Viking Cleanliness – Fact or Fiction?

Vikings and Norsemen, in general, are known for lots of things, some of which have been proven false over the many centuries since these raiders settled down and became regular Scandinavians. For instance, they never wore horned helmets, rarely cast their dead out into the ocean in burning boats, and the runic script we often associate with Viking scholars wasn’t really in use at all. It was actually more likely to be used for graffiti. So how much can we really believe about Vikings?

Sludge and Warpaint

Another belief that persists to this day concerns the hygiene habits of the Viking people, warriors or otherwise. The tale goes that the Norsemen of the time were fastidious about cleanliness, to the extent that the abbot of St. Albans Abbey, John of Wallingford, complained in writing that Anglo-Saxon women were often left spellbound by the appearance of these Nordic males. “They laid siege to the virtue of the married woman”, he wrote.


Today, thanks to the influence of TV shows like Vikings, we’re perhaps more used to seeing these people covered in sludge, warpaint, and all sorts of other things. Of course, given the popularity of the show, which is currently awaiting a sequel series entitled Vikings: Valhalla, this image is likely to persist in the public consciousness for a while. 

The original franchise’s influence on other media has already strengthened the idea of the modern cast as representative as the warriors of yore. A good example involves the official comic books of the franchise, which feature the likeness of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), but an official Vikings game is part of the Casino777 slot catalog, too. This five-reel video slot includes nods to popular characters like Lagertha, Bjorn Ironside, and Floki.

Culture of Grooming

What makes Wallingford’s fears about these sparkling-clean invaders seem so believable is the fact that writers from history rarely spoke positively about their enemies. Wallingford was not a contemporary writer (he died in 1258) and his notes contrast with the impressions of the priest Alcuin, who presided over Lindisfarne when it was attacked in 793. Alcuin referred to the Vikings as “Pagans” and an “unhead of evil”.


It’s worth noting, though, that medieval people had few opportunities to tend to their personal hygiene, and taking the effort to bathe or comb one’s hair more than once a week would make Lindisfarne’s nemeses seem very different to the local populace. To paraphrase Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, it’s easy to identify the king because he’s the only one not covered in mud.

According to the University of York, The Vikings also left plenty of combs and other grooming implements for us to find in the archaeological record, many of which were found around the Viking stronghold of York or Yorvik, England. The University of York notes that the Viking predilection for hair-care has been known since the 1970s when the Coppergate area was excavated. This culture of grooming continued until the Norman Invasion in the 11th century.

It’s a nice thought, that these barbarians had well-kept beards and manes – unless you happened to be a Lindisfarne monk, of course.