Who were the Vikings?

Vikings have been described both as heathen pirates and noble savages in popular culture, with clichés and stereotypes often ruling the conception. It is true that they were initially heathens and that some of them were pirates, but Vikings were much more than that. Originating from Scandinavia, they raided and traded across vast areas during the 8th to late 11th centuries, forever leaving their mark in the modern world.

Propelled onwards through a worldview where one’s death was predestined and where the brave led their afterlife feasting in Valhalla, no obstacles hindered or intimidated them. Viking expertise in seafaring and shipbuilding combined with their fatalistic courage took them to the Mediterranean coast, North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. They settled and established communities in the north-western Europe, European Russia, the North Atlantic islands and as far as the north-eastern coast of North America.

Not only did the Vikings conquer Great Britain, besiege Paris and serve as the elite bodyguard to the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire. They also gave over 1000 words to the English language, founded and named Russia (Swedish Vikings were known as Rus) and were the first Europeans to sail to North America and interact with the Native Americans 5 centuries prior to Columbus. They also fathered the line of William the Conqueror and thus the present-day British royal family, as well as all current European monarchs. It is no exaggeration to say that their deeds echo throughout eternity.

Were the Vikings savages?

Vikings were bound to savagery in warfare, as most men, but it is important to remember that the Vikings weren’t uncivilized. They were quite competent businessmen and skilled negotiators with a rich indigenous culture bound by codes of honor and laws.

Did Vikings have horned helmets?

No. The assumption is mainly based on the romanticized heroic overtones of Vikings from the 19th Century. There is no logic behind horned war-helmets, since they would rather than deflect blows capture them, either knocking the helmet off the head, or injure the wearer. Helmets were actually very rare among the Vikings, and the vast majority fought bare-headed.

Were all Vikings blonde?

Many Scandinavians are naturally blonde and it was probably seen as an ideal among the Vikings. Some of the brunette Vikings were known use strong soap with a high lye content to bleach their hair and their beards, which likely also had another positive effect through treating problems with head lice.

Who were the Viking women?

Viking women enjoyed greater respect and rights than most in Europe at the time. Even though Scandinavian law prohibited them from having a vote in matters and carrying weapons, it did give them the right to inherit property, request a divorce and claim their dowries if their marriages ended. It seems as if they weren’t bound by the law anymore when they left Scandinavia, since women abroad are believed to have been able to fight as warriors. Historical accounts tell of women warriors being found among those killed in battle, and graves that indicate female warriors have been found to further strengthen the concept.

Were the Vikings filthy?

No, far from it. The Vikings took great care when it came to their hygiene, and carried combs, razors, tweezers, earspoons and other personal grooming tools. There are several historical documents describing how they bathed once a week, changed their clothes regularly and took other measures to keep clean and look good – something that was not practiced by the majority of Europeans at the time.

What was a Berserker?

The Berserker was a Viking warrior dedicated to the god Odin, who was able to enter a state of overwhelming rage in combat. This gave him superhuman strength and the power to ignore pain and damage. Such was their impact that the word still lives on today in the term to “go berserk”.

Were all Vikings warriors?

Most Scandinavians were farmers and fishermen. It is difficult to estimate how many of them went on Viking raids, and how often. It was nevertheless a warrior culture where all boys partook in games and training that prepared them for combat, since it was vital for a man to be able to defend himself and his lineage. The Viking culture eventually gave birth to professional soldiers who spent more time abroad than in Scandinavia. 

Are the Vikings extinct, and if not, what happened to them?

Viking is not an ethnic group, such as Goth or Celt, but more so a definition of a lifestyle among Scandinavians of that age. The Scandinavians simply stopped raiding and practicing the Viking lifestyle because it was no longer profitable, and carried on living their lives becoming modern day Swedes, Danes, Icelanders and Norwegians. We at Grimfrost, however, aim to build a bridge between then and now and bring relevant parts of Viking culture into today's world, rather than have it exist in the past and be water under the bridge. There is wisdom to be learned from, achievements to be inspired by and an entire cultural treasure to embrace. That is the way to becoming a modern Viking - a Viking at heart.

Does Viking ancestry influence modern day Scandinavians?

Unconsciously it does, whether we want it or not. Thousands of runestones, burial mounds and other Viking Age remains still dot the Scandinavian landscape - continuously making the voices of our forefathers heard. We also share the same climate with our ancestors through our geographical location. The long, cold and dark winters are opposed by short, intensive summers with a never setting sun. Anyone who has lived through a Scandinavian year can relate to that and to how it affects your persona, and it has shaped the Scandinavian people throughout history.

When it comes to religion, it was never an organized institution among the Vikings and the Scandinavians still consider spirituality a highly individual matter. As an example, Sweden holds the no 1 position in the world when it comes to the percentage of the population who consider themselves non-religious, with Denmark and Norway at places 3 and 4. 

Regarding traditions, Viking culture still influences two of our greatest holidays. Christmas still goes by Jul here, which is the Viking name for their midwinter feast, whilst Midsummer is still celebrated as a feast of fertility. It is still considered by many as the most important feast of the year.


Is it possible to be a modern Viking?

Our answer is yes. We aim to build a bridge between then and now and bring relevant parts of Viking culture into today's world, rather than have it exist in the past and be water under the bridge. There is wisdom to be learned from, achievements to be inspired by and an entire cultural treasure to embrace. That is the way to becoming a modern Viking - a Viking at heart.