The famous Vikings (also k/a Norseman) were people from Scandinavia who ruled Northern Europe from the 8th -11th centuries. For hundreds of centuries, they’ve been branded as brave adventurers and ruthless barbarians, plundering and raiding regions, killing and raping their inhabitants mercilessly. In popular culture, these seafaring Scandinavians have been stereotyped in their portrayal in films, music, comics, among other related fields. From Marvel’s ‘Thor’ to J.R.R Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings,’ from popular TV series ‘Vikings’ to Wagner’s epic opera ‘Ring Cycle’ and from Ubisoft’s game ‘Assassins Creed Valhalla’ to comic strip ‘Hägar the Horrible,’ Vikings have made their presence in almost every medium of pop culture, though, not accurately. Cultural cliches and stereotypes surround Vikings, submerging them deep in conflicting misconceptions and myths about vikings. However, they are not what you think of them to be!
Here, we bring you some common myths about Vikings and misconceptions surrounding them. Some of them will genuinely surprise you.
#1 – Vikings wore horned-helmets
There’s no historical evidence to prove that Vikings wore horned helmets. Their helmets were of conical shape. At the archaeological sites, no Viking helmet with horned spikes has ever been found. Also, the written historical records about Vikings don’t mention these helmets at all.
So how did this myth originate? It is believed that in the 1870s, costume designer Carl Emil Doepler had created these horned helmets designs for Richard Wagner’s Norse opera ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen.’ And so one of the biggest Viking myths was born. Owing to the huge popularity of Wagner’s opera, these helmets got associated with the Vikings, despite them being entirely mythical.
#2 – Vikings were fierce barbarians
When we think of the Vikings, we see them as bloodthirsty killers mad with rage, plundering each and everything that crosses their way. Vikings were not the only ones going on raids in that violent period of history. And as history goes, there are accounts of much more fearful armies than the Vikings. Yes, they went on raids and expeditions, but branding them as barbarians is the biggest viking misconceptions.
Many of them raided places, especially the religious monasteries, since they were not well protected and were usually packed with valuable objects and supplies. Still, there were also many Vikings who didn’t even go on raids. Most of the Vikings spent a lot of their time in other non-raid activities, particularly farming, where they raised cattle, pigs, sheep for their livelihood.
#3 – Vikings only lived in Scandinavia
Yes, Vikings originated in Scandinavia, which now comprises of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. But since they went on many overseas expeditions, they eventually spread to other parts of Europe. Hence, this is just another myth about vikings. The Vikings were not a single group; rather, they were divided into different small groups, each with its Chieftain. These groups went on their separate expeditions to different regions such as England, Greenland, Iceland, Greece, and France, and eventually settled there.
#4 – Vikings were only murderers, rapists, and plunderers
The belief that Vikings only plundered and murdered people is only a prejudiced opinion. The fact is that only a few percentages of Vikings were warriors, while the majority of them were skilled merchants, farmers, traders, and craftsmen. They were not always plundering regions and raping women, and it is, therefore, viking myths. Most of their expeditions were for trade and settlement. These Nordic invaders even settled in harmony with their other contemporaries.
#5 – Vikings were un-hygienic and filthy people
The Vikings were, however, very keen on maintaining personal hygiene. During excavations at Viking sites, archaeologists found that they were equipped with razors, combs, tweezers, blades, etc. They even used to bathe once a week, which was much more than other non-Viking armies of that time.
#6 – Vikings used primitive weapons in battles
For centuries, Vikings have been stereotyped wrongly in so many ways, and this is yet another one. This is a viking misconception as they were skilled blacksmiths and used exceptional quality weapons. One particular all-steel sword, wielded by them, is ‘Ulfberht,’ which has become one of the most famous swords ever found, with many trying to unlock the mystery of this high-tech sword in attempts to replicate it.
#7 – Vikings weren’t skilled in crafts and trade
The Vikings, however, were very talented when it came to crafts. They consisted of some of the most skilled ironsmiths, carpenters, jewelers, ship-builders. They were able to sail across vast oceans because they had the best ships of that time; thus, this refutes myths about vikings. They are considered to be the pioneers of crafts and trade. The jewelers beautifully hand-crafted ornaments, using materials like gold, animal bones, etc. Both men and women loved to adorn the Viking jewelry, intricated with images of various animals, particularly of twisting snakes, as a sign of wealth and status.
#8 – All Vikings were given the same ‘Viking Funeral.’
One of the fascinating myths floating around is regarding the ‘Viking Funeral’ procedure. Many believe that when a Viking died, their body was placed in a flaming ship and set adrift towards the sea. However, this is just a popular viking myths. Vikings followed a variety of rituals depending upon the societal status, age, and gender of the deceased soul.
#9 – Vikings were called “Vikings.’
The term ‘Viking’ only popularized in the 11th century, possibly originating from the word ‘Nik’ meaning ‘bay’ or ‘Inlet’ in the Old Norse language. According to the Old Norse manuscripts, people belonging to this area were, however, called ‘vikverir’ (vik dwellers).
Owing to their huge popularity in popular culture and among the masses, there might be many more myths regarding the Vikings. But we hope that we’ve been able to dispel some of the common misconceptions and myths about vikings for you.