Vikings, googling that gets some interesting results. One of the first things that pop up is about the football team the Minnesota Vikings. And then there are results about the History Channel drama series Vikings, and then finally scrolling down towards the bottom of the page there's information about the actual Vikings from history.
Vikings existed, according to Norse-Mythology.net, in Denmark's prehistory between 800 and 1050 AD. It is called the "Viking Age", and it is described as the "turbulent expansion of the people from Scandinavia" (those from Norway, Swede, and Denmark) into the rest of Europe and Russia. According to HistoryExtra.com, it first began with the attack on a monastery in Lindisfarne, an island in England, and ended at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
When most people think of Vikings, a few things probably pop into their head. A group of tall and strong warrior people who pillaged and plundered everywhere they went. We think of horned helmets and furs caked with mud and grit. We think of axes and swords, of ships, of Norse Gods. We name sports teams after them because of their strength and tenacity in battle, we even have fairly popular television shows about them, but are the things we've come to think about Vikings actually true?
It just might surprise whoever reads this article just how much isn't known or how much people get wrong about the Scandinavian warriors. Here are 25 facts about the way they lived, dressed and how their society was made up that most people don't know about.
25 Vikings Didn't Wear Horned Helmets
Horned helmets have been closely associated with Vikings for a while, whether it's depictions of them in cartoons, sports teams and even art we were all lead to believe that a horned helmet was a standard in Viking equipment. But, according to the History Channel website, that image we had of them was wrong.
There are no historical records to suggest that Vikings ever wore helmets with horns.
It's believed that the horns were added onto depictions of Vikings by Northern Europeans and early Christians to make Vikings out to be more barbarian and menacing.
24 Vikings Used Skis
According to Britannica.com skiing is a "recreation, sport and mode of transportation that involves moving over snow by the use of a pair of long, flat runners called skis". With the snowy winter climates in Scandinavia, Vikings used skiing as a mode of transportation, hunting and for entertainment. As crazy as it might seem, according to Historyonthenet.com, Vikings enjoyed skiing recreationally. Viking royalty would hold competitions between themselves giving out prizes to the best skiers. They even had a god of skiing named Ullr, who was thought of as the god of hunting, the bow and shield, and Thor's stepson.
23 Vikings Would Bleach Their Hair
Throughout history, beauty standards often considered women with blond hair to be the "fairest of them all". A lot of women who are considered to be icons of beauty, like Marilyn Monroe for example, were blonde. And apparently for the Vikings blondes were all the rage, but most specifically for men. According to the website, History101.com Viking men (and sometimes women) would use soap that had high quantities of lye in it to lighten their hair by stripping the pigment from their hair. Not only did it lighten their hair, but as a bonus, it apparently helped manage head lice too.
22 Vikings Named Their Swords
What might sound a little odd to us today but wasn't, according to HistoryontheNet.com, to Vikings was giving names to their swords, axes and other weapons.
According to Norse-Mythlogy.org, especially fine and unique swords would earn prestigious names like Brynjubítr and Gullin Hjalti, which is Old Norse for "Mail-Biter" and "Golden-Hilt".
The reasoning behind naming the swords is thought to be because of the prestigious weight weapons had in Viking society. According to eNotes.com, Viking culture required all men to be armed, to protect themselves, their land, and their families.
21 Vikings Landed On The Shores Of North America Before Columbus Did
Most of us know that the lands that make up North America were long populated by the various Native American tribes before Columbus "discovered" the land. According to history.com, way before Columbus was born, "European sailors" left their lands to search for new ones. These sailors were Vikings and it's believed that they were the first Europeans to ever set foot on North American soil. The Viking Leif Eriksson is thought to have led an expedition across the Atlantic to present day Canada. It's believed that the Vikings spent an entire winter in Newfoundland, bringing back timber and grapes to Greenland.
20 They Wore Makeup
The History Channel has a television drama series called Vikings that started in 2013, and while entertaining the historical accuracies of the series should be taken with a grain of salt. Still, fans of the show have wondered just what is accurate, and according to Bustle.com, one of those things is the makeup.
The eyeliner featured in the series is accurate to what Vikings would have worn.
Though their eyeliner was made with things that wouldn't be used today like lead and oxidized copper, both men and women wore it. They used it to protect their eyes from the sun.
19 The Louvre Was Originally Built To Protect Paris From the Vikings
Today, the Louvre is the largest art museum in the world and is a historic monument of France. The Louvre website describes it as a place that lets "visitors discover Western art from the Middle Ages to 1848." It was once a palace used by French aristocrats and those in power like Napoleon I. According to joyofmuseums.com, the Louvre gained a lot of publicity with the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa. But the reason the famous Louvre was built in the first place was for protection. It was a medieval fortress in 1190 to protect France from Viking raiders.
