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There Were Way More Female Vikings Than We Thought, and They Got Buried With Their Swords, Too

While the stereotypes of vikings usually bring about images of very large blond men who pillage and fight and all that jazz, researchers are now saying that many of the settlers in Viking villages were female, and that the society they lived in was pretty egalitarian.

Originally, the researchers who have been studying Viking society mis-identified the remains of the settlers as male because they were often buried with swords and shields. Finally sorting them by their bones, instead, it was recently discovered that approximately half of the remains were female.

And not only does this discovery prove that there were a lot more female Vikings than previously thought, but researchers are also theorizing that the whole “rape/pillage/war” thing that Vikings are stereotyped for has also been exaggerated.

Women may have accompanied male Vikings in those early invasions of England, in much greater numbers than scholars earlier supposed, (Researcher) McLeod concludes. Rather than the ravaging rovers of legend, the Vikings arrived as marriage-minded colonists.

It will be interesting to see how this shakes out in terms of revelations about how their society operated.

Editor’s Note: Any post about vikings would be incomplete without the following.

You may now continue with your regularly scheduled internet browsing.

(USA Today via Jezebel)


  • Bel

    Oh my God, fuck yes.  Just fuck yes.

    Besides this being generally awesome, have you got any idea how much ammunition I now have against those few-but-stubborn fanboys arguing for “historical accuracy” in fantasy?  Let me tell you, internet, I am pumped.

  • Maiasaura

    That’s really interesting!  Even if they were bringing their wives with the hopes of building a colony, it’s still pretty unusual to have that many ladies with swords.  I’d love to hear more about this. 

  • Fantastic Dan

    Swords were symbolic of wealth and women, before the Romans and again before the Christians, were equal to men in the Anglo Saxon, Viking and British/Pictish societies meaning they had property, could rule and make socially influential decisions. Funny how it’s ‘civilization’ that takes away rights based on sex and ethnicity. 

  • Bel

    Got any further reading on this?  My interest is piqued.

  • Erin Ruggeri

    McLeod knows this is true because he was there. There can only be one. 

  • Mark Mikhael

    How about  accuracy?   There is a big difference between the words  ”norse” and “viking”. Vikings had to wear  iron armor, wield  heavy swords, and row boats.  The vikings were of course professional warriors.    

    The original report in US TODAY  aludes to this difference    
    Norse women, and for that matter men, may have accompanied the Vikings.

  • Blythe Collier

    If what you are looking for is egalitarian societies where women are equal to men, check out the modern matriarchies: the Chinese Mosuo (as autobiographically related in Yang Erche Namu & Christine Mathieu’s fascinating book “Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World”) and the West Sumatran Minangkabou (i.e. in Peggy Reeves Sanday’s wonderful book “Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy”). If you’re looking for ancient societies where there were both women and men warriors, I’d suggest starting with the revelatory “Warrior Women: An Archaeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines” by Jeannine Davis-Kimball and Mona Behan.

  • Hilary Friesen

    One of the great things about How to Train Your Dragon is that it made a point of the women being warriors, too. How lovely to find out that was also historically accurate!

  • Jayme

    There is also a list of general references on the Wiki Celt page. The Celts were considered more egalitarian than other societies of their time.

  • Jayme

    There is a list of general references on the Wiki Celt page. The Celts were considered more egalitarian than other societies of their time.

  • Jayme

    Crap. This was supposed to be a reply to Bel above. I cannot seem to delete this one. Can someone delete, please?

  • Anonymous

    Note to self: make a pink shield and sword to be buried with so that researchers are not confused when then dig me up.

  • Anonymous

    EXACTLY. This kind of thing really makes me wonder about how much we’ve obscured the role that women and LGBT people have played in our history by assuming they followed the same gender/sexuality roles that we* do.
    *by we, I mean the Western archaeologists who report on past cultures.

  • Ema

    Love this! So interesting, I love Viking/Celtic history. Fantastic.

  • aboleyn

    Only problem with How to Train Your Dragon is they also make is seem as if once a Viking reaches the age of an adult they magically start speaking with a Scottish accent.  

