Vikings conjure up certain images in the popular imagination; however, those images are often incorrect. In fact, the truth about the Vikings is even stranger than you might believe!
Vikings. Brilliant weren't they?
Stinky, bloodthirsty, horned helmet wearing barbarians.
Only that sentence is depressingly untrue.
Firstly, Vikings were not stinky. In fact they were considered a fragrant bouquet of delight compared to their Saxon neighbors. Vikings bathed once a week and fashioned beauty products out of small animal bones, tweezers to pluck out unwanted hair and ear spoons to scoop out gunk from the lugholes of even the most fearsome warrior.
Secondly, Vikings weren't all that bloodthirsty. In fact, their raiding hobby fast moved on to rather more boring interests, such as trading, settling and exploring (YAWN!).
Thirdly, there's no evidence to suggest that Vikings wore horns on their helmets. After all, why would anyone think it would be a good idea to stick two big easy to grab horns on the side of their head? It would allow a quick thinking opponent to either yank your head in position for a well-timed slash of a broadsword or simply pull your helmet over your eyes and provide chortlesome fun for all their friends as you stumble blindly around the battlefield. In fact, there's very little evidence to suggest that Viking wore helmets AT ALL. Illustrations from the period show them wearing lousy leather caps or being boringly bare headed.
So if Vikings aren't stinky, bloodthirsty, horned helmet wearing barbarians then doesn't that make them rather boring? Oh no dear reader, Vikings did plenty of bizarrely brilliant things.
Vikings loved Skiing
Who doesn't love Skiing? The answer is not Vikings. They loved it. Their skis were about 2 meters long and made of pinewood. However, Vikings didn't just ski, they also went ice-skating. The skates were made from the foot bones of horses, cows or elks and were strapped to the feet of the Viking as they propelled themselves over the ice with two short sticks.
Are you thinking about a giant bearded Viking warrior involved in a pretty spectacular and surprisingly flexible ice skate dance routine whilst clad in horribly florescent and skin tight lycra? If not, you are now.
Vikings considered the ideal hair color to be blonde. They could also suffer from horrible infestations of lice and nits in their finely combed (yes, they had combs too) hair.
So what better solution than dunking your head in a month old bucket of wee?
Not only would it eliminate any rogue lice if would also lighten the color of your hair.
However, having to keep month old buckets of wee could clutter up even the longest longhouse. So Lye Soap was developed instead. The key toxic ingredient of yee olde Lye Soap? Wee.
Vikings had a Weird Sense of Humor
Vikings took their reputations very seriously indeed. An insulted Viking would often respond to the verbal bashing by challenging the bully to a physical bashing instead. Duels would be held (not always resulting in death, sometimes the warrior who managed to disarm the other or draw first blood would be the victor) but what happened to the person who lost? Well, they were given a rather odd challenge. A wild cow would be brought into the hall where the duel had taken place. The cow’s tail would then be shaved and coated in grease. Then the Viking who had lost the duel would have their feet covered in grease too. Then the cow would be made angry (calling it names or poking it in the eye with a stick should do the trick). Then the loser would have to grip the cow's tail (can you tell where this is going yet?).
On a given command the Viking would then have to pull the cow's tail 0- which would make the cow go WILD! Bucking and stomping, kicking out with its hooves like a whirlwind of death. The poor Viking would simply have to keep hold of its tail until it calmed down. If he succeeded, then not only could he keep his life, he could also keep the cow as well!
Secret Bonus Fact: Viking warriors wore eyeliner! It was called kohl and it was a dark colored powder that kept the harsh light of the sun from damaging sensitive eyeballs.
We do hope you enjoyed the article! You can read Max’s new book Escapades in Bizarrchaeology: The Journals of Captain Max Virtus (The History Book For People Who Don't Like History - Yet!) - available in both print and electronically.
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