The Viking era, from the late eighth century to the early 11th century, was a time of great exploration, trade, and warfare. Although the Vikings were often portrayed as fearsome warriors and raiders, their society was complex and multifaceted. One of the most intriguing aspects of Viking history is women’s role, with some gaining recognition as famous Viking women warriors and others known for their influence and leadership. This article will explore the lives of some of these notable figures, discuss the movies made about famous Viking women, and delve into their impact on Danish history and the wider Viking world.
What Is a Female Viking Called?
In Viking society, women were typically referred to as “kvinna” or “húsfreyja,” both of which translates to “woman” or “lady” in Old Norse. However, when it comes to female Viking warriors, they were known as “skjaldmær” or “shieldmaidens.” The term “shieldmaiden” derives from the Old Norse words “skjald,” meaning “shield,” and “mær,” meaning “maiden” or “young woman.” These women were believed to have trained and fought alongside their male counterparts, displaying exceptional skill and courage on the battlefield.
Historical accounts and sagas contain stories of shieldmaidens who were as fearsome and powerful as their male counterparts. Although the existence of shieldmaidens as a widespread phenomenon remains a debate among historians, archaeological discoveries, such as the 2017 Birka warrior burial site, suggest that some Viking women took up arms and fought in battles. These women defied societal expectations and embraced their warrior roles, showcasing their bravery, strength, and independence.
In popular culture, the image of the shieldmaiden has been romanticized and used to represent the strong and capable women of the Viking era. This portrayal not only captures the imagination of modern audiences but also highlights the importance of female contributions to Viking society and history.
How Common Were Female Viking Warriors?
The prevalence of female Viking warriors remains a subject of debate among historians and archaeologists. While historical accounts and legendary sagas feature tales of women who took up arms and fought alongside their male counterparts, it still needs to be determined how common this phenomenon was in the Viking Age.
One of the most famous examples of a female Viking warrior is the Birka warrior burial site discovered in Sweden. The grave, initially believed to belong to a male warrior, was later determined to be that of a high-ranking female warrior through DNA analysis. This discovery challenged long-standing assumptions about the gender roles in Viking society and provided evidence that some women may have engaged in combat.
But it is important to note that the Birka warrior’s grave is a rare and exceptional find. Most other Viking warrior burials discovered have been male, which suggests that female warriors may have been the exception rather than the norm. Viking society was primarily patriarchal, with men taking on the roles of warriors, traders, and explorers, while women were generally responsible for managing the household and raising children.
That being said, Viking women were known to have more freedom, rights, and independence compared to women in other societies of the same period. They could own property, inherit land, and participate in trade, and in some cases, they may have even taken up arms to protect their homes and families.
Famous Viking Women Warriors
The Vikings were a society that greatly valued strength, courage, and combat prowess. Although men predominantly fulfilled the role of warriors, some historical accounts and sagas detail the exploits of famous Viking women warriors. Two such examples are Freydis Eiriksdottir and Lagertha.
Freydis Eiriksdottir, the daughter of Erik the Red, was a fearless warrior who accompanied her brother Leif Erikson on his expeditions to the New World. According to the Vinland Sagas, she fought off an attack from the native Skraelings with nothing more than a sword while heavily pregnant, proving her bravery and ferocity.
Lagertha, a legendary shieldmaiden, is featured prominently in the “Gesta Danorum,” a 12th-century work by Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus. She is said to have avenged her mistreatment at the hands of her husband by leading a group of women into battle and later marrying the famous Viking hero Ragnar Lodbrok. Lagertha’s story has captured the imagination of many, inspiring the modern depiction of Viking shieldmaidens in popular culture.
Famous Viking Women Names at the Glance
Aud the Deep-Minded was an early settler of Iceland who established her settlement after her husband’s death. As a respected and influential woman, she managed her land and people effectively, leaving a lasting impact on the region’s history.
Gunnhild, Mother of Kings, was a powerful and cunning figure in 10th-century Norway. She was married to the Norwegian king Eirik Bloodaxe and was known for her magic and manipulation skills. After her husband’s death, Gunnhild worked tirelessly to ensure that her sons became rulers of Norway, earning her the title “Mother of Kings.”
Who Was the Famous Female Viking Queen?
