The Female Viking Warrior Isn’t Real. Why Do So Many People Want Her to Be?

It’s interesting how little people care about history unless new inspiring evidence is found of it, especially when it comes to historical women redefining gender roles.

In a discovery that has gone viral, there appears to be new evidence that Viking women were warriors and even “high-ranking officers,” leading men into battle against their enemies instead of sitting at home sewing clothes for their husbands and raising children. I saw several different articles about this new finding and many friends and former professors sent me other articles (I’m apparently everyone’s token Viking enthusiast friend), but Roman mosaics in Britain excepted, why do so many media outlets care so passionately about a Viking woman instead of other historic findings?

People don’t care about Leif Eriksson. I doubt many Americans have ever even heard his name. But it has been proven that he was the first European to discover AND settle in North America, centuries before Christopher Columbus. The United States even recognizes this with a Leif Eriksson Day (though far overshadowed by Christopher Columbus Day), and they presented Iceland with a statue of Leif Eriksson in honor of his discovery. It sits in front of the much-Instagrammed Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik.

You may have heard of L’Anse aux Meadows, the discovered Viking site in Canada (because I repeat, Vikings actually settled in North America, even if it didn’t last long), but did you know that they uncovered another Viking site only last year? If you listen to Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast (which I highly recommend), you may have heard about it, but I only saw a couple of articles about the discovery. This finding is further proof that Leif Eriksson and his fellow Vikings actually settled in North America years before Christopher Columbus was even born, so it isn’t insignificant in the least.

But Leif Eriksson was overshadowed once again—this time by an unknown woman’s grave. However, there’s more to the story than meets the eye. I’ve written about the danger of people leaping to conclusions before, and it appears that it’s happened again. While there may have been female Viking warriors, there isn’t strong evidence that this Viking woman was actually a “high-ranking officer” or even a warrior. University of Nottingham professor of Viking studies Judith Jesch burst everyone’s bubbles with an article going through the “evidence” from the grave site and contesting it all. I highly encourage you to read her analysis in full, but here’s a quick summary of some of her points about the authors who published the “evidence” that the grave site was for a female Viking military officer:

The authors listed on the article don’t include a language specialist, even though it starts with referencing “’narratives about fierce female Vikings fighting alongside men’, and concludes with a quotation from an Eddic poem in translation.” The authors even referenced one of Jesch’s books but not the book where she actually writes about women. The authors also make a lot of references to “historical records” without specifying which ones they’re talking about.

The authors pretty much decide that this Viking woman is a high-ranking officer based on what she was buried with. The grave contained “’a full set of gaming pieces’ which apparently ‘indicates knowledge of tactics and strategy’” and “’the exclusive grave goods and two horses are worthy of an individual with responsibilities concerning strategy and battle tactics.’” There isn’t even any conclusive evidence that men buried with those items were military leaders.

This gravesite was actually excavated over a century ago and things weren’t labeled well, so the female Viking bones may not have even been buried with all those items. Someone even commented on Jesch’s article that there was a third femur found with this woman’s bones, but the authors just ignored it. There were also no signs of harm to the bones, which means she was either one heck of a warrior who never got injured, or that she wasn’t a warrior at all.

So the authors assumed this female Viking was a military leader without any actual evidence and they ignored evidence that didn’t go along with their theory. Like many people today, they leapt to conclusions, and everyone was eager to agree that this woman was definitely a military leader because that suited a contemporary narrative, not a historical fact. This doesn’t mean that people in the future won’t find hard evidence that female Vikings could be military leaders, but you can’t “confirm” that this Viking was a military leader quite yet. Even if there weren’t female Viking warriors, women in Viking times were actually well-respected and enjoyed many rights and freedoms; they could divorce their husbands, own land, and could even have government representation. Women like Freydis and Gudrun had a significant impact on their societies, even if they didn’t lead troops into battle.

