During the Early Middle Ages, Europe was beginning to assert itself into several kingdoms following the collapse of the Roman Empire (particularly the western half) with a strong emphasis on religion as Christianity was the dominant belief system during this time. This period was also known as the Viking Age, named after the groups of people from northern countries such as Scandinavia and Iceland who would raid the coastlines in their ships and take several valuables with them. But the Vikings weren’t entirely bad as they were also renowned traders and explorers whose women were said to fight alongside the men.

Myths such as these and more became the basis for many stories books movies and even TV shows such as History Channel’s Vikings. But over the years, many historians have pointed out that while certain aspects people tend to associate with Viking culture are true, others, sadly, aren’t. This even applies to Vikings which has been criticized for not being entirely accurate in its depiction of historical events, let alone the people that it’s trying to represent. Hopefully, this article will shed some light on some of these misconceptions as we highlight the elements about Vikings that most people tend to get wrong and the ones people get right.

24 Wrong: Vikings Didn’t Use Their Enemies’ Skulls as Drinking Cups

As part of their negative reputation among those who were raided by them, Vikings were believed to take the skulls of those they had slain and use them as cups for drinking purposes.

However, this is not true because according to the World-Tree Project (an archive of information regarding Viking history) this was a misconception perpetuated the translation of a Norse poem called the Krákumál.

In it, there is a specific passage that states, “Drink beer at once from the curved branches of skulls” which is actually a kenning (metaphorical expression) about horns which Vikings did supposedly drink from.

23 Wrong: Vikings Didn’t Pillage All the Time

When one typically thinks of a Viking, they usually think of guys who sail around and pillage the coastlines to bring back various goods to their families. But the reality is that not every single Viking did this.

In fact, a majority of them were farmers.

Based on Jennie Cohen’s article about Vikings on the History Channel’s own website history.com, they would spend part of the year growing grains and raising farm animals which would typically be enough to support the families so they didn’t starve during the cold winter months that are a lot more severe further north.

22 Right: Viking Women Had More Rights Than Their Contemporaries in Other Cultures

While there is debate about whether Viking women fought alongside the men or not, it is certain that they had significantly more rights than other women from different cultures during the Middle Ages. Sure, the women were married at a considerably young age with 12 being the youngest and they had to take care of the household while their husbands went off on seafaring expeditions whether it involved trading or raiding.

But they could inherit property, request a divorce if they wanted to, and reclaim dowries from their marriages.

Such was not the case, though, for female thralls (aka slaves).

21 Wrong: Vikings Didn’t Just Raid Europe

Because most accounts of Viking raids came from places like Britain and France, it was assumed that the Vikings mainly raided European coastlines. While this is true, according to documented evidence from monasteries, where the monks learned how to read and write which was a privileged skill among the clergy and the nobles, they weren’t just present in Europe.

In a Live Science article titled “Viking History: Facts & Myths,” there are records of Vikings being seen as far as the city of Baghdad in present-day Iraq.

But there they didn’t raid so much as trade goods, which made them less notorious and notable to historians.

20 Wrong: Vikings Didn’t Always Leave The Places They Raided After Taking What They Wanted

While it was assumed that the Vikings always took what they wanted from the places they raided and left just as quickly as they came, it turns out that’s not entirely true. Sure, there are coins from different parts of the world buried in the Vikings’ homelands according to a MikeHistory article titled “What People Get Wrong (And Right) About The Vikings” implying they did return home after raiding someplace.

But in some cases, they actually stayed in the places they attacked, such as Ireland where the Vikings established a stronghold that would eventually become the modern city of Dublin.

19 Right: Viking Berserkers Were Real

Apart from Shieldmaidens, another mythical depiction related to Vikings were the Berserkers. Fueled by pure rage, these bear-skin wearing warriors were said to charge into battle headfirst with their axes cutting down all who stood in their way.

Despite the lack of archeological evidence to suggest they were real, a few clues have arisen such as a chess piece in Scotland depicting a warrior with large eyes chewing his shield.

So most archeologists speculate they were either an elite warrior class or a cult according to Andrew Nicholson, who is a Scottish archeologist that does Viking reenactments as well.

18 Wrong: Vikings Weren’t Smelly At All

Because monks were capable of writing, as opposed to everyday peasants, many of their scrolls, written in Latin, depicted the Vikings in a negative light, due to constantly being raided by them.

Among the various things they said, the monks claimed the Vikings to be a “race [of filth]” according to Michael Kane of The New York Post.

While this statement may be a figure of speech, it partially led to the misconception that Vikings weren’t particularly hygienic. But the truth is they were actually very concerned about their personal hygiene, as archeological excavations have uncovered various cleaning tools.

17 Wrong: Not All Vikings Were Pagan

Being from tribal societies, it is commonly believed that Vikings were Pagans. Their belief in the Norse Gods such as Thor and Loki have appeared in ancient poems from places like Scandinavia, yet various Christian documents described the Vikings as “Godless”.

In actuality, though, Vikings embraced Christianity after a time and simply worshipped the Christian God alongside their many other Gods.

So if that’s the case, then why did they plunder Christian monasteries? The answer that most scholars give is that it wasn’t for religious reasons, but because monasteries were the least defended places making them easy to plunder.

16 Right: Vikings enjoyed some occasional Skiing

Though they may have been originally invented by prehistoric humans living on the Asian continent when the Ice Age was coming to an end, it was the people of Scandinavia who started using skis as part of their everyday lifestyle. They not only served as a means of effective transportation across icy terrain, but also for recreational purposes.

In fact, there is a god in Norse mythology called Ullr who was renowned for his archery but also his prowess in skiing.

Because of this, he was worshipped by the Norse people, and still is today among skiers in Europe.

