Female Viking warriors: truth or fiction?

Feb 2019
869
Pennsylvania, US
My sister studied fencing in college and she was pretty good at it. She said that physical strength was of no importance in sword play: in fact, someone flailing about (ala Zorro) would surely be cut to pieces because a sword is kept in a very small "box" to protect the chest. A viking sword weighed 2-4 lbs. (usually on the lighter side) which is not at all too heavy for a woman. S/he would have carried a shield in the other hand to ward off arrows and axes.
I've never studied fencing, but it seems like it's more of a gentlemanly sort of fight - more about drawing blood that killing someone... but some of the principals are the same, I'm sure. The guy who teaches this arming sword class I take does fencing, and he constantly reminds everyone that it is technique, tempo and speed (though speed directly can relate to strength) that will cause you to overcome your opponent. I also notice that proprioception and kinesthesia seem to make for better overall performance in class.

In Western fighting styles, there is an advantage to strength and height - in other fighting styles (Krav Maga, Ju Jitsu, Aikido, etc) you can use your opponent's height and weight (muscle mass) to undo them. I don't think there is any reason to believe that Vikings fought any differently that any other Western style... but the truth is that they were taller and better fed then their contemporaries, so what seems short to us would have seemed pretty tall at the time... especially compared to the skeletal remains of people in Britain (just as a reference, where the Great Army mass grave was found with something like 20% of them female bodies).
 
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Jun 2017
520
maine
On a serious note, does anyone have any historically based information or theories regarding the women "warrior" graves (buried with male grave goods) / women buried in army mass burials(who were not part of the sacrifice)?
Yes. The Smithsonian has identified the grave of a female Scythian warrior. Archeologists have uncovered the grave of a female Sumarian warrior. And, back to the Vikings, a grave that has been discovered in Derbyshire contains over 250 bodies buried with implements of warfare; some 20% of those bodies were female.
 
Mar 2013
1,038
Breakdancing on the Moon.
Your comments on fencing etc aren't true. I am a former competition fencer (it helped give me a scholarship for study). Fencing is far removed from swordplay, even so, we keep men and women apart. Speed, strength, leverage and reaction times make a huge difference. Occasionally we'd fence the female team to help them train up. It wasn't very useful for us.

I still coach a little. Even outside of competition ready fencers, we keep boys and girls a part because it quickly becomes frustrating for the latter and boring for the former.

Viking swords certainly weren't 4pounds. That's almost 2kg. You're well into longsword territory there.

We actually have a lot of information on this stuff.

@Dan Howard here is also a practitioner and can fill you in.
 
Jun 2017
520
maine
Your comments on fencing etc aren't true. I am a former competition fencer (it helped give me a scholarship for study). Fencing is far removed from swordplay, even so, we keep men and women apart. Speed, strength, leverage and reaction times make a huge difference. Occasionally we'd fence the female team to help them train up. It wasn't very useful for us.

I still coach a little. Even outside of competition ready fencers, we keep boys and girls a part because it quickly becomes frustrating for the latter and boring for the former.

Viking swords certainly weren't 4pounds. That's almost 2kg. You're well into longsword territory there.

We actually have a lot of information on this stuff.

@Dan Howard here is also a practitioner and can fill you in.
I don't think that any of us have any reason to lie.

Hurstwic: Viking Swords
 
Nov 2018
352
Denmark
The reason why we cannot agree in this discussion is that we compare apples and pears; Modern women and women from the Viking age.

Most modern western women are usually not used to hard work since they were 3 years old, in the Viking age it has only been the very rich who have had servants for all the work. Everyone else has worked as soon as they could understand a simple task and go on their feet.

And nowadays if you have to move over a longer distance then you are driven in some vehicle. Back then, you had to go on your flat feet. If you were lucky, you had a horse.

Although women of that time were stronger than modern women because of the hard work, an average man would still be stronger than an average woman. However, we are not talking about average women; they stayed well behaved at home by the loom.And even they could become quite murderous if their honor had been hurt.

We are talking about the very few rare specimens of the female race who had physics and psyche to be warriors.

