Today, we think of vikings as barbaric savages. TV shows and movies often depict them setting things on fire, raiding villages, and committing any number of atrocities that would land you in prison for life were they done today. But is it possible that Vikings get a bad rap?

In truth, most of us don’t actually know the nitty-gritty details of Viking life circa 800 AD. But for a society that’s thought to be so vulgar, researchers keep finding more and more evidence that proves we’ve got it all wrong. Some of the vikings’ accomplishments seem positively modern, while others, well…see for yourself!

1. Vikings never actually called themselves vikings. In Old Norse, viking was a word meaning “a pirate raid,” so the Scandinavians would use the phrase “going viking” when speaking of raiders. Over time, however, the word became prolifically used as a noun.

2. Vikings never wore horned helmets! The common misconception may have started when 19th-century painters depicted these warriors with horned head pieces based on defamatory descriptions from northern Europeans. 

3. Vikings loved kitties! Their fertility goddess, Freya, was known to have a chariot pulled by two slate-colored cats, and felines were kept around to eliminate pests, as well as act as furry companions to feline-friendly vikings. 

4. To start fires, vikings boiled a fungus, called Fomes fomentarius, in human urine for a few days. Then they clobbered that urine-soaked fungus until it had a felt-like texture and started to spark. The sodium nitrate in urine allowed for the fungus char cloth to smolder for days, and we’re sure the fire smelled just lovely. 

History 101

5. According to History, the Vikings valued physical strength a lot. Because they depended on their physical health as a means for a self-sufficient lifestyle, as well as for survival in general, if children were born sickly or with any physical disabilities, they abandoned them.

Vikings – Weebly

6. Vikings loved to ski! Pieces of skiing devices discovered in 1960 dated back to 6000 BC. Not only was it a fast way to get around, but vikings also used skis for competitive sport. They enjoyed it so much that they worshiped Ullr, who was a literal god of skiing!

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7. Despite being portrayed as gruff and filthy, vikings were a pretty clean band. Artifacts show they made tweezers, razors, combs and ear cleaners from both animal bones and antlers. History reported they bathed weekly and went swimming in hot springs. 

8. Vikings painted their shields, but it had nothing to do with decoration or sentimentality. It was to hide the wood grain! Since wood isn’t the strongest material to take cover behind, they wanted to prevent their enemies from strategically striking there. 

Combat Archaeology

9. Some of history’s best shipbuilders, vikings are most known for their longship design, which was motored by a combo of manpower and wind. Longships were adopted by many other cultures and acted as a shipbuilding guideline for centuries. 

The Wanderling

10. Some vikings were absolutely berserk; no, literally. Elite warrior vikings were known as “berserkers.” They wore animal pelts in battle and fought in a drug-and-alcohol-induced “trance-like fury.” Appropriately, this is where the word berserk comes from. 

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11. Every now and again, vikings donned eyeliner made from crushed antimony, burnt almonds, lead, oxidized copper, ash, and soft semi-precious stones. Besides the desire for a glamorous smokey eye look, the liner actually protected their vision from the sun’s glare!

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12. Most Norse communities lived peaceful farming lives, growing oats, barley, and wheat to make flour, porridge, and ale. They also cultivated vegetables such as onions, beans, and cabbage, and owned livestock such as pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, geese, and chickens. 

Avaldsnes

13. History reported recent genetic confirmation that a viking warrior, which was a high-status position, could often be a woman! Researchers at Stockholm and Uppsala Universities found more evidence.

These researchers found several battle weapons, two horses, and a full game board set buried in the grave of a female viking skeleton. The game board was an indication that she was a “high-ranking combatant” with knowledge of strategies.

14. Scandinavian viking women could own property and demand for divorce. If their husbands passed, they were expected to become the new providers of their household, which unbelievably granted them economic opportunities as traders and farmers.

15. The most prized possession a viking could own was a sword. A symbol of wealth, the intricate craftsmanship that went into making a blade made them wildly expensive, especially considering they were a tool used for protection. Most vikings couldn’t afford swords, however. 

History of Vikings

16. Vikings both feared and worshiped Valkyries, who, in Norse mythology, were powerful female beings praised by the powerful sky god Odin. The Valkyrie warriors, or “chooser of the slain,” decided who was destined to live in battle and who was destined to die.

