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Well-Scrubbed Marauders
August 19, 2010 12:28 AM   Subscribe

Health, Grooming, and Medicine in the Viking Age. "John of Wallingford, the abbot of St. Albans Abbey wrote in his chronicles that the Norse invaders in England were far more attractive to Anglo-Saxon women since, unlike Anglo-Saxon men, they combed their hair daily, took baths weekly, and laundered their clothing regularly."
posted by rodgerd (48 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
whoa. this is awesome:

It is likely that all men had facial hair. The stories say that men who were unable to grow a beard were mocked. For example, Brennu-Njáls saga tells the story of Njáll Þorgeirsson, who was beardless. Chapter 20 says that he was married, with six children, and that he was wealthy and handsome, but that he had a peculiarity: he could not grow a beard. In chapter 44, Hallgerðr asked some gossiping beggarwomen what was going on at Njál's farm at Bergþórshváll. The women said that Njál's sons were preparing for battle, and his farmhands were spreading manure on the hayfield to fertilize it. Hallgerðr wondered why they didn't spread it on Njál's chin, so his beard would grow. She gave Njáll the name "Old Beardless", and his sons "Little-Dungbeards". Sigmundr composed scandalous poetry using the new names.

Njál's son, Skarpheðinn, repaid Sigmundr for the verses by driving his axe through Sigmund's shoulder, forcing him to his knees, and then by splitting Sigmund's head with his next blow.

posted by mannequito at 12:35 AM on August 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


The Viking Answer Lady on Viking Age Hairstyles, Haircare, and Personal Grooming
posted by homunculus at 12:53 AM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, some things don't change.

Particularly the attractiveness of daily hair combings, weekly baths and clean clothes. The efficacy of these seduction techniques has diminished little through the ages.
posted by WalterMitty at 2:05 AM on August 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


Wait, so you mean The Thirteenth Warrior was not the well-researched historical drama I always assumed it was?
posted by 1adam12 at 2:14 AM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


*blanches*
In chapter 23 of Víga-Glúms saga, Þórarinn was struck by a blow that cut through his shoulder such that his lungs fell out. He was bound up, and Halldóra watched over him until the battle was over. Þórarinn was carried home where his wounds were treated, and over the summer, he recovered.

We can trace the Norwegian line of our ancestry back to a priest in Denmark (his children were among those who spread Christianity to Sweden-Norway) and a knight from Jämtland County (link goes to family tree, scroll down to "15th Generation" to see him, named Karl Pedersson), born in 1360. I always wondered what a Viking knight would deal with in reality. *pats her rib cage, breathes deeply, is glad to live in modern times*

Fascinating link, well researched and written - what a great read.
posted by fraula at 2:15 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


eh, didn't mean to conflate Viking with late medieval; just delighted to read detailed accounts of battle experiences from those times — because war "technology" didn't really go through a fundamental change in those few hundred years.
posted by fraula at 2:23 AM on August 19, 2010


Olaf and Canute
Were clean though hirsute
While Hengist and Horsa
Were rather coarser.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:32 AM on August 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


When fights continued for a long time (for example Heiðarvíga saga chapter 31), a pause was called in the fighting to allow men to bind up their wounds.


"TIME OUT!!"
posted by pearlybob at 2:33 AM on August 19, 2010


a blow that cut through his shoulder such that his lungs fell out.

You'd have to stuff your lungs back in on top of your diaphragm just to say ouch. Or work them like bagpipes, I guess.
*drone*
Ohhhhh...
my fucking lord...
my fucking lungs....
are fucking out...
Ow...
Could use a bath...
*drone*
posted by pracowity at 2:48 AM on August 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


"TIME OUT!!"


"CAR!"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:37 AM on August 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


Yeah, riling up Skarpheðinn was not a good idea. I do not imagine he was all that well groomed, either, since he was kind of a jerk.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:48 AM on August 19, 2010


The battle & wound section at the end was a real treat!
posted by iamkimiam at 4:52 AM on August 19, 2010


Bathed Alexander Skarsgard, or smelly Rowan Atkinson...decisions, decisions...
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:18 AM on August 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


mannequito: "Little-Dungbeards"

The word is taðskegglingur which means, literally, dried-horseshit-beardling.
posted by Kattullus at 5:43 AM on August 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Bathed Alexander Skarsgard, or smelly Rowan Atkinson...decisions, decisions...

