Viking Era

The Vikings were the most powerful force in Europe for nearly 400 years, starting just before 800 AD and declining around the time King William I ascended to his throne. They had a huge hand in shaping Europe between the Dark Ages and the Renaissance, which is why they have such a venerable reputation.

However, that part of that reputation that survives today is more legendary than factual. The stereotypical picture of a Viking differs significantly from how they looked in the Viking Age.

If that’s the case, then what did a Viking look like? Read this quick article for a more accurate picture.

What Did a Viking Look Like at War

The mythical picture of the Viking Age is one of hulking (six foot and over) dirty-blonde men wearing leggings and a horned helmet, wielding an axe and a shield. This stereotype has an even share of accuracies and inaccuracies.

While Vikings’ body build was larger than everyone else back then, they still had a more limited diet than modern people. This means they would’ve been around four inches shorter than their modern Scandinavian descendants.

Standard equipment for your “middle-class” Viking warrior would’ve been a chainmail shirt, a sword or axe as a sidearm, a spear as a polearm, and a bow if his family trained with that weapon. They also carried a shield made of wood and likely covered with fur or leather.

This Vikings series gets this largely correct, but authentic Vikings would’ve had even more gear on the battlefield than the show’s characters.

Their armor would’ve varied according to technology and the individual’s wealth, but everyone wore armor to battle. Hardened leather would’ve been the standard fare in the early days. However, chainmail would’ve become more popular as the Vikings raided more widely and encountered better-equipped enemies.

Lastly, no one put horns on their helmets. This picture comes from a German opera where Wagner added the horns. Interestingly, the Germans used spiked helmets called Pickelhaube, which may have influenced Wagner’s decision.

What Did a Viking Look Like at Home

Back at the homestead, without war paint and armor, Vikings were not dirty and unkempt. Archeologists have found tweezers, sheers, combs, and even toothpicks around Viking graves and skeletal remains. There’s even art showing Viking men and women with neat hairstyles that can only be achieved with shampoo.

Viking fashion was also much more colorful than the greys and browns in the TV show. They enjoyed colorful blue and red silk clothes with patterns and even wore ornate jewelry.

Arm rings and bands often showed status, victories in battle, and even family ties. If you want to emulate this civilized warrior motif, you can purchase these Viking arm rings to tell your story as well.

Expand Your Historical Knowledge

The Viking stereotype (scruffy, ill-equipped, and terrifying) is a holdover from the legends of other nations like France and England. In reality, the Vikings were a cultured, clean, and colorful group of people with a talent for war. Their technology was just as good as everyone else’s, and there were never any horned helmets.

Vikings aren’t the only group wildly misrepresented in modern media. The Crusades, Roman legions, and many more have had their stories butchered over time. Find out how to study history properly by visiting our education blog.