Vikings with Horns?
Where Did The Come From?
One of the biggest battles in re-creating Viking history is the myth of the horned helmets. This image has stuck in millions of peoples minds for the last century thanks to faulty teaching of the history and the famed 'History by Hollywood'. Whenever one goes to a Scandinavian event you can expect to see the plastic horned helms on sale because the average person seems to expect to see this myth wherever they go. But how did it come about?
Back at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century there had been a rise in the interest in Vikings that started social clubs and organizations. These groups were not historical groups but rather fraternal groups or even drinking clubs taking advantage of the image of the drinking orgies that had been placed on the Vikings. Members often posed for photos while wearing horned or winged helms. This image seemed to be fed off of the popular culture of its day with Richard Wagners' massive opera 'Ring des Nibelungen'. Burning into the masses was the ridiculous costumes worn by the performers that became to many fact that Vikings had worn horned or winged helms. Now granted that the opera was based on the German version of the Norse Volsung Saga, but the image stuck. As time went along, this image entered pulp fiction, comics, movies and television. But it is important to note that the most famous Viking movie 'The Vikings' with Kirk Douglas did not take this image up, which scores points with the costume directors.
In all of the art from the Viking era, from carvings to tapestries, only one image from that time had an image of a viking with a horned like helm. This tapestry appears to show a caravan of people with a man at the lead with a horned like helm holding two spears in one hand and a sword in the other. A theory on this could be that what one is looking at is a caravan being led by a priest of Odin considering that the horns on the helm appears to be carved into two ravens (Hugin and Munin) or even possibly a representation from the Ynglinga Saga from the Heimskringla. In that saga it speaks of Odin being a great chief who leads his people back to Europe from Asia. If that is so, them maybe the 'carved horns' are not such, but rather an image of the ravens sitting atop of the helm. In the sagas it speaks of Odin letting the ravens go to travel the world to gather news, then return to speak into his ears what they had seen. From this it can be argued that there may be a possibility that horned helms did exist, but for religious purposes and not for combat.
If this image is a source for historians to prove that Viking had horns, then it is greatly flawed. An example is such: A high level Bishop passes away and the church buries him in the full regalia of his post. After that time the world enters into another Dark Age because of a great disaster. Most of the records that we have is destroyed and our way of life has been lost. After a 1000 to maybe 1500 years passes and civilization rises up to the level we have today and archeologists discover the tomb of the before mentioned bishop. They find the body in a preserved state and after examining it they come to the conclusion that people in the late 20th and early 21st century all worn red robes with tall funny hats. Before you know it, groups are started that recreated our era with people dressing this way as an example of how we dressed. Believe it it or not, many conclusions have come about with less.
As it goes we have much more information on how the Vikings lived, and a large amount of artifacts from that era... ...and no helms with horns have been found.
© 2004 Eric Anderson