  • Candace Shaw

    But until the mid-twentieth century, pink was considered the more masculine colour, appropriate for baby boys. Light blue, maybe influenced by the Virgin Mary’s cloak (or the othe way ’round), was considered daintier, more appropriate for baby girls.
    If you’d been buried with a pink shield, and were dug up prior to WWII, you’d have seemed more boyish, not less.

  • GrassDog

    Some of the recent reading I’ve done indicates that there was a viking culture in a few of the northern Scottish isles.  I’m not sure what accent they had at the time, but it’s easy to imagine that How To Train Your Dragon took place there.  But, I somehow doubt that the choice of a Scottish accent had anything to do with anything but hysterical accuracy.

  • JackieJack

    In the end there can be only one, because there is only room for one in my end…

  • JackieJack

    I think it was more the Catholic Church taking land rights. Witch trials tended to be about jealousy over these pagan woman with their own homes and businesses, so they imprisoned, fined, and/or killed them and took their stuff. 

    I think the Catholics were comparatively kinder in Celtic countries. They tended to be more assimilationist in policy ( Your Holy day is now the Feast of Xtian Saint! ) than outright murderous, but that is not saying much. What complicates things is how many decent people joined the Church and did good works, so that the Irish are rightly proud of their monasteries, etc.

  • Cori B

    i just realized that the viking pigs stole the other farm animals not to eat them but to make them recruits

  • Angel S.

    For a fresh look on women’s roles in ancient societies (specifically how many of those societies were probably more egalitarian than originally believed) I can recommend the book “Women’s Work – the First 20,000 Years” by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.  It’s about how weaving cloth gave women a lot of influence in society.  I know cloth is not nearly as sexy as swords, but if you read the book you’ll develop a much greater appreciation for cloth, clothing, and how easily something really important can get dismissed by modern archaeology just because it *didn’t* involve swords or some sort of (perceived) male-centric topic.  The book is wonderfully written and very well-researched. 

  • Angel S.

    For a fresh look on women’s roles in ancient societies (specifically how many of those societies were probably more egalitarian than originally believed) I can recommend the book “Women’s Work – the First 20,000 Years” by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.  It’s about how weaving cloth gave women a lot of influence in society.  I know cloth is not nearly as sexy as swords, but if you read the book you’ll develop a much greater appreciation for cloth, clothing, and how easily something really important can get dismissed by modern archaeology just because it *didn’t* involve swords or some sort of (perceived) male-centric topic.  The book is wonderfully written and very well-researched. 

  • Anonymous

    “Rather than the ravaging rovers of legend, the Vikings arrived as marriage-minded colonists.”Yes, of course. The concept that any women are capable of violence is just ridiculous. Viking raids were really just the equivalent of internet-dating back in those days… hmmm. Not!
    Why were these lovely, romantically-inclined ladies buried with swords & shields? Why do you need those on a date? (Actually, don’t answer that!)

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  • Jerry Baustian

    Camp followers have accompanied armies since the time of the Greeks and Persians, at least. So it is not surprising that women accompanied the Vikings. Maybe some were wives, but maybe others could have been captives or slaves.

  • John Radclyffe Lohan

    The Scottish accent on the adults would be fine, except that they bizarrely gave all the children American accents o.o

  • bifemmefatale

    Of course. They couldn’t *possibly* have been kicking ass themselves; they must have been hookers. *rolls eyes* The Celts had well-attested woman warriors, why is it so hard to believe the Vikings did too?

  • Anonymous

    After watching one squeeze two babies out, I can say with certainty that women are 100x more badass than men.

  • Matt Gard

    Prostitutes with swords. And shields. that were integral enough to them as people that they were buried with them.
    Obviously Viking men were into BDSM in a big way or something, hey Jerry?

  • Jitka Sainte

    In regard to your parenthetical, it was the other way around, actually… light blue meant “female” for much longer than pink has signified “female”. :) Mary’s cloak was light blue because that’s what meant female; Renaissance painters primarily worked for the Church, and they weren’t about to change things without a good reason! :)

    (Yay for your larger point and historical accuracy, too!)

  • Jym Dyer

    ¤ Das Niebelungenlied might be another hint.

  • ArchaeologicalAndy

    I’d rather face a Celt male after he’s had a few beers than a woman with PMT anyday!

