7 things you never knew about the Vikings

Tuesday 04 March 2014
zoocha-admin

The biggest Viking exhibition to appear at the British Museum in 30 years reveals treasures and secrets of the Vikings as never before. We went along and these were our favourite remarkable facts:

1. They went beserk and fought naked

Ancient legends talk of a particular type of Viking warrior who would bite into their shields before running into battle, often fighting without armour – and even naked. The warriors were given the name ‘Beserkers’ – ‘Bear Skins’ in Old Norse – and this was the beginnings of the phrase ‘to go beserk’. You can almost see the madness in the eyes of these Walrus ivory figures representing the Beserkers:

Berserker chessmen made from Walrus ivory and dating to the late 12th century, found in Uig, Lewis, Scotland © The Trustees of the British Museum Berserker chessmen dating to the late 12th century, found in Lewis, Scotland © The Trustees of the British Museum

 

 

2. They never wore horned helmets

Sorry to crush that illusion but this was a fanciful image popularised in Victorian times. In fact, only plain, conical metal helmets have been discovered from the Viking period.

3. Their weapons were formidable

A longhandled axe was unearthed and experts say it could wipe out a horse with just one blow.

Silver-inlaid axe head in the Mammen style, found in Denmark, AD 900s © The National Museum of Denmark Silver-inlaid axe head, AD 900s © The National Museum of Denmark

 

 

4. They got far. Really far

The land of the Vikings was covered with impenetrable forests and mountains so they took to the seas, and thanks to their well-designed boats, they forged a global network. Artefacts show that they reached as far west as Canada, as far east as central Asia and as far south as Morocco, bringing an exchange of cultures, customs and material goods that changed the world.

The installation at the British Museum of the largest Viking boat ever found © Paul Raftery The installation at the British Museum of the largest Viking boat ever found © Paul Raftery

 

 

5. They made themselves look scary

Warriors would get tattoos, wear eye decorations and file grooves into their teeth and fill them with colour in order to look more formidable as they approached their adversaries.

6. They were an extravagant bunch

They showed off their wealth with increasingly opulent and downright impractical jewellery such as silver brooches that could poke an eye out and neck rings such as this one that weighs an almighty 2kg!

10th century gold neck ring © The National Museum of Denmark 10th-century gold neck ring © The National Museum of Denmark

 

 

7. They weren’t always the victorious, fearless warriors we imagine

Excavations in Weymouth, Dorset revealed a mass grave of Vikings that had all been beheaded. The separated skulls and lack of battle wounds to the skeletons suggest that an entire crew from a longship succumbed without a fight. Let us know your thoughts on the Vikings in the comments boxes below! The BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend is at the British Museum 6 March – 22 June 2014. Tickets are £16.50 (concessions available) and can be booked on the British Museum website. If you can’t reach the exhibition, look out for Vikings Live being shown at cinemas across the UK on 24 April.

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