Did the Vikings Have Long Hair?


When someone imagines a Viking, the first image that comes to mind for many people is a tall, muscular Scandinavian man with long hair and perhaps a beard. The hair may be blonde, brown, or red. It may also be in braids. Is this common depiction correct? Is it fact or fiction that Vikings has long hair?

Some Vikings did have long hair, yet multiple historical sources reveal that the most common hairstyle for men was not what most people imagine. The fact is, many Viking men had long hair in the front of their head and wore their hair very short in the back of their head.

Nearly a millennium after their demise, people remain fascinated with the Vikings.

However, sometimes it can be challenging to separate fact from fiction.

Thankfully, history sheds a lot of light what what the Vikings were like, including their daily life.

man wearing dreadlocks
Some Vikings wore dreadlocks

One aspect of their daily life is the choices they made with regard to their appearance and how they wore their hair.

Dreadlocks are found among different cultures of the ancient world. See Did the Vikings Wear Dreadlocks? to learn more.

What Did Vikings Look Like?

From television shows to movies to other art forms, popular culture has portrayed Vikings in ways that are often stereotypical and not historically accurate.

While there may be a kernel of truth in some stereotypes regarding the appearance of Vikings, it is important to look at the most reliable evidence to determine the facts.

man wearing braids
Braids were common in Viking culture and served a practical purpose

Fortunately, with the help of advanced technology, scientists have uncovered many facts about what the Vikings looked like.

Long hair in the front, short in the back

The image people often imagine when thinking of a Viking warrior is long blonde, brown, or red hair as well as with a long beard or mustache—all of which is wild and unkempt.

It may come as a surprise to some that long hair wasn’t the main hairstyle that Viking men wore. 

The historical evidence suggests that Vikings wore their hair long in the front and short in the back, as a kind of reverse mullet.

What did the Vikings look like? Part of the answer to that questions concerns what kind of clothes they wore. See The Viking Dress Code: What They Wore and How to learn more.

For instance, an English letter, dated to the Middle Ages from an anonymous author, described the Danish hairstyle as blinding the eyes and shaved in the back near the neck.

This suggests that men wore their hair in the front as a long fringe or perhaps had long hair only at the top of their head that fell down in front of their face. 

The evidence also suggests that Viking men preferred that their facial hair be long. Many men wore beards and mustaches and the preference for many was not to keep them short and tidy.

Since facial hair represents masculinity in some cultures, wild and unkempt facial may have symbolized manhood among some Vikings.

A small carved relic that was found at a ship burial in Norway shows the whittled man wearing a long mustache and beard. 

Viking Women Wore Their Hair Long

One common conception of how Viking women looked is that they had long blonde hair, often with pictured braids at the top of the head. This stereotype probably reveals a lot of truth.

A small bronze relic that Scandinavian archaeologists uncovered shows a Viking woman with long hair tied at the nape of her neck.

As opposed to the men, the evidence suggests that a Viking women kept their long hair well-groomed. Since they kept their long hair relatively clean and tame, they were able to manage it better and form it into a variety of styles.

Viking women blonde hair
Women’s hairstyles in Viking culture were partly fashionable but often served functional purposes as well

What is the nature of the evidence?

There are two main ways that researchers have been able to paint an accurate picture of what the Vikings looked like, including their hairstyles: archaeological evidence and written sources. 

Archaeological Evidence 

According to the National Museum of Denmark, there have been over 500 Viking skeletons that have been found. [1] These skeletons tell a story and provide hints about what the Vikings looked like.

These skeletons allow experts to analyze bone structure, DNA, and any scratches or markings on the skeletons.

What color of hair did Vikings have? See Did the Vikings Have Blonde Hair? to learn more.

As stated previously in this article, skeletons have been able to reveal facts about hair type and grooming rituals. 

Ancient Scandinavian art is also a source of archaeological evidence. Examples include drawings or tapestries, and often paint a very vivid picture of the subject researchers are studying. 

Written Sources

One of the most reliable sources to learn about Viking history, including their appearance and hairstyle, is written sources.

A lot of what historians know of the Vikings today are from written sources ranging from old English letters and chronicles, to writings of Arab ambassadors, all of which date to the time period of the Vikings.

Records of royal names also hint at the way the Vikings wore their hair. Two specific names, for example, are Fairhair and Forkbeard. This reveals, in part, both how Vikings wore their hair and how they valued the reputation of their physical appearance. 

Vikings Were Well-Groomed

One of the biggest myths of the appearance of Vikings was that they were unkempt and dirty with their hair a matted mess, and their clothing unclean and disheveled.

Louise Kæmpe Henriksen, who is a curator at the Viking Ship Museum, says otherwise. [2]

Archaeological findings have revealed that Vikings kept items that were important to grooming rituals. [3]

Hair picks, toothpicks, tweezers, and ear picks were common items that have been found in boxes, which means that these items were obviously of some importance to the people of the Viking age.

Additionally, scratch marks have been found on the teeth of Viking skeletons that also suggest the common use of toothpicks. 

Written reports from medieval England also describe how Viking men were usually well-groomed and popular with the ladies.

Sources say that Viking men would bath every Saturday, which contributed to their pleasant smell. They brushed their hair daily, changed their clothes frequently and dressed respectively. 

Vikings Commonly Had Either Red or Blonde Hair

With the technology of genetic research, scientists have discovered what color of hair was most dominant in the Viking Age. 

In Denmark, Western Scandinavia, the data shows that red hair was common. In Northern Scandinavia (in the Stockholm area), however, data reveals that blonde hair was more common.

Although red and blonde hair were the most common, dark hair was also normal to have for a Viking. 

Viking Men and Women Had a Similar Face Shape

Another stereotype is that women looked more masculine in the Viking Age, and evidence suggests this may be true.

Anthropologist Lise Lock Harvig has discovered that it is often hard to tell Viking men and women apart from studying their skeletons.

The women had more masculine faces than they do today, having more pronounced eyebrows and jawbones.

Although this distinction between men and women in the Viking age is common, not all skeletons are the same in this way. 

Technology paints a more accurate picture of Vikings

Fortunately, the today’s technology has given scientists the opportunity to study who the Vikings were and what they looked like. 

Despite some myths of all Vikings having long, tangled hair, evidence shows that the Vikings were a well-groomed population.

  • Men commonly wore their hair long in the front and shaved short in the back.
  • Women kept their hair long and groomed, able to tie it back or style it in attractive hairstyles. 

Against common misconceptions, the Vikings valued healthy grooming practices, attractive make-up, and stylish hair. 

References

[1] https://en.natmus.dk/

[2] https://www.khm.uio.no/besok-oss/vikingskipshuset/

[3] https://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-viking-age/the-people/appearance/

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