Bathed ASkar or this guy...decisions, decisions...
posted by fuse theorem at 6:02 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bathed ASkar or this guy...

No beard, so obviously not a real man.
posted by Forktine at 6:25 AM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


1adam12: "Wait, so you mean The Thirteenth Warrior was not the well-researched historical drama I always assumed it was?"

You mean the blowing the nose into the washing water thing? That is in the original Arab chronicle, but is thought to be a misunderstanding or exaggeration, as the link homunculus provided to the wonderful Viking Answer Lady explains.

The costumes of the extras in The Thirteenth Warrior are pretty accurate, but those of the main characters are hysterically wrong. If you want well-researched historical drama, find a copy of Útlaginn. You can tell the three main characters apart by their beards.
posted by QIbHom at 6:36 AM on August 19, 2010


mannequito: "Little-Dungbeards"

The word is taðskegglingur which means, literally, dried-horseshit-beardling.


I would guess a vernacular version would be "shitbeard" which actually isn't a bad epithet.
posted by emjaybee at 7:26 AM on August 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of the lovely Viking Center in York, where one could see fossilized Viking dung and take a ride through an animatronic Viking village, complete with smells.
posted by emjaybee at 7:27 AM on August 19, 2010


a blow that cut through his shoulder such that his lungs fell out.

Okay, NOBODY MOVE! Just...just look around on the ground. I lost a lung.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:30 AM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow, sometimes I have worse personal hygiene than a Viking.

Ouch.
posted by elder18 at 8:12 AM on August 19, 2010


"...unlike Anglo-Saxon men, they combed their hair daily, took baths weekly, and laundered their clothing regularly."

Vikings invented GTL?
posted by iviken at 8:16 AM on August 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


I love this. I've been on a DNA + archaelogy reading kick lately (The Tribes of Britain was good, better than the similar Bryan Sykes book, although the Sykes book has more on the Viking stuff), and I find it somehow comforting to know that my ancestors on either side of the family were eyeing each other's people centuries before I was born.

Icelandic DNA is the most fascinating, if you ask me -- points to a lot of Irish women and Norse men getting together, when you look at the mitochondrial evidence and the Y-chromosomes involved.

Oh -- fraula -- how's this for a good one? I've gotten back equally far in one branch of my family tree and there's someone named IVAR VIKINGSSON.

If that isn't the most metal name ever, I don't know what is.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:42 AM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


The word is taðskegglingur which means, literally, dried-horseshit-beardling.

Why don't we have words like this in English? *sigh*
posted by slogger at 8:49 AM on August 19, 2010


The whole site is fascinating. Thanks!
posted by muddgirl at 9:01 AM on August 19, 2010


bitter-girl.com, Tore Vikingstad got a lot of press due to his name during the Olympics. I think he may have Ivar beat.

http://www.vancouver2010.com/olympic-hockey/athletes/tore-vikingstad_ath1010861dp.html

http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/Winter-Olympic-Men-s-Hockey-Awards-Best-worst-?urn=nhl-225024
(scroll down to number 5)
posted by sauril at 9:07 AM on August 19, 2010


Viking fiction, the self-titled story from Wells Tower's collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.
posted by jonathanbell at 9:08 AM on August 19, 2010


Fascinating stuff. I'll definitely be checking out the entire site.
posted by immlass at 9:20 AM on August 19, 2010


Good one, sauril -- I especially like this comment in the 2nd post:

"The only way it could be better is if Tore spoke about himself in the third person ("VIKINGSTAD IS SAD NOW... WHERE IS VIKINGSTAD'S BEER?")."

What's funnier in my family is that my cousin David has gone by the nickname Ivar (don't ask, I have no idea) for years now (full fake-Viking-nickname is Ivar the Boneless, and I REALLY don't want to know about that, I am just assuming he is a fan of this guy), so finding Ivar Vikingsson was extra-funny for us.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:22 AM on August 19, 2010


Awesome. Being of Nordic extraction myself, this stuff really appeals to my sense of vanity.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:23 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Excellent post. The section about wounded bits and casualties from battles make it so that I cannot imagine what PTSD would be like for surviving Viking warriors.

And I can't but think of the relationship that combat induced PTSD has to the growth of modern medicine, combat mortality rates and suicide rate of contemporary soldiers.
posted by Back to you, Jim. at 9:25 AM on August 19, 2010


On No. 2, he pointed to some rocks and shrub-covered peat marked off by four little white out-of-bounds stakes. ''That's a Viking grave,'' he said casually. ''There are a couple more over on No. 8.

