Busting the myth of Viking women warriors.

/Busting the myth of Viking women warriors.

An article looking at that headline that was going around a while back claiming half of Viking “warrior” corpses found were female.

Sensationalist headlines at TOR aside, this seems to be a misconception of what, exactly, constitutes a “warrior”. The short version is that the historic assumption about Viking migrations has been that men came first, did all the fighting to clear out the locals, and their women and children came in a second wave. This appears to be incorrect, if for no other reason than the sagas themselves document it as such; Viking men often brought their families along with them when they went looking for new lands to settle (this is why you had Viking women in Vinland/Canada, for example).

Grave sites at Viking invasions, which is what the discussed paper was looking at, bear this out; skeletons found seem to be a roughly equal mix of men and women. What’s been tripping lazy (coughmalecough) archaeologists up for years is that assumptions about grave goods found alongside said skeletons don’t match up to our modern sensibilities about what goods “should” be buried with men versus buried with women. In other words, identifying all skeletons buried with weapons as “male” and all buried with beads and brooches as “female” turns out to be incorrect when skeletons are identified in other ways (i.e. by looking at the shape of the bones). In short, female Vikings were sometimes buried with weapons.

Why, exactly, this was the case? Who knows. What it doesn’t necessarily mean is that these women were “warriors” in the sense we’d imagine “warriors” today, i.e. as members of some formal army or militia. Nor does it necessarily imply their presence as part of Viking settler groups was one of martial prowess. Viking women certainly did get in on the “defending the colony” settler action–again, there are some amusing stories about fierce Viking women making Inuit rethink raids on “undefended” settlements–but their main role in the settlement was to, yanno. Settle down with their families.

Viking society in general was aggressively patriarchal, but it was patriarchal in a slightly different way to the version that was later brought up from the Middle East by Christian missionaries (and that we would recognise in modern times). It’s also difficult to reconstruct because the Vikings didn’t really document their own society; almost all of the accounts we have of them are by Christian and Muslim sources, either contemporary or written hundreds of years later, which contain their own attendant cultural baggage.

So… yeah. Don’t get me wrong; Viking women were tough as nails and fought, both formally as warriors and not. But… not to the extent that half a Viking army would inevitably be women.

2017-11-16T11:27:26+00:0029th October, 2014|Tags: vikings|