32 Viking Facts That Uncover One Of History’s Most Misunderstood Civilizations

Published December 18, 2017
Updated March 14, 2024

From their love of kittens to their lack of horned helmets, these Viking facts reveal what few people know about their history.

Viking Facts Weak Children
Children perceived to be weak would be left to die by abandoning them or throwing them into the sea.

Vikings Didnt Wear Helmets
Vikings didn't wear horned helmets, a look that was likely fabricated by 19th-century painters.

Viking Facts
They also didn't use the skulls of their enemies as drinking vessels.

Front Of Viking Ships
However, as most of us do often imagine, Viking ships did regularly come outfitted with fearsome head posts depicting dragons and other mythical creatures.

For more Viking facts about ships, see this report.

Despite our ideas about them, Vikings actually bathed more frequently than most Europeans of their day.

Viking Facts Cats For Newlyweds
Vikings used to give kittens to new brides because they believed them to be an essential part of a new household.

Interesting Viking Facts
If wounded, Vikings were given onion soup because, once eaten, the smell emanating from their stomach would reveal whether their injuries were treatable.

Womens Rights In Viking Period
With the ability to divorce and remarry, own property, and sit at the head of a familial clan, Viking women had more rights than those in Christian Europe.

For more Viking facts related to women, see this overview.

Viking Facts Beserkers
The most fearsome Viking warriors, clothed in animal skins and given to howling during battle, were known as "berserkers," hence the word "berserk."

Beserker Drugs
Scholars suggest that berserkers were able to enter their berserk state thanks to drugs including magic mushrooms, alcohol, and henbane.

Leif Erikson Discovery Of North America
Leif Erikson, a Norse explorer, discovered North America 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The Vikings called it Vinland.

For more Vikings facts related to their journeys to North America, see this report.

Common English Words From Norse Language
Many common English words still in use today — including Thursday, hell, knife, leather, window, and husband — come from the Old Norse language spoken by Vikings.

What Thursday Is Named After
Vikings named Thursday after Thor, the God of Thunder.

They were able to readily start fires thanks to unique firestarters made from fungus boiled for days in their own urine.

Vikings Farmers
Most Viking men were peaceful farmers, not pirates and warriors.

What The Name Viking Means
The name "Viking" means "pirate raid" in the Old Norse language, although Vikings didn't actually use this word to describe themselves.

Vikings History Blonde Hair
Viking men bleached their hair blonde to conform to their society's beauty standards.

Viking Sacking Of Paris
In 845, the Vikings sacked Paris with 120 ships and didn't leave until they were paid 5,670 pounds of silver and gold.

Why The Louvre Was Built
The Louvre in Paris was originally built in 1190 in part to act as a fortress against Viking raids.

Who Were The Vikings
The Vikings were not one unified race or nationality, but instead an unaffiliated collection of countless small groups coming from modern-day Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, and elsewhere.

Read more Viking facts in this look at their origins and customs.

Travel Distance Of Viking Longships
Viking longships could travel up to 125 miles per day, which gave them the ability to reach and raid destinations much further away than other civilizations of the era.

Viking Settlements Across Europe
Modern archaeological evidence shows that Vikings sailed across Europe's coast not merely as brutal raiders, but moreover as entrepreneurial traders and settlers.

Slave Trading In Norse Society
Vikings were active slave traders who would capture women and children and sell them in markets across Europe and the Middle East.

Slaves In Viking Society
Viking slaves primarily came from raids on Slavic, Germanic, and Anglo-Saxon tribes and were called Thralls.

Interesting Viking Facts Range Of Military Activity
While Viking military activity is most associated with northern Europe, they also invaded Spain, Italy, and areas across northern Africa.

Free Viking Men
All free Viking men were expected to own weapons, mainly spears, swords, and axes.

Reindeer Hides Battle Armor
Reindeer hides were sometimes used as battle armor and reportedly worked better than chainmail.

Interesting Facts About Vikings
Viking hunters at sea killed game as large as walruses and whales.

Ullr God Of Skiing
The Vikings worshipped Ullr, in part believed to be a god of skiing.

Boar Formation
Skilled Viking military leaders would organize their troops into a spear-like shape known as "boar formation" and then charge right at the enemy's line point-first.

Burial At Sea
Burial at sea was reserved for prominent members of society, who would be surrounded by weapons, valuables, and sometimes, sacrificed slaves.

Viking Facts Sacrifice
When a wealthy landowner died, his slaves were often sacrificially killed and buried next to him en masse.

Centuries after their heyday in the Middle Ages, the Vikings remain a topic of popular fascination.

And rightly so: Bold and tough, they fanned out from their bases in Scandinavia to become the terror of European monasteries and villages all over Christendom. With a cunning mix of trading and looting, they battered down whole societies and eventually settled lands from North America to the Black Sea.

Since then, Hollywood and Victorian Romanticists have left us with pop-culture images of these seaborne adventurers, but how accurate is our collective picture of them? The surprising and interesting Viking facts above hold the answers.

Fascinated by these Viking facts from history? To learn more information about what Vikings actually did, check out what researchers recently found inside this ancient Viking ship. Then, see history's worst execution methods, as designed by Vikings and several other brutal groups.

Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Cox, Savannah. "32 Viking Facts That Uncover One Of History’s Most Misunderstood Civilizations." AllThatsInteresting.com, December 18, 2017, https://allthatsinteresting.com/viking-facts-history-information. Accessed May 28, 2024.