  • Anonymous

    That in a time/society at war, with as spare a population as it was back then, and warfare being way more person to person than today, WHY are we surprised that women fought, too? 

    Anyone able-bodied enough to defend the village/family etc would have taken up arms or (at least on a basic level) knew how to fight.

  • Anonymous

    XD That is starting to sound like a cable show.

  • Jim
  • Anonymous

    Please give your head a shake, Jerry. You’re grasping at straws.

    Victorian revisionist takes on how life in ye olde-asse times might have been are bunkum through and through. Chaucer didn’t make up the Wife of Bath whole-cloth, sorry to say. And it’s not just in ‘the west’ that women knew their way around a sharp forged thing. Naginata were the weapons of the WIVES of samurai. Who held down the homestead while the master of the house was out conquering and smiting, do you suppose?

    History does not give a damn how uncomfortable you are with the idea of Brynnhildr running into the melee alongside Sigurd.

  • Anonymous

    I’d watch the heck out of it.

  • Anonymous

    *waggles eyebrow*

    Well, you know. 

  • ArchaeologicalAndy

    Not personally, I dont. I’m a good boy! No lady has required a sword and shield on a date with me – rather, it was, at times, the other way around!

  • Mieko Gavia

    WOOOOAH woah woah woah woah- hold up.  So first, the scientists thought: oh. Skeletons buried with battle stuff.  Must be male.  
    And then when they finally CHECK the actual skeletons buried with battle stuff, and find out that many of them were female they’re all: oh.  So vikings must not have been fighters then.Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.  I call sexism, and that hasn’t changed.

  • Brian Lindsay

    Hey, so let me preface this post by saying that I’m male, feminist, and what I (only half jokingly) call Viking American. I’m not at all writing this say ‘I am right, this is how it is’, nor to stomp on people’s opinions/thoughts, etc, but because I have studied Viking Mythology and history quite a bit, both independently and in class with Norse scholars. I’m seeing comments/criticisms that I believe I have a level of expertise sufficient to help clear up, and also have some critique of my own, which I think might help elucidate things a bit.

    Some of the confusion with this article is that there’s actually two things going on. One is addressing a new discovery, and the other is addressing a popular culture misconception, which the author doesn’t differentiate. My working assumption is that the author comes from a popular position, and accidentally conflated the two.

    People who study viking history *already* know that the vikings were awesomely egalitarian, and we already know that the vikings were actually just as much traders and colonists as raiders. This is totally old news, and really has nothing to do with whether women had swords or not! So, for those who are shouting in dismay at the apparent “oh women? Then it couldn’t *possibly* have been all about pillaging”, these are actually two totally separate facts.

    That said… I’m really skeptical this means there were significant numbers viking warrior women. This isn’t to say Viking women weren’t badass; they had tons of social, political, and religious power, and a viking woman, Sigrid the Proud, is one of my personal heroines (she burned to death two kings who each tried to force her to marry them for her money, and tore down a third who slapped her in the face and called her a bitch for being a pagan). But I’ve never seen nor heard of a single attestation of a female warrior in either the histories or the myths. The thing is that while egalitarian, the vikings were also extremely gendered. Baring a few fascinating exceptions, there’s very little apparent overlap in terms of gender roles. Two friends of mine who’ve written extensive research papers on women, power, and performance in Viking society didn’t find/talk about any women warriors.

    My read is this: the discovery of viking women buried with armaments doesn’t necessarily mean viking warrior women. Viking burial rites are still relatively unknown, but I believe are typically more about showing wealth and honor than say personal attachment, if that makes sense? What I think this *does* show, is how important and powerful women were in viking society. Swords are great symbols of wealth and prestige (only the rich and powerful could afford them), and the most honorable weapon to bear. That just as many women as men bore such prestigious symbols to the grave says to me women were understood to be just as valuable and important to society as men.

    Hopefully people find this interesting/helpful! For those looking for a quick, reliable primer on viking lore, I suggest checking out

    A couple notes:   Re @google-8646f0c6e893c85d5a41d58605e26dc1:disqus : It is correct to point out that ‘viking’ simply means ‘raider’, while the people were Norse, however even during the viking era, viking was such an important historical and cultural force, that the Norse themselves adopted the term themselves, essentially deciding that Vikings were badass, so why be offended?