But people don’t seem to care about these women. They want a warrior who “blew [gender roles] out of the water” and destroyed the patriarchy with her sword (even though if there are female Viking warriors, they were riding into battle with men). Why can’t we celebrate women in the past who changed their worlds with their strength and wit but not necessarily with swords? Protests may not have lasting effects, but women simply doing their jobs can. We’re still learning about Marie Curie’s scientific discoveries and Rosa Parks’ brave act of defiance today, and neither of those women used swords; they just used their intelligence and strength of character.

So before Disney goes and makes a movie about a Viking warrior princess, people need to learn the actual history and not cling to poor evidence. If anything, Disney should make a movie about the many ordinary women in history who changed society without weapons. I would watch that.

Image: The History Channel

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36 responses to “The Female Viking Warrior Isn’t Real. Why Do So Many People Want Her to Be?

  1. Quote: This finding is further proof that Leif Eriksson and his fellow Vikings actually settled in North America years before Christopher Columbus was even born, so it isn’t insignificant in the least.”

    Certainly significant. There’s evidence in Columbus’ own writings that in 1477—and thus before his famous voyages—he went on a trip to an island west of Iceland and possibly even Greenland. It is easy to suspect that there he heard about voyages to the west, perhaps even that of Eriksson.

    1. There’s substantial evidence that the existence of North America was being kept as a commercial secret by cod fisherman, and Columbus had probably heard rumors of it. That there was some land out there wasn’t as much of a surprise as some people make it out to be.

    2. The 15th century European cod fleets went all the way to the Grand Banks–it’s hard to believe none of the ever drifted a bit farther west and hit Newfoundland. There is even some evidence that some of them went there on purpose to dry their nets on the beach.

      It appears that the last Norse farms on Greenland were abandoned around 1400, as the Little Ice Age advanced.

  2. I’m all for strong, powerful women, but I wish that people would stop making things up to fit with their women ruling the world feminist agenda. And, honestly, why are they all jazzed about a female warlord? Doesn’t a violent, warmongering woman conflict with their ideals? Or is it only when said warlord is a man?

    1. Defeating sexism matters more than morality to them. They need to justify their modern debauchery, after all. In fact overthrowing stereotypes *is* moral to them.

    2. Excellent point. If masculinity is only toxic when exhibited by men then it seems the real focus of their animus is laid bare.

      1. I’m starting to think that the modern feminist movement is not about empowering women, but laying men low.

      2. That’s not what “toxic masculinity” means.

        The claim isn’t that masculinity in general toxic. It is that when you try to make all men conform to certain ideals of masculinity – being stoic, not telling anyone about your feelings even if you want to, expressing anger in violent ways – that’s toxic. It’s bad for the men you’re peer pressuring into fitting that mold, and it’s bad for the women who have to deal with men lashing out at them instead of opening up about how they feel.

        Feminists accept historical accounts of men behaving in overly violent, toxic ways, and of women behaving in overly violent, toxic ways, because those happened in ancient history, and right now it’s just kind of interesting and fun to hear/read about.

        Feminists don’t accept modern-day men acting like that. It’s 2017.

    3. Decades ago ‘macho’ behavior (today’s ‘toxic’ masculinity) was mocked by feminists yet they emulated it in their behavior. It is a weird dichotomy, feminists hate masculine behavior in men but venerate it in women. It says a lot about the feminist movement in general.

  3. It’s a complete fantasy. The average male can dominate the average female in a no-holds-barred physical conflict, and by that I mean the fight would be over in seconds. Men have agreed to forgo this advantage in the western world, but to assume it does not exist is ridiculous. This is not a bad thing! Women as women are wonderful, essential members of our society. Women as men…not so much.

  4. If a Viking forest settlement in Greenland is destroyed by Eskimos and is never heard of, did it really make a sound? Not so significant, in terms of changing history. If Chinese discover gunpowder, but don’t use it in guns, does it really count as GUNpowder? Not really.

    The importance of an event is not merely the event in history, altho that is not nothing and should be accurately noted, but also the subsequent events that follow it.

    A “great leader” without followers … ain’t so great.

    Joan of Arc was a true woman leader in battle — but not a warrior. Funny sad how few feminists push to support Joan or history about her. Could there be a Viking woman like “Joan”? More likely than a female warrior leader.

