The Vikings were seafaring people that were around from the late eight to the early eleventh century. They were very well-established explorers, traders, and warriors who had discovered America long before Columbus did. Most people would refer to Vikings as savages who were really only out there for women and treasures, but there was much more to them than that. Keep reading to discover myths and uncover the truth about who the Vikings really were.
Vikings Cared About Personal Hygiene
If someone asked you to picture a Viking, what would come to mind? You would probably assume that they had long hair and straggly beards. You may also assume that they didn’t take care of their personal hygiene. You would be correct about one of those assumptions. Vikings typically had longer hair and beards, but they were rather clean people, who took measures to take care of their appearance.
Grooming tools and equipment have been uncovered over the years to prove this. Combs, razors, and even ear swabs were discovered, and they were used by both men and women. Having poor personal hygiene is just one of many myths about Vikings.
They Never Wore Horned Helmets
There has never been any evidence discovered by archaeologists that would prove the Vikings wore horned helmets. However, they did wear skullcaps, which were obviously intended to protect their skulls from any impact.
The idea of the horned helmets came about during the 19th century, however, it was Richard Wagner’s cycle of four operas that implanted the horned helmet image into our imaginations. To this day, there are still many filmmakers, cartoonists, and artists who continue to keep this myth alive.
Weekdays Are Named After Viking Gods
We all know the days of the week, but did you know that their names came from the Norse gods? With the exception of Sunday and Monday, which are named after the sun and the moon. Not many people know that the Vikings worshiped them. To get right into it, Tuesday comes from Tiu or Tiw, which is the Anglo-Saxon name for Tyr. Tyr was known as the god of war. He was one of the sons of Odin, or Woden, who was the supreme deity. This is where Wednesday came from.
A name we are all probably most familiar with is Thor, the God of Thunder, which is how Thursday came to be. Friday derives from Frigga, Odin’s wife, which represented love and beauty. Saturday comes from Saturn, who was the ancient roman god of fun and feasting.
Vikings Weren’t as Big as They are Portrayed
Based off of what we see today in the movies and cartoons, Vikings were all very large and tall, with long blonde hair. However, according to historical records, the average Viking man only stood to be about 5’7. The Vikings did bleach their hair with a special soap, seeing as this color seemed to be ideal within the Viking culture. The short summers are to blame for their somewhat short stature.
This is because with shorter summers, they had fewer resources and not as much food. Many raids would follow, so the Vikings could obtain more resources. Similar to the horned helmets myth, the Vikings are portrayed as people who were almost inhumane.
Death in Viking Culture
When the Vikings passed away, they believed they would go to Valhalla. Before Christianity came to be, Valhalla was considered to be the Vikings' eternal paradise, which would be very similar to heaven. There were warrior-women goddesses who would search battlefields after wars for fallen heroes. Warriors who were considered to have died bravely would be carried by these women to Valhalla.
Another place they believe people would go is Helgafjell. This is where people would go if they lived a very fulfilling life. Lastly, someone who died dishonorably would go to a place called Hellheim, similar to hell.
The Vikings Got to America Before Columbus
It has been said that the Vikings were the ones to discover America roughly 500 years before Christopher Columbus did. The first group of Europeans to step foot on North American soil was a group of Vikings who were led by Leif Eriksson. His father, known as Erik the Red, was a very famous traveler prior to his son’s birth. He actually established the first European settlement of Greenland. It has also been said that Erik the Red sailed from Iceland to Canada and encouraged his son to explore new lands, just like he did.
What Leif didn’t know is that he would discover what we now know as North America. There was no evidence that the Vikings had discovered it, which is why Christopher Columbus took the credit.
Vikings Preferred Blonde Hair
For whatever reason, the Vikings had a fascination with blonde hair. It was their ideal of beauty. Usually, men who had black hair would use a high concentration soap to bleach their hair. Some groups of Vikings would also bleach their beards.
It has been said that the ingredients in this soap would’ve possibly been able to get rid of lice.
Viking Women Had Basic Rights
Viking men and women weren’t necessarily treated as equals, but they definitely had more rights than other groups of women around the world. Even though they were typically married by the age of 12, and were expected to perform the duties of a mother and wife. That being said, they did have some rights and freedoms, such as the ability to inherit properties, file for divorce, and reclaim settlements if the marriage didn’t work out.
Viking men were considered to be the man of the house, but the women controlled all the domestics. If a woman was married and her husband died, she would then be responsible for all the duties her husband was once responsible for. Also, even though it was uncommon, there have been stories and legends of shieldmaidens who were female warriors, and they would fight alongside the Viking men.