17. Known to enjoy an alcoholic beverage now and again, vikings consumed a ton of mead, which consists of three, later-fermented ingredients: honey, yeast, and water. Honey was actually the only sweetener known to the vikings. 

18. Vikings traded for slaves to help maintain their farms, which they called “thralls.” Unfortunately, human trafficking was also a popular economic trade for the vikings, as many of them acquired wealth by abducting young boys and women from several areas in Northern Europe. Can’t we just talk about cats again? 

19. Vikings horizontally filed down and put little notches into their teeth. Anthropologists suggest the markings could represent an achievement, or simply just embellishment. 

20. When they viciously raided Ireland about 1,000 years ago, it’s possible vikings ever-so generously brought leprosy along with them. Strains of the infectious skin disease found in human remnants in Dublin were extremely similar to those linked to medieval Scandinavia. 

Years after vikings disappeared, rumors and whispers often get facts about their homeland wrong. For instance, Norwegians are among the happiest peoples in the world. In 2017, Norway took first place in World Happiness report, and in 2018, the nation placed second.

2. King Herald refused to marry anyone if he couldn’t marry the love of his life, the daughter of a fabric salesman, Sonja Haraldsen. Eventually they were allowed to marry with the support of the nation, and she became queen of Norway.

3. No one is allowed to be buried in the town of Longyearbyen because the permafrost won’t let the bodies decompose. Disturbing the ground could unleash a type of flu from the early 1900s that wiped out 5 percent of the population.

4. Sami people are traditionally reindeer herders who inhabit the northern parts of Scandinavia. They speak their own language, practice their own cultural norms, and wear special clothing that sets them apart from other Norwegians.

5. There’s a king penguin, named Nils Olav (residing in Edinburgh’s Zoo) who was presented the title of Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian King’s Guard by the king of Norway. Quite an honor, even for an Emperor.

6. In addition to mainland Norway, the nation includes the Arctic island of Jan Mayen and the archipelago of Svalbard. These places are not densely inhabited, but they are visited for their spectacular natural scenery.

7. Norway’s national dish is Fårikål, a stew made by layering mutton (sheep’s meat) and cabbage in a large pot and cooking it very slowly for several hours. Add some boiled potatoes and enjoy your super soft meal!

8. Two of the country’s stunning fjords, the Geiranger Fjord and the Nærøy fjord, are featured on the Unesco World Heritage List, and they are quite a sight.

9. Norway has the most expensive gas in the world at $7.82 per gallon (the average gallon in the U.S. is $2.99). Rather than subsidize the fuel, they use the money for free college tuition.

10. During the oil crisis in 1973, Norway’s King Olav had no problem taking public transport during a car-free weekend — he even paid for a ticket. These weekends were once held frequently to preserve gas.

11. In 2011, Norway went through a nationwide butter shortage due to a decrease in grazing by its cows. Smugglers would often get caught carrying butter into the country, and online auctions for one packet of butter reached as high as $77.

12. One of the world’s most iconic works of art, The Scream, was painted by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch in 1893 on a bridge near a fjord in Oslo. Its original title was Skrik, which means screech.

13. Wanna dance? Try moving to the tunes of a traditional Hardanger fiddle. It looks like a violin but has eight or nine strings, only four of which are fingered; the remaining strings vibrate in sympathy with the played strings and are called sympathetic strings.

14. In 1971, Norway abolished life sentences for prisoners. Now, the longest possible term is 21 years. Thanks in part to Norway’s groundbreaking prisons and justice system, the country has the lowest re-conviction rate (20%) in the world.

15. Oddly enough, in Norway, you can get a harsher penalty for speeding than for carrying drugs. Reaching 150kmph (93mph) on a roadway can get you locked up for at least 18 days!

16. In the Land of the Midnight Sun, there are times during midsummer when the sun never actually sets; conversely, the sun never rises during midwinter. Many northern Norwegians travel to more southern parts of the country at this time.

17. We know about Fårikål now, but what about Norway’s unofficial national dish? Grandiosa frozen pizza! Apparently, Norwegians are huge fans of cheesy frozen pies, as they consume around 24 million pans each year.

