Bearded, angry and armed to the teeth – or so modern media might have you think. Vikings have been a popular concept ever since they first crossed the ocean blue to plunder the towns and coastlines of the past, yet the facts of this ancient people now find themselves mired in fiction and film. The thing is, the fantastical Vikings most people know and love are exactly that: fantasy! So, let’s clear the air and set some things straight: from their horned helms to their pantheon of ancient gods, here’s a rundown of actual Viking facts for you. Historical style.
The spikes didn’t exist. Honestly, it’s true! No horns, no antlers, no metal points or shards. Vikings helmets are often portrayed with vicious appendages at their top, but this modern myth is more a result of film producer ignorance than anything else. In fact, the helmets of these Nordic raiders were domed, made of iron and hammered into shape for combat. They could be embossed, yes, they could be pretty, yes. But they certainly didn’t have spikes.
Their Long Longboats
We’ve all heard of the Viking longboat – just how impressive this piece of early maritime engineering was and is, however, is less commonly known. Vikings could row and sail their thin ships for many miles with ease, crossing the North Sea, hauling loot and returning home victorious. More recently, however, archaeologists and historians have discovered how Vikings were not only coastal warriors, but avid sea traders, too. New evidence suggests that their goods may have gone as far as China to the east and that their men went as far as North America to the west over a thousand years ago. Eat your heart out, Chris Columbus.
Raids, Pillage and Plunder
It’s a common image: Nordic warriors slaying the hapless men, stealing the women and setting fire to all around. And whilst Viking raids certainly did take place in antiquity it wasn’t all blood and gore. The Vikings settled lands too, rebuilding, marrying and proliferating across Europe, and both of these polar points appear across popular media today. The clans of the north battled each other, and you can reenact their wars in games or watch them play out on television. Their men and women sailed the world and traded far and wide – and you can play grand strategy and do the same. Life was very interesting for Viking people to say the least, and that’s part of the reason why their modern media is so fun.
Thor: Hero or Villain?
Marvel has done a great job spreading the word of the Norse gods. The Thor movie, the Avengers and the comics all draw upon Viking mythology heavily. Just how accurate their depiction of that world is, however, remains up for debate – well, not really. It’s not accurate at all.
The reality is that the gods and goddesses of Asgard and the material realms were pretty nasty overall. Odin, Thor and the giants were certainly all in the books, but their personalities and deeds were akin to those of their Greek or Roman counterparts when it comes to moral decency. Not great role models for the kids.
It can be hard to know fact from fiction when it come to Vikings. Luckily for us, museums, historians and archaeologists are on the job – we piece together more parts of the ancient puzzle every day, so keep your eye on the news and your ear to the ground. You must just hear a hoard approaching from the beach!