Tattoos Weren't That Common
Tattoos have been around long before the time of the Vikings. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this group of people had tattoos. Some people today show that they have Viking heritage in their blood by getting what they consider traditional Viking tattoos. However, we are still unsure if Vikings actually had these tattoos, or if they were just ancient symbols.
Again, television and movies depict Vikings falsely, because they usually have Vikings covered in tattoos. But there has never been any evidence to suggest they practiced the art. You may also want to take into consideration that since the Vikings were very clean people, they may not have wanted to cover their bodies in something they could not wash off.
The Viking Justice System Was Very Particular
You may think that since it was such a long time ago, Vikings would settle things by fighting or general physical force. However, they had a justice system that was implemented when they needed to resolve disputes and crimes. This system was known to the Norse culture as “Althing”, which means “The Thing.” “The Thing” was held by a law speaker who was present to hear people’s arguments.
Afterwards, these disputes would be settled by a third party, similar to our court system today. Nonetheless, there were times where violence took place, and there were occasional executions.
Vikings Had a Strange Way of Starting Fires
As we previously stated, the Vikings were very keen on taking care of their personal hygiene. However, that seemed to fall to the wayside when it came time to light a fire. This is a bit strange, but they would start the process by collecting torch wood fungus from tree bark. They would then boil it for a few days in human urine. After that, they would pound the soaked bark into a felt-like substance, so that it was durable and easy to transport.
We aren’t sure how they did it, but they had somehow figured out that the sodium nitrate found in urine would make the material smolder, not just burn. This would allow them to travel far distances and start new fires on the go.
Their Dead Were Buried in Boats
A big part of the Vikings' lives was being in or around the ocean, whether they were seafaring, raiding, or fishing. This of course would limit their options for burials when people passed away. They resorted to burying them on the boat. Based on what Norse people believed, they thought great warriors would need some type of vessel to cross into the afterlife and continue living in Valhalla. With this being said, well respected Vikings and exceptional women had the honor of being buried in one of the traditional Viking ships.
In addition to burying the bodies, people would fill the ships with weapons, food, treasures, and anything that they thought someone would need in the afterlife. In some cases, slaves were sometimes killed and buried on the boat, so they were able to serve their masters.
Vikings Spent Most of Their Time Farming
Vikings will always be remembered for being a fierce group of people and ruthless raiders, but they weren't always like this. They wouldn’t be able to establish the society they had if they'd spent all of their time sailing, looking for treasure and fighting. Vikings actually spent a majority of their time farming and maintaining their settlements.
There was a famous Viking who went by the name of Ragnar Lothbrok, and he started out as a full-time farmer, until he gained some power. This is how it started for most Vikings. If you were a farmer, you were very respected within the community.
Vikings Were Not So Unified as a Group
Did you know that most Vikings didn’t associate with one another? In fact, many of the people who lived in the area didn’t consider themselves to be Vikings at all. It was just a term that referred to all Scandinavians who took part in overseas expeditions, which is how they became grouped into one whole category in the first place.
During the Viking age, there was land that makes up Norway, Sweden and Denmark. This area had a collection of tribes, and they would often be fighting one another when they weren’t exploring.
Vikings Were Professional Skiers
Skiing is a popular sport that many people participate in today. However, in the beginning it was not intended to be a sport. The oldest skis that have been found to date were discovered and dated back to 6,300 BC. Skiing was used as a means of transportation and traveling. During the Viking age, most of the land was covered by ice and snow, which made traveling by skis ideal.
At a later time, it was discovered that the Vikings might’ve used skis for recreational purposes. There is a god for everything, including skiing, and his name is Ullr. There is an assumption that skiing was used during war to get through parts of the wilderness that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.
Onion Soup Was Used for Wounds
This is all a little strange, but get ready for it. When soldiers would come back from war wounded, they would eat a very potent onion soup that included other spices. After several minutes passed, some would say that they were able to smell their injuries. If they were able to smell the onions from the inside of the wound, it meant that the abdominal injuries were severe.
In most of these cases, it meant that the warrior’s abdomen had been slashed, and death was on the horizon. It’s still true today that if someone were to sustain similar injuries, it is not likely they would survive.
The Vikings and Bluetooth
There was a man name Harald Bluetooth who was a legend. He was the Viking King of Denmark and Norway. During the time that he ruled, he was able to bring the surrounding Viking tribes together to create a place where they could all co-exist in. Many years later, Jim Kardach, who is the founder of Bluetooth, named his invention after King Bluetooth.