15 Wrong: Vikings Weren’t One Ethnic Group

Though the term “Viking” is Scandinavian in origin, it was never meant to describe the ethnicity of an entire group. Originating from the word vikingr which means “Pirate,” the term was often used to refer to an overseas expedition which the Scandinavians would go on to either trade or enlist as foreign mercenaries.

Also, none of the Vikings referred to themselves as “Vikings” as the people that were given this label actually consisted of several chieftain-led tribes from several different countries such as Denmark Sweden and Norway. On top of that, none of these tribes got along very well.

14 Wrong: Viking Chieftains had Absolute Power

Within each Viking tribe, there was an appointed chieftain or “Jarl” who would serve as the tribe’s authority figure. Yet one of the misconceptions that the TV show Vikings perpetuates according to Ancient Facts is that the Jarl is so full of himself that he thinks he’s better than his fellow men and has a great deal of power to boot.

Contrary to this depiction, there are oral laws that would prevent the Jarl from behaving in this manner.

At tribal meetings called the Thing, for instance, a jarl would be present and a law speaker who recited the laws.

13 Wrong: Viking Women Didn’t Always Fight Alongside The Men

From Shieldmaidens to Valkyries, Norse literature is full of fierce warrior women whose roles were just as significant as their male counterparts. This then perpetuated the notion that Viking women fought alongside the men, and there has been recent evidence to support that.

For instance, a research expedition in Sweden uncovered a large grave site belonging to a warrior whose skeleton was confirmed to be female based on the presence of XX chromosomes instead of XY ones. Yet sites like these are heavily debated because the presence of weapons in a grave doesn’t necessarily mean the occupant was a warrior.

12 Wrong: Vikings often charged into battle with no strategy

When it comes to the raids, it is assumed that Vikings just charged into battle with their weapons swinging in the hopes of scaring the enemy enough to mow them down.

But it turns out that Vikings did incorporate some strategies when it came to combat.

For example, there is the shield wall, which is similar to the Roman phalanx formation in that several men stand close together with their shields raised on top of one another. Then there is the boar’s snout, which is a wedge-like formation meant to break enemy lines.

11 Wrong: swords were their primary weapon

As far as weapons were concerned, it’s assumed that Vikings not only used battle-axes and spears but mainly swords and shields. But what most people tend to get wrong is the strategy behind their use. In the show Vikings, for instance, the warriors are shown primarily using their swords.

But in reality, they used their shields more often than their swords in combat.

Instead, the sword would serve as a secondary weapon to deal heavy damage if necessary as contact between blades on the battlefield wasn’t as common as Viking-related movies and TV shows make it seem.

10 Wrong: Vikings hardly wore Any Armor

Another thing about Viking combat that tends to be misunderstood is the amount of armor Vikings wore. Typically, artwork and pop-culture have depicted Vikings as having little to no armor, leaving them primarily bare-chested and in some cases helmet-less.

While this depiction certainly makes Vikings look more awesome and intimidating given their reputation, it’s not very practical from a logical standpoint due to how vulnerable a person would be. Even the Vikings knew this, so they opted to wear chainmail shirts into battle (or leather ones if they couldn’t afford them) and they always wore helmets.

9 Wrong: Vikings Weren’t Tall and Muscular

Because they were feared by many, the Vikings were often depicted as being very tall and broad-shouldered in various works of art as a way to reflect their intimidating nature. Yet this wasn’t the case in reality because one has to take into consideration the region where the Vikings lived.

In the northern countries, the winter seasons are typically longer than the summer ones. As a result, people living in places like Scandinavia had fewer resources to live on or even eat thus causing them to actually be shorter in terms of height than how most Vikings are depicted.

8 Wrong: Not All Vikings Were Blond (spoiler: they bleached their hair)

As mythical figures such as Thor have been depicted with luxurious blond hair, it is commonly assumed that most Vikings were blond-haired. While this certainly isn’t the case, as there were quite a few brunette-haired Vikings as well, the culture’s beauty standards actually had a stronger preference for blond hair over brunette hair.

So because of this, men with brunette hair would often use strong soap that had a high concentration of lye (a powdery substance made from bleaching ash that was a main ingredient in soaps back then) to bleach their hair and their beards as well.

7 Right: Vikings Did Raid Monasteries

One of the earliest (and most notorious) Viking raids was on the island of Lindisfarne, which was on the northern coastline of England, in 783 AD. Here, there was an abbey of monks who were renowned for being learned and having an extensive library.

But when the Vikings raided the place, the library was destroyed and many monks were slain.

After that, similar raids occurred at other monasteries along the English and Irish coastlines because as stated before these places were usually unprotected making them easy targets though the reason behind these attacks is debated from simple greed to survival.

6 Right: Vikings Had Thralls

In Viking culture, there were different kinds of slaves though they were collectively known as “Thralls”. Some were merely lower-class residents in any given tribe, while others were obtained during raids from places occupied by the Anglo-Saxons Celts and even Slavs further east.

There were even Vikings who participated in the slave trade network that was present in regions like Europe and the Middle East. But with that said, the idea of a Viking owning a Chinese slave, as seen in Vikings, is pretty unlikely as there’s not enough evidence to suggest that trade between these groups happened.

5 Right: Vikings Did Hunt Whales

While whales are a protected species (for the most part), such was not the case in the Middle Ages. In fact, many cultures around the world including Vikings depended on whales as a large source of food especially in the northern regions. The most popular kind of whale Vikings hunted was the Minke, which is part of the Baleen Whale group alongside Humpbacks and is common in the northern seas.

They also liked to hunt Atlantic codfish, whose dried up jerky provided the best source of nutrients for Vikings on their long voyages and they also became Norway’s main export.