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Your knowledge of Vikings is probably wrong, according to these historians

Historians debunk myths of how Vikings actually lived

By Angela Garrity, Guest blogger

Looking back on the past tends to knock us off our high horse, especially when it comes to what we think we know about people. Historians now say that our knowledge of Vikings is quite distorted from how they truly lived — meaning many of us really don't know what we're talking about.

A brown Norse chess piece sits on a board
Photo: This photo shows a rare Norse chess piece. Picture: Tristan Fewings Source: Getty Images/news.au.com

Military explains that historians are now looking at Vikings in a different light because of recent evidence that disproves many of the myths about the "heathen savages" to the North. The fierce personas that are often described are not all-inclusive to Vikings, as modern historians portray them more as fur traders than ferocious brutes.

The most sensationalized Viking stories were that of berserkers, who were said to have been lone Viking warriors who wore nothing but bearskin, took psychedelics to obstruct feeling pain, and put an end to anyone reckless enough to stand in between them and their ax. Though not completely erroneous, these are exaggerations.

Three different types of warriors were often shuffled into the same category —Berserkers (whose bear coats are often attributed to the worship of Thor, Tyr, or Odin), the Ulfhednar (who wore wolf coats for Odin), and the Svinflylking (who wore boar coats for Freya). Each type of warrior fought loyally for their respective Norse deity, in addition to taking on the aspect of the animal pelt they donned.

The defining animal pelt worn wasn’t the only garment worn, either. The frozen tundras of Scandanavia are too frigid to spend time without pants — which is what wood carvings depict them wearing.

They weren’t mostly naked, nor afraid.

Also, all berserkers, especially the Ulfhednar, joined others in combat as a compliment on the battlefield. Scandinavian kings utilized the berserkers as shock troops to lead their forces. The pelt they wore can be compared to modern-day unit insignias.

There were no lone wolves here.

Finally, hallucinogen usage is likely an illusion of imagination. In 1784, Odmann, a Christian priest theorized the first accounts of Vikings “going berserk” because they ate magic mushrooms. Odmann jumped to this conclusion between berserkers and the fly agaric mushroom because he read that Siberian shamans did the same when they were healing.

However, there are two holes in his tinfoil hat theory — the mushrooms are extremely toxic and would leave any warrior in no shape to fight and these mushrooms were never mentioned anywhere until 1784 — long after the Viking age.

Who’s the “Odmann” out, now?

Vikings did use Stinking Nightshade, as there is archaeological evidence to support this as a medicinal use that was found in a gravesite. However, the plant was made into a paste and applied topically — like how a pain patch would be used today.

Many myths surround the Viking way of life simply because most of their history wasn’t written from their perspective. Stay bloodthirsty for truth. Skol!

Related: Scientists reveal face of 1,000-year-old female Viking warrior

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