Female Viking warriors: truth or fiction?

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,932
Australia
I've read on this subject for three decades. It is hard to cut through the hype and get to the truth. Data doesn't lie, but you need a metallurgical background to understand it. There is nothing special about Japanese sword making techniques. The exact same techniques were used all over the world for two thousand years. The only difference is the raw materials available to the smith.
 
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Dec 2017
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I've read on this subject for three decades. It is hard to cut through the hype and get to the truth. Data doesn't lie, but you need a metallurgical background to understand it. There is nothing special about Japanese sword making techniques. The exact same techniques were used all over the world for two thousand years. The only difference is the raw materials available to the smith.
It doesn't look like you have for three decades. The technique using two types of steel was not universal. The technique of using carbonised steel was also not universal. The amount of carbon. The designs were different. Not to mention the perfection in making the swords. If I was interested about boomerangs I may have paid attention to your comments.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,932
Australia
There is nothing the Japanese did that wasn't practiced in other parts of the world. Compared to their neighbouring cultures on the mainland, their martial technologies were retarded*.

* retard: to delay or hold back in terms of progress or development.
 
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Feb 2019
872
Pennsylvania, US
The only problem is that burial goods are determined by the *living*, not by the dead. We have no idea if the woman in that grave ever saw that weaponry before being buried with it, let alone if she owned or used it. Without some description of burial practices by the people who were there, we just don't know if weapons in a grave meant the deceased was a warrior or not.

This is not an isolated case, either. There is an Etruscan tomb that had a burial on one side, with weapons, and a cremation on the other side with domestic items. Guess what? It was the female with the weapons, and the male with the "female" items. All we can deduce for sure is that someone put those items with those remains, and we don't know who or why.

Matthew
See now this in interesting... what Etruscan tomb is this? And what were the female grave goods? The one I'm finding as I quickly Google this seems like it just had jewelry (which was a power symbol in the past, not necessarily always associated with women).

What is perhaps a little disappointing (or at least premature) is that I'm already seeing transgender allusions made about the Birka woman burial. I wouldn't be surprised if at some point soon they owned burials like these as being transgender individuals.
 
Nov 2018
355
Denmark
What is perhaps a little disappointing (or at least premature) is that I'm already seeing transgender allusions made about the Birka woman burial. I wouldn't be surprised if at some point soon they owned burials like these as being transgender individuals.
Nothing new there, I read a book as a teenager, unfortunately I can't remember the name, written by a doctor who believed that several famous women had a medical condition that after his doctor's assessment meant they had been men trapped in a woman's body.

It was written before DNA was discovered.

The two names I remember were the queens Elizabeth I and Christina of Sweden.

And as far as I can understand, one may well have two X-chromosomes and look like a man or XY-chromosome and look like a woman.

Then I want to refer to the written sources, and it may be that Saxo Grammaticus motto was, it is not true but it's a good story.

But despite his disapproval, he has quite a few stories about shield maidens, as the saying goes there is no smoke without a fire.
 
Feb 2019
872
Pennsylvania, US
The two names I remember were the queens Elizabeth I and Christina of Sweden.
Yeah... I've heard people theorize that Elizabeth I either had died as an infant and was replaced with a baby of similar age and appearance that was male... or that she was born an 'intersex person' (hermaphrodite). Poor Elizabeth I. :lol:
 
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Jun 2013
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Agraphur
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.
The Birka woman is far from as clear cut as you seem to think. Firstly it's still disputed whether its really is her grave. Secondly the presence of weapons in the grave doesn't necessarily mean she used them. The researcher also makes some fascinating leaps, like concluding she was a war leader because there is a board game in the grave. It's also kinda interesting that there are no female signifiers at all in the grave she is apparently wholly subsumed by her warrior identity.
Norse and Viking Ramblings: Let's Debate Female Viking Warriors Yet Again

