The Stinky Truth: How Clean Were the Vikings?

Author C.J. Adrien


A skaldic verse from Egill Skallagrimson paints the picture of what once was considered the perfect Viking; created impatient from birth, presumptuous, and with a burning desire for a far-off adventure:
“My mother promised me, and soon she will buy me, a vessel and oars, to leave to distant lands with the Vikings…and to strike and fight.”

These early explorers are today remembered as brave, rustic men with long beards and flowing hair.  As historians of the 19th century would have it, the Vikings were uncivilized in their pre-Christian culture, thus making them unclean.  The notion of the Romantic Savage prevailed until well into the latter half of the 20th century, and arguably remains part of popular culture’s view of the Vikings.  What most people do not know, however, is that grooming was a central feature in Viking Age Scandinavian culture.

The Arab chronicler Ibn Fadlan, who encountered the Rus…

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