Norway is home to gorgeous natural landscapes, charming towns, and unique examples of stunning architecture. Around 1000 years ago, it was also home to the Vikings. A seafaring people who have inspired endless stories, myths, and legends over the years, the Vikings were known for raiding, pillaging, and founding their own settlements in foreign lands.
Most people have a clear idea of a stereotypical Viking in their heads, but the real Vikings were often very different from how we picture them. Keep reading to find out 10 fascinating facts about the Vikings that you’ll learn in Norway and elsewhere in Scandinavia.
10 They Probably Weren’t As Tall As They’re Depicted
Vikings are often depicted as imposing war-hungry men who raid and pillage for fun and inspire fear in the hearts of everyone around them. While they may have done their fair share of raiding and pillaging, they probably didn’t look as imposing as we believe.
Sure, the sound of a pack of Vikings coming to terrorize your village would have been scary. But according to Live Science, they were by no means giants. Many Scandinavian people were actually small in stature due to the fact that they hardly ate more than two small meals a day.
9 Despite Their Reputation As Barbarians, Vikings Were Pretty Clean
The Vikings certainly participated in activities that would have left them smelling worse than a basket of roses. But to counteract all the fighting and rowing of longboats, they actually had great hygiene.
History.com explains that archeologists have found a number of personal care items during excavations of Viking sites. Unlike other Europeans in their time, the Vikings used animal bones to make razors, combs, tweezers, and even ear cleaners. They also bathed once a week, which is pretty impressive for the time period, and made use of the natural hot springs surrounding them.
8 They Arrived In North America Before Columbus
Christopher Columbus is often credited with being the first European to discover America, but strictly speaking, that’s not true. A man named Leif Erikson who was a Viking explorer landed in the New World 500 years before Columbus, making him the first European to do so.
Discovering new places was in Erikson’s blood. His father, Erik the Red, founded the very first Viking settlement in Greenland. He was forced to leave Iceland after he was banished as punishment for murder and made the best of his situation by establishing his own settlement.
7 They Probably Didn’t Wear Horned Helmets
Everybody knows that the Vikings wore horned helmets, right? Actually, that common stereotype is probably false. Evidence shows that any headgear worn by the Vikings was free of horns.
So where do the horns come from? Painters often depicted Vikings with horns during the 19thcentury, and this may have come from Ancient Greek and Roman descriptions of Northern Europeans. Priests from Germanic and Norse tribes did, in fact, wear horned ceremonial headgear, but this took place long before the Viking Age.
6 Many Vikings Were Actually Farmers
We don’t tend to think of Vikings as farmers. But the majority of Viking men were farmers first and sailors second, if at all. While there were certainly those seafaring Vikings who fit the stereotype of living out of their boats, it seems that most of them lived in peace off the land.
Many Vikings farmed only enough food to feed their families. It was common for them to raise cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats, and to sow barley, rye, and oats. So the average Viking might be more accurately depicted brandishing a pitchfork rather than an ax.
5 They Were Slavers
It wasn’t until centuries after the Viking Age that the world started to realize that slavery isn’t okay. Before most of humanity came to its senses, slavery was very much a part of the economy in many countries throughout the world. The Vikings were slavers, just like many other races from their time.
The Vikings would capture slaves during their raids. History Hit explains that these people were called thralls and either taken back to Scandinavia or to Viking settlements elsewhere. Sometimes, they were even traded for silver.
4 The English Word “Berserk” Comes From The Vikings
The legacy of the Vikings is still flourishing today, through myths, legends, entertainment in popular culture, and even language. One of the words we commonly use in English that actually originates from the Vikings is berserk.
To go berserk is to go mad or crazy. This is fitting, considering that berserkers were champion Viking warriors who were said to go a little nuts with fury when they fought. Experts believe that this may have been induced by drugs or alcohol, and certainly made their opponents fear for their lives.
3 Viking Women Had Some Rights That Other Women Didn’t Have
The life of Viking women was typically very different from the life of Viking men. While the men were permitted to sail off and find adventure, the women were tasked with staying home and looking after the household. They were also married as young as 12. Still, they did enjoy some freedoms that women from other cultures of the time didn’t experience.
Permitting that they weren’t slaves, Viking women were allowed to inherit property and request a divorce if they weren’t happy in their marriages. They could also reclaim their dowries at the end of their marriages.
2 They Believed In Their Own Gods
The Vikings believed in their own gods, some of which inspired elements of Western culture today. The days of the week, for example, are all named after Norse gods except for Saturday, which comes from the Roman God Saturn.
Sunday was named after Sol, the goddess of the sun. Monday was named after Mani, the goddess of the moon. Tuesday is Tyr’s Day, the god of war, Wednesday is Woden or Odin’s Day, the raven god, Thursday is Thor’s Day, the god of strength and storms, and Friday is Frigg, the goddess of marriage.
1 Dead Vikings Were Placed In Boats
Ever wondered what the Vikings did with their dead? If a Viking was held in high regard, say if they were a warrior, then they were interred in their boats. They’d often be surrounded by their weapons, valuable goods that might serve them after death, and sometimes sacrificed slaves.
The Vikings really did love their boats and believed that since they were so useful in life, they would also be useful in the next life. Both men and women could be interred in boats after death, and have since been discovered by archeologists.