The findings have put a kink in the accepted theory that only Viking men invaded. Sounds like some badass women to me.
Marianne Moen, an archeologist whose master's thesis The Gendered Landscape studies the complex role of women in Viking society based on burial finds, cautions,"To assume that Viking men were ranked above women is to impose modern values on the past, which would be misleading."
ship burials, such as The Oseberg Site, where women's bones have been found in the honored graves. This ancient practice of burying the dead with the ship was thought to be reserved only for kings, but new attitudes toward research have archeologists rethinking their previous assumptions, suggesting women may have held powerful positions in their own right and not just through their husbands, sons, and fathers.
In addition to the new gender findings, there is some evidence in the historical record of women warriors, as mentioned in the Gesta Danorum (Deeds of the Danes), written by 12th century historian Saxo Grammaticus.
"Besides men warriors there were 'women warriors' in the North, as Saxo explains. He describes shieldmaidens, as Alfhild, Sela, Rusila, and the three she-captains, Wigbiorg, who fell on the field, Hetha, who was made queen of Zealand (Denmark), and Wisna, whose hand Starcad cut off, all three fighting manfully at the Bravalla fight." (source)
There are very few written accounts of women warriors from the Viking age. But there is the tale of Hervor, daughter of the berserker warrior Angantyr, which comes from the 13th century Hervarar Saga.* In it, Hervor is a shieldmaiden who dresses and fights like a man. Born after her father was killed in a duel, she is raised as a slave. Later she learns her true identity, including the fact that her father had been entrusted with a magical sword known as Tyrfing, a blade that killed every time it was unsheathed. Wishing to claim her rightful inheritance, Hervor sets out for her father's grave on a haunted island ablaze with ghostly fires, where she summons the dead to give up the sword:
Her father warns her the sword is cursed and all her kin will die if she wields the sword. But she does not care, claiming:
The overlap of history and mythology is sometimes vague in these medieval writings. Some characters in the sagas were real people, some seem to be invented. Hervor was likely not a real person, but she may have been based in part on actual women warriors of the time. Though not common, there does seem to be both archeological evidence and written historical records that point to true women warriors during the Viking age. Their tales today, however, are told loudest by old bones that speak to us through science.
Speaking of which...are you ready to watch the new series, Vikings, on the History Channel beginning March 3rd? There is a woman warrior featured on the show, whom I'm sure will get some flack for not being historically accurate, but, then again, maybe she's more real than we know.
And, And, And!! If this post weren't packed enough already, I need to bring your attention to my awesome new banner at the top. My friend Dezmond, whom you know from the comments and his blog Hollywood Spy (link is to his post highlighting the new Vikings show), designed the original banner for me about a year and a half ago. Now my friend Maine Character, also well known in the comments section, has added the silhouette of the warrior woman and the battered Welsh flag to better reflect elements of my current novels. I love it. So a big thank-you to them both!
* Source for much of J.R.R. Tolkien's LOTR, including the people of the Rohan.
**Photo used to create silhouette in the banner by Charly Brusseau.