In a few years they have flooded our screens as the Viking phenomenon has become fashionable again. However, some films, video games, comics or other novels tell of some errors or maintain certain clichés about this historical people. We are going to deconstruct together some received ideas on the subject, so that we no longer believe all the bullshit we see on TV.
1. The Vikings weren’t even called “Vikings”
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One might be tempted to believe that the name given to them was at least chosen by them, but no. On the one hand they did not refer to themselves using the word vikings but in addition they were not even unified as a people.
2. Not all Scandinavians were Vikings
If we take the word “Viking” etymologically, it generally means exploring on the sea or the oceans. Suddenly difficult to think that all the inhabitants of Scandinavia at that time were Vikings in the first sense of the term, a huge part of them rather remained on their land to do a whole bunch of other jobs such as shepherd, farmer, craftsman or public transport controller.
3. They weren’t incredibly tough warriors…
During the raids organized by these explorers several fights logically took place but it should not be believed that most of the Vikings who participated in them were super trained beasts of war. According to the raids, some “normal” inhabitants took part in the adventure: hunters, fishermen or farmers who had to provide their own equipment (armor and weapon).
4. …Except a certain category of them
So yes of course there was also a category of elite combat trained soldiers called berserkers. Etymologically the name means in Old Norse “warrior-wild”, in relation to the fact that these fighters could wear a bear skin as armor. Another interpretation could mean “bare-chested warrior” which would imply that they fought without protection, but historians lean towards the former. They were servants of Odin (and his priests) and could be the close guard of kings.
5. They weren’t bloodthirsty barbarians
We often tend to represent the Nordics of this time as an extremely violent and belligerent people, which in certain situations could be the case. But overall the sources prove that this was not the norm, they were mainly focused on trade. On the other hand, most of the written traces of this period come from Catholic monks who considered them backward and dangerous pagans, not hesitating to exaggerate the line to present them as barbarians to others. It must be said that at the time the Catholic Church had a curious ability to shed blood while pointing the finger at others.
6. They didn’t just fight with axes and don’t wear horned helmets
So for the ax it’s not necessarily wrong, that said the weapon of choice seemed rather to be the spear and we found a lot of swords, bows and daggers in archaeological research, so the ax was not no longer the must-have for fighters.
On the other hand for the horned helmet it’s just huge bullshit for the simple reason that it would be completely stupid and not very useful to wear in combat. The origin of this received idea comes from a theatrical performance of an opera by Wagner in 1876, hundreds of years after the end of the Vikings.
7. There was indeed a varied culture among the Vikings
Yes, because an ugly received idea would like that the Vikings were big idiots uneducated. If by that we mean that they did not read Zola’s books and did not listen to Mozart then yes, but the reason would rather be due to an anachronism. In reality the Vikings had a very dense folklore and a varied culture. They practiced many arts, were good craftsmen and had a very stylish mythology with hyper badass gods.
8. They weren’t filthy fat who never washed
Another big cliché about the Nords of this era would have them being gross filth who never washed and stank from every part of their body. Yet their hygiene was far superior to that of other medieval peoples (including the inhabitants of France at the time). We found a lot of objects that show that they were clean: toothpicks, tools to clean the nails, combs and tweezers. They usually bathed once a week and washed their hair with some kind of washing powder.
9. They didn’t just live in Scandinavia
If the Vikings were indeed from Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Denmark) they did not live at all in these three countries. Many of them had settled permanently in explored corners of the globe such as Ireland, Scotland, England, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and even in the province of Vinland in Canada (Newfoundland).
10. They weren’t all for a heroic death
We tend to present the Vikings as people who literally wanted to die as long as it was done in a more or less heroic way. Except that they don’t particularly like dying, any more than other people. There are indeed stories of heroic deaths but it was not the creed of a whole people.
11. Women weren’t either submissive or heroic
If we follow the Viking version of the series a little, we have a somewhat erroneous image of women. We did see a few extremely badass female warriors, but not all of the ladies. However, women had many more rights than those of other countries, such as the right to ask for a divorce and marry again, which is not necessarily well seen among Catholics in our country at the same time.
12. We didn’t have a Viking funeral every four mornings.
The shot of the body placed on a wooden boat being set on fire was really, really not the norm. On the one hand because a boat was expensive to manufacture and it would have been complicated to make for each important person. The Norse had several types of funerals depending on the person’s gender, rank, age and many other criteria, but the cliché of “Viking funerals” was not really widespread.