18. It probably comes as no surprise that skiing was invented by a Norwegian. During the late 19th century, Sondre Norheim designed contraptions that allowed him to swing and jump with a lower risk of falling, which inspired our skis today!

19. Norway may not have had a lot of luck in the summer Olympics, but they definitely rock the winter games. Norwegian athletes have the most winter medals — 329 to be exact, most of them in skiing.

20. Every year since 1947, Oslo has donated a Christmas tree to the people of Britain as a token of gratitude for British support to Norway during WWII. The tree is prominently lit and displayed in Trafalgar Square.

21. It’s common for Norwegians to leave their babies sleeping outside in prams even if temperatures are as low as 23F (-5C). The babies stay right outside cafés and restaurants because it’s healthier for them to sleep in the fresh air.

22. Sushi was already invented by the Japanese, but it was the Norwegians who added salmon into the mix. In an attempt to boost their salmon exports, they cut a deal with Japan in the 1980s to make the popular fish a staple in rolls.

23. Every Norwegian who owns a TV set has to pay a TV license fee of about $318 each year, which directly funds their free national programming as well as radio. Yes, they still have to pay for cable as well.

24. If you’re trying to get your drink on in Norway, don’t bother with supermarkets — they only sell beer and cider. You can find anything stronger in a place called Vinmonopolet, a store created by the government to decrease alcohol consumption.

25. The Ostehøvel cheese slicer, a particularly useful tool for slicing hard cheeses, was invented by Norwegian Thor Bjørklund in 1925.

26. The Norwegian government is strongly committed to environmental protection. The country has huge pine forests and fish stocks, both of which are vulnerable to acid rain.

27. Norway is one of the world’s biggest consumers of coffee. Annually, Norwegians consume about 2.5 gallons of coffee per person. Could this be the result of attempts to stay awake during their endlessly dark winters?

28. While most of the Nobel Prize ceremonies are held in Stockholm, Sweden, the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony has been held in Oslo, Norway, since 1901. A committee appointed by the Norwegian Parliament awards the prize, in accordance with Alfred Nobel’s will.

29. Do you like paperclips? Well, thank Norwegian inventor Johan Vaaler, who patented them in the early 19th century. However, we actually use a different design now because Vaaler’s was less functional.

30. Those famous Voss water bottles come from the municipal water supply in Iveland, Norway. Contrary to popular belief, the water is not bottled in Voss, which is more than 250 miles away from the actual site.

31. Biathlon and cross-country skiing are the most popular overall spectator sports in Norway. When it’s too cold outside for even Norwegians to have fun, ice hockey becomes the most popular indoor sport.

32. Norway was one of the countries that founded the United Nations in 1945, and the first U.N. Secretary-General was Norwegian Foreign Minister, Trygve Lie. It is, however, not a member of the European Union.

33. The Norwegian language has two official forms: Bokmål and Nynorsk. Bokmål is the written form of the language and means “book tongue.” Nynorsk is the language as it’s spoken and means “New Norwegian.”

34. The Jante of Law, as expressed by Norwegian poet Aksel Sandemose, is the cultural sense of humility that is found in almost every Norwegian household. People do not see material wealth as something to flaunt or care about.

35. When having dinner with Norwegians, expect fairly strict table manners. Norwegian society is very egalitarian and expects all people to respect each other fully at all times, especially during dinnertime.

36. For the past three years, Norway requires military service, which lasts for 19 months and applies to both men and women. It is the only European country to enforce national service regardless of gender.

37. Around 98 – 99 percent of Norway’s electricity comes from hydroelectric power stations. In 1991, it was one of the first countries to adopt a carbon tax in an attempt to slow global warming and support sustainable energy.

38. Norwegian women are entitled to either one year’s maternity leave at 80 percent of their wages, or 10 months at their full salary. Fathers usually take at least 12 weeks of paternity leave to bond with their children.

39. Hell might literally freeze over because this small Norwegian town of 1524 inhabitants does get pretty chilly in the winter time. Apparently, it’s a great place to visit, as so many people are told to “go to Hell.”

40. From October to March, it’s possible to get a glimpse of a natural light show, also known as Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights, resulting from the collisions of the Earth’s atmosphere and the sun’s. Try not to gape at this pure magic.