He thought that would be a good name for the invention, because he thought it would bring people together the same way the king did. The symbol of Bluetooth is a combination of an H and a B, for Harald Bluetooth. Who knew that an ancient king would have such an impact on modern-day society?
The Lord of The Rings Trilogy is Inspired by Viking Culture
The Viking mythology inspired the author J.R.R Tolkien’s amazing fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Within Viking mythology, there’s something called Andvari’s Ring, which is a Norse Legend story that says if you wear the ring you become cursed. As if that didn’t convince you enough, the legend took place in a universe named Midgard, which means Middle-Earth.
Of course, Tolkien didn’t base his novels around the Norse legends entirely, but it’s very apparent that he was inspired by the Norsemen.
Comic Books and Viking Culture
You may have already taken notice to this, but our modern-day comics have a lot to do with the Viking Culture. The characters we are all familiar with, like Thor, Odin, Loki, and Freyja, are basically Vikings that are put into modernized scenarios. In the comics we read today, Thor makes efforts to save the Earth and the people living on it.
In addition to the comics, there are plenty of video games that have taken the Viking culture story lines and brought them to life.
Vikings Had "Grills"
Rappers and athletes aren’t the only people who wear “grills”. Grills were around long before Nelly. Back in 2009, archaeologists discovered decapitated Viking skulls with a filing carved into the teeth.
To this day, archaeologists are still not sure what the filings mean, but they have their theories. They believe that the modifications were used as a symbol of status.
Viking Adored Playing Board Games
When the Vikings had free time from their work, they loved to play board games. Surprising, right? There was a popular board game called Hnefetafl, which is a game of pure strategy. There is a king and a small group of defenders that take up the center of the board. Then, a much larger force of attackers, twice the size of the defenders, occupies the positions around the edge of the board.
If you are the king, you would use your defender pieces to protect yourself, no matter what the cost. If you’re an attacker, you’ll want to overthrow the king by getting to the opposite corner of the board.
Vikings' Most Storied Execution Method
The idea of the Viking’s “Blood Eagle” is one of the biggest myths of the Viking Culture. Apparently, the Viking’s would break someone’s rib, open up their back, and then throw salt inside their body. However, this was completely made-up. Thankfully, it was not something that actually took place.
We are not sure where this myth rooted from, but the Vikings were not as brutal as people often make them out to be. The Norse culture came up with an execution idea, but it was only portrayed in their literature.
Vikings and Their Weapons
The Vikings loved their weapons so much that they would decorate them. They wouldn’t carve awful pictures of death and fighting, instead, they “bedazzled” their weapons.
They would craft pictures of animals such as snakes, horses, and wolves into their weapons. In addition to crafting, they also carved figures on the weapons.
The Skulls Myth
Another weird myth about the Vikings is that they would drink from the skulls of their enemies, and they certainly didn't drink blood from them, either. I think we’ve made it pretty clear that the Vikings were laid-back people. So it would probably be a good idea to throw out any misconceptions you may have previously had.
In reality, the Vikings drank out of glasses called horns. They got the name because they obviously looked like horns. They decorated these horns with gold and other metals.
Viking Rap Battles
Vikings participated in something called flyting, which is similar to what we now know as rap battles. They would use poetry as a way to throw insults at one another. As we all know, when it comes to rap, there is no topic that is off limits, and that was certainly the same for the Vikings.
Flyting usually happened in dining halls, and the winner received the biggest reaction from the people in the crowd. If you’ve ever seen the movie 8 Mile, it was something like that.
Fashion Wasn’t a Priority
It’s true, Vikings didn’t care much for fashion at all. If they were around today, you wouldn’t see them dressed in anything extravagant. The Vikings made all of their own clothing, and they were made for functionality and practicality.
From a young age, they learned how to hem all their clothes, from lighter clothing for the warm weather, to heavier items for the winter months.
Weddings Lasted an Entire Week
You better believe that the Vikings knew how to throw a party. Viking weddings were most likely the most extravagant events held within their culture. Couples needed to be engaged for three years before tying the knot.
Could you imagine having to plan for a wedding that would last for a week? It’s no secret that the Vikings knew how to party.
Strange Wedding Vows
Traditional wedding vows were not a thing in Viking culture. Both male and female followed a certain ritual. The bride had to get rid of anything that made her look single, such as clothes and jewelry, and put it in a private place, essentially leaving her old life behind. On the other hand, the groom would have to walk through a grave and come back with a sword, in an effort to show that he had gone through death and experienced a rebirth.
