Did Vikings Drink From The Skulls Of Their Enemies?

Vikings Drink From The Skulls

The life of the Vikings has been shrouded in myths, lore, and a fair share of misconceptions. One of the more gruesome and dramatic images is a Viking warrior triumphantly drinking from the skull of a vanquished foe. While this image might make for a compelling scene in a movie, it’s essential to question its historical accuracy. This article will explore the reality of Viking drinking habits, including what they drank out of and the historical context of drinking from skulls.

What Did Vikings Drink Out Of?

Contrary to popular belief, the Vikings didn’t use the skulls of their enemies as drinking vessels. Instead, they mainly used wooden or ceramic cups, bowls, and, most iconically, drinking horns. The latter, often made from cattle or goat horns, held a significant place in Viking culture, symbolizing power, wealth, and hospitality.

It’s worth noting that the Vikings were skilled artisans who carved intricate designs and runic inscriptions into their drinking vessels, making them works of art. Even though these vessels were utilitarian, the level of craftsmanship and detail often indicated the status and wealth of the owner.

Did Vikings Drink From Horns?

Indeed, one of the more enduring images of Viking culture is the sight of a burly warrior taking a hearty gulp from a drinking horn. Horns were readily available and durable, making them popular for drinking vessels. It was also believed that drinking from a horn would imbue the drinker with the strength and ferocity of the animal from which the horn came.

But it’s important to note that drinking horns were not the exclusive domain of the Vikings. Other cultures around the world, including the Celts and the Greeks, also used horns as drinking vessels, particularly for ceremonial purposes.

Viking Drinking Horn History

The use of drinking horns dates back several thousand years and spans numerous cultures. In the case of the Vikings, the drinking horn was more than just a drinking vessel; it was a part of their rituals and ceremonies.

At feasts, the Vikings participated in a ceremonial toast called a bragafull (bragging cup or chief’s cup). This was a ceremonial drinking of mead from a special drinking horn, often filled to the brim. The feast leader would swear oaths, make grand boasts, and then pass the horn to other attendees, who would then make their oaths or boasts before drinking.

These bragafull were important social events, and the drinking horn played a crucial role in these ceremonies. It’s likely that this tradition, combined with the later romanticized image of the Viking warrior, led to the enduring image of the Vikings as horn-wielding drinkers.

Drink From The Skull Of Your Enemies: Fact Or Fiction?

The phrase “drink from the skull of your enemies” sounds gruesome and conjures up an image of a brutal warrior culture. Still, is there any truth to this claim? In short, no archaeological evidence or historical documentation suggests that Vikings (or any other historical culture, for that matter) ever practiced this.

This myth likely originated from a misinterpretation of the kenning “knybeina bjargar” used in the 9th-century Skaldic poem “Krákumál,” which has been translated to “the skull’s ship,” and was used to refer to a drinking horn. Over time, this poetic metaphor has been misinterpreted and exaggerated, creating the myth of Vikings drinking from human skulls.

Drinking From A Skull: The Practical Implications

Even from a practical standpoint, using a human skull as a drinking vessel is rather unfeasible. Human skulls are not naturally bowl-shaped. Converting a skull into a vessel would require significant work, including cleaning, shaping, and sealing it to prevent leaks. Moreover, such a drinking vessel would be fragile, small, and difficult to handle.

This is not to say that the Vikings, renowned for their raids and warfare, were not capable of brutality. Nevertheless, the image of Vikings drinking from the skulls of their enemies is more fiction than fact, a result of centuries of myth-making and romanticized imagery.

Who Drank from the Skulls of Their Enemies?

While the image of Vikings drinking from the skulls of their enemies is steeped in popular mythology, it’s not based on historical reality. But does the gruesome practice of drinking from defeated enemies’ skulls exist in recorded history? Interestingly, there are a few isolated references, although they are few and far between.

Among the few examples of using skulls as drinking vessels are the Scythians, an ancient nomadic people who lived in what is now southern Siberia. Herodotus, a Greek historian, wrote in the 5th century BC that the Scythians scalped their enemies and used their skulls as drinking cups. The Scythians would reportedly gild the exterior of these skull cups, using the inside for drinking. Yet, this account should be approached with caution, as Herodotus is known for blending facts with folklore in his narratives.

In a more recent context, there are a few documented cases from the last several hundred years. In Tibet, kapalas or skull cups were used in ritualistic ceremonies, though these were not necessarily from enemies.

In the end, even though there are sporadic examples of cultures drinking from skulls, it’s important to underline that these are exceptions rather than rules. The idea of routinely using enemy skulls as drinking vessels, such as the myth attributed to the Vikings, is largely the product of vivid imaginations and sensationalized storytelling rather than historical fact.


The Vikings’ culture and traditions are fascinating, filled with rich rituals and symbolism. Separating the historical truth from the Hollywood-inspired myth is vital, though. The Vikings drank from beautifully crafted cups, bowls, and horns, and while they were formidable warriors, there’s no evidence to suggest they drank from the skulls of their enemies. The enduring myth of Vikings drinking from skulls serves as a testament to the power of storytelling, but when it comes to historical fact, it’s crucial to take a sip of reality.