Among the famous Viking women who shaped history, one of the most enigmatic and influential was Sigrid the Haughty. A powerful queen who ruled in the late 10th and early 11th centuries, Sigrid’s impact on the politics and events of her time was undeniable. Born into nobility, she was the daughter of a Swedish chieftain and the widow of Erik the Victorious, the first King of Sweden. Renowned for her beauty, intelligence, and strong will, Sigrid captured the interest of many suitors, including some of the most powerful men of her time.
Her moniker “the Haughty” speaks to her unyielding nature and unwavering resolve, which she demonstrated throughout her life. Refusing to convert to Christianity for the sake of marriage, Sigrid rejected the proposal of Olaf Tryggvason, the King of Norway. This decision would lead to a series of conflicts between their respective countries. Instead, she chose to marry the pagan Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard, strengthening her position and furthering her political aspirations.
Sigrid’s influence reached far beyond her kingdom as her children and grandchildren became prominent figures in their own right. Her son, Olof Skötkonung, would become the first Christian King of Sweden, while her grandson, Canute the Great, would ascend to the throne of England. A testament to her legacy, the life and actions of the famous female Viking Queen Sigrid the Haughty continue to captivate historians and serve as an enduring symbol of the powerful and tenacious women who shaped the Viking world.
Famous Viking Women of Denmark
Denmark, a significant center of Viking culture and power, boasts several famous Viking women who left their mark on history. One notable figure is Thyra, the wife of Gorm the Old, the first historically recognized King of Denmark. Thyra played an essential role in uniting the Danish kingdom and is often credited with the construction of the Danevirke, a series of fortifications along the southern border of Denmark. Her diplomatic and strategic skills were key to strengthening the kingdom and maintaining peace with its neighbors.
Another influential Danish Viking woman was Estrid Sigfastsdatter, the daughter of a powerful chieftain and the mother of the Danish King, Sweyn II. Estrid was known for her intelligence, political insight, and ability to establish alliances. She played a crucial role in the politics of the time and contributed to her son’s ascension to the throne, solidifying her place in Danish history.
Other Famous Ancient Viking Women
Throughout the Viking Age, women played important roles not only as warriors and rulers but also as the keepers of tradition and culture. The famous ancient Viking women mentioned here are just a few examples of the diverse and influential female figures that shaped the Viking world.
One such woman is Hervor, the protagonist of the legendary Icelandic saga, “The Saga of Hervor and Heidrek.” Hervor defied gender norms by taking up her father’s magical sword and becoming a fierce warrior, participating in raids and battles. Her story exemplifies the spirit of Viking women who defied societal expectations and embraced their strength and independence.
Another ancient Viking woman, Sigrid the Haughty, was a powerful queen who married and divorced several kings, making alliances and forging her path in the male-dominated world of Viking politics. Known for her strong will, intelligence, and brutality, Sigrid’s story symbolizes the powerful and influential women who shaped the Viking Age.
Movies Made About Famous Viking Women You Must Watch
The intrigue surrounding famous Viking women has inspired filmmakers and writers to bring their stories to life on the big screen. The TV series “Vikings,” aired from 2013 to 2020, is one example. The show features Lagertha, a fierce shield maiden, and warrior, played by actress Katheryn Winnick. Although Lagertha’s character is loosely based on the historical figure, her portrayal in the series has helped to redefine the image of Viking women in popular culture.
Another movie inspired by Viking women is “The Viking Queen,” released in 1967. Although not strictly based on a specific historical figure, the film tells the story of a British queen who leads her people against Roman invaders, embodying the spirit and bravery of the Viking warrior women.
The lives and legacies of these famous Viking women provide a richer understanding of Viking society, demonstrating that women played essential roles as warriors, rulers, and influencers. From the fierce shieldmaidens like Lagertha and Freydis Eiriksdottir to influential figures such as Thyra and Gunnhild, Mother of Kings, these women left an indelible mark on history. Furthermore, movies and TV shows, such as “Vikings” and “The Viking Queen,” continue to immortalize their stories, ensuring that the tales of these remarkable women endure for future generations. By recognizing the contributions of these famous Viking women, we gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity of Viking culture and its lasting impact on the world today.