Female Viking warriors: truth or fiction?

Yes they existed.

Shield Maidens are not a figment of imagination.

When the best warriors were out raiding, coastal towns were very open to raids themselves, the Jarl and his Huskarl's and remaining Hirdmen who were not away on raids would need supplemented reinforcements depending on the nature of the attack.

Shield maidens were just that, a back up guard hence the term.

Some Shield maidens rose to prominence amongst their peers and made more of a career from fighting but that was likely rare, the main use of the Shield maidens were as a last resort protection of their families, friends and townsfolk when the Jarl was under manned.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,232
Australia
I don't know tons about Swedish burial practices pre-Viking invasion... was is customary to have the grave goods be weapons and horses for a woman?
The armour in the Birka hill fort has been shown to be a central Asian style. Female warriors and horse fighters were both more common in that part of the world. A reasonable conclusion is that part of the garrison was from central Asia.
 
Last edited:
Nov 2018
173
Denmark
The armour in the Birka hill fort has been shown to be a central Asian style. Female warriors and horse fighters were both more common in that part of the world. A reasonable conclusion is that part of the garrison was from central Asia.
Nothing in the DNA test or strontium analysis shows that she originates from an area outside Northern Europe. What is not certain is whether she comes from Sweden or not.

(PDF) A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics
 
Sep 2014
838
Texas
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.
Women rode with Scopias and helped kill Cyrus the great. When it's fight or die, women make as good a show of it as men. I am not a big fan of inclusion for political correctness' sake, but women have stepped up to the plate in history. I can't remember the name of the Turkish woman who rode at her father's side, but she refused to marry anyone who couldn't beat her.
 
Nov 2018
173
Denmark
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.
Since women have been bound by births, childcare and housekeeping in general, it is clear that they have not helped to make history in the same way as men have.

However, if you want to tell about women in history, there is still plenty to tell about without using revisionist and anachronistic styling, which has become so modern.

One of the reasons why I rarely see historical series and movies, my blood pressure cannot handle it.
 
Jan 2015
2,861
MD, USA
...When the best warriors were out raiding, coastal towns were very open to raids themselves, the Jarl and his Huskarl's and remaining Hirdmen who were not away on raids would need supplemented reinforcements depending on the nature of the attack.

Shield maidens were just that, a back up guard hence the term.
"Raiding" never stripped an area of its entire fighting force, that's why it's called "raiding". In fact the whole Viking era began because rising populations caused a *surplus* of able-bodied men, and those were the bulk of those who went off a-viking. There were PLENTY of battle-worthy men still at home. Even large armies rarely used more than a small percentage of a population.

If women were a regular part of the military system, it should be easy to find documentation of that, among the plethora of laws, regulations, court proceedings, and other literature that survives. I haven't heard of that being turned up, though.

Some Shield maidens rose to prominence amongst their peers and made more of a career from fighting but that was likely rare, the main use of the Shield maidens were as a last resort protection of their families, friends and townsfolk when the Jarl was under manned.
Again, tell us about these ladies! They should be pretty thick on the ground in literary sources. We DO see a few women fighting in extreme situations, certainly! But they are never treated as an integral part of the military system. That *I've* heard of, at least!

Matthew
 
Feb 2011
13,513
Perambulating in St James' Park
I was about to share this... but you got there first. This finding makes you wonder about the mass grave in Derbyshire, with it's 20% female remains... Just there for the Bakewell ... or there to fight?
I was reading this the other day:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0807064...=9045025&hvtargid=pla-644715605264&th=1&psc=1

Dare I say that the author seems to be utterly biased, but she did bring up an interesting point that most archaeologists from earlier times would have marked warrior's tombs out as being male due to the assumption that men are the warriors. There's also the bias that archaeologists may have marked swords etc as being display items for women rather than for war.

