32

It's easy to put down a glass. You just put it on the table. It won't spill unless somebody tips it over.

How did people put a full drinking horn on the table? Did they have some sort of thingy to keep it in an upright position? Or were you supposed to empty it always before putting it down?

(If it makes a difference, I am thinking about the Viking period. Lacking direct info about Vikings, any other period would do)

  • 5
    With a drinking horn holder perhaps? – Steve Bird Feb 16 '18 at 15:34
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    I don't know the answer, so this is conjecture - Maybe it wasn't something you put on a table, but on your person. It seems ideal for strapping to your belt. – Toshinou Kyouko Feb 16 '18 at 15:41
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    As I understand, the point of a drinking horn was that you had to empty it before setting it down; thus the answer to your question is "empty". – Mark C. Wallace Feb 16 '18 at 15:42
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    @MarkC.Wallace - The point of a drinking horn was of course the other end... – T.E.D. Feb 16 '18 at 15:49
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    !! Well played sir, well played!! – Mark C. Wallace Feb 16 '18 at 17:09
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In short, either when it was empty or it had a stand.

Drinking horns were used by many different cultures on different continents (Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe e.t.c.) and in different time periods up to this day. Often, they were not intended to be put down while liquid remained but this was not always the case.

Xenophon, among others, attested to drinking from horns in Thrace and emptying the horn was clearly an expected ritual, be it in the course of a discourse or when drinking to someone's health. The Thracians also engaged in drinking matches.

In Roman Artefacts and Society, Ellen Swift says early Roman drinking horns were mostly small and "drinking from the tip was the norm in the early Roman period" and some "have an applied foot that affords standing on a flat surface". Later examples are larger, mostly drunk from the mouth and seem to be designed to be passed around and not set down until empty.

enter image description here

Roman Glass: Rhyton (drinking horn), 75-125 | Corning Museum of Glass

enter image description here

A late Roman-Republican banquet scene in a fresco from Herculaneum, Italy. 59 x 53 cm. The woman wears a transparent silk gown while the man to the left raises a rhyton drinking vessel.

For Vikings and Anglo-Saxons, the horn would be emptied, for example, when it was passed around at feasts, in friendship and in peace:

According to a saying of the period: “In war is proved what was pledged over ale.” Women also had a clearly defined role in hall etiquette. They acted as cupbearers and were referred to by the bards as “peace weavers,” in the sense that by passing a drink from warrior to warrior, they maintained the friendship between them. The cup, or horn, was handed to the drinker in strict order of precedence—first to the hall lord, often with the injunction to be joyful at drinking, then to the duguo—the elder retainers—next the geoguo—young retainers—and finally to guests.

When the purpose was friendship, feasting, peace or toasting with alcohol, it seems entirely appropriate not to put down a drinking vessel until it has been drained. In fact, the tradition of emptying the horn continues to this day in, for example, Georgia where the "the glass (or horn!) has to be drunk ad fundum".

However, horns were not just used for alcohol but also for milk and water and for decorative purposes, drinking or otherwise. It was common (and still is in poor communities) to use every last scrap of an animal (e.g. the Vikings) so it wouldn't make sense not to make use of something that could be fashioned into an impressive-looking drinking vessel.

At the same time, it would be wrong to think that all horns had to be emptied: there is plenty of evidence of horn stands. For example,

As horn is an organic material and susceptible to decay, metal mounts are nearly all that remain from Early Medieval drinking horns. For example, we have two 9th century drinking horn fittings found in Scotland on display in Creative Spirit; a silver rim mount from Burghead, Moray and a tinned copper-alloy terminal mount from Pierowall, Westray in Orkney. Both of these mounts are the size which would fit locally available cattle breeds. However, metal fittings from exceptionally large horns have been found in high status Anglo-Saxon burials, including those at Sutton Hoo and Taplow in south-east England.

Here are two examples of drinking horns with stands. The one on the left is Viking: "A drinking horn exhibited in the Nordiska Museum in Stockholm, Sweden." The one on the right "Medieval period drinking horn, made from ox horn. (Photo: Åge Hojem, NTNU University Museum)"

drinking horns with stands

The one below is in the British Museum and is late medieval (15th century).

late middle ages

Finally, a couple of aurochs drinking horns without a stand (although they may have had), from the Taplow burial (7th century Anglo-Saxon). Ideal for passing around at feasts?

enter image description here

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    Impressive answer – Censored to protect the guilty Feb 17 '18 at 0:48
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    The link you provided didn't mention, but do you happen to know if the horn in the left-image you posted is merely resting in that horn-stand, or whether the horn-stand is affixed? (Based on the hook at the end of the horn, it looks impractical if it wasn't fixed) Regardless, those are beautiful! Thank you for posting them (and the link), sir! – Jamin Grey Feb 17 '18 at 19:52
  • I tried googling for another source using this photo and found commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/…,made_in_Augsburg,_Germany,_by_Adam_Forster,_1650,_for_diplomat_and_official_Count_Bengt_Oxenstierna,_horn,_silver-Nordiska_museet-Stockholm,_Sweden-_DSC09775.JPG but it doesn't say either. I can only agree with you that it looks impractical if not affixed (but a bit clunky if it is!). – Lars Bosteen Feb 18 '18 at 0:48
3

A drinking horn was not a regular cup. Vikings had plenty of those, they weren't living in the stone age. A drinking horn is a contest, a drinking game: who can empty the whole horn in one go, without spilling the content.

We did the same in the army, with a glass boot.

Source: me, under the table. I wasn't very good at it.

  • 4
    A source would be great :-) otherwise it sounds too much like historical lore :-) – Censored to protect the guilty Feb 16 '18 at 23:52
  • You can put a boot down though. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 17 '18 at 17:22
  • " they weren't living in the stone age" in fact they did. Have little access to iron weapon. – talex Feb 17 '18 at 18:20
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    @talex - you are extremely mistaken. Working in non-ferrous metals generally precedes work with iron by quite a bit (hence the term "bronze age" preceding "iron age"), and (speaking as someone who has done it) it's not all that challenging to produce very complex items from copper or silver. Plus they had not only the results of their own craftsmanship, but what they plundered. – Chris Stratton Feb 17 '18 at 19:09
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    @talex: the Iron Age in Scandinavia was from ca 500 BCE to 1050 CE; the "Viking Age" was from ca 700 CE to the end of the Iron Age. The Norse weren't able to produce high-quality steel, so sword blades were usually imported from the Rhineland. They were quite familiar with ironworking, though, and as iron ore is common in Scandinavia, iron tools and weapons had mostly supplanted bronze and stone ones during the one and a half millennium since the Scandinavian Iron Age began. – Peter Lewerin Feb 17 '18 at 23:26
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The whole purpose of the drinking horn is that you drink it to the bottom, so that nothing remains, and then you can lay it in the table.

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    A source where I can find some details would be nice :) – Censored to protect the guilty Feb 16 '18 at 19:09
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    I can confirm that from personal experience (very little). So it is soft confirmation. – talex Feb 17 '18 at 18:14
  • I also know this from personal experience. – Alex Feb 18 '18 at 14:10

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