Who were the Vikings: Facts and Myths

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Invaders, predators and barbarians – These are the adjectives that are traditionally associated with them to better describe their nature.

Vikings were often pictured as one-dimensional warriors. They were very violent and were pagans. They were well known for crafting their reputation as brutal and merciless warriors. The Anglo-Saxon cleric Alcuin of York says “the church was spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments…given as a prey to pagan peoples”.

The reputation of the Vikings simply as attackers and looters has long been established.

The Vikings were seafaring people who originated from the unified countries what are now Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They belonged to the eighth century. They ruled till the eleventh century.

At that time, their homeland was overwhelmingly rural, with almost no towns. Their income was quite miserable. They earned their living through agriculture or fishing. They used to raid the more civilized countries for women and treasure. It is said that they were the ones who went across America before Columbus.

They did not have a particular culture but a diverse one. Their Viking ships – amazing vessels – are the core of the Viking culture. They were designed to be narrow in shape with short drafts, which were very important to adapt to the depth of the ocean. The ships were coated with a wool or moss and iron rivets. They were equally coated with a watertight mixture. As a result, these ships turned out to be very flexible and swift vessels. 

The ships were beautifully decorated with carved dragon heads at the bow. It was a belief that these would keep evil and spirits away. Such views of the ships would strike fear into the hearts of Europeans for three centuries. The Vikings used to row with a series of oars.

Did you know that..

  • Contrary to popular beliefs, Vikings wore simple leather and metal-frame helmets and not horned ones.
  • Vikings were proud of their physical strength, and would not hesitate to abandon weak and sick kids
  • The days of the week are named after Viking gods (e.g Thor= Thursday)
  • Other nations referred to them as Norse, Norsemen and Danes but they were not called Vikings till the 19th century
  • They were known for their good hygiene. Indeed, Viking people were very keen on maintaining personal hygiene
  • Viking men lightened their manes by dyeing them, they preferred blond
  • Prominent Viking were given grand send-off funeral ceremony where they would place the deceased on a boat with their processions (clothes, animals and jewellery) setting it on fire and pushing it out to sea.
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