Fun facts about Vikings

I’m sure we all know about the seafaring Scandinavians. However, we think we know everything about them, typically their stereotype kind of lore. What if I tell you that there’s lots of facts you might not know about them? It’s time we found out the truth, right?

  1. No horned helmets

Forget almost every Viking costume you’ve ever seen. Sure, the pugnacious Normans probably wore headgear, but that whole horn-adorned helmet look? Pictures from the Viking age don’t show it, and the only authentic Viking helmet ever discovered is definitely horn-free. Painters seem to have invented the trend in the 19th century, perhaps inspired by descriptions of Northern Europeans by ancient Greek and Roman chroniclers. Long before the time of the Vikings, Norse and Germanic priests did indeed wear horned helmets for ceremonial purposes.

2. Excellent hygiene

Between rowing boats and decapitated enemies, Viking men must have stunk to high Valhalla, right? Quite the opposite. Excavations of Viking sites have tweezers, razors, combs and ear cleaners made from animal bones and antlers. Vikings also bathed at least once a week – much more often than other Europeans of their time – and enjoyed a dip in natural hot springs.

3. Start fires

Clean freaks as they were, the Vikings had no qualms about harnessing the power of one human waste product. They collected a fungus called touchwood from tree bark and boiled it in urine for several days before beating it into something that looked like felt. The sodium nitrate found in the urine would allow the material to smolder rather than burn, allowing Vikings to take the fire with them along the way.

4. Burying the dead

There’s no denying that Vikings loved their boats – so much so that it was a great honour to be buried in a boat. In Norse religion, brave warriors entered festive and glorious realms after death, and it was thought that the vessels that served them well in life would help them reach their final destinations. Distinguished robbers and prominent women were often laid to rest in ships, surrounded by weapons, precious goods and sometimes even sacrificed slaves.

5. Slave trade

Many Vikings have become rich from human trafficking. They would capture and enslave women and young men while plundering Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Slavic settlements. These ‘slaves,’ as they were called, were then sold in gigantic slave markets in Europe and the Middle East.

Traditional wooden Viking boat in aged village

6. Women and rights

Viking girls were hitchhiked from the age of 12 and had to keep an eye on the household while their husbands went on an adventure. Still, they had more freedom than other women of their day. As long as they weren’t slaves, Viking women could inherit property, file for divorce, and reclaim their dowry if their marriage ended.

7. Men and farming

This may come as a disappointment, but most Viking men brandished scythes, not swords. True, some were heartless pirates who only stepped off their boats to set villages on fire, but the vast majority peacefully sowed barley, rye, and oats – at least part of the year. They also raised cattle, goats, pigs and sheep on their small farms, which usually provided just enough food to support a family.

8. Skied for fun

Scandinavians developed primitive skis at least 6,000 years ago, although the ancient Russians may have invented them even earlier. In the Viking age, Normans saw skiing as an efficient way to explore the city and a popular form of recreation. They even worshiped a god of skiing, Ullr.

9. Men preferred being blond

To live up to their culture’s beauty ideals, brunette Vikings – mostly men – used a strong soap with a high lye content to bleach their hair. In some regions, beards were also made lighter. It’s likely that these treatments also helped Vikings with a problem much more prickly and unbridled than mouse manes: head lice.

10. No unified groups

Vikings didn’t recognise other Vikings. In fact, they probably didn’t even call themselves Vikings: the term simply referred to all of the Scandinavians who took part in overseas expeditions. During the Viking era, the country that now makes up Denmark, Norway and Sweden was a patchwork of tribal tribes who often fought against each other – when they weren’t busy wreaking havoc on foreign shores.

Aged wooden Viking shield decorated with ornament placed on lumber shelf in traditional museum in Norstead village

Love, Deem/Skye Lewis ❀

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