Everything You Thought You Knew About the Vikings is Wrong
Vikings never wore horned helmets. It’s a myth. Their battle helmets were conical and mostly made of leather. The double-tusk look? That began with Wagner’s opera “Ring of the Nibelung” in 1876, and perpetuated down through TV, movies, Halloween costumes, Hagar the Horrible cartoons and, of course, the Minnesota Vikings.
Horned helmets are just one of the myths debunked in the new book “The Age of the Vikings” by Yale professor Anders Winroth, whose main thesis is that the seafaring warriors were more than their looting, pillaging and plundering reputation. OK, sure, they did pillage and plunder — but no more than most. The Middle Ages were a rough time.
So, why do we think of Vikings as one-dimensional, casting them as nothing more than an ax-wielding invasion force pulling up to shorelines around Europe and the British Isles in longboats?
Winroth believes it’s because the frequent victims of their raids were those with “a monopoly on writing.” Who wrote and preserved the texts of the time? Ripped-off monks. It’s no wonder that in Latin scrolls from the era that Vikings got a bad rep as “a most vile people” and a “filthy race” hell-bent on slaughtering and laying waste to the innocents.
The truth is, the Vikings really just wanted treasure, and they’d gladly be on their way if you just handed it over. They were small bands of raiders, at least compared to Charlemagne’s Frankish armies. So they weren’t waiting around for word to spread inland and a large defense force to show up. Vikings were the original smash-and-grab guys.