Once both rituals were completed, the bride and groom were expected to binge drink before going upstairs to the wedding chamber.
They Were Excellent Sailors
The Vikings were such good sailors there weren't waters they couldn’t travel through to get to where they were going. The way they were able to make it to places on time was their ability to watch the sun.
They used sun stones to find the sun to stay on the right path. Sun stones are now known as Icelandic spar, and they “react” when held up to the sun. This tactic is very useful, and it is called “Haidenger’s Brush.”
In addition to the Icelandic spar, the Vikings also had another tactic they used to help them travel through terrible fog. When they were trading with China, they had received something called magnetite, which is a mineral used when making compasses.
They were able to make their own compasses and travel through the fog without any issues. They really were able to come for whoever, and travel to wherever, no matter what.
Viking Homes Could Last Centuries
If you are a carpenter in the present day, there is a good possibility you may have been a Viking in a past life. They were incredible seamstresses, in addition to amazing master builders. When Viking homes were built, they would intertwine sticks that were covered in mud and other materials to make it hold.
Of course, based off what we just said, obviously these homes were not even close to nice, however privacy was not the biggest issue during this time.
Vikings' Verbal History
It’s unclear whether or not the Vikings were able to write, but the stories of their culture were mainly passed down verbally from one generation to the next. It’s because of this that so many things have been misconstrued about the Vikings over the years. Most of the information we do have on them has been written down by their enemies.
We were able to find out how they were during the times of war, but know close to nothing about how they were during times of peace.
Not Only Carnivores
Vikings really loved their meat, but their diet didn’t consist of just that. You have to remember they were farmers, which means they had grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables in their possession.
What this means is they probably had a well-balanced diet. In addition to their crops, they had animals such as cows, which could provide milk.
Viking "Power Couples"
When we think of power couples, we often think of very successful celebrities, like Beyoncé and Jay-Z for example. Back in the time of the Vikings, high-status couples were considered to be “power couples.” A power couple was discovered in a Viking tomb in 2012, located in Harup, Denmark. A pair of keys was found on the woman, which means she was a noble.
On the man, they found the deadliest axe the Vikings ever made, which showed he had a high status within their society.
Not a Pure Race
As we have already discussed, the Vikings did in fact discover America long before Christopher Columbus. However, after doing a DNA analysis of a particular Viking family that lived in Iceland, something amazing was uncovered. It just so happened that Native American DNA had been mixed with Scandinavian DNA.
The DNA noted that it was well over three centuries old. Obviously, this meant that not everything stayed within the Viking culture.
Vikings Took “Magic Mushrooms” Before Battles
Vikings would eat mushrooms before going into a large battle, and it would make them go absolutely insane. Mushrooms can make you hallucinate, and these people believed that they were being possessed by some force that was out of this world. They also believed that they would obtain special powers that would help them during a long battle.
In reality, however, they were just getting high. Apparently, Vikings loved the feeling of getting high. Some historians believe, as unfortunate as it may be, that many Vikings suffered from PTSD.
Weak Children Were Abandoned
The Vikings were very similar to the Spartans of Greece in the sense that health and strength were two very necessary qualities in children. It’s a shame, but if a child was born with an illness, or if they were unable to fight and contribute to society in any way, they were considered to be of no use. In an effort to save resources, these children were often left behind or thrown into the ocean.
Their way of life was very different from ours, considering children were supposed to be able to work, learn to fight in battle, and contribute to society just like any other person would. Unfortunately, only about 80% of Viking children lived to the young age of five.
Vikings and the Slave Trade
There are written sources that state the Vikings sold slaves at trading centers, such as Hedeby, and Bolghar on the Volga. It was here at these places where slaves would be traded for other items or slaves. Typically, the buyers would be Viking farmers who would use the slaves in their homes and out in the fields. Becoming a slave could also be a form of punishment in Viking society.
Slaves were the manpower behind one of the greatest building projects of the Viking Age. Unfortunately, slaves were treated as poorly as the livestock. They had zero rights and were at the mercy of their owners. With that being said, there was a possibility that slaves could one day earn their freedom.
If you were a Viking, you knew that breakfast was the most important and biggest meal of the day. You had to make sure you had every bit of energy to get through the tough days that lied ahead. The children ate porridge, and the adults would eat big portions of leftover stew, fruit, and breads.
Usually, dessert follows dinner, but the Vikings had dessert with their breakfast. Their desserts included ale, buttermilk bread, and dried fruit with honey. We imagine all of this tasted absolutely delicious!