From cartoons to billboard ads, the prototypical Viking is portrayed as muscular, red-bearded with a protracted mustache, and at all times sporting a metal helmet adorned with cow horns. Admit it, while you think about a Viking, that’s what instantly pops up in your head.
I hate to interrupt it to you, however we’ve all been dwelling a lie. There isn’t a archaeological proof to help the truth that Vikings ever sported any headgear apart from easy iron helmets or leather-based caps. But when that’s the case, the place did this enduring stereotype emerge from? Effectively, you could have some Scandinavian set designers and considered one of Wagner’s most iconic operas accountable.
A fable that may stay on so long as a timeless opera
It was the yr 1876 and all of Germany’s strongest and trendy society flooded the quaint, small city of Bayreuth to witness the premiere of Richard Wagner’s extremely anticipated new opera, a Norse drama referred to as Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) that fused components of German and Scandinavian myths and folklore.
The time period ‘epic’ barely captures the burden and depth of this really monumental work. A full efficiency totaled nearly 15 hours, normally spaced over the course of 4 nights on the opera, the place every evening is devoted to a musical drama. The operas are Das Rheingold (“The Rhine Gold”), Die Walküre (“The Valkyrie”), Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung (“The Twilight of the Gods”).
The story itself is a type of Norse Lord of the Rings, following the struggles of a number of gods, heroes, and legendary creatures over a magical ring that grants its wearer domination over the whole world. The cycle of the 4 operas unfolds over the course of three generations of protagonists, with the story ending with Götterdämmerung.
The Ring of the Nibelung was meant to be an enormous present from the very starting, and all the pieces was ready on the highest commonplace, together with the set design. So the manufacturing staff employed famed costume designer Carl Emil Doepler, who made some unimaginable clothes and props for the operas, together with winged and, you’ve guessed it, horned helmets. Doepler’s unique idea drawings for the Viking costumes are really distinctive.
As anticipated, Wagner’s opera proved an immediate hit and it was quickly imported by manufacturing firms internationally. And because the opera’s affect grew, so did the parable of the Vikings sporting cow-like horned helmets. It’s not clear why Doepler selected this creative depiction. Maybe he was influenced by historic Greek and Roman historians who reported northern European tribesmen wore helmets adorned with all kinds of ornaments, together with antlers, feathers, and horns.
Nonetheless, the imagery of horned Viking helmets caught and was subsequently amplified within the many years that adopted the dying of Wagner and Doepler. As an illustration, in 1960, the skilled soccer staff primarily based in Minneapolis took the identify Minnesota Vikings and adopted the profile of a blond Norseman with a helmet with horns as its emblem. Across the similar time, Marvel Comics launched a brand new fictional comedian e book superhero referred to as Thor, primarily based on the Asgardian god of thunder, depicted as a large carrying his mighty hammer Mjolnir, with a winged helmet on his head. The parable of the horned Viking helmets is so prevalent these days that even Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians put on these helmets after they gown up for an occasion or attend a serious sporting occasion to help their Scandinavian groups.
What did Vikings truly put on?
Vikings originated in what’s now Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. These had been seafaring warriors that left their homelands in huge numbers and commenced raiding coastal cities between the eighth and the eleventh century. The British Isles, and particularly undefended monasteries, had been focused. These raids proved wildly profitable and the Vikings grew to become extraordinarily highly effective, controlling many huge areas in Britain, Eire, France, and Germany, and colonizing Iceland and Greenland. The so-called Viking Age ended within the mid-1000s when all of Scandinavia transformed to Christianity and Viking tradition grew to become absorbed by the bigger Christian Europe.
The Vikings had been formidable seamen and warriors, which explains their success. The widespread Viking fought with a spear and protect, whereas the nobles and bravest warriors additionally wore armor and helmets. However though archaeologists have discovered quite a few Viking-era clothes, axes, arrows, and all method of weapons, solely a single preserved helmet has been discovered — the Gjermundbu helmet from Norway.
The Gjermundbu helmet, alongside a sword and chain mail, was present in a mound at a farm in 1943. Though it’s the solely Viking-era helmet ever discovered, it’s very properly preserved giving us a touch of what Viking warriors really wore, though this explicit gear was most likely owned by a chieftain or another high-status particular person judging by its high-quality craftsmanship. The helmet had a metallic body across the eyes, like glasses, and plates on the again that protected the warrior’s neck. The within of the helmet would have been lined with wool or leather-based to melt blows, just like the styrofoam lining in a bicycle helmet. This can be a far more sensible design for a warrior, in contrast to horned helmets that may simply tangle in battle and trigger extra hurt than good.
The actual horned helmets from Scandinavia
Horned helmets actually did exist in Scandinavia, it’s simply that they predate the Vikings by nearly 2,000 years. The extraordinary Bronze Age Viksø helmets had been present in a lavatory on the island of Zealand in 1942 and archaeologists assume they had been quite widespread in Scandinavia between 3,700 and a pair of,500 years in the past. There are additionally petroglyphs from the Bronze Age in western Sweden and southern Norway, through which such horns usually seem on the heads of human figures carved into stone.
The 2 helmets are at present housed on the Nationwide Museum of Denmark. Apart from the horns, the helmets characteristic decorations, such because the beak and eye of a chook of prey, and had fittings that appear like they had been meant to connect feathers or perhaps a mane of horse hair.
“There are lots of indications that these weren’t helmets made for fight both,” Ingrid Ystgaard, a Norwegian archaeologist, instructed Science Norway. “What they had been used for on the time is simply hypothesis. However one suggestion is that they had been a part of ritual retellings of historic myths.”
Though folks have related the Viksø helmets with Vikings, that’s nonsense. Not solely are these horned helmets from the Bronze Age, and nothing like them has been discovered within the Nordic international locations because the time of the Romans, the horned theme is definitely an historic Close to East and Mediterranean motif.
In truth, scientists imagine that these horned helmets signify convincing proof that historic Scandinavian folks had subtle commerce networks with southern Europe, and this trade probably concerned crusing alongside the Atlantic coast quite than trekking throughout the Alps. These cultural exchanges had been secondary to the far more necessary commerce in supplies comparable to copper and tin, that are used to make bronze and can’t be present in Scandinavia.
The underside line is that the Vikings by no means wore horned helmets. They by no means went to the opera both, so there’s your trace proper there.