"The earliest evidence for a female warrior comes from a burial mound in the Caucasus. In 1927, archaeologists discovered the grave, which has been dated to the second millennium BCE, of three armed women in Semo-Awtchala, Georgia. They were buried with grave goods that included a bronze sword, iron spearheads, and a horse’s head. One died with an arrowhead embedded in her skull. Another had a pointed axe wound in the left side of her skull that had begun to heal before she died—preempting arguments that the grave goods buried with her were purely ceremonial.*
Moving ahead a thousand years or so, we find multiple burials of possible women warriors in sites associated with the Scythian, Sauromatian, and Sarmatian cultures, which date from the late seventh through the second centuries BCE. Notable among these are remains from forty-four kurgans located near the town of Pokrovka, in Kazakhstan near the Russian border. A joint Russian and American archaeological team, led by Leonid Yablonsky and Jeannine Davis-Kimball, excavated the Pokrovka kurgans in the 1990s.† The burials yielded 192 adult skeletons that were intact enough to allow their ages and sexes to be identified. Ninety-four percent of the men were buried with the types of goods that lead archaeologists to identify them as warriors: bronze and iron arrowheads, swords, daggers, and, in some cases, horse gear—not surprising in a culture of warrior nomads. Fifteen percent of the women were also buried with weapons, armor, and horse gear—as well as “feminine” items, such as earrings, beads, and spindle whorls.‡ For the most part, they were buried with light weapons—spears, bows, and arrows, and the distinctive double-edged short-swords called akinakes, which were designed to be worn in a belt scabbard and were used throughout the eastern Mediterranean in the first century BCE. Some bear battle wounds that mark them as warriors rather than hunters. The body cavity of one woman held a bronze arrowhead, the tip damaged as if it had hit a bone as it lodged itself in her abdomen. Other women suffered injuries to their left arms that suggest they shielded themselves with that arm while attacking with the right. Most were in their teens when they died, lending some credence to Herodotus’s report on the marriage customs of the Sauromatians. The evidence for women warriors is even stronger in burial mounds from Scythia dating from the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Some 130 graves of women from this period included weapons as grave goods, roughly 25 percent of the female graves excavated in Scythia. The remains of many of the Scythian women show signs of battle injuries similar to those found on the remains of males buried with similar weapons—serious blows or stabs to the skull or arrowheads stuck in their bones suggest these women died in battle. Moreover, these burials often included heavier weapons, such as spears, lances, and axes, in addition to arrowheads and akinakes. In one extraordinary Scythian burial, a young woman warrior was buried with the complete equipment of a member of the heavy cavalry, including a helmet, scale armor, and an iron shield.
The horse-riding, bow-wielding women of the ancient steppes may have been the earliest women warriors. They were by no means the last."


Women Warriors - Pamela D Toler (2019)
 
Likes: Niobe
Feb 2011
13,513
Perambulating in St James' Park
"Raiding" never stripped an area of its entire fighting force, that's why it's called "raiding". In fact the whole Viking era began because rising populations caused a *surplus* of able-bodied men, and those were the bulk of those who went off a-viking. There were PLENTY of battle-worthy men still at home. Even large armies rarely used more than a small percentage of a population.

If women were a regular part of the military system, it should be easy to find documentation of that, among the plethora of laws, regulations, court proceedings, and other literature that survives. I haven't heard of that being turned up, though.



Again, tell us about these ladies! They should be pretty thick on the ground in literary sources. We DO see a few women fighting in extreme situations, certainly! But they are never treated as an integral part of the military system. That *I've* heard of, at least!

Matthew
Yes, I imagine Bede et al would have jumped at the chance to mention them had they been at Lindisfarne.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,581
Italy, Lago Maggiore
I was reading this the other day:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0807064...=9045025&hvtargid=pla-644715605264&th=1&psc=1

Dare I say that the author seems to be utterly biased, but she did bring up an interesting point that most archaeologists from earlier times would have marked warrior's tombs out as being male due to the assumption that men are the warriors. There's also the bias that archaeologists may have marked swords etc as being display items for women rather than for war.

