Vikings – Fact and Fiction

September 2, 2008

September in Houston means back to school for the Museum’s campers and the start of weekday programs for the Education staff.  While the classroom floors get a fresh coat of wax after a long summer, the Museum teachers are hard at work creating a myriad of classes for the upcoming school year. 

The Museum is not just about touring the halls anymore; no sir!  Children from all over Houston come to discover, learn, and be engaged in our hands-on weekday labs.  Interacting with live animals, dissecting biological specimens, experimenting with scientific equipment, and handling real artifacts are just some of the fun going on in our classrooms!

It just so happens that the topic for September’s Time Lab (my class, of course) is Vikings.  It’s amazing the amount of disinformation out there about the Vikings; poor guys.  They are the victims of a real smear campaign. 

Let’s take a few of the most popular myths:

Myth #1 – Vikings were filthy! WRONG. Vikings bathed once a week (on Saturday) and washed their faces every day.  By our standards, this is still disgusting, but in a world where people may have only bathed once or twice in a lifetime, I’d say the Vikings were pretty darn clean!  They also had soap, ear spoons (used to dig out ear wax, yummy!), razors, tweezers and combs.

Myth #2 – Vikings were brutal killers. WRONG. Well, sort of – Vikings were no more brutal than most other groups living at the time, they were just really good at being mean and scary.  Their swift-moving ships with the carved dragon heads must have created “shock and awe” in any group they encountered.  They also had well-organized armies, and many bleached their hair a white blond – which must have looked alarming to say the least.

Myth #3– Vikings drank from cups made from skulls. WRONG. A mistranslation from the original language into Latin had the Vikings drinking mead out of the skulls of those defeated in battle.  Properly translated it should have read horns, not skulls, but details…Phew, that makes the Vikings seem a lot more cuddly.  Incidentally, most Vikings would have taken their mead in a wooden cup; horns were reserved for the rich and important.

Myth #4 – Vikings wore helmets with horns. WRONG. As much as I want this one to be true, it doesn’t seem to be the case.  Vikings with horns just didn’t exist.  It seems this image was popularized by art, opera, books, and movies. Thanks, Wagner!  There are on-going arguments about how many – if any –  horned helmets have been preserved from Viking times.  It would seem that if they were so popular, we might at least have one preserved.

I hope you enjoyed my attempt at reviving the reputation of the Vikings.  Check back soon to see what else we have in store!

Authored By Kat Havens

Kat has been both the spokesperson for the CSI: The Experience exhibit and project manager for the Imperial Rome exhibit and has a love of all things historical and cultural. She is responsible for the Xplorations summer camp program, coordinating weekday labs during the school year, writing department curriculum and presenting at teacher trainings. Kat has worked at the Museum since 1996.

2 responses to “Vikings – Fact and Fiction”

  1. emily says:

    i read alot fact from the vikings and it was great seeing all their picture an facts sometime you may think it is boring but it is not you can also help your reading also you can learn more historys so try it and you will see what i mean!!!

  2. Kathleen HAvens says:

    Keep up with your studies Emily! And, keep checking back on the Museum’s blog!

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