She might be a sort of anomaly - but she was buried with such respect that she couldn't have been a sort of pariah.
My point was that women and men had vastly different expectations and roles in Norse society in the Viking age. Dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex was legal ground for divorce in Iceland. Women didn't carry legal responsibility. If she did something that had to be addressed in a court of law her male guardian would speak for her and be accountable for her actions. How would this work with a women warrior do you think? Violence is a man's purview in the sagas. And women commonly calls them on this. Like Gudrun in Laexdala saga :

"With your temperament, you'd have made some farmer a good group of daughters, fit to do no one any good or any harm. After all the abuse and shame Kjartan has heaped upon you, you don't let it disturb your sleep while he goes riding by under your very noses, with only one other man to accompany him. Such men have no better memory than a pig. There's not much chance you'll ever dare to make a move against Kjartan at home if you won't even stand up to him now, when he only has one or two others to back him up. The lot of you just sit here at home, making much of yourselves, and one could only wish there were fewer of you."

Gudrun is obviously a strong minded woman; yet she seems to think women are worthless for this purpose and instead just shames the men, in ways that only her gender allows her to do without fear of retaliation.

Virtually all serious insults against men are suggestions of femininity. "There are words which are considered terms of abuse. Item one: if a man say of another man that he has borne a child. Item two: if a man say of another man that he has been homosexually used. Item three: if a man compare another man to a mare, or call him a bitch or a harlot, or compare him to any animal which bears young." Gulathing law Norway.

I find it weird that I see no discussions about how this fit into the social fabric of their society, rather it's merely technical discussions about whether a woman wield a sword effectively.

What is more likely, that a misinterpretation has been made in a single case or that the universal gender dynamics we know from archeology and sagas are flawed?
 
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Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,932
Australia
A Völva was mostly an older woman, but could also be young, who traveled around the country with an entourage of younger women,some of them were apprentices.

The reason they could do this was that they had detached themselves from the kinship ties that meant everything in the Viking Age.

Despite this, they were highly respected and the graves found where one could clearly see from the grave good that it belonged to sorceresses, is richly equipped and shows that these women have belonged to the top layer of society.

Moreover, as I have also written in a previous answer, shield maidens have most likely belonged to the top layers of society, because they were the only ones who could afford to let a daughter become a warrior.

The warrior tomb in question is also richly equipped with two horses and a full war equipment, and the woman who is buried there was tall of a woman from that time: 170 cm.

And where a man had to fight if necessary to the death to defend his honor if someone had accused him of being effeminate. Then women were praised for being energetic, and they had to be when the men were on an expedition and they were substitutes for their men.
Irrelevant unless you can produce an example from any of the sagas of a Völva fighting in battle.
 
Nov 2018
355
Denmark
Irrelevant unless you can produce an example from any of the sagas of a Völva fighting in battle.
No, it was not to prove that there was vølvas fighting in battle. Except to throw curses on the enemy.

However, since the very relevant question has been raised, whether a woman could deviate from the norms of society or not.

I just wanted to show that at least one group of women did not stay at home as any decent woman would but traveled around. And despite of that were respected and/or feared.

And if you look at gender roles, it was seen as unmanly to practice seid, but seidmen existed. They were looked down upon but they existed.

And if we look at another woman from Laxdæla saga; Aud, she called her husband Tord unmanly because he went with the shirt open and showed too much of the chest and nipples.

He in return called her unwomanly, because she dressed in trousers and got divorced on that basis.

Aud felt disgraced and when her brothers did nothing, she took action and rode to Tord's farm, where she attacked the sleeping Tord and wounded him badly.

Then she rode home again and told her brothers what she had done "They thought it was well done, but said it had become too little of it." Meaning she should have killed Tord.
 
