The Viking age spanned over three hundred years, from the 9th to 11th century, with seafaring invaders from Scandinavia raiding and colonizing all across Europe and even far beyond. They were loathed and feared by all of their victims.
Well! They earned it. There’s no denying that they were some of the most brutal and pitiless armies of warriors that plundered and raided lands that they explored. But have we gone too far in our imagination of these Norse pirates? The answer is Yes. For centuries we’ve been misinformed about who the Vikings were actually in their real life.
Pop culture and historical records written by their victims have all painted a rather wrong picture of them, which are at odds with the actual reality. You’ll soon see how the Vikings have been misrepresented this whole time, as this article sheds light on some of the Things About Vikings Everyone Gets Wrong.
1. They Drank From Their Enemies’ Skulls
While this may sound fascinating to believe, however, in reality, Vikings didn’t use their enemies’ skulls as drinking cups. People have come to associate them with this unpopular practice due to a misunderstanding of a kenning.
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In the original poem, the line ‘drink beer at once from the curved branches of skulls’ was wrongly misunderstood as ‘the heroes hoped to drink in Odin’s hall from the skulls of those they had killed.’ Here, ‘curved branches of skulls’ refer to animal horns used as a drinking vessel. It’s one of the Things About Vikings Everyone Gets Wrong.
2. All Vikings had Blonde Hair
In many Tv series and movies based on Vikings, like Thor, they’ve been shown as having luscious blonde hair. However, they were not all blonde. In fact, there were two dominant hair colors in the Viking group.
Northern Scandinavia usually consisted of people with blonde hair, while in western regions such as Denmark, red hair was the most common. However, most of the brunette Viking men had a fascination for blonde hair and, therefore, they used to bleach their hair blonde using lye.
3. Vikings Were Muscular Giants
Due to their fearful reputation and their portrayal as tall and broad-shouldered warriors in popular culture, we imagine them as savage and robust giants, laying their enemies to rest ruthlessly.
This is nothing but an exaggeration as according to sources, Viking men were at least 8-10 cm shorter than people of the 21st century. Though they indeed had a strong and muscular physique than a normal person, they weren’t giants.
4. Vikings Didn’t Wear Armor for Protection
Throughout popular portrayals in dramas and films, the Vikings have been constantly depicted as wearing little or no armour during their battles and raids. Though this may sound very heroic and intimidating, there are factual accounts of the Vikings wearing a chain mail as armour. Typically, in combat, a Viking warrior carried a shield, sword, iron helmet, and also spear and an axe. Also, the Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets, contrary to popular belief.
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What a Viking wore and carried depended upon his social standing. An elite warrior usually carried swords, while a more ordinary Viking couldn’t afford a sword, and therefore carried axe or knives.
5. All Vikings Were Pagan Worshippers
We think Vikings as godless pagans, with a particular enmity towards the Christian church and monasteries. This view is, however, not true for all of them. Though they frequently raided Christian monasteries, it wasn’t for religious purposes.
When they went on raids to foreign lands searching for treasure, upon settling, many of them eventually came into contact with the Christian population and adopted Christianity fairly quickly.
6. Vikings Were Dirty and Stinky People
We all know how Vikings enjoyed pillaging regions and torturing their captives and enemies. Among many of their victims were Monks, who, in their writing, vented against their cruel invaders as being ‘filthy people.’ This led to a misconception that the Vikings were a bunch of unhygienic people.
At archaeological excavations, many combs, razors, ear picks, and tweezers have been found, proving that they were very concerned about their hygiene. They even used to bathe every Saturday, unlike their contemporaries.
7. Vikings Were a Single Unified Group
Vikings were not a single homogenous community of people. They were never a part of one nation or even a unified army. Rather they were a collection of small chieftain-led tribes scattered all across Scandinavia and beyond.
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They didn’t even refer to themselves as Vikings. In the ‘Viking Age,’ these tribes often fought amongst themselves when they weren’t busy raiding and exploring other regions.
8. Vikings Didn’t Always Leave The Places They Raided
Vikings raided places in search of valuable objects, slaying anyone that crossed their path. While many believe that Vikings used to leave the place after getting what they had come for, there’s evidence that many of them stayed back in the new land and eventually settled there. Vikings spread out to far-reaching lands of North America, Russia, and all across Europe and settled in harmony with the local population.
9. All Vikings Were Raiders and Plunderers
Contrary to their bloodthirsty and cruel image, Vikings didn’t plunder and pillaged regions all the time. Just because they’ve been famous for their brutish nature doesn’t mean that they were all alike.
While many Vikings were marauding invaders, a majority of them were actually farmers who raised cattle and other animals to support their families; others were equally skilled in crafts, jewelry, and leatherworks. Many of these seafaring invaders also ventured to unknown lands as traders and explorers.
There’s no shortage of wrong information and myths about the notorious Vikings. Hopefully, we’ve been able to clear some of the misconceptions that people mostly have regarding the Vikings.
Love the historical truths to dispel myths from movies!