrasting colour, the sagging of material and fastening just below the knee.

King Cnut wearing knee high hose (left) and Folio f16r from the 10th century Leiden I Maccabees manuscript (right).

A pattern for high breeches based on this evidence and further conclusions will be forthcoming after some further experiments.


I would like to acknowledge the help received in personal correspondence from P. Beatson who also communicated unpublished extra information and ideas from Associate Professor William Watson of Immaculata College (USA).

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Some images used without permission.