''When my grandfather, and his father, used to plow this land,'' he continued, ''they'd sometimes turn up skeletons and some artifacts -- a Viking sword, a gold ring, the foundations of a house, the outlines of a Viking ship.'' Hov, Frode said, comes from an Old Norse word meaning sacred place of offering.

What did he think of people playing golf where Viking bones rest?

''They'd probably think it's fun,'' he said. ''They were Vikings.''

posted by iviken at 9:57 AM on August 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


What a great link! I need more of this, about all sorts of historical peoples, pronto!
posted by bjork24 at 10:06 AM on August 19, 2010


Excellent post. The section about wounded bits and casualties from battles make it so that I cannot imagine what PTSD would be like for surviving Viking warriors.

I don't think that anything like "PTSD" existed for the Vikings. It was a different worldview, and one that isn't necessarily compatible with contemporary psychological pathology.

It is entirely conceivable that survived wounds were a source of pride. That the stories a viking could tell outweighed the memory of physical pain and near death.
posted by Netzapper at 10:16 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Metrosexual. That's where I'm a viking.
posted by ob at 10:35 AM on August 19, 2010


Nothing about their sleeping habits?
posted by everichon at 10:47 AM on August 19, 2010


Bathtime! That's where I'm a viking!
posted by FatherDagon at 10:53 AM on August 19, 2010


daaaaamn my lack of preview!
posted by FatherDagon at 10:54 AM on August 19, 2010


Vikings thread! Yay! My father-in-law is Swedish. I love to tell my kids that they are direct descendants of the Vikings. Somehow they aren't impressed.

I pulled these from my bookmarks. Forgive me if some of these don't work, been awhile since I checked my Vikinggen-linkor for linken-rotten.

http://www.mnh.si.edu/vikings/index.html
http://www.battle1066.com/vikpic.shtml
http://www.viking.ucla.edu/hrolf/hallin.html
http://www.viking.ucla.edu/
http://www.gettysburg.edu/academics/english/vikingbritain2001/Farrell/farrell2.html
http://www.foteviken.se/engelsk/start_e.htm
http://www.overshot.com/drakkar/default.htm
http://www.spirasolaris.ca/sbb4g1cv.html
http://pages.zoom.co.uk/leveridge/vikship.html
http://www.battle1066.com/vikings.shtml
http://w1.313.telia.com/~u31309746/svse.htm
http://www.lothene.demon.co.uk/others/womenvik.html
http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Journals/Journal/169131&caldate=2003-09-3
http://www.vikings.ndirect.co.uk/hastings2000/guides/saxon.htm
http://www.vikings.ndirect.co.uk/hastings2000/index.htm
http://www.calafia.org/guilds/justtrim.html
http://www.runegame.com/myth.php?loc=Warrior%20Women
http://www.regia.org/
http://149.144.201.234/~myths/beginning.html#NineWorlds
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/vikings/runes.html
http://www.regia.org/thorvald.htm
http://www.lothene.demon.co.uk/others/womenvik.html
http://www.florilegium.org/files/NORSE/Norse-lit-bib.text
http://www.jactrading.se/pillage.htm
http://www.viking1000.org/lore/lore1.html
http://beyond.landsend.com/viking/
http://www.ks-usa.net/swedishlinks.asp
http://historymedren.about.com/cs/generalvikings/
http://historymedren.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.pbs.org%2Fwgbh%2Fnova%2Fvikings%2F
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/vikings/
http://www.sunfilm.is/index.html?target=dept_11.html&lang=en-us
http://www.mtnbrook.k12.al.us/CB/middleages/ma.htm
http://www.kelthaven.org/cats/roriksong1.html
http://www.hampton.lib.nh.us/hampton/history/pamphlets/thorvald.htm
http://www.gungfu.com/htm_swords/swords_western.htm
http://www.ucalgary.ca/~dnjkirk/hel/hel.html
http://www.christmasarchives.com/england.html
http://www.btinternet.com/~feudal.archers/
http://www.rathergood.com/vikings/
http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
http://loki.ragnarokr.com/
http://www.pantheon.org/areas/mythology/europe/norse/articles.html
http://www.pantheon.org/
http://hem.passagen.se/kjnoren/jordan/norse.html
http://www.thetroth.org/
http://www.thetroth.org/resources/ourtroth/wlkrja.html
http://www.vikings.ndirect.co.uk/suppliers.htm
http://www.angelcynn.org.uk/
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2471/
http://www.vikings.ndirect.co.uk/
http://www.regia.org/helmet.htm
posted by Xoebe at 11:15 AM on August 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


The average height of men in Norway in the Viking era, based on skeletal measurements, was 176cm (5ft 9in), with a range from 170-181cm (5ft 7in to 5ft 11in), which was taller than other Europeans during this time.


