The Warrior Women of Ancient Norse Society
Much of the historical texts of the lives of women paint a picture of women who had little to no rights as compared to their male counterparts. Typically women, especially those of ancient European society, were expected to be under the authority of her husband; with the male in charge of all finances, land, and political posts; traditions that followed the Europeans even into the New World (Calloway, 2013). However, in ancient Norse society a woman experienced a latitude of freedoms that European women could only long for and would not see for many centuries to come. Viking women were in charge of financial matters of their families (Short, 2017), managed farms and property in the absence of their husbands (Short, 2017), led battles as warriors (Whipple, 2017), became powerful rulers and political leaders (Foss, 2013), and could acquire vast amounts of land ownership (Short, 2017).
Although most modern-day film adaptations of Viking tales are centered around bloody battles and gruesome thievery with no basic regard for other humans (Gerdes, 2016), the ancient Vikings were a community of explorers (who did plunder other lands) who also valued their families very highly, especially that of their women. The women of ancient Viking society were often left alone while their husbands traveled the seas in search of new lands to conquer; therefore, they were the ones who were in charge of the management of resources. “When the men traveled abroad raiding, trading, or had gone hunting or fishing, the women were in charge of the work on the farm. This lead to that the women played an important part in society” (Le Fèvre Ph.D., 2014). In fact, women were often seen as the overseers of property and when they became widows they were allowed to maintain the ownership, making it possible for a woman to accumulate vast amounts of land in her own name (Short, 2017). “The large estates were contemporary seats of power, and the woman of the house had the keys” (Foss, 2013).
One of the most fascinating aspects of ancient Viking culture and women’s rights were those of the women who were warriors and leaders upon the battlefield. Whereas, as recently as the 2013 women in the United States have had to fight for rights within the military (The Denver Post, 2013) the women in ancient Viking society not only fought in battle but led the battles themselves (Whipple, 2017). For many years some scholars believed that the fast amount of tales surrounding the powerful women warriors of the Viking age were nothing more than myth, often basing their viewpoints on a mix of the societal norm of male dominance and inaccurate scientific analysis of archaeological remains (Mcleod, 2011). However, archeological and DNA evidence has now proved beyond doubt the great importance of women in Viking battle (Hedenstierna-Jonson et-al, 2017). Graves of female Viking warriors have given forth a cache of weapons that any male warrior of the time would have swooned over. For example, in a 1,000-year-old grave, located in Sweden, archaeologists located a horde of weaponry and pillages, “The weapons indicated a life spent in fruitful pillage, the gaming pieces that there was strategy behind the violence. And two slaughtered horses ensured that needless death followed the warrior to the afterlife” (Whipple, 2017).
In conclusion, although the majority of history indicated that women have always been underneath their male counterparts in society, especially those of European civilizations, not all women have always been held back. In fact, the women of the Viking societies were often on equal par with the male members of their societies. The Viking women were in charge of much of the household and farms, managing not only the children but the financial aspects of the owned property. They were also political leaders and powerful landowners. However, most importantly to remember about Viking women was their ability to enter battles beside the male Vikings with equal footing and rights, rights that some women in the modern-day era are still fighting to secure.
Calloway, C.G. (2013). (2nd ed.). Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press.
Foss, A.S. (2013). Don’t underestimate Viking women. Retrieved from http://sciencenordic.com/don%E2%80%99t-underestimate-viking-women
Gerdes, C. (2016). How Historically Accurate Is ‘Vikings’? 9 Facts That Set the Record Straight. Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/articles/142345-how-historically-accurate-is-vikings-9-facts-that-set-the-record-straight
Hedenstierna-Jonson, C., Kjellström, A., Zachrisson, T., Krzewińska, M., Sobrado, V., Price, N., & … Storå, J. (2017). A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 164(4), 853-860. doi:10.1002/ajpa.23308
Le Fèvre Ph.D., A. (2014). The Viking Network. Retrieved from http://www.viking.no/e/life/ewomen.htm
Mcleod, S. (2011). Warriors and women: the sex ratio of Norse migrants to eastern England up to 900 ad. Early Medieval Europe, (3), 332.
Short, W. R. (2017). The Role of Women in Viking Society. Retrieved from http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/society/text/women.htm
The Denver Post (2013, January 25). Equal rights in the military, finally. The Denver Post. Retrieved from http://www.denverpost.com/2013/01/25/equal-rights-in-military-finally/
Whipple, T. (2017). Viking women warriors led the men into battle. The Times (London, England).