11 Answers To Questions About Vikings We Wish We'd Gotten Sooner

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Vote up the answers to questions about Vikings that are worthy of Valhalla.

From pop-culture representations to the marauders we read about in history class, Vikings are fascinating. Harsh and adventurous, seafaring and brave, they were not a group to be messed with. But how much do we really know?

With myth and fact so mixed, we needed clarity. The Vikings made it to North America, for example - but why did they leave? We found out - and had to learn more.

As a result, this list contains the answers to a whole new batch of questions we had about the Vikings. How did they end up fighting for the Byzantines? Did they have pets? What did they like to do in their free time? Vote up the best answers to these common Viking questions.


  • What Kinds Of Pets Did The Vikings Have?
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    What Kinds Of Pets Did The Vikings Have?

    Vikings kept animals of various kinds, some more functional and practical than others. Falcons were useful in hunting, dogs herded cattle and hunted, horses had numerous uses, and cats provided rodent control in homes and on ships alike. 

    According to lore, newlywed women received kittens as gifts for the purpose of keeping mice out of the hearth and home. The goddess of love, Freya, is also closely associated with cats. 

    When it came to keeping pets, dogs were also companion animals, ones believed to accompany warriors when they went to Valhalla. One breed in particular, the Norsk elghund (Norse elkhound) is called the Dog of the Vikings and continues to be held in high regard in Norway

    One more animal believed to have been kept by Vikings is the bear. Polar and brown bears could be domesticated, but if they got loose, their owners were punished for any damage they caused. 

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    Why Did Vikings File Their Teeth?

    Horizontal filing marks on the teeth of Viking skulls have led to assertions by scholars that the practice was likely a sign of social status. Archaeological evidence has found additional crescent-shaped markings, as well as indications that Vikings may have applied paint or dye to their teeth, too.

    The lines are, according to researcher Caroline Arcini, "skillfully made, and it is most likely that the individuals did not make the marks themselves, but that someone else must have filed them." The Vikings paid attention to hygiene and it's also possible that, in the words of the Smithsonian's William Fitzhugh, "When in-filled with pigment, these grooves would have made Viking warriors look even more terrifying to Christian monks and villagers."

  • What's A 'Kenning'?
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    What's A 'Kenning'?

    Much like their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, Norse men and women enjoyed riddles. Some of the best-known riddles are associated with Norse gods, notably Odin when he takes the form of Gestumblindi in the Hervarar saga. Odin puts King Heidrek to the test with a series of riddles to test his wisdom. 

    While the riddles themselves make for a fun read, so too does the wordplay found within the Viking texts. The writers of the sagas and Norse poetry used kennings to describe people and things through figurative expressions, often translated as hyphenated terms. Examples include the description of armor as "conflict-garb" or one's head as a "hat-support." 

  • Did The Vikings Use Incendiary Weapons?
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    Did The Vikings Use Incendiary Weapons?

    When thinking about the types of weapons Vikings used, one's mind often turns to the traditional ax, sword, and shield that dominated medieval conflict. Viking warriors are also associated with conflict hammers, intimidating helmets, and fear-inducing ships. Lesser known, however, is the use of fire - something Vikings actually brought to the battlefield. 

    They were known to take tree fungus called touchwood and soak it in urine. After a few days, they beat the fungus into something that resembled felt. The highly flammable substance was portable and could be taken on raids as an added tool with which to wreak havoc. 

  • What Did The Vikings Do For Fun?
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    What Did The Vikings Do For Fun?

    Viking recreation included indoor and outdoor activities - with a fair amount of gambling in the mix. Alongside throwing dice, Vikings also played numerous board games, and the Nordic sagas attest to how seriously Vikings took them.

    In Grettir's Saga, Thornbjorn Angle takes issue with his stepmother throwing a gaming piece at him:

    [It] glanced into his eye, so that it hung out on his cheek. He sprang up, caught hold of her, and handled her roughly, insomuch that she took to her bed, and passed thereof afterwards, and folk say that she was then big with child.

    The game Thornbjorn was playing was tafl - perhaps hnefatafl - which is often compared to chess. It's a strategy game, and modern versions remain popular in board and video game formats. 

    When it came to having fun outdoors, Norse men, women, and children really enjoyed skiing, swimming, wrestling, and a little-understood ball game called knattleikr.  

  • When (And Why) Did The Varangian Guard Form?
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    When (And Why) Did The Varangian Guard Form?

    The Varangian Guard was a group of mercenary soldiers who fought as part of the Byzantine army and served as protection for the emperor. It was mostly comprised of men of Scandinavian descent. 

    As early as 839 CE, members of the Rus - Scandinavians in Russia who largely settled along the Dnieper River - were recruited by the Byzantine Empire. The formal establishment of the Varangian Guard took place in 988 CE. When Vladimir I of Kyiv adopted Christianity, he sent a contingent of men to Byzantine Emperor Basil II to establish diplomatic relations. 

    Having the sworn loyalty of the Varangian Guard proved beneficial to Byzantine emperors who were fearful of conspiracies against them. During the Crusades, the Varangians helped protect Constantinople from Muslim (and, in the case of the Fourth Crusade, Christian) incursions.