Are Viking Tattoos Cultural Appropriation?

Today, people are more conscious of racism, cultural appropriation, and privilege than ever.

However, even though it seems more people are now trying to be racially sensitive and politically correct, it can sometimes be challenging to figure out where the lines are drawn.

For example, would getting a Viking tattoo be considered cultural appropriation?

Getting Viking tattoos isn’t considered cultural appropriation. Though cultural appropriation can be a tricky term to define, it primarily comes down to an imbalance of power.

Because Vikings were never a subjugated or discriminated group of people, using Viking symbols isn’t appropriation.

Trying to decide what is and isn’t cultural appropriation can be frustrating, and it’s certainly true that not everyone will agree with another person’s definition of the term.

However, this article will seek to explain why getting a Viking tattoo isn’t cultural appropriation in the strictest sense of the word.  

Why are Viking tattoos not racially insensitive? See below

Why Getting Viking Tattoos Isn’t A Racially Insensitive Act

To understand why it isn’t necessarily wrong to get a Viking tattoo, one must first have a good grasp of what cultural appropriation actually is. 

Britannica explains it best: “Cultural appropriation takes place when members of a majority group adopt cultural elements of a minority group in an exploitative, disrespectful, or stereotypical way.” [1]

The essential terms are “majority group” and “minority group.” Some examples of minority groups, particularly in the United States, include:

  • African Americans
  • Latinx people
  • Middle Easterners
  • Asians
  • American Indians

The majority group in the U.S. includes primarily white people of European descent. 

To culturally appropriate something, a member of the majority group (i.e., a white person) must be taking something significant used by or seen only in one of the minority groups, such as:

  • Feathered headdresses from American Indians
  • Bindis from Indians/Hindus
  • Kimonos from Asians

These things are all distinguishing characteristics that automatically identify members of minority groups as being from those groups.

These things set them apart from the majority group and identify them as “other.” 

When majority group members take those same symbols and turn them into “fashion statements,” it’s cultural appropriation.

However, according to how the phrase is used today if a member of the minority group adopts something from the majority group, the same power dynamic is not at play. Instead, they are assimilating and trying to fit in. They’re trying to be just another human in the crowd. 

Vikings were never subjugated or mistreated. Indeed, Vikings would occasionally enslave, kill, or force other Vikings from their homes.

However, as a group, no one ever enslaved them, murdered them on a massive scale, or forcibly relocated them. 

They were the majority group in the Scandinavian countries for many years.

Therefore, when people of Scandinavian descent or heritage get Viking tattoos, they’re merely paying homage to their ancestors. 

But what about people who don’t have Scandinavian heritage? Should they get Viking tattoos?

The answer there is less clear. However, if they do, it’s not cultural appropriation because they aren’t “stealing” from a repressed, mistreated, or minority culture. 

Some may argue that those without Scandinavian heritage have no right to get Viking tattoos. However, there’s nothing overtly wrong about them doing so.

Vikings die
Is it disrespectful to get a Viking tattoo? See below

Is It Disrespectful to Get a Viking Tattoo?

It typically isn’t disrespectful to get a Viking tattoo, especially today when pop culture has brought Vikings back into the mainstream.

Unfortunately, many Viking tattoos have been adopted by white nationalist and white supremacy groups, so it may be best to avoid getting one for that reason alone. 

Additionally, while it isn’t disrespectful to get a Viking tattoo, most tattoo artists advise against getting tattoos from cultures a person isn’t familiar with or has no ties to.

There are many reasons for this, but the most practical one is that they can never be sure they’re getting what they want. 

Everyone has heard horror stories of people going to get tattoos in foreign languages.

They think they’re getting ‘peace,’ ‘beauty,’ or ‘serenity’ tattooed on their arm.

Then, they meet someone who speaks the language their tattoo is in and find out they really have ‘burger,’ ‘armadillo,’ or something equally ridiculous tattooed on them instead. 

Furthermore, tattoos are eye-catching. People often see them and want to ask about them. “That’s a great tattoo! What does it mean?”

If one can’t explain the history and meaning behind Viking tattoos, it could be embarrassing for them to have these conversations. 

Because some hate groups now give Viking tattoos to their members, having a Viking tattoo could make passersby think that someone is a racist. [2]

What Does a Viking Tattoo Symbolize?

Unfortunately, today, Viking tattoos most often symbolize ties to white nationalists, white supremacy, and other hate- or ‘master race’-based groups.

However, for others, these tattoos are symbols of their Asatru beliefs. They may also symbolize power, loyalty, and dedication to family or a cause.

Some other meanings for various Viking tattoos include:

  • Warrior
  • Wisdom
  • Universal interconnectedness
  • A sense of duty
  • Staying on the right path
  • Etc. [3]

Still, other people get Viking tattoos simply because they love Marvel and think Thor’s hammer or the valknut symbol is super cool.

When it comes to tattoos, the meanings behind them are just as vast and varied as the tattoos themselves.

Vikings America
Did Vikings have tattoos? See below

Did Vikings Have Tattoos?

The Vikings probably had tattoos, though no archaeological evidence supports this conclusion.

However, surviving accounts from other people living in the same period as the Vikings describe them as covered in tattoos.

The only Viking remains archaeologists have uncovered are skeletal, which means there’s no evidence of tattoos remaining on the bone. (They’d have to find a mummified Viking to see evidence of tattoos, and such a find is unlikely.)

Additionally, the Vikings didn’t keep written accounts of themselves and their culture.

Most of what people today know about Vikings comes from the written accounts of people outside the Viking world. Risala by Ahmad Ibn Fadlan is one of the most important. [4] Others include: 

  • The written accounts of Ibrahim Ibn Yacoub Al Tartushi [5]
  • The Chronicon Roskildense [6]
  • Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum [7]
  • Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda and the Heimskringla [8]

In sections discussing Vikings’ appearance, the authors of these works mention that they’re covered in elaborate markings from their fingertips to their necks and beyond.

These markings could have been less permanent art that the Vikings painted on themselves.

However, most scholars and historians agree that they were probably tattoos.

Final Thoughts

Getting Vikings tattoos isn’t cultural appropriation. However, most people would still agree that getting tattoos from other people’s cultures is a bad idea.

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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