The Vikings were a brutal group of conquerors and explorers who were famous for ransacking villages and riding around in ornately crafted boats. As a concept, they’ve grasped a hold of the public's consciousness and pillaged their way into our homes via television, but it turns out that there were some brutal Viking acts that were too hot for TV. Audiences are used to seeing warlords and clans of warriors fight to the death en masse, but some of the things Vikings did go beyond being historically interesting and are vile enough to make you rethink ever opening a history book again. Bloody Viking rituals applied to everything from animals to children and especially their slaves, who were treated with as little respect as possible.
The Viking practices too graphic for TV have one major theme in common: Not knowing when to stop. From torture methods like the "blood eagle" to the filing down of their teeth to appear more frightening, there are multiple moments in Vikings history when the ancient Scandinavians could have chilled out or pulled back the reigns, but instead, they pushed forward and turned their crazy up to 200%. You may think that you know about the brutality that Vikings dished out on a daily basis after watching shows - like History Channel's Vikings - about the ancient Norse people, but until you read about these incredibly graphic rituals, you’ll never truly know how the Vikings lived.
While it may seem like the understatement of the century to say that the people who were enslaved by Vikings faced abysmal treatment, the concept of Scandinavian slavery is certainly worth diving into. Viking slaves, or thralls as they called them, were a disparate group of people made up of those who survived raids across Europe, and they were forced to do every bit of work that their Viking bosses deemed unfit for their precious hands.
Thralls were forced to construct plantations, sleep with their masters, cook, clean, and even build the magnificent ships that you think of when someone mentions Scandinavia. Thralls subsisted mostly on a diet of fish, and when their masters died, they were sacrificed - whether they were ready to die or not.
Slavery, whether it was taking place in the 18th century or the 6th century, is a brutal and dehumanizing practice that stains the pages of every culture's history. It's something that you likely won't see depicted in detail in a fictionalized representation of Viking culture because it's not sexy or cool; it's simply horrific.
For a group of people who are represented as putting honor above all else, the Vikings were very quick to desecrate the bodies of their victims. Whether it was someone they were facing in battle or their slaves, Vikings enjoyed dismembering the bodies of their various foes and burying them with random animal parts. The practice feels very much like an archaic "f you" to anyone who isn't a Viking.
According to Elise Naumann, an archaeologist and postdoc at the University of Oslo, "There are lots of macabre treatments of the bodies. Some have chopped off limbs, such as in the Viking graves at Kaupang [Norway].” Some researchers believe that the desecrations are meant to offer the narrative of a person's life, but if that's the case, then why not write it out on a stone tablet? Vikings were as confusing as they were brutal.
Do you know who never caused anyone a bit of trouble? Eunuch monks. For those of you who don't keep up with 6th-century religious practices, eunuch monks were men of god who were castrated at a young age and made to follow different religious practices depending on where they were conceived.
Vikings loved to vandalize monasteries in Europe and either capture eunuchs or steal young boys from the monasteries, castrate them without their consent, and then sell them off to their trading partners in Asia.
It would be inaccurate and dumb to suggest that the Vikings were the only race of ancient people who had strange attitudes toward homosexuality. While Viking men lived in a fairly binary sexual culture, they also partook in the Grindr of their day: forcing weaker men to have sex with them whether they wanted to or not. The Viking leaders felt that it was well within their rights to have sex with whomever they wanted to, especially their male subordinates.
What was then seen as a sexual hierarchy is now known as rape, and while many modern Viking apologists push an agenda of them not being as bad as people think, this information about their very odd mix of masculinity and homophobia makes them look even worse than originally believed.