Female Viking warriors: truth or fiction?

Nov 2018
351
Denmark
As to Viking or Dark Age female warriors, we can not be sure until some female skeleton in unearthed bearing unmistakeable signs of weapon trauma. As far as I am aware, no such evidence has been found.
I agree with you that the proof beyond doubt for female women warriors were; if the archaeologists found female skeletons with the following characteristics; stress fractures at the forearm because they have been fighting with swords since their childhood as the men did.
Shoulder calcification after fighting with spear and shield, hip / thigh deformation or other musculoskeletal markers caused by riding, repeated healed injuries after battle, and fighting gear as grave goods.

Perhaps a coroner can see if fatal injuries are averting injuries or regular combat damage?

The problem is that if there really have been shield maidens in the Viking age, they would probably be rarer than chicken teeth, and the chance to find a preserved grave would be even less.

In addition, as we have seen with the Swedish grave, the archaeologists would initially assume that it was a man in the grave. Only after genetic testing, they would observe that it was a woman.
 
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Feb 2019
857
Pennsylvania, US
As to Viking or Dark Age female warriors, we can not be sure until some female skeleton in unearthed bearing unmistakeable signs of weapon trauma. As far as I am aware, no such evidence has been found.
While I agree with what Aelfwine says here, weapon trauma may not be as visible if you are taken down by arrows hitting soft tissue (infection) or die as a consequence of blood loss or shock... Harald Hardrada died on Stamford Bridge from an arrow to the windpipe (which depending on the angle it pierced him, may leave no lasting traces on bones and simply be a fatal soft tissue injury). When you hear descriptions of Viking battles with “arrows and spears and all kinds of shooting weapons were flying as thickly as the snow drifts,” isn't it possible that the 'gross', bone-shearing blows/injuries were a percentage of the kills? In cases like the suspected Gladiator burial in York, you have pretty consistent 'gross' damage to skeletal remains - decapitations, lion bites that hit bone, hammer to the head (Pluto dispatching the dying?) - but that would be consistent with a sort of fight for entertainment's sake... I think in actual battles you'd see more soft tissue related deaths.... disembowelment or stab to the abdomen, etc., may leave few / no traces, depending on the weapon and the wielder.

In the mass burial in Derbyshire, UK rests what is believed to be the dead associated with the Viking "Great Army". Out of the well over 200 skeleton remains buried there - with the majority of them being male - only a handful exhibited injuries to bones. That said, the ones who did appear to have died from violent injuries that you'd expect from a sword or axe were ID'ed as male. But... I also wonder how many of them were dropped by English bows, and like Harald, may have been killed by injuries that may leave no skeletal traces?

Yes, I'd like to believe there were female Vikings in battles... but I'd also like to see solid, indisputable evidence myself... When you have the female warrior as a theme (Valkyries) in Norse Mythology, you'd like to believe that it is based on an archetype seen in their reality. Otherwise, I think that the verses describing female warriors wouldn't be so powerful, and seemingly full of reverence:

"Then light shone from Logafell,and from that radiance there came bolts of lightning;wearing helmets at Himingvani [came the valkyries].Their byrnies were drenched in blood; and rays shone from their spears." - From Helgakvida Hundingsbana I
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,883
Australia
How is weapon trauma proof that she was a fighter? We would need a grave where a female is buried with the same warrior accoutrements as a male or a specific mention in a primary text.
 
Feb 2019
857
Pennsylvania, US
How is weapon trauma proof that she was a fighter? We would need a grave where a female is buried with the same warrior accoutrements as a male or a specific mention in a primary text.

That's exactly what you have with the Birka burial, right? Grave with weapons (no standard female grave goods) and two horses and a skeleton with XX chromosomes.
 
Nov 2008
1,414
England
Do weapon trauma really indicate that you have been fighting yourself?
Not necessarily, but if a female is buried with weaponry and shows signs of weapon trauma, then is does add a little weight to the possibility that female was a warrior, particularly if the wound had healed, indicating the individual had survived the wound. As I said, there is no evidence that I know of. My own view is that these saga stories of female berserkers and the like are bardic stories, tales to be told by a bard to the lads in the mead hall on a Saturday night. More seriously, some of these stories about Valkyries and similar female warriors may be mythic, having some religious function.
 
