Browse these Viking facts to learn something new about some of history's most famous people.
Modern TV shows have shot the popularity of the time off the charts. But how much do you really know about the Viking Era? Here are some fascinating tidbits with which to impress your friends and family!
Top viking facts
1. The Icelandic Sagas. Much of what we ‘know’ about the Vikings was written down in Icelandic sagas. The problem is many of these stories were written down hundreds of years after they took place. If they took place at all!
2. The accounts of enemies. The Vikings wrote down almost nothing about their own adventures. Aside from the sagas, the rest of our knowledge is made up of accounts written down by people in lands that were conquered.
3. Viking helmets did not have horns. It’s possible ceremonial or burial helmets had horns. But everyday helmets worn in battle most definitely did not. In fact, some historians believe that painters invented the horned helmet as recently as the 19th century!
4. They may not have even worn helmets! So few complete helmets have ever been found, leading some to believe they never wore helmets during battles. Perhaps they wore leather headwear, which is much less likely to survive for so long.
Read more: The Viking lifestyle
5. They were clean, not dirty. The thought of men aboard a boat for weeks on end might conjure up images of filth, but archaeological finds suggest otherwise. Tweezers, razors and combs are among the items to have been found.
6: The word is a verb: Or at least, it was! The term ‘viking’ is believed to have originally referred to the act of raiding. Only over time did its usage change to refer to the Norsemen doing the raiding.
7. They gave us the word ‘berserk’. Warriors that entered battle in a trance-like state were known as berserkers. Some say they wore the skins of bears or wolves. It's worth thinking about next time you use the word!
8. They weren't all raiders. Despite the popular portrayal, not all vikings were raiders. Many travelled to other countries to settle peacefully, and engage in farming, crafts, or to trade goods.
Read more: Viking Festivals in Scandinavia
9: The majority of Viking men were farmers. This follows on from the previous point. Disappointing as it may be to fans of the sagas, most Viking men never – or rarely – picked up a sword. Most were peaceful farmers, growing barley, rye and oats and keeping cattle, goats, pigs and sheep.
10: A vikings beat Columbus to America. The Icelandic-Norwegian explorer Leif Erikson beat Christopher Columbus, the person most often credited with discovering the ‘new world', by about 500 years!
11: They used honey as a sweetener. Their only sweetener, in fact. Honey was used to sweeten food and to make mead, a sweet alcoholic beverage still enjoyed today.
12: Vikings were keen skiers. It's known from archaeological evidence that rudimentary skis have existed for at least 6,000 years. By the time of the vikings, skiing was both a popular way to get around and a common leisure activity.
13. There was a god of skiing. So important was the pastime to the vikings that they even worshipped a god in its name. Medieval sources have very limited material on the god Ullr, but he's almost always shown on skis carrying a bow. In one text, it is said that Ullr can be called ski-god, bow-god, hunting-god and shield-god.
14. There was no one community. One of the most curious viking facts is that viking groups didn't recognise other groups. There was no sense of a collective. What we now know as Scandinavia was sprinkled with chieftain-led tribes. These tribes often fought against each other rather than worked together, although trade was common.
15. They played a game similar to hockey. Knattleik is said to have been played with sticks and a ball. While no detailed account of the rules exist, it's a reasonable assumption that the game bared some similarity to field hockey, or perhaps hurling. Some reenactment groups play a version of the game today.
16. They travelled as far as Turkey. Norsemen made up a lot of the Byzantine Empire's Varangian Guard in modern-day Turkey. It is believed that Harald Hardrada rose through the ranks to become the commander of the Guard in Constantinople. He would eventually return to become the King of Norway.
What are your favourite viking facts? What should we add to this list?