To those unfamiliar with the Norse culture, when the word 'Viking' is thrown around, a warrior with a horned helmet is likely pictured similar to that in the logo from the American Football team Minnesota Vikings. Whilst this image is thrown around a lot, it creates such a controversy amongst those of Norse culture & faith. There is much discussion around the practicality of the helmet when worn in battle, and therefore how historically likely it was that it existed to begin with. Some would argue that whilst the Vikings wore helmets at times in battle, they were rarely more complicated than a simple bowl-shape sometimes covering lower parts of the face e.g. eyes.
They were typically made out of leather or iron. Usually, multiple pieces hammered together known as a style called spangenhelm. Some believed that the helmets had something on the inside to help absorb the crushing force of a mace or sword, as without such, it the force would have gone straight to the skull despite the helmet.
The Viking age lasted from the 8th to the 11th century, and any record whether text or art created during this time will usually depict the below or some form of slight variation from it.
During the 18th to 19th century, also known as the romantic period, artists began to explore new ways to Germanic & Celtic history by putting their own spin on their work. During this time, it was common to go outside of the classicism forms of art, and this, in turn, brought many inaccuracies in their work. The horns were but one form of ornament added to their helmets, another common one were wings. The wings were meant to represent ideas and thoughts of the time, rather than using art as a way of capturing history. Logic would dictate that giant wings or horns sprouting from your head in battle would likely not be overly useful in battle, and if anything would add unneeded weight & resources to the individual.
The myth could have also stemmed from the use of animal products in rituals & sacrifices such as horns, where this included wearing them as part of a larger attire. Whilst these rituals would have been performed far away from battle, it is possible that the horns were found as remains and unintentionally indicated that the fallen were slaughtered in battle and fought in this way.
The idea of a horned helmet was not unique to the Vikings. The Waterloo helmet dates back as early as 150BC and was used by the Celts during rituals and ceremonies. Similarly, the Egyptians worshipped a 'horned god' themselves in the 12th century.
More recently (relatively), in the 1800s where Opera was an overwhelmingly popular form of entertainment, Vikings were commonly depicted with horns. This furthered the myth and carried over into today's modern entertainment where even major blockbuster Hollywood movies depicted the Vikings as a people who seemingly wore horned helmets so often they even slept with them. Christian Europe also played a hand in making the Vikings seem as brutish and uncivilized as possible, and to wear such an odd helmet absolutely helped create that image.
What do you think? Myth, or real?
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