14 Facts About Vikings That We Just Learned

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Vote up the most surprising unknown facts about Vikings.

Vikings have raided and traded their way into the public imagination, thanks to television shows, video games, and even sports teams that have made the Scandinavian seafarers ubiquitous. But even though Vikings are everywhere, interesting facts about Vikings reveal their life to be wilder and weirder than most people imagine.

The word "Viking" is a loaded one and technically only applies to warriors. Nonetheless, it has become a shorthand way of referring to a wide, diverse group of people who originated in Scandinavia and spent their time raiding and trading from the eighth to the 11th centuries. 

Vikings were more than raiders and traders, however - they were imaginative storytellers, fearless explorers, and even simple farmers. Not all Vikings were exclusively Scandinavian, either, since their culture was as diverse as their geographic reach. 

These Viking facts demonstrate that their world was ridiculously richer and more complex than we realize.

  • 1
    1,835 VOTES

    Viking Graffiti Is Surprisingly Earnest

    From Redditor u/MHM5035:

    TIL some Viking runes are simply graffiti, translated as "Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women" or "Tholfir Kolbeinsson carved these runes high up."

    Context: Vikings wrote in runes, an alphabet and lettering system that Germanic peoples used. Vikings also marked where they traveled using runic inscriptions.

    Some runic inscriptions were basically graffiti that said things like, "These runes were carved by the man most skilled in runes in the western ocean." Another piece read, "Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women." Runic graffiti can also be seen in Hagia Sophia, where a Viking called Halfdan proudly wrote, "Halfdan was here" - he was the original Kilroy.

  • 2
    2,250 VOTES

    Vikings Peddled 'Unicorn Horns' To Wealthy Europeans

    From Redditor u/TheRealSoggy:

    TIL that the Vikings would hunt narwhals for their "horns" (which are actually teeth) and sell them to clueless European traders as "unicorn horns," which were thought to have magical properties.

    Context: Vikings began selling narwhal tusks around 1000 AD. Europeans believed they were unicorn horns and eagerly bought them up. They displayed the tusks to show off their wealth or grinded them into powder for medicinal concoctions. Royals were particularly enthusiastic customers, since they believed unicorn powder was a potent antidote against an assassin's poison.

  • 3
    1,600 VOTES

    Vikings Were Kings Of England

    From Redditor u/JackBauregad:

    TIL there was once a Viking king who ruled as king of England... for about five weeks.

    Context: Vikings were so successful at infiltrating England that they exerted their influence over many aspects of Anglo-Saxon life, including the monarchy. Among the Viking kings was Sweyn Forkbeard, who ruled Denmark before raiding England. He was declared king of England on Christmas in 1013.

    Though Sweyn didn't last long on the throne - he passed just five weeks into his reign in 1014 - his son Cnut eventually became king

  • 4
    1,932 VOTES

    Native Americans Held Their Own Against Vikings

    From Redditor u/Smooth_Hobo:

    TIL that Native Americans successfully fought off a Viking raiding party of 50 warriors after they landed in Newfoundland, 985 AD.

    Context: Vikings' encounters with Native Americans actually appear in Scandinavian sagas. The Saga of the Greenlanders, for example, recounts how Thorvald, Leif Erikson's brother, was slain when Native Americans tried to repel the Vikings in what is believed to be Newfoundland.

    Vikings began a settlement in Newfoundland around the turn of the 11th century at what is now the L'Anse aux Meadows UNESCO site. While there, they both traded and clashed with the local Indigenous community, whom they called the "Skrælings." In one skirmish, Native Americans bashed a Viking's head in with a stone. Conflict with this Indigenous community may have been a factor in Vikings' abandonment of the settlement.

  • Some Viking Warriors May Have Prepared For Conflict By Taking A Substance
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    1,496 VOTES

    Some Viking Warriors May Have Prepared For Conflict By Taking A Substance

    From Redditor u/juiceboxheero:

    TIL that Viking "berserkers" would take hallucinogenic mushrooms to induce their battle rage.

    Context: According to Nordic legends, berserkers were a particular kind of Viking warrior. They were known for their wild ruthlessness in conflict.

    Some scholars have proposed that berserkers prepared for clashes by taking Amanita muscaria, a mushroom with hallucinogenic properties, to unleash their "battle-lust." An alternative candidate for provoking berserkers is henbane, a plant that can make users aggressive.

  • 6
    1,510 VOTES

    Vikings Had To Watch Out For Counterfeit Swords

    From Redditor u/afeeney:

    TIL: In the Viking period, Ulfberht swords were made of crucible (very pure) steel all the way from India. The exceptional quality of this steel made them so valuable that forgers faked the name Ulfberht on lower-quality swords, the equivalent of a fake designer logo.

    Context: Probably the best sword that a Viking could buy was an unbreakable Ulfberht sword. They were made from the ninth to the 11th centuries. The carbonated steel for the swords likely came from Persia or India through trade routes. Only 171 Ulfberht swords have been unearthed by archaeologists. 

    Researchers don't know the maker's origins, but historian Anders Winroth suggests that Ulfberht "probably refers to a workshop or a family." The word "Ulfberht," which was inscribed on the blade, became a kind of logo. As such, fake Ulfberht swords, which weren't as good, entered the market and perhaps defrauded many an unsuspecting Viking.