Nov 2018
351
Denmark
Saxo probably uses the stories of shield maidens as a stylistic trick in Gesta Danorum, to show the difference between unruly pagan women and virtuous and pious Christian women.

Overall, the old grouch does not have much left over for women who exceed the limits of their sex.

As far as I remember, all the shield maidens in Gesta Danorum end up with a man on top of them, one way or another.

On the other hand, it seems that in the Viking Age, just as despised, a man was if he showed female traits, equally respected was a woman, if she was active and energetic. Of course, not more energetic than her husband, one should not suspect him not to be master of his own house.
 
Feb 2019
857
Pennsylvania, US
Saxo probably uses the stories of shield maidens as a stylistic trick in Gesta Danorum, to show the difference between unruly pagan women and virtuous and pious Christian women.

Overall, the old grouch does not have much left over for women who exceed the limits of their sex.

As far as I remember, all the shield maidens in Gesta Danorum end up with a man on top of them, one way or another.

On the other hand, it seems that in the Viking Age, just as despised, a man was if he showed female traits, equally respected was a woman, if she was active and energetic. Of course, not more energetic than her husband, one should not suspect him not to be master of his own house.
Where does Loki dressing up Thor as a woman to impersonate Freya and be married off to Thrym fit into this whole picture? :lol: I feel like taking Thor, who is the ultimate symbol of male strength/virility and cross-dressing him... that says something about the culture... otherwise, such a story would be considered terribly taboo.
 
Nov 2018
351
Denmark
Where does Loki dressing up Thor as a woman to impersonate Freya and be married off to Thrym fit into this whole picture? :lol: I feel like taking Thor, who is the ultimate symbol of male strength/virility and cross-dressing him... that says something about the culture... otherwise, such a story would be considered terribly taboo.

The only reason that Thor pulls on women's clothes is that Freyja does not want to marry a giant in exchange for Mjolnir

Loki travels with as a bridesmaid, but he has no honor left anyway.

A man in women's clothing was ergi, it can be translated as effeminate or unmanly, a man who was offended in this way could only restore his honor by killing his counterpart.

Overall, the myth þrymskviða turns up and down on the usual norms, the giants with Mjolnir and Thor as a woman. But eventually Thor recovers his honor by killing the giants.

It is one of the myths that tells of the right state of things by turning things upside down. And it has obviously always been a reason for fun to give a man a dress.

And the warriors have enjoyed themselves with the thought they wasn’t a god, but they had certainly never been dressed in a gown.
 
Feb 2019
857
Pennsylvania, US
The only reason that Thor pulls on women's clothes is that Freyja does not want to marry a giant in exchange for Mjolnir

Loki travels with as a bridesmaid, but he has no honor left anyway.

A man in women's clothing was ergi, it can be translated as effeminate or unmanly, a man who was offended in this way could only restore his honor by killing his counterpart.

Overall, the myth þrymskviða turns up and down on the usual norms, the giants with Mjolnir and Thor as a woman. But eventually Thor recovers his honor by killing the giants.

It is one of the myths that tells of the right state of things by turning things upside down. And it has obviously always been a reason for fun to give a man a dress.

And the warriors have enjoyed themselves with the thought they wasn’t a god, but they had certainly never been dressed in a gown.
This I could see... Thor is a wedding dress is something told to be laughed at... it's still laughable to us (because it's a sociological more that we also share - a man in a dress is funny, though its becoming more accepted in the last few years, I guess).

Just a thought here...

Thor in women's clothing is funny... Valkyries, armed and wearing armor... is somehow not. That image is reverred. Perhaps because from a sociological stance, one is accepted as a reality and one is taboo?

If you shifted the archetype of the “warrior woman” to another era where womens roles were highly restricted (WWI or WWII)... I doubt it would catch on, because it would be an unacceptable role for a woman to have... men wouldn't enjoy a woman in their male stlyed uniforms, carrying weapons and other accoutrements of war, covered in German blood... that's not someone they'd dream of having choose them from the battlefield. She'd have to embody the norms of the day for femininity.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,883
Australia
That's exactly what you have with the Birka burial, right? Grave with weapons (no standard female grave goods) and two horses and a skeleton with XX chromosomes.
Birka was a foreign garrison. Any graves are just as likely to have been foreign, not Scandinavian.