For today’s bonus episode, I am digging into the long and controversial history of female Vikings. Did they really exist? Are they just male fantasy? And why is the alt-right so into this trope? All that and more in this bonus episode.
Hello and welcome to another bonus episode of Unruly Figures! Today I wanted to dig into Viking shield maidens, an idea and term that came up during the Princess Alfhild episode. Pull up a chair and let’s take a romp through a history of mythology.
In 1878, an individual’s grave was excavated in Birka, Sweden. Over a millennium before, someone had been laid to rest surrounded by resplendent artifacts like swords, arrowheads, and two sacrificed horses. It was, the Victorian archaeologists thought, the perfect Viking warrior’s grave. Archaeologist Hjalmar Stolpe was responsible for the dig and he described it as, quote, “perhaps the most remarkable of all the graves in this field.”1
It was publicized in textbooks and magazines, spread as a perfect example of how Viking culture honored its fallen warriors. It was an “‘archetypical’ high-status warrior grave” and so everyone assumed that the fallen warrior was a man.2 Until 2017, when genetic testing revealed this remarkable, archetypical, perfect Viking skeleton to be female.