Frankly, I cannot understand why it is so difficult to recognize that such women existed.

Moreover, as far as I can see, no one here is on a feminist crusade where we argue every other woman was a shield maiden.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,900
Australia
I don't think that any of us have any reason to lie.

Hurstwic: Viking Swords
The only extant viking swords that weigh anywhere near four pounds are so heavily encrusted with oxidation and debris that it is barely possible to tell that they are swords. There is one extant sword that allegedly weighs around 3.5 lbs after it was cleaned up but there are a lot of entries in museum catalogs that are inaccurate. It doesn't look like it weighs 3.5 lbs; I'd be surprised if it weighed more than 3 lbs. My guess is that its reputed weight came from the initial archaeological report before it was cleaned up and restored. No way to know for certain unless a curator weighed it again, in its current condition, for confirmation.
 
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Jun 2013
745
Agraphur
I find it weird that the social dimension never are addressed.
Norse men and women were strictly gender segregated and had vastly different expectations. (To the point that dressing as opposing gender was legal ground for divorce.) A norse woman's father or husband held her mundr. Which made them responsible for the protection of her life, honor and legal guardian. The whole society rested on blood ties and the absence of birth control meant that questioning a woman's sexual virtue was an intolerable assault on the family itself and she would never be with strangers alone. The Icelandic sagas are full of young suitors killed for approaching courtship in an unsatisfactory way. Or how the penalty for love poetry was death. So a woman could never hold office or address a court of law but it would be permissible for her to kill people like a man? It seems quite weird.
Or how thee law text for lethal insults starts with "if a man says to another man". Or how it's considered unmanly to harm women in itself and they weren't targeted in family feuds. Surely Shield maidens couldn't abuse this with impunity?
The only way I can see it work is if she is somehow cut off from ordinary society like some kind of warrior monk or Cossack but that makes no real sense either.
 
Feb 2019
869
Pennsylvania, US
I find it weird that the social dimension never are addressed.
Norse men and women were strictly gender segregated and had vastly different expectations. (To the point that dressing as opposing gender was legal ground for divorce.) A norse woman's father or husband held her mundr. Which made them responsible for the protection of her life, honor and legal guardian. The whole society rested on blood ties and the absence of birth control meant that questioning a woman's sexual virtue was an intolerable assault on the family itself and she would never be with strangers alone. The Icelandic sagas are full of young suitors killed for approaching courtship in an unsatisfactory way. Or how the penalty for love poetry was death. So a woman could never hold office or address a court of law but it would be permissible for her to kill people like a man? It seems quite weird.
Or how thee law text for lethal insults starts with "if a man says to another man". Or how it's considered unmanly to harm women in itself and they weren't targeted in family feuds. Surely Shield maidens couldn't abuse this with impunity?
The only way I can see it work is if she is somehow cut off from ordinary society like some kind of warrior monk or Cossack but that makes no real sense either.
See, the problem is that the grave of a notable Viking warrior (always presumed male, because of the sort of high status warrior burial and grave goods) was found to be female. This wasn't a new find - in fact it was found something like 100 years ago give or take - but in the process of doing DNA testing for what seems like a pretty general genetic analysis, they found this man had "XX" chromosomes. So a female was laying in the grave of what was assumed to be a man. This all happened fairly recently (last year or 2).

Somehow, in spite of the cultural mores of the time... there is a woman laying in a man's grave. LOL. It sucks because I am really just interested in discussing this in a civil, clinical way (the temptation seems to be a very gender biased reaction)... and since this is such a deviation from the societal norms, it would be interesting to hear some actual theories delivered in a logical, dispassionate manner, not just personal reactions. So it's established a female body is in a grave with all the earmarks of a warrior or high standing. It's not so much about whether it could happen - it seems like it already has.

There may very well be other explanations of why... I have a feeling that after this (rather shocking) finding, they may run more thorough testing on other presumed male burials. Will they find more females? Will this be the only outlier - if so, why was she buried this way?

She might be a sort of anomaly - but she was buried with such respect that she couldn't have been a sort of pariah.
 
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