Viking Berserker – Vicious Warriors – What are Berserkers?

Vikings Warrior ‘Berserker’ – What are Viking Berserkers?

Berserkers were ancient Norse warriors who were known for fighting furiously and violently like wild beasts creating fear in the ranks of the enemy.

Their name was derived from the Norse name berserker meaning bear and coat. The Viking Berserkers symbolized blood-lust and uncontrollable rage. They were reputed to take their power from the bear and changed into the bear’s form.

The Berserker warrior tradition came from three main animal cults; the bear, the wolf, and the wild boar. The warriors fought battles barefoot and bare-chested holding weapons associated with Germani.

Berserkers in Battle

During battles, berserkers usually fought without any armor. ‘They entered any battle like a wild beast’. They gained their power through ritual practices like fasting, extreme isolation, exposure to both heat and cold, and many others.

These all helped them build a wolf or bear-like structure that became impossible to defeat in battles. Berserkers lived like their totem animal and adopted its mechanisms and habits. They were so overwhelmed with the battle lust that they even killed one another while waiting for the battle.

They were outlawed by the Vikings and by the end of the 12th century, they had disappeared.

Main qualities of the Berserker

Berserkers had a normal and violent side. Most knew how to induce the violent state at useful times such as before battles. In medieval Norse and Germanic history, berserkers were described as warriors who worshipped Odin.

The intoxication of battle lust was so dominant in these warriors that they would bite their shields and attack each other. They took part in rituals that induced a trance-like collective state.

Viking Berserker Warrior


The condition began with shivering, a chill in the body, and then a change in the face’s color. It converted into a wild rage and they started howling like wild animals.

They started biting their shields and cutting everyone without differentiating between friend and enemy. They also became immune to steel and fire. After the battle was over, they felt weak and tame.

Service as Mercenaries

It was common for Norse kings to retain berserker units as guards in addition to the other guards. Scandinavian kings used berserkers to strengthen their forces and to frighten their enemies. The Berserker mercenaries were experts in weapon maintenance skills and animal handling.

They had controlled frenzy and increased speed and accuracy with superhuman strength.

Berserker mentions in sagas

In the Icelandic legendary sagas, berserkers are mentioned as dangerous and furious warriors. The Old Norse corpus mentions Berserkers to have fought in a trance-like fury. They were very important for the Vikings as they fought furiously in battle and helped significantly in securing victories.

They were considered a valuable member of the lord’s personal retinue. They were also described as bullies who challenged farmers to duels for their wives, daughters, and farms.

Another term mentioned about the berserkers in the sagas is that they wore the pelt of a wolf while entering battle.

What Drug did Viking Berserkers Use?

Some historians put forward the idea that the Viking Berserker was heavily under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the battles, they suggest that the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria was possibly used by the Vikings.
hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria

hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria

Viking Berserker warriors Fast Facts

  • Viking Berserkers derived their name from the Norse word ‘Berserkr’ which means bear and coat.
  • Viking Berserkers instilled fear into their enemies by fighting like wild beasts.
  • Viking berserkers fought barefooted and bare-chested and often without any armour.
  • Berserker Warriors adopted the lifestyle of the beast they took their power from such as wolves and bears.

  • Viking berserkers fought like wild animals which led to them being eventually outlawed by the Vikings in the 12th century.
  • In Germanic history, berserkers were described as worshipping the god Odin.
  • Berserker Warriors fought in a trance-like collective state like wild animals.
  • Berserker Warriors were described as having superhuman strength and fought in a controlled frenzy.