Vikings are often thought of as little more than barbarians who raided, looted, and plundered. This image was the work of medieval Christian writers and is being increasingly modified in modern times.
Vikings were actually very sophisticated people who had their own customs, had a prowess for battle, liked to establish large farms, and abided by their traditions.
Horned helmets are often associated with the Vikings. Viking depicted in popular culture such as movies are shown to be wearing such helmets. However, the fact is that Vikings never used horned helmets.
The association of such helmets with Vikings was probably an attempt by contemporary Christian writers to portray them as devilish heathens.
In reality, Vikings used a variety of fairly plain helmets although a prominent feature of these helmets was commonly an eye guard plate, historical images also depict Vikings wearing nasal helmets (nose guard).
Strips of metal were sometimes used to reinforce the helmets around the brow.
Vikings were often depicted as savages and unclean barbarians during the medieval period. The fact is that Vikings were typically cleaner than most of their contemporary Europeans.
At a time when bathing was a rather disdained concept in Europe, Vikings liked to take regular showers.
In fact, Vikings had a designated day for bathing known as ‘laurdag’. On this day, Vikings would take showers, clean themselves, and even use combs and other accessories to style themselves with care.
Vikings had many communal events that were meant to foster better relations between families, forge alliances, settle disputes, and make important decisions.
One of the most important Viking events was known as ‘The Thing’ as translated from the Norse language. This event was specifically designated to settle legal disputes pertaining to law and order.
Crimes such as theft and killing were decided upon at The Thing. The decision taken at the assembly was absolute and even a powerful Viking individual had to abide by it at all costs.
Interestingly, women would also sometimes be allowed to attend the meeting and give their opinion.
Vikings believed that their warriors who fell in battle didn’t go to the regular afterlife of other Vikings. Instead, they were carried away by the mythical female figures known as the valkyrie.
The valkyrie carried the slain warriors to the Valhalla, a grand hall that was believed to be located in Asgard. Odin ruled over the hall and looked over the warriors brought to it.
He also helped the warriors prepare for Ragnarok, the Viking end of the world. The warriors enjoyed mead, meat, and other luxuries at the hall while preparing for the Armageddon.
Women in the Viking society enjoyed many rights and privileges which were unheard of in the rest of Europe at the time. Apart from having property rights, a woman could also divorce her husband.
If a husband didn’t run the farm properly to provide for her woman, or if he beat her, the woman could seek a divorce. All a woman had to do was to call upon two witnesses and then say that she was divorcing her husband.
This procedure had to be repeated twice – once outside the house in public and a second time in a more private setting by the nuptial bed.
Vikings originally inhabited the modern-day Scandinavian regions of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. These areas, located in the northernmost tip of northeastern Europe are known for their cold climates.
Vikings turned this to their advantage by indulging in a wide range of ice sports. In fact, some believe that they were the first to skate and ski on ice. Vikings played a type of ice hockey known as knattleikr in which a bat and a ball were used to score on the side of an opponent team.
However, a major difference between modern-day ice sports and the Viking version was that Vikings would often get physical, although it was all in good spirit and cheer.
Many modern week days are named after different Viking gods. According to some historians, the day Thursday is named after Thor, the famous Norse god of thunder and war. Thursday translates into ‘Thor’s Day’ in Old English.
Similarly, Wednesday is believed to be named after Woden, one of the names of the most powerful Viking god, Odin. Tyr is the inspiration for Tuesday and Frigg is inspired by Friday. Friday translates into the ‘day of Frigg’ in Old English.
The color blonde was highly coveted in Viking society. Vikings preferred hairs that were blonde so much so that they would use various products to dye black hair to make them appear blonde. Typically, a kind of soap containing lye was used to dye the hair blonde.
Vikings were excellent boat makers. This was a kind of necessity as well. Viking expansion originally began with Viking raids on European coasts. In these raids, Vikings used the fast longboats which let them travel at great speeds, enter shallow waters, land close to the coasts, and launch quick hit-and-run raids.
So Vikings put a considerable effort into making boats that were elegant looking, traveled fast, and serve their purpose well.
Vikings used elaborate ship burials for their warriors, kings, and leaders. In the early period of the Viking Age, Vikings would bury their notables at sea by placing them in a ship and then capsizing it.
Later, Vikings began to bury their dead after placing them in ships. Burial rituals included slaying the slaves of the dead and burying them alongside the deceased notable. Jewelry, weapons, and other items were also buried along with the dead.