Female Viking warriors: truth or fiction?

Mar 2012
516
I was watching the tv series Vikings and they portrayed women going with the men and fighting in the battles. I searched for information if this phenomenon really occurred. I found a lot of contradicting thoughts on this manner.

Anybody can shed some light on this?
 

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
"Warrior-women" do make an occasional appearance in the martial traditions of Iron Age Europe. The famous Queen Boudica of the Iceni is a notorious example. Female participation in combat was sufficiently common in the Pictish Kingdom that Christian clergymen petitioned against it - the result was known as the "Law of the Innocents". Several female warriors appear in Irish mythology, most notably Scathacht (and of course Irish mythology is not unlike Greek mythology or the Old Testament - hard to determine where the history ends and fantasy begins).

A little closer to home for the Vikings were the Cimbri, a Germanic people who may have come from Scandinavia, and who invaded both Celtic and Roman Europe right around the turn of the 1st Century BCE. During one of their final battles with the Romans, the Cimbric women apparently participated, and even killed Cimbric men who tried to run from the carnage. I also recall an anecdote about Celtic and/or Germanic women fighting in Spartacus' battleline during the Third Servile War.

Granted, none of those peoples were "Vikings", but they shared their context as pre-Christian or early Christian inhabitants of northern Europe.

If the Iron Age Celtic/Germanic precedent also applied to Viking times, it probably wouldn't have been totally unheard of for a woman to take up weapons, especially in some kind of desperate situation. Individual women, whether by disguise or by strength of personality, have forced their way onto battles in almost every time and place in human history.

But if you're wondering if all-female warbands were a thing, or if the average Viking company would have had some serious female warriors in its ranks - yeah, I wouldn't get too attached to the notion. It wasn't business as usual in Viking warfare, I think we can say that much with confidence.
 

Edric Streona

Ad Honorem
Feb 2016
4,493
Japan
There is little hard evidence that they existed.
I doubt any would have gone viking, being that they had important work to do.

But, given, women have fought in most armies and cultures in some form it's likely that a few Dane/Swede/Geat/Norse women did fight in armies. But if they did they are unlikely to have been pretty, dainty teenage boy fantasy types... but big, burly mannish types. Ones that could hold their place in a shield wall and not get bowled over by the Dane/Anglo-Saxon/Celt/Pict/Frank/unarmed monk or villager they were fighting.
 
Mar 2012
516
"Warrior-women" do make an occasional appearance in the martial traditions of Iron Age Europe. The famous Queen Boudica of the Iceni is a notorious example. Female participation in combat was sufficiently common in the Pictish Kingdom that Christian clergymen petitioned against it - the result was known as the "Law of the Innocents". Several female warriors appear in Irish mythology, most notably Scathacht (and of course Irish mythology is not unlike Greek mythology or the Old Testament - hard to determine where the history ends and fantasy begins).

A little closer to home for the Vikings were the Cimbri, a Germanic people who may have come from Scandinavia, and who invaded both Celtic and Roman Europe right around the turn of the 1st Century BCE. During one of their final battles with the Romans, the Cimbric women apparently participated, and even killed Cimbric men who tried to run from the carnage. I also recall an anecdote about Celtic and/or Germanic women fighting in Spartacus' battleline during the Third Servile War.

Granted, none of those peoples were "Vikings", but they shared their context as pre-Christian or early Christian inhabitants of northern Europe.

If the Iron Age Celtic/Germanic precedent also applied to Viking times, it probably wouldn't have been totally unheard of for a woman to take up weapons, especially in some kind of desperate situation. Individual women, whether by disguise or by strength of personality, have forced their way onto battles in almost every time and place in human history.

But if you're wondering if all-female warbands were a thing, or if the average Viking company would have had some serious female warriors in its ranks - yeah, I wouldn't get too attached to the notion. It wasn't business as usual in Viking warfare, I think we can say that much with confidence.
Wow, great information!
 
Mar 2012
516
There is little hard evidence that they existed.
I doubt any would have gone viking, being that they had important work to do.

But, given, women have fought in most armies and cultures in some form it's likely that a few Dane/Swede/Geat/Norse women did fight in armies. But if they did they are unlikely to have been pretty, dainty teenage boy fantasy types... but big, burly mannish types. Ones that could hold their place in a shield wall and not get bowled over by the Dane/Anglo-Saxon/Celt/Pict/Frank/unarmed monk or villager they were fighting.
Ok, thank you! I understand it.

I was just reading stories that we as male dictators of history writing wanted to distort history and that females in battle were equal both in numbers and skills among the vikings. They said that they found many graves for women, which are supposedly warrior-graves. I have read some more, and with your answers combined, I'm convinced that this theory about women being Viking warriors (not occasionally, but generally) lies in the realm of imagination.
 
Jan 2016
172
Scranton, Pennsylvania (that's right, ladies...I'm
Female warriors are over represented in modern fiction, and also television representing itself as being historical in nature, due to modern sensitivities and pressures.

My cowriters and I receive pressure from all sorts of folks to be "more inclusive" with this group and that. One of the pressures, specifically, is to include women in roles historically dominated by men: industrial workers, soldiers, police officers, firefighters etc.

Women are an important demographic as readers and viewers so, as writers feel a need to eat every few months or so, they are often times over represented in the "cool" jobs in fiction, such as combat.
 

Edric Streona

Ad Honorem
Feb 2016
4,493
Japan
Weapons had ceremonial and prestige value aswell. So because a women has been buried with grave weapons doesn't not mean she was a warrior. They may have been family artifacts given to her in death as a sign of her status or esteem.

I believe it likely that a small number of Scandanavian women would have "broken the mould" but I don't believe that they were common.
 
Mar 2012
516
Weapons had ceremonial and prestige value aswell. So because a women has been buried with grave weapons doesn't not mean she was a warrior. They may have been family artifacts given to her in death as a sign of her status or esteem.

I believe it likely that a small number of Scandanavian women would have "broken the mould" but I don't believe that they were common.
Probably just as common as an 11 year old boy in battle.
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
2,968
MD, USA
Probably just as common as an 11 year old boy in battle.
I think that sums it up nicely!

Boudica was a queen who rode a chariot and waved a spear while giving a speech to her warriors. Not a shred of evidence that she ever actually fought in battle.

The women in the tribes who fought the Romans were also NOT part of the battle array, nor part of the military system. They were in their camp and their wagons, and took up weapons (and likely things like rocks) to fight when the Romans were overrunning them, and against their own men who were fleeing. Things like that are mentioned more than once through history.

Yes, any woman trapped in a deadly situation might fight with whatever was handy. Wise mothers grabbed their kids and headed out the back door for the woods when enemies came to the front door! They were NOT trained as warriors.

There *are* wild exceptions. Two women in the Macedonian royal family shortly after Alexander the Great were trained and experienced warriors, and were apparently accepted as leaders by the army. Seems they were pretty scary girls. There is evidence that Scythian women fought, as well, and they may be the origin of the Greek myths about Amazons.

By and large, in most societies, the military systems included MEN, not women.

Grave finds are tricky things, because we rarely know just why particular items were put there. We forget that it was the survivors burying these items, not the dead person. Archeologists for generations assumed that weapons meant a male burial, while domestic items such as mirrors or combs meant a woman. Now with better scientific analysis of the bones, that is not always proving to be the case!

Finally, my rule of thumb: EVERYTHING in the movies or on TV is WRONG. Work from there. If (and it's a big "IF") something actually historically accurate slips in by mistake, please try not to let that spoil your enjoyment of the show...

Matthew
 
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