Rollo
, the first Duke of Normandy (and great-great-great grandfather of William the Conqueror) was so tall that in legend he was called "Hrolf The Walker" because no horse could carry him. William the Conqueror was 5'10" (although I have also read reports that he was 6') and his bride, Matilda, was 4'3".

Evidence from both literary sources and archaeological sources shows that cleanliness, good hygiene, and regular grooming were a part of Norse life. The Norse poetic literature emphasizes the need for cleanliness and regular grooming.

For me, the fascination lies in the cultural movement to abandon cleanliness. Although the Viking-Normans brought good hygiene with them to England, it was the Crusades that led to the general belief that dirtiness was next to Godliness, arising from the repudiation of the Muslim way of life. To say that the people of the Medieval ages lived like pigs would be a disservice to pigs. Body lice and head lice were signs of saintliness as was festering, reeking clothes and filthy feet. People really did live their entire lives without bathing or shampooing-- washing in fact was not only thought to be ungodly but allowed your skin to be opened to diseases; keeping your skin covered with a nice layer of grime was much healthier.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:49 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now, I'm not saying it's a good thing what the Vikings come, but I am saying, ooh, have you seen the hair treatment they brung with them? It give me hair such a lovely smell, like a bunch of bleeding carnations, it do. And wasn't me skin rought before they came, but now, thanks to the gentle scrubbing of the loofas what they brung, me skin is as pink and as rosy as a baby in its bantling. Now, they're a bit fierce, yet, wot with them blood eaglings and progressive severing of limbs and all, but all things being equal, ain't it nice to run some hot water over it all; it's summit, ain't it? Not that I'm speaking in favor of savage hoarded bringing them longboats to our shores, but I am saying that if they must come, let them come fresh and clean and proper and all, like they done.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:19 PM on August 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


fraula: "We can trace the Norwegian line of our ancestry back to a priest in Denmark ... and a knight from Jämtland County ... born in 1360."

Using naive binomial expansion and assuming a generation time of between 20 and 25 years, you've got something between 2^27 (134,217,728) and 2^33 (8,589,934,592) direct ancestors alive in 1360. Obviously, given that Europe's entire population at that time was between 50m and 100m (depending on whether you count before or after the big famine/plague Crisis depopulation), this is nonsense, and pedigrees more properly resemble compressed directed acyclic graphs. This model says attaches highest probability to the Most Recent Common Ancestor of *all* Europeans as living around 1000 CE. So, given how apparently attractive these clean, oiled, lung-fixing Scandinavians were to my Irish ancestors as they watched them sailing up the rivers a-viking, I'd say it's highly likely that I, too, can trace my pedigree back to this fecund priest and that valiant knight. Thanks! I'll add then to the family tree!
posted by meehawl at 2:14 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Obligatory Kate Beaton link.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:17 PM on August 19, 2010


emjaybee: "mannequito: "Little-Dungbeards"

The word is taðskegglingur which means, literally, dried-horseshit-beardling.


I would guess a vernacular version would be "shitbeard" which actually isn't a bad epithet.
"

I think I just got me a Pirate name!
posted by symbioid at 3:43 PM on August 19, 2010


Actually, I just remembered my gym teacher used to give me shit (no pun intended) about my sweet ass goatee in High School. He told me I should rub "goose turds" on it so it can grow even larger.
posted by symbioid at 3:49 PM on August 19, 2010


Yeah, sure it's the grooming habits. Have you been to Scandinavia? I don't know how it happened, but people there are straight up beautiful.
posted by erikvan at 4:52 PM on August 19, 2010


Archeologists Find Gateway to the Viking Empire
posted by homunculus at 10:54 PM on August 27, 2010


Vikings Raid LA Restaurants and IKEAs
posted by homunculus at 1:31 PM on August 29, 2010


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