Did Vikings really keep bears as pets?

Viking - bearPhoto: Valentin Lacoste / mana5280 / Unsplash

The image of a tough Viking standing next to a giant bear might not be too difficult to conjure up. But is it realistic?

Viking pets

The Vikings, like most other cultures across time and space, kept pets. Cats and dogs are thought to have been the most common, as both of the four-legged companions are a feature in Norse mythology and iconography.

Birds are also thought to have been pets to the Vikings. These included hunting companions such as falcons and hawks, but also some taken from faraway lands as trophies, such as peacocks.

Vikings were apparently fond of their pets, with studies showing that even chiefs and warriors were known to transport their cats, dogs, and birds with them to foreign lands during raids. Otherwise, there were likely kept near the family; within the household, or on the grounds alongside farm animals.

“House bears”

Archeological and historical research indeed points to bears being kept as pets by Vikings.

Brown bears, whose numbers in Norway have since dwindled, are thought to have been taken from the wild as cubs. The same practice is considered to have applied to polar bears in Norse settlements where they may have lived nearby.

They were then raised by humans in an attempt to domesticate them. Some are considered to have lived within the household – these are known as “house bears”.

Some pets, including bears who were too wild to be kept inside, were ritually sacrificed. But there is evidence that points to house bears being given proper burials by Vikings.

Big fines faced anyone whose house bear got loose and damaged another’s property. Eventually, the practice, including the transportation of bears to Norse settlements in places like Iceland, was outlawed.

Now – how much did Vikings’ relationships with their bears mirror ours with pets today? Did the Vikings cuddle up with bears and play fetch? Probably not. But as it seems, Vikings did indeed keep bears as pets… At least to some degree.

Keep in mind

Bears are wild animals. The Vikings may have tried to tame them somewhat, but such arrangements resulted in unsafe and uncomfortable living situations for both the humans and the animals.

Today, Norway has specific laws in place to safeguard both humans and bears. Polar bears, to be precise – Norway’s northern islands are one of the only places on Earth home to these magnificent Arctic creatures.

In fact, the pursuit and seeking out of polar bears are outlawed in Norway.

In northern towns off the mainland where polar bears make their home, expert guides have to accompany any expeditions outside the human settlements.

Today, we can always admire polar bears from a distance and actively work to reduce our negative impact on the species: by focusing on living a sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyle, donating to a polar bear charity – or, for both fun and aid, adopting a polar bear, and enjoying photos and videos of polar bears from the safest possible distance for both us and the animals – online.

Polar bear waving
Photo: Bao Menglong / Unsplash

Read all about polar bears in Norway with our full guide here!

Source: #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayTravel

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1 Comment on "Did Vikings really keep bears as pets?"

  1. On YouTube, see Polar Bear Chases Photographer … video taken at Barrow Alaska.

    Polar bears are indiscriminate meat and man eaters. Trying to keep one as a housepet is like trying to keep free to roam poisonous snakes as housepets.

    I guess they didn’t have Darwin Awards back in Viking times, since such must have been awarded too often anyway. :-/ 🙂

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