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7 Things You May Not Know About Vikings

Group of Vikings are floating on the sea on a longship with mountains on the background
Nejron Photo/Shutterstock

Vikings were seafaring Scandinavian warriors whose existence inspired countless legends, books, movies, and plays. From the 8th to 11th centuries, these terrifying “pirates” raided villages across Europe and voyaged westward to discover new lands. While they’re fairly well-known in modern-day culture, here are a few things about Vikings you may be unaware of.

Their Women Had Rights

Like most civilizations of the time, Viking society was male-dominated. However, their women were afforded some rights. While men traditionally led expeditions and participated in raids, surviving evidence has shown that women sometimes accompanied men in their expansive efforts and even fought alongside them upon occasion. Women could also own property, get divorced, and receive alimony.

They Didn’t Wear Horned Helmets

Although Vikings are commonly depicted wearing horned helmets, no real evidence suggests that they ever did this. In fact, no depiction that dates back to the Viking age shows this particular headgear. Historians believe that the myth of horned helmets started in the 1800s when Scandinavian artists painted this extra detail into their artwork, probably in order to make the Vikings look more ferocious.

They Created Famous Mythical Figures

The recent Marvel Entertainment movies have brought a variety of superheroes into the spotlight, including Thor, Loki, and Odin. But did you know that Asgard and its inhabitants are a part of Norse mythology? The Vikings believed that gods, goddesses, giants, elves, and other beings played a pivotal part in the world.

Their Hygiene Was Above Average

It may seem as though Vikings would’ve been dirty, grimy, and smelly, but they actually took pride in their appearance. Excavations from Viking sites have found razors, combs, and tweezers made from antlers and bones. Vikings also bathed about once a week on average—much more frequently than other Europeans of their time.

Their Dead Were Buried in Boats

The Vikings relied heavily on their boats. They were especially skilled at crafting them to land and depart swiftly so that raids would be quick. However, their boats weren’t solely used for expeditions. Cremation was an important part of the burial process for many early Vikings, and those who commanded high respect were sent out to sea to be burned with their boat. However, in later years, burials became more popular. Those with the highest authority were put to rest within their boats inside of burial mounds. These surviving mounds are the reason we have access to well-preserved Viking ships today.

They Coined Popular Words

Many common words we use today have Norse origins. “Ransack” comes from rannsaka, meaning “to search a house.” “Slaughter” originates from slatra, meaning “butchery,” and “blunder” stems from blundra, which translates to “to shut the eyes.” Other words we can thank the Vikings for include window, husband, heathen, berserk, and knife.

They Preferred Blonde Hair

Apparently blondes really do have more fun, because even the Vikings desired golden locks. Historians have uncovered evidence that brunette Vikings—both men and women—would use a strong lye soap to bleach their hair if it wasn’t considered light enough. This practice may have helped to drive lice away as well, but it seems that the aesthetic appeal was the strongest deciding factor for making the change.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Listverse and Introvert, Dear, and she is currently working on her first novel. When she's not breaking down complex topics into readable material, she loves to stay on the lighter side and blog about Disney and Universal parks on Taylored Trips Blog. Read Full Bio »