Facts and Myths about the Vikings
When we talk about the Vikings, more often than not we may have our imaginations etched with the pre-conceived caricature of the strong, often huge, hard-nosed, barbarian warriors (or shall we say pirates) who got together to form massive armies with the sole purpose of raiding and plundering the other nations for wealth, women and slaves.
Thanks to the inaccurate depiction of historical events and figures in writings, artworks, TV and movies, we often formulate stereotypical images about things. The Vikings have been no exception to this!
For the uninitiated, the Vikings were the Scandinavian seafarers who sailed to the coastal cities of much of the European continent – even till the far-east Russia. Having lived in the harsh environment of Scandinavia that lacked resources too, they sailed in their longships to newer places to obtain various resources and then sailed back to their land.
In this post, we plan on uncovering the various facts and myths surrounding the Vikings, thereby helping you know them closely than ever before.
- The Vikings were warriors for the most part. However, that is definitely not all that they were. It is true that the Vikings travelled long distances to loot and plunder the other cities; however, they often set sails to establish economic relations with other cities.
They traded with other nations quite often. A recent finding indicates that they had traded as far as Baghdad for tusks, fur etc. So the notion that they were only the warriors with the sole intent of raiding and plundering is mistaken. They often set sails to enroll as mercenaries too. Waging wars was also not a full time activity for most Normans. After their expedition to the other nations, they would go back to their homes and focus on the farming activity.
- As filthy as they may appear in their many depictions you may have come across, it has been found recently that the Vikings were extremely inclined to hygiene and cleanliness. In an excavation that belongs to the Vikings age, many tools such as combs, clippers and tweezers made of bones were found. This shows despite their general sense of hygiene they have been incorrectly depicted as the savages that had no close connection with the word hygiene.
- It is a popular belief that the Viking warriors always wore horned helmets. Let us break it to you, as palpable as it may sound, this is totally incorrect. The Norsemen wore conical head gear largely made up of leather and toughened with wood or metal. They often went bareheaded and sometimes covered their faces. Horned headgear is difficult to fight in and many a time, they fought bareheaded.
The idea of the northmen wearing horned helmets must have stemmed when the Greeks and Romans wrote about the Norsemen. It is believed that in northern European culture many priests wore horned helmets on certain religious occasions but that was much before the times of the Vikings. So next time when you will see that episode on your TV, don’t forget to picture them in the conical leather helmets; it’s fun!
- Although the word Viking has been touted to have stood for “a pirate raid” per the old Norse Viking but based on the word Vikingr from the Old Norse language, it actually stands for “one who came from the fjords” i.e. creek or small bay. There is a lot of clash of opinion on this subject. Many say the term Vikingr to which the term Viking has been thought to have related meant “the king of the bay”.
- It is believed that long before Columbus had discovered the Americas; roughly some 500 years before he was even born i.e. around 1000 AD, the Vikings had set foot on the shores of what we now know as Canada, possibly Baffin Island.
- As a part of the Viking culture, when an important Vikings warrior would die, he would be buried in the boat with weapons, clothes, jewelry and even animals and slaves. This shows the kind of affection and respect that they had for their longships and boats. This also shows that the Vikings had values and they were not total savages.
- There is a big myth surrounding the Vikings that they came together to form massive armies unified by their cause. However, Vikings often remained far from each other. Partly the reason being the scarcity of resources kept them staying in small clusters with good distance from one another in their homeland.
Also not every Norseman was in the expedition business for waging wars, many had different goals such as fostering economic ties with neighboring countries.
- Unlike described in modern depictions of the northern Europeans, the Vikings were not always very strong with huge built. The scarcity of resources and even food led to the Vikings often being shorter and not all that muscular as often believed. It is not denying the fact that the activities of sailing and conquering new worlds were not a mean feat in any way and definitely required bravery and grit.
- Vikings often waxed and dyed their hair to woo women. They were not always naturally blonde. The yellow hues in their hair served two purposes, first to woo the strong headed women who they seemed to like and second to keep their head free of lice. No kidding!
- It is also believed that the violent Viking savages used the skulls of their enemies as drinking cups. We don’t blame you as so many myths are out there about the Vikings. But this one is not true at all or let’s just say there exists no evidence proving this act.
Evidently, over years Vikings have come to be known vastly different than they actually were. However, they did touch the history of the world to a great extent. The Viking history had a great impact on the history of the west as a whole. Their popularly notorious past did have some silver lining to it. Hope after reading this post, you would view them in a whole new light.