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9 Most Shocking Myths About Vikings

We have all seen Vikings on television and in movies, but popular depictions of this culture are often more fantasy than true history. An average Viking man was likely to be a farmer rather than the muscled warrior we saw in movies, while his wife was in charge of the family and the household.

Many historians worked hard to debunk all of the strange myths that Hollywood presented to us. Behind all the battles and conquests, the Vikings’ culture was far more complex and quite different from the rest of the European population at that time. Read on to find out what the most shocking myths are about the so-called “fierce” Vikings.

Photo by Lobachad From Envato Elements

1. Funerals were based on cremation on a ship

Despite the fact that in the TV show “Vikings,” most of the characters that died of natural causes were cremated on battle ships, there is no historical proof that this happened in real life. In fact, most of their funerals were similar to what we have today. And this was the case for an average Viking.

However, there were a lot of rumors that the rich Viking families were cremated. During that time, there were a lot of diseases going on, and because medicine wasn’t an option, it was safer to cremate a body rather than bury it to stop the disease from spreading.

2. Vikings practiced rituals

There is no surprise that Viking culture was brutal and bloody. Because they are mostly known for traveling across the continent, they would usually take women as prisoners on the road, and later on, they were sold as slaves. If that wasn’t scary enough, you must know that the Vikings were really into sacrificing people of their own. Mostly before a huge battle, they made human sacrifices in the name of Odin and other gods that might help them win.

No wonder that almost everybody was terrified of being raided by these barbarians! However, the myth behind this fact is that the Vikings were hardly the only barbarians in the Middle Ages. And they didn’t have as many battles as depicted because they were primarily known as “traders and farmers.”

3. The axe was the main battle weapon

When the Vikings weren’t raiding monasteries, they were battling the armies of various countries and sometimes other Vikings. But you can imagine that all these fights weren’t as simple as pummeling some monks because a battle required a strong strategy Since the environment allowed them to, the Vikings used to hide in the woods to spy on their enemies before attacking.

Prior to beginning the battles and using their axes against closer opponents, the Vikings formed a shield wall (if you watched the TV show “Vikings,” then you know what I am talking about). In the front line were the strong men, followed by archers. In the back of the group were those who had armor and spears.

The myth is based mostly on TV shows and movies, because in reality, their favorite battle weapon was definitely the spear. Axes were used in the household, in butchery, or for wood chopping.

4. Women were only housewives

If you watched at least one movie about the Vikings, then you probably know that this is definitely a myth. Most of the Scandinavian women were strong and tall compared to other women, and they were very good at fighting. Despite the fact that the role of women in Viking civilizations was problematic and they were frequently seen as second-class citizens in comparison to men, these women were free.

While a lot of other nations used females as slaves and servants, Viking women were fully capable of making decisions (like divorce), and they could have also been leaders. It’s still under debate how many Viking women served as shieldmaidens or fighters, but it is almost certain that they participated in important battles.

5. They had poor hygiene

Despite the fact that most Europeans considered them dirty and sweaty, the Vikings were pretty careful with their cleaning routine. Tweezers, combs, and razors are abundant in their tombs and other archeological sites, along with both male and female bones.

It is believed that they might have also bleached their hair and protected it against lice using soap with a strong lye concentration.

…You won’t believe what you’re going to read next!

Photo by Frank Bach From Shutterstock

6. Vikings’ houses were cozy and warm

In movies and games, Viking longhouses look pretty nice and cozy: a warm hearth fire, fur-based rugs, and quite a nautical style of fabulous architecture. But what we don’t see in the movies is how much of a health hazard these long houses were.

These types of houses were constructed in a way that encouraged the formation of fine particles of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Even though the Vikings had holes in the roof to let the smoke out of their home, the entire architecture rendered the holes very ineffective for ventilation.

Because the inverted “boat-like” roof design trapped smoke inside the house, the ashes would fall to the floor on their fur rugs once it cooled. A lot of women and children would suffer from respiratory infections since they were the ones who spent more time in the house than a man.

During the cold season, the Vikings brought their cattle and sheep inside to sleep with them because they were very attached to them. Can you imagine how crowded their house was? This was also one of the reasons Vikings could easily asphyxiate with carbon monoxide in their sleep.

7. They were all muscular men

This was a huge hit: Vikings were not tall men! Due to Scandinavia’s brief summers and severe winters, there were few food resources available, so raiding became the Vikings’ primary source of survival. As a result, they were frequently underfed and quite short. In fact, the average Viking was just 5 feet 6 inches tall, which is kind of short. It is more probable that this myth came from stories that medieval travelers used to tell about the Vikings.

8. They played a lot of chess

In their spare time, the Vikings played a game called “hnefatafl.” This was a strategy game not unlike chess that is believed to have evolved from an earlier Roman game. But despite the fact that this was considered a myth, the Vikings also enjoyed playing regular chess.

The British Museum has a famous 12th-century Norwegian chess set, also known as “the Lewis Chessmen,” consisting of pieces carved from walrus ivory and whale teeth. And this is one of the few nearly complete medieval chess sets available.

9. They drank from the skulls of their enemies

Because of a Scandinavian poem from the 12th century known as the Krákumál, everybody thought Vikings drank from “the curved branches of skulls.”

The poem was about horns, but a 17th-century Latin book misunderstood or mistranslated it as “the skulls of those they had [defeated].” The error is persistent nowadays. In reality, this was just a myth because the Vikings drank from the horns of goats and cattle, and when they were at home, they drank from cups made of wood or metal.

Which of these myths surprised you the most?

You may also like: Ancient Egypt: 10 Insane Facts You Probably Didn’t Know.


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