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Media in general has portrayed the vikings as savage uncivilized people who would travel overseas and raid the villages, towns and monasteries. In this article we will debunk some of these myths and give a more realistic approach to what the vikings were really all about.
Myth 1: Vikings were uncivilized barbarians who only knew how to raid and plunder
The people who lived in the Scandinavian countries between the 8th and 11th centuries are often referred to as vikings. They were well-known for their skill in warfare and their thirst for adventure. However, there are many misconceptions about them as a people.
Vikings were fearsome warriors who often raided and plundered their victims.
This is probably the most common myth about vikings. While it’s true that some of them were warriors, they were also well-educated and civilized people with their own written language! There are many misconceptions about their way of life, their culture, and the values they believed in. Vikings were not the ferocious warriors as they are depicted in popular culture. In fact, most of their lives were occupied with trading, farming, familylife. They had their own laws, rules and traditions which they followed strictly.
Myth 2: Vikings had horns on their helmets.
You've probably come across hundreds of pictures of vikings on the internet with their helmets attached to them by two horns? This is a myth that has been around for centuries. It's an image that we all know and one that comes to mind when we think about vikings, but is it true?
The short answer is no.
The truth is that there is no evidence of any such thing. In fact, the only time we see horns on helmets is when they were added by artists who were depicting them in paintings or sculptures. So where did this myth come from?
The image of the horned-helmeted Viking was popularized in the 19th century by Swedish artists like Gustav Malmström. In the 1870s, Carl Emil Doepler designed horned helmets for the Vikings in Wagner's opera cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen”, and the stereotype was born, and is still with us today.
Myth 3: Vikings were pagans
Yes and no. While it is true that most people living in Scandinavia during the Viking Age were pagan, not all of them were. In fact, the Scandinavian countries officially converted to Christianity around 1000 A.D., which was long before the end of the Viking Age. But of course, although the country became officially Christian, it took a long time for Christianity to take hold among some peoples.
Scandinavian kings saw that their countries' conversion to Christianity would position them more advantageously in relation to other nations and declared their country as a Christian country. While this was the case in many areas, there were areas where the people embraced the new religion before their king.
Myth 4: Vikings were illiterate and could not read or write
The idea that the Vikings were illiterate and could not read or write is a common misconception about Nordic and Scandinavian history.
What we know about literacy rates among the Vikings comes from archaeological evidence. While these sources do not give us a complete picture of literacy rates among all Vikings throughout history, they do provide some insight into what may have been more common than others believe.
In many cases, these misconceptions come from how we talk about history today—we are so used to talking about "literacy" as something that requires reading and writing (and perhaps math) that we forget how much more complex this concept was in days gone by. The ability to read and write was only one part of being literate—the ability to understand written texts can take years of study. Literacy also requires an understanding of spoken language (which takes listening skills) as well as an understanding of grammar and syntax (which takes critical thinking).
Myth 5: The Vikings traveled to raid and pillage.
Did you know that most people during that time were not vikings? Actually, a better term to refer to viking age societies is “farming and trading culture”.
The term "viking" is often used as a way to describe the life of these people, but it's actually not accurate (as the word viking means pirate). Rather than being raiders and looters, they were farmers and traders.
In fact, they were so successful at farming and trading that they were able to travel around Europe in their longships and trade with other cultures.
Vikings were also great explorers and reached America before Christopher Columbus did. The vikings were able to explore and establish colonies far beyond their homeland of Scandinavia.
The vikings have been depicted as, amongst other things, violent, blood-thirsty conquerors who dressed in horned helmets, and for some reason, really enjoyed sailing around and pillaging the local countryside. A lot of these myths are just plain incorrect. If we take the time to look into their actual history, we'll find that there is so much more.