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Female Vikings Were Just as Prevalent During Invasions as the Men

There’s a long-held belief that women are in need of saving; that fighting, warfare, plundering and the like are men’s duties, not suitable for the so-called fairer sex. Yeah, well, nobody tell that to the vikings who invaded eastern England in 900 A.D. They’d be likely to lob your head off, and the one doing the lobbing would very likely be — gasp! — a woman. Historians have just uncovered that way, way more female vikings were around than previously thought.

And no, these female vikings weren’t just tending to fires and caring for babies: they had swords and shields of their own to fight with. We know because they were often buried with them, like badasses. In fact, it was that sort of sexist burial presumption — that only men were fighters and therefore likely buried with sword and shield — that, up until this point, left many to presume that the oft-considered brutal folk were a mainly man-fronted affair. And, well, look at what happens when you assume! Eh?

Shane McLeod of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Western Australia published the revelation in the journal Early Medieval Europe. The Study examined exhumed Norse-specific burial sites and sequenced DNA of its buried folk and found a damn near 50/50 split of men and women. Anywhere “between a third to roughly equal” split, the study concluded.

“An increase in the number of finds of Norse-style jewellery in the last two decades has led some scholars to suggest a larger number of female settlers [joined the men],” the study explained. “Indeed, it has been noted that there are more Norse female dress items than those worn by men.” Which no doubt seems strange when taken into consideration alongside the previously held beliefs. Why would there be so much lady stuff around if A) women didn’t arrive until after the men did the plundering, and B) they weren’t also getting involved outside of typical “lady duties?”

McLeod’s report studied 14 burial sites in particular, making sure to test only those burials that could be undoubtedly confirmed as Norse, and Viking in particular. And thanks to modern genetic testing, he and his team were able to determine that six of the 14 burials sites were for women, seven were for men, and one was indeterminable. Which is to say: a far bigger percentage than previously suspected.

At one particular mass burial site — Repton Woods — the old conception of solely male Vikings was debunked: “Despite the remains of three swords being recovered from the site, all three burials that could be sexed osteologically were thought to be female, including one with a sword and shield,” says the study.

“These results, six female Norse migrants and seven male, should caution against assuming that the great majority of Norse migrants were male, despite the other forms of evidence suggesting the contrary.”

Are you surprised to see such equality amongst the legendary raging rovers? Let us know in the comments.

IMAGE: History Channel

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40 comments

    • What about Celts? African female warriors? Chinese martial arts female masters? Dude, a guy who reviews a scientific article starting his video arguing about a inaccurate shield in a reenactment it’s not the most believable, also you have to remember that the chronicles were altered more than once afterwards, specially by the catholic church, which is one of the most misogynist institutions in the western world. But well, this is bait anyway

  • Women live longer, have better health, better instincts and better coping skills.  Not to mention that we can bleed every month and not die – plus the ability to push a 9 lb human being out of our Vjay-jay and finish plowing the field.  No surprise then that our foremothers could wield an axe in battle….

    • Women live longer and have better health because they work less. Better instincts, better coping skills? That’s why there’s so many domestic violence shelters for girls and none for men, right? Because they cope so well with adversity?

    • In my experience none of the women in my family have better health than the men and all of the men have lived longer. I simply think that this is a “statistical” generalization. I’m not denying that pregnancy is intense and admirable. However, you’re implying that women are better than men, and they’re not. We are equals capable of the same, and sometimes different things. I’m fine with women seeking out their history. What I’m not fine with is sexism. To say that a woman is better than a man is just as sexist as the reverse.

  • My Mom is of Scottish descent.   Her ancestors arrived in North America in the 1600’s.   When I had my DNA tested, her mtDNA type is a rare and from Finland.   Yea I believe Viking women came over too

  • I lost all respect for the author when he put “lob” instead of “Lop.”  Shame they couldn’t get a competent writer to write such a potentially important article.

    • I also cringed when I read the two instances of lob rather than lop. Also, the author is female – quite obvious from the decided slant of the opening paragraph.

    • I am Danish too, and I would really like to know who taught you this? You make it sound like the school system in Denmark teaches unsubstatiated historical myths, because of our common heritage. Nothing could be more wrong. If this is old news to you it’s because someone told you a myth when you where a kid – nothing more. The tales of the shieldmaidens are cool, and personally I would love to be able to tell my daughter mores stories of female warriors, astonauts, scientists, carpenters and any other field that can remotely seem of limits to her on account of her sex, so she will know that her oppertunities in life should ideally only be hampered by her own determination to make of it what she wants.
      However it should be told as what it is: mythos – and there is nothing wrong with using myth as inspiration. Its just not facts.

  • They were also one of the first cultures to have divorce that could be inititated by the women if they decided they didn’t want to be married to the men they were with anymore. 

  • A Swedish friend of mine tole me about how they also had equal footing at home with the men. In governing and in marriage. It all changed when Christianity arrived and suddenly women had little to no rights in the formerly viking countries.

  •      Curious that you didn’t mention Shield Maidens once in the article. While it is surprising that women were in equal numbers with men at these sites it’s difficult to jump to the conclusion that they were also fighting. The weapons they were buried with could just as easily have been their spouses or a family heirloom. And for a time in which many battles and historical events were well documented there seems to be a lack of information to support that it was the norm for them to take up arms.

         Every army needs a support system, and that system can easily be larger than the actual battle force. Nurses, quartermasters, cooks, etc… I don’t want anyone to think that I am downplaying their role but a historical account to accompany these burial sites would definitely sway me. 
          Another way of looking at it as well is that Viking military doctrine may have dictated that soldiers were to bring over their families once an invasion had a foothold. Forcing your army to have settlements means you would fight that much harder as opposed to just jumping on a ship and leaving. Cutting your supply lines down also is an important step as well so farms were needed.

    • Here is the thing about swords. Usually only well to do vikings would have carried swords as they were expensive and showed status.  Swords belong to the viking and would not have been handed down.  If they were handed down then we wouldn’t see so many in burial sites. 

      Also, it was common to destroy the sword of a fallen enemy to destroy the power of the sword so that your enemy could not torment you in the afterlife.  There are hundreds if not thousands of examples of destroyed (heated and bent around a tree) swords. 

      I am not saying you are wrong.  There definitely needs stronger documentation showing that women on the battlefield were the rule and not the exception.

      For more info on Viking swords check out a documentary on Netflix called “Secrets of the Viking Sword” by PBS.

    • That could be true of the men, too. Though they were buried with swords and shields, perhaps these were just heirlooms or belonged to their spouses; they were really there to support the women fighters, act as nurses and cooks, etc. The soldiers could have brought the men over to establish settlements, build structures and do the heavy labor of farming. 
      Or you could take it from the quoted experts who have studied the matter that women and men both fought.

      • There have only been a few accounted instances of women fighting with vikings. When battles of this era are so well documented they discuss troop movements, how many ships and horses and even grain shipments and yet neglect to even mention something like that? On the other side however, there are many written accounts of men fighting. All of them.

        As for taking it from quoted experts… the articles quoted talk about migration of women and men and mention nothing about fighting. Whether they did or didn’t fight is moot. You can’t come to the conclusion that just because women were there and buried with a weapon means they were warriors. That’s where historical accounts come into play, and of all the raids the vikings committed on the romans/byzantines before Christianity spread to their civilization, only a handful mention women among the dead. 

        And there were a prolific amount of raids.

        • There are written accounts of women fighting as well. Shieldmaidens. Now based on the fact that Christianity didn’t really like women I’d say it’s very likely that they would skip writing about the women killing off their men. Then christianity became a thing for the vikings as well making it likely that female glory would be covered up.