"The earliest evidence for a female warrior comes from a burial mound in the Caucasus. In 1927, archaeologists discovered the grave, which has been dated to the second millennium BCE, of three armed women in Semo-Awtchala, Georgia. They were buried with grave goods that included a bronze sword, iron spearheads, and a horse’s head. One died with an arrowhead embedded in her skull. Another had a pointed axe wound in the left side of her skull that had begun to heal before she died—preempting arguments that the grave goods buried with her were purely ceremonial.*
Moving ahead a thousand years or so, we find multiple burials of possible women warriors in sites associated with the Scythian, Sauromatian, and Sarmatian cultures, which date from the late seventh through the second centuries BCE. Notable among these are remains from forty-four kurgans located near the town of Pokrovka, in Kazakhstan near the Russian border. A joint Russian and American archaeological team, led by Leonid Yablonsky and Jeannine Davis-Kimball, excavated the Pokrovka kurgans in the 1990s.† The burials yielded 192 adult skeletons that were intact enough to allow their ages and sexes to be identified. Ninety-four percent of the men were buried with the types of goods that lead archaeologists to identify them as warriors: bronze and iron arrowheads, swords, daggers, and, in some cases, horse gear—not surprising in a culture of warrior nomads. Fifteen percent of the women were also buried with weapons, armor, and horse gear—as well as “feminine” items, such as earrings, beads, and spindle whorls.‡ For the most part, they were buried with light weapons—spears, bows, and arrows, and the distinctive double-edged short-swords called akinakes, which were designed to be worn in a belt scabbard and were used throughout the eastern Mediterranean in the first century BCE. Some bear battle wounds that mark them as warriors rather than hunters. The body cavity of one woman held a bronze arrowhead, the tip damaged as if it had hit a bone as it lodged itself in her abdomen. Other women suffered injuries to their left arms that suggest they shielded themselves with that arm while attacking with the right. Most were in their teens when they died, lending some credence to Herodotus’s report on the marriage customs of the Sauromatians. The evidence for women warriors is even stronger in burial mounds from Scythia dating from the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Some 130 graves of women from this period included weapons as grave goods, roughly 25 percent of the female graves excavated in Scythia. The remains of many of the Scythian women show signs of battle injuries similar to those found on the remains of males buried with similar weapons—serious blows or stabs to the skull or arrowheads stuck in their bones suggest these women died in battle. Moreover, these burials often included heavier weapons, such as spears, lances, and axes, in addition to arrowheads and akinakes. In one extraordinary Scythian burial, a young woman warrior was buried with the complete equipment of a member of the heavy cavalry, including a helmet, scale armor, and an iron shield.
The horse-riding, bow-wielding women of the ancient steppes may have been the earliest women warriors. They were by no means the last."


Women Warriors - Pamela D Toler (2019)
I share this opinion. Today with modern weaponry we are more "ready" and "available" to accept that a woman with a rifle gun is a warrior ... a part that the world is full of women with rifle guns fighting for this or that ... we have lost the basic prejudice about combat related to women, that is to say that, until hand-to-hand combat was the rule, they wouldn't be able to stand before male warriors in a furious and long fight because weapons are heavy, they haven't got enough muscles, enough stamina ...

So that, if in an ancient tomb of a noble woman we find a sword we tend to imagine that it belonged to the husband and she wanted to have it in her tomb ... It's not true the contrary: what if we would begin to wonder if a noble man buried with a sword simply wanted to keep with him the sword of his beloved wife?

Humor a part, not to exaggerate in the other sense, I'm not suggesting that female warriors were a diffused and common reality [meaning organized female troops, not women defending the chariots to aid their men], but sure we cannot dismiss the fact that they existed. They were not very numerous, but in some cases they had a certain active role in military affairs.

That 25% could be the historical limit of the presence of women, in some populations, in the "military class" of the warriors.