In most modern stories, the Vikings and Norse warriors are depicted as these tall gigantic, rusty men from the sea or bay. But, of course, these descriptions are relative to their European neighbours, which leads to the question, were the Vikings really taller and stronger people? But before we look at their height, let’s first try to understand the Viking age.
The Vikings were people from Scandinavia, including modern-day Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. They were a larger part of a group of Scandinavian pirates who raided, conquered, and settled in Northern Europe up to the 11th century.
The word Viking is derived from the Norse word ‘Vik,’ meaning creek or inlet, while ‘-ing’ which is just a suffix. Basically, it means the Vikings lived close to the sea, somewhere in a creek or bay. Many sources tell us the appearance of Vikings from folks to runes, but the most crucial evidence during the Viking age is excavations where most have been found in Denmark.
So, how tall were the Vikings?
In general, the Vikings weren’t tall by today’s standards. Recent studies show that the average height of European men in the Middle Age was 5’8” to 5’9” (173 centimeters). But compared to other men during the Viking Age, the Vikings would be considered taller or above average height. A couple of factors partly influenced this height difference. These include:
While other factors mentioned in this article make an essential consideration, genetics will affect height by almost 60-80 percent while environmental factors by 20 to 40 percent. Since the height difference was unique to the Vikings, it is possible genetics played a role to determine how tall were Vikings.
Shelter plays a massive role in improving the wellness of a person or group of people, particularly their height, as it keeps them away from the elements. Plus, the Vikings had excellent masonry skills, which was sometimes a necessity in the challenging conditions of the Scandinavian areas.
Even as they moved across Europe, they built homes that were used to help them weather the conditions of Northern Europe.
Care is a crucial factor as it plays an important role in keeping an eye on the health of the people. While the healthcare industry of the Viking age was different than today’s, there were still viable treatment options. For instance, certain plants helped the Vikings recover from mild illnesses that would have led to acute conditions that affect their height.
Nutrition played a significant role in determining the health and physical growth of the Vikings. Studies show that Viking Age Europe had warmer temperatures, so they had an extended growing season and better harvests. This means they had food for longer periods, meaning they could feel their children well and give enough proteins for growth.
But what foods did the Vikings eat?
It is crucial to know that the Vikings mainly lived in enemy or foreign territories with harsh winters and poor conditions that wouldn’t sustain crops. However, since the Scandinavian lands had great weather, the Vikings had their own staple food consisting of meats (fish, beef, pork, poultry), fruit (berries mostly), and vegetables.
The Vikings were resilient and resourceful and used various cooking methods to prepare their foods. They dried meats and used salting for preservation. Food was prepared mainly by boiling all ingredients in a pot to make a stew. They primarily cooked two meals instead of our modern three meals a day. They were known as Dagmal(breakfast) and Nattmal(dinner). On various occasions, the Vikings had a feast, and people would eat and drink large amounts of food mainly offered to guests.
Perhaps, most Vikings became so tall because of their love for protein-rich foods, even for the lowliest class of Vikings. There were livestock bred and raised on their farms, hunted wild game such as hare, squirrel, and fish caught from the rivers and ocean. Whenever in new territory, the Vikings were tall where the Vikings preferred eating fish and meat rather than vegetables. They would fish lots of herring and cod and later preserve them with salt before battle.
While food, care, and shelter are essential, safety was the number one reason the Viking’s overall health flourished. Since they had tons of harvest, the Vikings did not have to travel for miles to get food. However, traveling for food meant more exposure to combat, and diseases and injuries can affect a person’s height.
However, these factors are the same ones that brought problems to the Vikings. For one, the Vikings were travelers and sent out warriors to conquer land all over Europe. This affected their population, and it was scattered all over, reducing the height balance. The Vikings were divided into several groups and classes. The group included the clan heads, chieftains, warlords, freemen, and any other neighbor who wanted to join the group.
Within their society, there were a couple of classes mainly grouped into four: kings and queens, jarl, Karl, and thrall. The thrall and Karl were the lowest class and had no rights shielding them from injustice. The Karls were slightly above the thralls and had a few privileges, such as owning land and doing farm work. The thralls also had legal rights.
Jarls in the Viking society were the upper class of modern-day societies and were very rich, with several tracts of land bearing their name. Finally, the Viking kings and queens were the most powerful of the society and became emergent when the Vikings started colonizing other places in Europe. The kings and queens would mostly appoint jarls to take care of their lands or finances.
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Who Was The Tallest Viking?