18 Vikings Didn't Call Themselves "Vikings"
If anyone were to travel back in time to the age of the Vikings they would find that no one within the group of warriors would call themselves a "Viking".
The word "Viking" is actually a verb in Old Norse that means "pirate raid", according to History101.com.
At some point, the verb came to be used as a title for the Scandinavian warriors. The "Vikings" we have come to known would've called themselves other titles like Norseman, Norse or Danes. When the Danes settled along the coast of Ireland they adopted the name "Ostmen" which means "men from the east".
17 Not As Tall As We Thought
When most people think of Vikings they think that they were mostly tall and broad shoulders, probably rippling with muscles. But, according to History101.com that image we have of them isn't accurate at all. The majority of the Vikings and other people from the Norse countries didn't even crack 6", they were between 5'7" to 5'9" for men and about 5'2" for women. And while it was probably true that some of their warriors would have to be strong, the majority of them were farmers, with a more lean frame than anything else.
16 Berserkers Were The Fiercest Of Their Fighters
Vikings were considered some of the toughest warriors in history, with them leaving their mark all across Europe. And some of the strongest fighters within the Vikings ranks were known as Berserkers. According to Historyhit.com, berserkers were champion warriors that entered into a "trance-like fury" to fight against foes. This state is considered to be, at least partly due to, certain concoctions ingested before a battle that would get them worked up. History101.com says they wore bearskins and were blessed by the Norse god Odin. This special class of warrior is also where we got the English word "berserk" from.
15 Viking Women Enjoyed Some Rights
Until 1848 when, according to History.House.gov, the Women's Right Movement began in the United States and most women didn't enjoy some of the most basic rights that men had.
However, according to Historyonthenet.com, Viking women had more basic rights, in comparison to their European counterparts.
Women in the Viking Age could request a divorce from their husbands, get back some of their dowries if their marriage wasn't going well and could even own land. And, according to History101.com, some Viking women were farmers, traders, and warriors!
14 Never Part Of A Unified Group
When we think of Vikings we think of them as one group of people, like the Greeks or Romans. But that wasn't the case as according to History.com, the Vikings were never apart of a unified group. One group of Vikings wouldn't have recognized another group of Vikings. Though the Vikings came from the areas that today make up Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, Vikings themselves were made up of patchworks of tribes, led by chiefs. These tribes even fought against one another for territory and other things. Vikings wreaked havoc on foreign shores and in their own homelands as well.
13 Buried Those Who Passed On In Boats
Many ancient societies had creative ways of sending people off to "the great beyond". The ancient Egyptians mummified and entombed those who had passed, others were "returned to Nature", according to Matadornetwork.com. The Vikings had their own rituals as well. Most believe that everyone who passed on was sent to the afterlife by fire, but that wasn't always the case. According to History.com, most Vikings were sent to their final resting place while being buried in ships. The ships were filled with their belongings and food. Distinguished and high-class Vikings were given the honor of being sent off by fire.
12 They Gave Kittens To New Brides
When a couple gets married, usually family members and guests give the couple gifts to help them start their new lives together. Gifts like money or appliances are common and giving someone a pet as a wedding gift is something no one would do nowadays, but according to Norhalla.com, it was a common practice among the Vikings.
New Viking brides were given kittens as one of their wedding gifts.
Cats were considered to be an essential part of setting up a new household, and the cute and fuzzy creatures were closely associated with Freyja, the goddess of love and marriage.
11 Many English Words Originated From Old Norse
Most people probably don't realize that the English language has roots in many other languages. The English language has quite a few "borrowed" words too, like tsunami, tattoo and even lemon. It even has a few words from the old Viking language. According to TheLocal.se, quite a few everyday words we use are Old Norse. "Ugly" comes from the "ugga" which means to fear, cake from "kaka", "husband" comes from an old Norse word which means "householder", and even the word "knife" comes from them!
10 Vikings Painted Their Shields To Hide The Weak Points In The Wood
According to Spagenhelm.com the shield was an important part of Viking life and is one of the most well-developed shields of the time period. They made their shields out of flexible woods like linden and basswood and instead of it being made from a single sheet of wood, it was made from several planks. And the reasons their shields were painted weren't for decorations or to symbolize which "group" they belonged to. They were painted for a much more practical reason, to hide the grains in the wood so that their opponents wouldn't know the weak points of their shields.