    Magic thinking. Thinking that wanting something to be true makes it true. Far more silly than prayer, where one knows that God may fulfill the prayer, but may not or not in the way desired, expected, hoped for.

    1. *invent, not discover. And, yes; it does. The chemical composition of gunpowder is the same regardless of what it’s used for. Gunpowder by definition was invented by the Chinese. Even if gunpowder was first used in guns by the Europeans, which is dubious, the product was first made by the Chinese. If someone figures out how to use a toaster to make grilled cheese sandwiches, they did not invent the toaster; they simply figured out how to repurpose it for a different use.

  5. “People don’t care about Leif Eriksson. I doubt many Americans have ever even heard his name. “

    Pretty much everyone in America over the age of 35 has heard of Leif Eriksson, son of Eric the Red. We used to actually teach history here before we decided it was more important to propagandize kids into hating our civilization so our liberal/progressive betters could more easily replace it.

    1. In 5th grade history, around 1978-79, I was Leif Erikson and had to write a biography about him. Then later that year I was Ethan Allen.

  6. It is as if people wish to idolize women who excell in masculine roles while disparaging those who excell in feminine roles. It appears to say that masculine is preferred over feminine rather than celebrate the unique and wonderful differences between male and female.

  7. So before Disney goes and makes a movie about a Viking warrior princess.. too late. Already done

  8. “The Female Viking Warrior Isn’t Real. Why Do So Many People Want Her to Be?”

    Because “equality”, of course.

    1. If, by “equality”, you mean “in order to crush the patriarchy”, then, yes. Yes, because of “equality”.

  9. Leif Erikson was also a heckuva layman missionary in Greenland, which was part of why he went off exploring to avoid family conflict with his pagan dad.

    There were Norsewomen who fought, but it was usually a hobby before marriage or a lifelong legal status as a man so you could avenge your family’s death. Women owned the house and the fields and the herds, so it was the men who went looking for their fortunes by raiding.

  10. The ‘woman warrior’ is a PC myth. They’ve never existed. Pretty much any woman facing off against any man would have her head handed to her in about two seconds.

    Unless the woman was say, Gina Carano. Then it would take ten seconds.

  11. And don’t forget Aud the Deep-Minded, who is my favorited female character in the Icelandic sagas.

  12. Remember, there’s a distribution from weak to strong, small to large in both sexes. It’s not totally incredible that the largest woman in a small community, many of whose men had ‘gone Viking’ and weren’t home, might take a leader-of-the-remaining-defenders kind of role. And maybe have been honored for doing it in the selection of her grave goods.

    We’re NOT talking about a cross-gendered holmgang champion here.

    1. In support of your theory, there’s a two-volume work entitled “Female Warriors” by Ellen C. Clayton which can be read online or downloaded from Project Gutenberg:

      Many (not all) of the women she writes about were wives of local leaders who did just that. That could also explain why her bones didn’t show the wound marks one might expect from a life-long warrior. Her warrior leadership would have been temporary and after the crisis dealing with servants and children, while weaving or tapestry sewing may have been preferable to ducking arrows while trying to decide if it’s time for the left flank to advance.

  13. It’s simple biology. Men have between fifteen and twenty TIMES the amount of testosterone that women have. Which is why women simply do not “bulk up” without exogenous testosterone.

    Any reasonably fit high school boy easily outmatches virtually any female athlete on the planet. Are there exceptions? Sure, but they are improbably rare.

    Pop culture (movies, television, etc) are doing women a grave disservice by attempting to convince females that they can go toe to toe with males.

    Be careful what you wish for.

    1. Saw a perfect (future) example of this last evening. Some woman was walking up and down our street screaming a stream of profanity at a couple of boys (probably around 11-13 years old)–presumably her sons. I thought, “If she keeps this up, one day when those boys get bigger, they’re going to beat the living h*ll out of her for treating them that way.” And she’ll deserve pretty much whatever they do to her.

  14. This article is so silly. You need to do your homework before saying “no evidence”. Boy, the misogyny here is palpable.

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