1. They did not call themselves Vikings
Unless you are a fan of the Minnesota Vikings, you would not really call the Vikings, well,
Vikings. The name was a verb in Old Norse that meant “a pirate raid” and Scandinavians referred to people who went raiding as “going viking.” Over time, since the Scandinavians gained quite an affinity for “going viking,” and the word changed into the noun as we know it. Their real names are what they called themselves: Norse, Norseman, or Danes.
2. No horned helmets
Were the Vikings grizzly looking characters who wore bear pelts on their shoulders, handled large shields, swords, and most importantly, donned horned helmets?
Because let’s face it, a Viking isn’t a Viking without his horned helmet! We hate to be the one to bust your bubble, but the horned helmets weren’t as common as Hollywood would have us think. Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets. In fact, there are no records of Vikings ever wearing horned helmets (sorry to disappoint). The trend might have started when 19th-century painters portrayed our sea-faring friends with the horned cap based on derogatory descriptions from northern Europeans such as the ancient Greeks and Roman chroniclers.
3. Vikings did not drink from skulls
Vikings may have been raiders, invaders, and traders, but they weren’t skull cap drinkers. In fact, the earliest recording of any civilization drinking out of human remains was written by Greek historian, Herodotus, in his book Histories where he named Scythians, a group of Eurasian nomads, as the real cranium sippers. There hasn’t been archaeological evidence proving his claim, but there’s nothing written in the books that the Vikings participated in this formidable and cringe-worthy tradition.
They did like to drink out of bones though: they drank out of the horns of cattle, which may be where the rumor originated from.
4. They could navigate with zero visibilty
Vikings kicked some serious butt both in an out of the water. Not only were their ships impeccably crafted and some of the most reliable ships in the world at the time, but they were also serious ocean navigators.
They could navigate through thick fog, even with low or zero visibility. When they didn’t have the sun or the stars to guide them (though it was highly unlikely they didn’t use a compass) it’s believed that Vikings used an instrument called a sun-shadow to help them navigate. With their brilliant navigation skills, the Norse were able to find their way along the rivers of Russia, Germany, and were able to trade with Arab and Eastern countries.
5. Women were warriors
There is evidence of women taking on the role of the warrior.
Though rare, Byzantine-era historian Johannes Skylitzes recorded on History.com that women fought alongside a group of Vikings in a battle against the Bulgarians in 971 AD. A 12th-century Danish historian described female Vikings as “communities of warrior women as shieldmaidens who dressed like men and devoted themselves to learning swordplay and other warlike skills.”
Most of the information we know about the Viking warriors comes from the literature or various and nearby communities. There are several accounts of female warriors rolling around on the Viking raids, who are known as Valkyries. In myth, Valkyries are fierce warriors who raise the souls of fallen warriors to Valhalla.
6. Justice systems were (almost) like ours
The Norse had an oral culture that helped establish both law and government without so much as having a written text. All free men gathered in their communities to make laws and decided cases in meetings called a Ting.
Each community had its own Ting. Like our legal systems, there was a plaintiff and defendant, and a jury. They were most likely made up of a local, powerful family, or sometimes multiple families. Malefactors who are tried and found guilty are either fined, declared semi-outlaw, or fully outlawed. To be an outlaw was complete banishment; his property would be confiscated and he would receive no help from the community.
7. Mead was made from fermented honey
Since we’re debunking myths here, we can confidently say Vikings didn’t drink the blood of their enemies. Instead, the Norseman’s thirst was quenched by the golden nectar of the gods: Mead. Also called metheglin, this delicious brew is made from fermented honey, water, and sometimes yeast. Other ingredients included spices and herbs such as cloves, ginger, rosemary, hyssop, and thyme and can be light, rich, sweet, dry, or bubbly.
Our Viking pals would drink an abundance of mead, not just out of the usual pleasure of getting smashed. It also held medicinal properties too. Unlike our Greek friends in the Mediterranean, our Viking pals didn’t have the vines to create wine. They had honey, and honey is an antibiotic that not only tasted great, but helped in blood-purifying, digestion, and stimulated immunization.
8. Good hygiene
You’d think that rowing massive ships, sailing across the seas, and farming, would rack up a nice and potent stench under the arms of our humble Viking friends, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, compared to other Europeans of their time, Vikings were generally a clean bunch.
Artifacts excavated from Viking sites revealed tweezers, razors, combs and ear cleaners made from animal bones and antlers. According to History.com, Vikings even bathed once a week and enjoyed dips in local hot springs. Plus, how could a Norse rack up much of a musk in colder climates like Iceland or Scandinavia?
9. Vikings founded Dublin
Dublin was established by the Vikings themselves, though the way they went about it was pretty brutal.
The Vikings created settlements in Iceland, Greenland, Normandy and Newfoundland, Canada, and raided nearby neighbors like Great Britain along the way. Because they were making their way through the area a lot, they started setting up posts.
They invaded Ireland in the early 9th century where they established a kingdom called Dyflin, which later became modern day Dublin. It was a major trading post and traded anything from precious metals, fabrics, weaponry, and horses. Dyflin was also a stronghold in Ireland, and the Vikings ruled Dublin for 300 years and meld with the Celtic people.
10 They used legendary swords ahead of their time
The Vikings were ruthless in battle. A hardy bunch, they’re capable of withstanding just about anything at the hands of their enemies.
With the right tools, or in this case weapons, who could blame them? No other weapon was more terrifying than their swords. Though many carried weapons, none was more legendary than the Ufberht. It’s said to be made out of a metal so pure that its existence baffles archaeologists today. Used between 800 to 1,000 A.D. the swords would have been forged under 3,000-degree heat, an impossible temperature to reach until the Industrial Revolution 800 years after. Only the most elite and skillful Vikings carried a Ufberht.