• Weird History

13 Of The Dumbest Things Pop Culture Has Us Believe About Vikings

List RulesVote up the viking tropes you've seen most often.

Pop culture loves Viking tropes. Far from presenting the Viking world in accurate terms, the worst Viking movies, TV shows, and video games peddle the same old stereotypes about the Vikings that often have nothing to do with historical realities.

Even the word "Viking" is a little inaccurate. Technically, "Viking" only refers to Scandinavian seafarers, though it has been commonly used to describe all people with roots in Nordic cultures from the 700s to the early 1100s. But despite their origins in Scandinavia, Vikings traveled far and wide, and their world stretched beyond modern-day Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. This diverse Viking world was incredibly complex.

But you wouldn't know it from the Viking-themed stories that saturate film, television, and video games. From the image of the burly, blond warrior to inaccurate Viking funeral tropes, these overused stereotypes perpetuate misguided and wrong-headed ideas about some of history's most fascinating and enigmatic groups. Ultimately, pop culture does historical Vikings no favors by woefully oversimplifying and misrepresenting their world.

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  • Photo: Vikings / History Channel
    1

    Everyone In Viking Society Was An Incredible Fighter And Loved To Show It Off

    The Trope: A Viking is a Viking because he is an incredible fighter.

    Why Is It Inaccurate?: Not everyone in the Viking world was a fighter. In fact, many of the Vikings who settled in Britain and North America, for example, came with the intent to farm. Vikings were also merchants who were deeply embedded in trade networks that stretched all the way to Asia.

    Notable Offenders: Film and television series, from Valhalla Rising to the History Channel's Vikings, almost always depict Vikings as warriors. Similarly, video games, such as War of the Vikings, reiterate the image of fighting Vikings.

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  • Photo: Game of Thrones / HBO
    2

    Dead Vikings Were Set Out To Sea In A Burning Ship

    The Trope: A ship bearing the corpse of a fallen Viking warrior or king sails out to sea before an archer loses a burning arrow on the ship and sets it aflame. 

    Why Is It Inaccurate?: Important Vikings, surrounded with their "grave goods," really were cremated on ships. But these ships didn't sail in open water. Instead, ship pyres were burned and buried on land, where archaeologists continue to find them several centuries later.

    Notable Offenders: Though a fantasy series, Game of Thrones borrows from multiple pre-modern cultures, including the Vikings. It depicts a funeral wherein a corpse-bearing ship is set out into water and then lit up with an arrow. Similarly, the 1958 film The Vikings and 2007's Beowulf depict floating, burning ships as a funeral pyres.

    Video games such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt feature similar scenes.

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  • Photo: Pathfinder / 20th Century Fox
    3

    Vikings Wore Horned Or Winged Helmets

    The Trope: A Viking is never fully dressed without a winged or horned helmet.

    Why Is It Inaccurate?: Though there is a little bit of evidence that a limited number of - very high-ranking - Vikings may have, on occasion, worn something resembling a horned helmet, Vikings certainly never wore these helmets in battle, since they would get in the way of combat

    The idea that these objects were part of the official Viking kit only emerged in the 19th century. Carl Emil Doepler served as the costume designer for Richard Wagner's Ring cycle, a series of operas based on Norse mythology. Doepler based his dramatic helmet designs on Greek, Roman, and Germanic helmets, rather than actual Norse ones. But the inaccurate image was evocative enough that it stuck.

    Notable Offenders: Horned helmets appear in many depictions of Vikings, including PathfinderAsterix and the Vikings, and the How to Train Your Dragon series. Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part I even spoofs the inaccurate depiction of horned helmets. 

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  • Photo: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World / Universal Pictures
    4

    If A Viking Was A Man, He Undoubtedly Had Long Hair And Beard

    The Trope: Viking men always have long, shaggy hair and beards.

    Why Is It Inaccurate?: Viking men had a variety of hair styles available to them, since hair often correlated to an individual's place in society. It is true that Viking men had longish hair, but their hair usually didn't pass their shoulders. Their facial hair was not unkempt and shaggy. Men took grooming very seriously, and some Vikings actually sported short beards.

    Notable Offenders: The television show Vikings depicts Viking men with beards and long or braided locks. Even in the animated film How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Hiccup's final transition to adulthood is partly signaled by his bushy beard.

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