What Everyone Gets Wrong About the Vikings

What comes into your mind when you hear the word “Vikings”? We won’t be surprised if your answer is along the lines of “savages with horned helmets, destroying everything in their path.” But is that the truth? Thanks to TV series and movies, many stereotypes and misconceptions have been associated with the ancient people of Norway, Denmark, and other Scandinavian countries. 

Vikings, or Norsemen, to be exact, were pirates from the 8th century who raided and attacked many parts of Europe. Their lives were mostly spent on seas searching for areas for plunder and a place to call their new home. Their reign of terror is known as the Viking Age. They have been a common subject for media and publications.

History Channel’s “Vikings” is probably the most famous TV series about the Norsemen. Interestingly, only a handful of such publications told authentic tales. The rest just added spice to the widely spread myths.

Read on to know the most common misconceptions about Vikings and the reality behind them:

Horned Helmets

Horned Helmets

Vikings were mighty warriors whose lives were spent fighting people. It does not even make sense that they would wear helmets that the enemy can easily hold and twist their necks. It’s disappointing how horned helmets have been a label for Vikings in the media. But in reality, they had never worn any helmets of such designs. Archeologists found regular-shaped metal helmets at their gravesites, and not even a single-horned helmet was ever discovered.

The explanation behind this myth could be the false narrations by European Christians who wanted to portray Norsemen as wild barbarians. Fair enough, the horns must have added a hint of savagery upon their already blood-stained name.

Vikings Were Savages and Nothing More

It is true that the Vikings raided and plundered many cities across Europe, and they were ruthless warriors, but it would be unfair to think of them only as cruel savages. They were much more than that. They were talented craftsmen, farmers, merchants, and traders. Sure, like any other nation, they wanted more and more land, but that’s not something for which you would call someone a “savage”.

The motives behind their raids were not just for stolen silver and women to hold hostage. The main reason behind Viking raids was the problem of overpopulation in Scandinavian countries. Many Vikings settled with their clans once they found new, fertile lands. The lords drew lots, and whoever lost was exiled from the lands with family. The exiled ones had to find a new place to live which often resulted in bloodshed. 

Vikings Used Ancient Weapons

Vikings have been shown using old weapons like axes and spears with wooden shields for defense in most shows and movies. In actuality, Vikings were blessed with smart blacksmiths who could create an extremely efficient metallic weapon. They could mold the metal in such a way that sharp and flexible swords could be made out of it. Their famous sword, Ulfberht, has not been replicated by modern-day blacksmiths by following the method the Vikings invented. 

All Vikings under One King

Vikings were never united. They never had a king or an emperor to rule over them. Their government was more inclined towards local leadership. The Vikings successfully claimed lands in Europe, parts of Africa and Asia, and even some places in North America. They founded American land almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus did. You can imagine their power by their extent of rule. Their local authorities were strong enough to organize raids on such large scales.

The Name “Vikings”

Surprisingly, the “Vikings” never called themselves “Vikings.” They called themselves Norsemen or Danes but never “Vikings.” The word “Viking” is a verb that means to go about on an adventure. So if anyone from Viking Age was adventurous, people would call them Viking. It is no wonder that owing to their raids and plunders, the verb changed into a noun for the adventurous Norsemen.

Vikings Were Smelly

This one is a funny myth. Obviously, whoever believes the Vikings to be barbarians must also believe that they were nasty and smelt bad. On the contrary, the Vikings bathed every week. Saturday was a washing day for them. In Norse, it was Laugardagur which translates to bath/pool day. They were also known to carry self-grooming kits with them, which included comb, ear spoons, and even razors to shave unruly hair. In contrast, the Europeans bathed once a year only.

No Rights for Women

No Rights for Women

It’s easy to associate every cruel trait with the people who are already notorious in history. No wonder Vikings were known to give zero rights to women. 

In reality, Viking women were some of the most empowered women of that time. When women of Europe were deprived of their right to vote and work independently in Europe, Viking women held the right to divorce their husbands in case of domestic violence. They also had the right to marry again. 

Though they did not have any say in the politics, it was revealed at an archeological site that the buried body was of a Norse woman, most probably a noblewoman or a queen. The site had been a valuable discovery regarding Vikings. Viking women also took part in the raids whenever needed.

Vikings Were Giants

Vikings Were Giants

As depicted by movies and shows, most Vikings were shown to be big and muscular. While they may be strong, Vikings were shorter than average humans today. Archeological evidence has shown that Viking males were around 172 cm tall, which is 8 to 10 cm shorter than the average height today. Again, this could be the work of Christians who wanted nothing but to tell the tale of Vikings as the beasts they were.

They Raided to Make a Living

They Raided to Make a Living

As explained earlier, Vikings raided places only when it was needed. They were more interested in trading and living a merchant life. Many cities in Europe were named by the Vikings. The cities that have –by at the end of their names are the most common ones. “By” in Norse translates to “city.” Vikings also played an important role in many varieties of English owing to their raids in Europe. 

By the end of the Viking Age, the trade had reached Jerusalem, Russia, and many parts of Europe, where Vikings settled till the end. You can even find Viking engraving in Hagia Sofia, Turkey, where a Norse name has been scratched probably by a bored Viking man.

Vikings – Forever Misunderstood

Vikings had always been the target of myths and misconceptions throughout history. Fear was used to alter history, and Vikings were portrayed as barbarians and nothing more. Although Vikings had an interesting history and lots can be learned from them, it is unfair to put labels on them just because they fought for land. 

So many other wars and bloodshed happened throughout history, but we hardly see anyone getting such myths associated with them. It is good to watch historical shows but to believe them entirely would be quite foolish. A little research and historical reading are all it takes to separate facts from fiction.