We all know that the Vikings were ruthless raiders who hefted huge axes and wore terrifying helmets with horns sticking off them, right? Well, actually, no. Sorry. In fact, there is basically zero archeological or textual evidence to support the popular image of a Viking ever wearing a horned helm. But that’s OK, trust me – as far as being horrifying badasses who absolutely deserve their place in the pantheon of history’s great warriors? You’re covered on that front. And here are five more things you might not know about history’s favorite Norsemen!
5 Know why Russia is so-named?
Yep, you guessed it (based on the list you are reading, I’ll wager), it was the Vikings! The name “Russia” is derivative of the word “Rus,” meaning Red. This word was used as a name for the Norsemen by many, as their ruddy and blonde hair left quite an impression on many people of non-European descent. Because of early Norse travel deep into what would become Russia, their “name” came to be used to describe the land there.
4 Vikings are the cleanest people of the Ancient/Medieval world
You may think of Vikings as dirty, Meade-swilling murderers, and while they may have been those latter two sometimes, they were actually about the cleanest people of the Ancient/Medieval world. Excavations of most every major Viking settlement reveal not only combs, but also tweezers, razors, mirrors, and various grooming “products” that were essentially primitive soaps. The Vikings bathed at least once a week, both for ritual and hygiene, and many likely washed themselves daily, which may seem expected these days, but come on, this was a while back, things were different!
3 Best in merchandising and guarding
The Vikings were often recruited as mercenaries and guards, even serving the rulers of the Byzantine empire in the capital city of Constantinople, AKA Istanbul. This was because the Byzantine kings were tired of hiring local guards who had a tendency to turn to backstabbing when the political winds shifted, whereas Vikings, far out of their own environment thus not caring much for politics, but caring a lot for treasure, made the ideal hired muscle. You can even see thousand year old Viking “graffiti” carved in the cathedral-cum-mosque, Hagia Sophia, essentially reading such-and-such Viking “was here.”
2 Did you know you have the Vikings to thank for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday?
Or at least for their names, that is. Indeed, for some reason the Christian-dominated calendar ultimately adopted the names of two Norse gods for days of the week. From Thor, god of thunder, we got Thor’s Day, and for Freya, goddess of love/destiny, so came the name of our last two days of the business week. And as for hump day? That honor belongs to Odin, frequently spelled Wodin, the king of the gods.
1 The Vikings reached North America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus
Maybe you already knew that, Mr. or Mrs. Brilliant Britches (clever twist, huh?) but it is still pretty impressive given the fact the vikings’ famous long ships, while wonderful crafts, were designed with shallow drafts primarily as river and coastal vessels, only really suitable for shorter trips across open seas. But as early as the year 1000, Europeans had set foot on North America, thanks to the bold seafaring exploits of Leif Ericson.
For a people who only had a three hundred year-long heyday, spanning the 10th to the 12th centuries, I’d say the Vikings left a pretty solid mark on history. They certainly left their mark on the thousands and thousands of people they slaughtered, but even more so on the millions they reached through travel and trade. Swell job, guys!