Feb 2019
872
Pennsylvania, US
The Birka woman is far from as clear cut as you seem to think. Firstly it's still disputed whether its really is her grave. Secondly the presence of weapons in the grave doesn't necessarily mean she used them. The researcher also makes some fascinating leaps, like concluding she was a war leader because there is a board game in the grave. It's also kinda interesting that there are no female signifiers at all in the grave she is apparently wholly subsumed by her warrior identity.
Norse and Viking Ramblings: Let's Debate Female Viking Warriors Yet Again



My point was that women and men had vastly different expectations and roles in Norse society in the Viking age. Dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex was legal ground for divorce in Iceland. Women didn't carry legal responsibility. If she did something that had to be addressed in a court of law her male guardian would speak for her and be accountable for her actions. How would this work with a women warrior do you think? Violence is a man's purview in the sagas. And women commonly calls them on this. Like Gudrun in Laexdala saga :

"With your temperament, you'd have made some farmer a good group of daughters, fit to do no one any good or any harm. After all the abuse and shame Kjartan has heaped upon you, you don't let it disturb your sleep while he goes riding by under your very noses, with only one other man to accompany him. Such men have no better memory than a pig. There's not much chance you'll ever dare to make a move against Kjartan at home if you won't even stand up to him now, when he only has one or two others to back him up. The lot of you just sit here at home, making much of yourselves, and one could only wish there were fewer of you."

Gudrun is obviously a strong minded woman; yet she seems to think women are worthless for this purpose and instead just shames the men, in ways that only her gender allows her to do without fear of retaliation.

Virtually all serious insults against men are suggestions of femininity. "There are words which are considered terms of abuse. Item one: if a man say of another man that he has borne a child. Item two: if a man say of another man that he has been homosexually used. Item three: if a man compare another man to a mare, or call him a bitch or a harlot, or compare him to any animal which bears young." Gulathing law Norway.

I find it weird that I see no discussions about how this fit into the social fabric of their society, rather it's merely technical discussions about whether a woman wield a sword effectively.

What is more likely, that a misinterpretation has been made in a single case or that the universal gender dynamics we know from archeology and sagas are flawed?
I think what is interesting is many archeologists based the gender of the buried individual on the grave goods - this usually wouldn't be a problem, but for the couple cases recently proving that it's not always safe to assume. There are a couple of cases where “warriors” or “princes” end up being female remains. I think these instances will probably push for more DNA testing and less guessing. It would be interesting to see if the numbers of females buried as warriors changes or if it remains something of an anomaly.

Haha! Oh, yes... she liked games, ergo she was a military leader. Maybe all the Monopoly I've played in my lifetime would make me a great tactician. First conquer Board Walk as a stronghold and then move on to Park Place. ;)

I think people try to make a reputation for themselves on these sorts of things as well...

As far as the sociological implications / coming from a social science stance, I think you forget that it is the dominant members of society who are not usually allowed to break the rules and remain “dominant”... not the non-dominant group. The upholding of dominance is at stake - deviations from the mores of society is more damning for them... the non-dominant group has less restrictions, but less privilege and less power. Dominant individuals have more privileges, more status, but the range of behaviors to remain dominant are more constrictive. Possibly someone with more sociology study could flesh this out more - I only took it as an undergrad.

But basically, even if there are cultural implications of impropriety or unfeminine traits connected with certain activities, it is interesting how there are strange loopholes for non-dominant individuals...

Puritanical societies in America had extremely strict laws and rules concerning the conduct of women... and yet a woman who massacred an entire Indian family was seen as heroic (she killed the men, women and children).

This is just one of many examples... I mean, in a male dominated society, you had rulers like Elizabeth I. That is a complete violation of the social standards of the day... a woman dominant over men, but there you have it.

So as much as you can cite sagas for sociological context, you also have to remember that the stuff that “isn't on paper”, the unwritten rules, the sociological science of people groups was still at play.... also the saga or epic is a very male invention - it exists to glorify the deeds of men, not women. Do you really want deviations from that male narrative to end up in your account? No. I know it's completely unrelated, but this is what upsets me about the Lord of the Rings films... the books were an epic, quit inflating the female roles! :lol:
 
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