9 Used A Very Unique Firestarter
According to PrimalSurvior.net, the Vikings would use a type of fungus called Touchwood. It grows in Europe North America and Asia and is known to make great tinder for starting fires but the Vikings added an extra step to make it even better. They would cut the fungus into slices, beat it into strips and then soak it in... urine. It has sodium nitrate in it so when the strips of the fungus were ignited they would smolder instead of burn, allowing the Vikings to carry the fire with them for long distances and an extended period of time.
8 Soup Played An Interesting Role In Medicine
Sometimes a nice bowl of soup can really help get over being sick, but the Vikings took this concept to a new level.
According to History101.com Vikings used soup to check the severity of wounds.
A fragrant soup would be made from onions, leeks, and various herbs. The injured person would then drink it and their wounds would be inspected by another, with them taking a whiff at them to see if they could smell the soup. If they could it meant bad news for the wounded, as their wounds would be considered too serious to live through.
7 Bluetooth Symbol Has Viking Origins
We have the Vikings to thank for the Bluetooth symbol. The symbol and the name, according to Bluetooth.com comes from the real-life Viking King, Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson. He is most notably known for uniting Denmark and Norway in 958, and his dead tooth, which earned him his nickname because of its color. The name was initially going to be a placeholder for the companies, Nokia, Intel and Ericsson as they began to develop the technology that allows us to connect different devices and technology wirelessly. The Bluetooth logo is the combination of Harald's initials in Norse runes.
6 Average Viking Lived To Be About 40
For the most part, people live longer in today's society than they did in ancient ones. The life expectancy was lower due to, according to Viking.no, a number of reasons including turbulent times, childbirth, the limitations of medicine and malnutrition.
For Vikings, the average life expectancy was around 40 years old, at least in one Viking community.
It had about half of the population of men make it to age 30 and about 65% of the woman doing the same. A person who made it to their 40s was considered middle age and 50s was old!
5 Viking Society Was Made Of Three Classes
Depending on the class a person often shaped a lot of how their life went. It determined the quality of life, determined what kind of careers were available to them, and even who they could marry. Viking society had three distinct social classes. According to HistoryontheNet.com, the three classes were the nobles called Jarls, the middle-class was known as Karls and those in servitude were called Thralls. Unlike certain other societies social classes, it was possible to move throughout all three classes. Certain thralls could leave servitude and become Karls, and Jarls could lose their wealth and become Karls.
4 The Vikings Would Abandon Sick Or Weak Children
It was a lot tougher being a kid in ancient times than it is being one now. As soon as they were able to help out, they were given a lot of the same responsibilities as adults, whether it was taking care of the home, providing for the family or even being married off! Life wasn't easy for kids. It was even harder for kids who didn't meet the standards for what the Vikings considered to be "strong" or "healthy". According to TheVintageNews.com, children who were considered sickly or weak were abandoned by the Vikings.
3 The Days Of The Week Are Named By Vikings
We've already talked about how some of the words still used in the English language today came from the old Norse language spoken by Vikings. Most of the names for the days of the week come from them too! The Vikings worshipped their own gods and they named the days of the week after several important ones. According to History.co.uk, we get Wednesday from Odin, who was also known as Woden. Tuesday is named after Tyr the god of war, and Friday is named after Frigga the goddess of love. And Thursday is named after the god of thunder, Thor.
2 They Were Pretty Hygienic
The popular image of Vikings has them pegged as big burly men caked in dirt and grime, the opposite is actually true. According to several websites like History.com and History101.com, Vikings were a very hygienic bunch, compared to other Europeans of the time period. There have been several artifacts found from Viking sites that show just how seriously they took basic hygiene. Combs, razors, tweezers and even ear cleaners made from animal bones and antlers were found. Studies even show that Vikings bathed at least once a week and enjoyed dips in hot springs.
1 Spent Most Of Their Time Farming
When most people think of Vikings they think of Nordic warriors who sailed the seas and invaded other lands, fighting and pillaging. And while that is true to an extent, life for Vikings was more than just war and conquest. According to History101.com, most of the Norse population lived simple farming lives. They grew crops like wheat, oats, barley, and grain for flour. They grew onions, beans, and cabbage and even raised livestock like chickens, goats, geese, sheep, and cattle. Even one of the most known Norse Viking heroes of that time period, Ragnar Lothbrok, started off as a farmer.
References: HistoryExtra.com, Norse-Mythology.org, eNotes.com, History.com, Louvre.fr, JoyofMuseum.com, PrimalSurvivalist.com, Bustle.com, HistoryontheNet.com, MatadorNetwork.com, TheLocal.se, Spangenhelm.com, History.com, Norhalla.com, History101.com, HistoryHit.com, TheVintageNews.com, Bluetooth.com, MentalFloss.com, Viking.no