Historic Brew Con - Manchester

5th & 6th August - 2024

Dr Brian Costello

Brian is an archaeologist lecturing at the University of Leicester. His research areas involve

social practices of the medieval period in Northwest Europe, education, and heritage


After completing his doctorate at the University of Chester in medieval archaeology, Brian

has since been lecturing, researching, and writing on the topic from Leicester. Beer has

always been included within his research agenda, such as experimental brewing to

investigate the archaeology of medieval ales.

Brian recently co-authored a paper on the central role of beer within Viking Age societies for

a forthcoming volume with Aarhus University Press. This was in collaboration with the

European Research Council funded project, Body Politics, at the University of Leicester.

The Archaeology of Intoxicated Vikings: The social and ritual roles of beer in the Viking World - co-authored with Dr Marianne Hem Eriksen

The drunk and frenzied Viking is one among many stereotypes of blood-thirsty warriors and senseless violence. However, evidence suggests that beer (and perhaps other intoxicating substances) was integral to many aspects of life in the Viking Ages. For instance, there is no other word for ‘sober’ in Old Norse other than ódrukkin — ‘un-drunk’. Viking bodies, their lives and their ritual practices were permeated with alcohol.

Research over the last few decades has related intoxicants to ritual practices, magic, and socio-political relations. However, Viking age studies have not yet contemplated the fundamental process of making and ingesting beer, generating specific embodied reactions in specific settings. Drawing on prominent work in archaeology, anthropology and philosophy, this paper centres beer as a form of material culture, providing tangible sets of sensory experiences, which is ultimately destined to be destroyed through the process of ingestion. By framing the consumption of beer as a type of embodied material culture, we can perhaps also push beyond the gendered tropes of ‘man-the-warrior’ and ‘woman-the-server’.

Ultimately, this approach to Viking beer provides a different lens through which we can understand the role of intoxicants in ritual and social practices — as something that merges with the body and transforms it in turn. Therefore, this talk investigates the archaeological evidence of producing and consuming alcohol in the plethora of social and rituals practices within the Viking World.