32 Viking Facts That Uncover One Of History’s Most Misunderstood Civilizations

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Children perceived to be weak would be left to die by abandoning them or throwing them into the sea.

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Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets, a look that was likely fabricated by 19th-century painters.

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They also didn’t use the skulls of their enemies as drinking vessels.

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However, as most of us do often imagine, Viking ships did regularly come outfitted with fearsome head posts depicting dragons and other mythical creatures.

For more Viking facts about ships, see this report.

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Despite our ideas about them, Vikings actually bathed more frequently than most Europeans of their day.

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If wounded, Vikings were given onion soup because, once eaten, the smell emanating from their stomach would reveal whether their injuries were treatable.

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With the ability to divorce and remarry, own property, and sit at the head of a familial clan, Viking women had more rights than those in Christian Europe.

For more Viking facts related to women, see this overview.

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The most fearsome Viking warriors, clothed in animal skins and given to howling during battle, were known as “berserkers,” hence the word “berserk.”

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Scholars suggest that berserkers were able to enter their berserk state thanks to drugs including magic mushrooms, alcohol, and henbane.

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Leif Erikson, a Norse explorer, discovered North America 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The Vikings called it Vinland.

For more Vikings facts related to their journeys to North America, see this report.

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Many common English words still in use today — including Thursday, hell, knife, leather, window, and husband — come from the Old Norse language spoken by Vikings.

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Vikings named Thursday after Thor, the God of Thunder.

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They were able to readily start fires thanks to unique firestarters made from fungus boiled for days in their own urine.

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Most Viking men were peaceful farmers, not pirates and warriors.

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The name “Viking” means “pirate raid” in the Old Norse language, although Vikings didn’t actually use this word to describe themselves.

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Viking men bleached their hair blonde to conform to their society’s beauty standards.

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In 845, the Vikings sacked Paris with 120 ships and didn’t leave until they were paid 5,670 pounds of silver and gold.

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The Louvre in Paris was originally built in 1190 in part to act as a fortress against Viking raids.

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The Vikings were not one unified race or nationality, but instead an unaffiliated collection of countless small groups coming from modern-day Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, and elsewhere.

Read more Viking facts in this look at their origins and customs.

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Viking longships could travel up to 125 miles per day, which gave them the ability to reach and raid destinations much further away than other civilizations of the era.

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Modern archaeological evidence shows that Vikings sailed across Europe’s coast not merely as brutal raiders, but moreover as entrepreneurial traders and settlers.

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Vikings were active slave traders who would capture women and children and sell them in markets across Europe and the Middle East.

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Viking slaves primarily came from raids on Slavic, Germanic, and Anglo-Saxon tribes and were called Thralls.

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While Viking military activity is most associated with northern Europe, they also invaded Spain, Italy, and areas across northern Africa.

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All free Viking men were expected to own weapons, mainly spears, swords, and axes.

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Reindeer hides were sometimes used as battle armor and reportedly worked better than chainmail.

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Viking hunters at sea killed game as large as walruses and whales.

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The Vikings worshipped Ullr, in part believed to be a god of skiing.

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Skilled Viking military leaders would organize their troops into a spear-like shape known as “boar formation” and then charge right at the enemy’s line point-first.

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Burial at sea was reserved for prominent members of society, who would be surrounded by weapons, valuables, and sometimes, sacrificed slaves.

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When a wealthy landowner died, his slaves were often sacrificially killed and buried next to him en masse.

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