The Vikings spoke the old Norse language, and despite their numerous tales and movie depictions, their average height was at some point 5 ft 1 in women and 5 ft 9 inches in men. This means that the Vikings were strikingly shorter than modern Englishmen and th average anglo Saxon male by roughly 3-4 in (8-10 cm).
According to studies and evidence from stories, Thorkell the Tall was a Viking warrior and chieftain known for his prowess and role in English history. Thorkell led the English invasion attacking Kent, Ipswich, and East Anglia. Though records don’t have exact measurements of his height, Thorkell was way over 6 feet.
How Did The Vikings Look Like?
Now that you know a little about the height of Vikings, let’s try to figure out the Viking facial features.
The facial features resemble their descendants today, where men had more feminine faces with less protruding jaws and ridges. On the other hand, the women had brow ridges, showing some bit of masculinity. Due to the similarity in facial features of the Vikings, it was at times hard for archeologists to distinguish the characteristics of male or female based on the skull bone.
Hair and beard styles
The Vikings are often shown with blond hair in blockbusters and series, which is not entirely true. Even in today’s society, there are plenty of hair colors, and it makes no sense to assume the Vikings only had one color. Nevertheless, they did not have blonde hair and, in fact, had two dominant colors: red hair and blonde hair. Those from the western part of Scandinavia had red hair, while the northerners in present-day Stockholm had blonde hair.
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The Vikings had a special affair with their hair and beards, taking care of them at all times. In fact, you’ll hear some prominent Vikings people being recognized by their hairstyles. For example, Harald Fairhair probably got his nickname from his well-kept and fine head hair, while the famous Sweyn Forkbeard likely had his beard divided into two like a Viking fork. Some Viking age Scandinavians even dyed their beards to look different or symbolize a rite of passage from a boy to a man.
The Viking men were known to shave their heads to achieve specific hairstyles, such as the “Norman cut” that had shaved back and long hair on the front side of the head. Archeologists believe that long hair was a symbol of high social status and was common among jarls.
The women also had long, beautiful hair that was attractively kept, with some having accessories and beads if they could afford them. They also tied their hair to the side or behind the back in a common valkyrie knot.
That said, there are plenty of sources that depict the Vikings are hygienic people, and according to a Spanish Arab who visited Hedeby around the year 1000, he described the women wore make-up and looked younger. Also, the men were well-groomed and cleaner than the Englishmen. In addition, the Vikings took baths every Saturday, which was more frequent than the Englishmen. This gave the medieval Scandinavians a lot of success with women in England.
Eyes and eye color
Recent DNA studies by Peter Frons on European hair and color published in 2020 show that the Viking age Scandinavians had similar genetic markers to those of modern-day Scandinavians. This means most people had green, blue, or hazel eyes. There was also evidence that the Vikings had a darker eye color than modern-day Scandinavians, so they probably intermingled with other Europeans.
The women were used to darkening the areas around their eyes to help against sunlight and snow. So, they were more practical elements than a thing of beauty behind this custom.
Did Vikings have Tattoos?
Arab trader Ibn Fadlan gave us a clear and detailed description of the Vikings during his merchant journeys to Anglo Saxons, the roman empire, and the Viking age Icelanders. In one script, he describes the men to have tattoos in dark green designs from the tip of the toe to the neck. However, there isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest that the average Viking loved tattoos and if they were common in the Norse world. The stories ideally describe the Viking warriors, and there is not a single script that talks about tattoos. Besides, the word tattoo does not have its Norse equivalent word meaning it was less common.
However, movies still show Viking warlords and warriors having tattoos to look scarier. We know for a fact they were creative people, so it may not be a far-fetched idea that they might have a few drawings on their bodies.
Do Vikings Still Exist?
Thanks to cartoons and movies, we have always imagined Vikings to be giants and the leading cause of tyranny across Europe. While records show the Vikings engaged in endless battles, they were amazingly strong and tall, but not as shown in the movies. In reality, it is most likely an exaggeration for entertainment purposes.
But their strength might not have been an exaggeration, as the Scandinavian region of that time would have made them hard and strong. Vikings existed for centuries, and even in the 10th-century, Arab traveler Ibn Fadlan described Rus, the Kievan Viking clan as tall as date palms, blonde, and ruddy. And while there is tons of evidence that the Vikings lived a prosperous life, they no longer exist today. Nevertheless, their stories, culture, and folks continue to live today.
With the help of runic scripts and modern technology, we have an idea of how the Vikings looked, including their height. These were diverse folks who intermingled with other settlers, and when their Scandinavian land became too small, they went into battle with neighboring kingdoms. There is much evidence to prove it, like artifacts, jewelry, decorations, runic scripts, and tales from other communities. Their height gave them an added advantage as they were taller than most European communities.