2 – They Had Poor Hygiene
Even today, those who don’t know their history believe that Vikings were wild, filthy and unkempt savages. Much of the historical details about the Vikings were written by Christians who saw the Norse warriors are plunderers and murderers. As such, they were hardly likely to portray what they saw as an ‘enemy’ in anything other than the most negative light possible.
Archaeological excavations have uncovered evidence that suggests the Vikings enjoyed a spot of personal grooming. Discoveries include tweezers, ear cleaners, combs, toothpicks and even nail cleaners. Obviously, the whole ‘bloodthirsty savage’ thing sounds less plausible if these vile individuals were clean and partial to a mani-pedi. One of the most common artifacts to be discovered was the comb. The Vikings also created extremely strong soap as it was used to bleach their hair as well as clean their body.
Not only were the Vikings clean, they also liked to style their hair. It was typical for men to have short hair on the back of the head and long fringes at the front. Norsemen were expected to grow beards and it is believed that men who had trouble growing facial hair were roundly mocked. Regardless of whether their beards were long or short, they were always well-groomed.
Writings by Anglo-Saxons back up the notion of the ‘clean’ Vikings. In 1220, John of Wallingford described them as ‘well-groomed heartbreakers’ as he wrote an account of the Vikings attacking Britain. Amusingly, Vikings that settled in England were considered ‘clean freaks’ by the locals due to their propensity to bath weekly. In contrast, the Anglo-Saxons would only bathe a few times a year.
It gets better; there are numerous reports of Vikings ‘undermining the virtue of married women’ and ‘seducing the daughters of nobles’. This is because they combed their hair daily, bathed weekly and regularly changed their clothes. The original meaning of the Scandinavian words for Saturday (such as laurdag) is ‘washing day’.
There are a few reports that suggest the Vikings were the dirty people of lore. One came from an Arab Ambassador who described them as “the filthiest of Allah’s creatures.” However, this man was a Muslim and would have bathed five times a day (once before each prayer). The Viking culture of bathing once a week would have seemed nasty in comparison. Nonetheless, compared to most people of the era, the Vikings were rather neat and tidy.