    @facebook-1164481042:disqus : For what it’s worth, we’re talking about viking settlers in england, so really it’s the British you should be criticizing =P (which isn’t to say there isn’t sexism in Denmark that needs to be acknowledged and fixed. But in it’s defense, as someone who’s lived in both the states and DK, it is a lot LESS sexist there.)

  • Travis McClain

    This confirms my lifelong suspicion that Helga only stayed at home because she wanted to, and that Hagar knew it.

  • Lonespark

    Cloth is awesome.  Frigga told me so.  

    Thanks for recommending the book!

  • Megan Hutchins

    Ten thousand points to Brian Lindsay.  Anyone who thinks the relatively egalitarian nature of the Norse is big news is simply displaying their utter ignorance to the subject and their willingness to go along with said dull stereotypes.  The Norse had an awesome legal code, which already attests to the high position of women in society, their rights to divorce, hold and claim land, etc.  I’m trying not to sound harsh, but any post complaining about stereotypes that also includes a picture of a horned helmet (not worn!) makes me want to chew my tongue off.  There are lots of books on the Norse.  Your local library probably has one, complete with pictures of longhouses, tablet weaving, and board games.  The Vikings had a rich and fascinating culture, one where women were respected.  That shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone.

  • Tasha Oliva Peláez

    This is way later in history, but pre-colonial Native American women also carried knives and multi-tools, mostly made of bone.  Throughout history, women have carried weapons, but anthropologists (read: old white men who wrote the history books) always seem to suppress that.

  • Fantastic Dan

    not offhand, sorry. You could do worse than googling women in pagan society, Boudicca Boadicea and the like. A lot of what’s written is biased by 2 thousand years of phalocentric patriachal ‘interpretation’ but going between the lines to the subtexts can be revealing. 

  • Ceili

    Thanks for that link! I absolutely love my Celtic heritage, but I haven’t looked into it as much as I should have. Knowing how egalitarian we were and how badass the women seemed to be in a number of aspects just makes me love it even more!

  • Kim Ebel


    First of all, thank you very much for posting that! I do believe I might have to go look up Sigrid the Proud — she sounds pretty awesome!  I was wondering if there was any chance you had any particularly good books or articles (I actually prefer those of the academic/peer reviewed variety — I’m really just looking for an excuse to subscribe to my alma mater’s library’s database ;-p) that I can throw at some of my gaming folks?  I have tried to make the egalitarian society argument any number of times, but apparently the history books these folks read many years ago said nothing of the sort. Since I am currently on a quest to acquire a stack of evidence to throw at it, any helpful pointers (authors, etc) would be much appreciated if you can think of any off the top of your head.

    Again, thanks for confirming what I’d already heard from a number of my companions who are also very interested in that area of history.  I generally trusted their investigative abilities, but it’s still nice to hear it from other areas.  Also, it’s time to do my own homework. Guess that’s what I get for insisting on friends who insist on citations, eh? ;-p

  • Anonymous

    Why would slaves have been buried with valuable weapons?

  • Jerry Baustian

    I’m happy to see that someone is reading through these old threads.

    If I was a Viking going on a sea voyage, I’d want to bring along a woman or two. Or if I took one captive during a raid, and she was young and good-looking, I’d want to keep her.

    The original article says this was a mass grave, that it included women but did not say the gravesite contained only women. There are a number of explanations for the presence of weapons, jewelry, and other grave goods. It is not necessary to presume that these were women warriors. They could have been, and I’m not arguing that they were not — only saying the evidence is not clear.

  • Anonymous

    This is not even remotely new to anyone from Scandinavia. People should stop getting their “culture” from pop culture. Also that picture is just an example of the dumb ignorant stereotypes. Viking helms had not horns! So you are using am incorrect stereotypical picture in an article that is about disproving stereotypes…

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, not much ammunition sorry. Since this was specific to Norse culture and not the rest of the world. Look up Scandinavia in a world map and realize how small it is. The fact that a small exception exists does not disprove the majority that was the rest of societies in the world.