Were Vikings All Blonde?


Vikings have a reputation not only for their fighting skills and the ships they built and sailed, but also for their physical attributes, including their hair. Archaeological research and genetic studies have been done that sheds light on the physical traits, personal care, and grooming routines of Vikings, but did they all have blonde hair?

Not all Vikings were blonde, as some were red-haired or dark-haired. Even though blonde hair was dominant in northern Scandinavia, the Vikings in the western part of the region had different hair colors. Many Vikings considered blonde hair particularly attractive and bleached their hair using lye.

In order to understand why it is frequently assumed that all Vikings had blonde hair, it is important to first look into the lifestyle and fashion preferences followed by the Vikings.

This article discusses the appearance and personal hygiene practices—including the hair grooming habits— of the Vikings to demonstrate why some people believe that Vikings were all blonde, even though that is not the case.

Vikings valued blonde hair

Every society, including modern day ones, has its own notions of what is beautiful and desirable. The Vikings were no different. Their idea of a beautiful person was one who had blonde hair.

They preferred blonde over all the other hair colors. However, since there were some who did not have naturally blonde hair, they came up with new ways of lightening their hair.

Some Vikings Were Naturally Blonde

Studies have found that some Vikings had naturally blonde hair. Those who were gifted with blonde hair were considered to be very attractive. The others who had darker hair color and wanted to change it would find innovative ways to change their hair color to blonde.

Vikings Were Fashionable People

Vikings were mindful of their appearance, and especially so with their hair. The hair and beard were of major importance to the common Viking man.

Hygiene: It is believed that when Vikings were not sailing or fighting, they would devote their time to personal hygiene and invest in making themselves look good.

Hair: Like the Viking women, men would grow long hair. Many preferred to dye their hair blonde, though some Vikings chose not to change the hair color they were born with and continued to be dark-haired.  

Beards: Viking men trimmed their beards in different styles. They placed a great deal of importance on their hairstyle and beard. This can be seen in some of the names that have been prevalent since the time of the Viking, such as Sweyn Forkbeard [1] and Harald Fairhair [2], describing their hairstyles and the quality and color of their hair.

Blonde Hair Was Dominant in Parts of Scandinavia

One reason why some people tend to think that the Vikings were all blonde is that there were certain places, especially in the northern region of Scandinavian, where blonde hair was dominant.

The Vikings in the Swedish region, for example, had predominantly blonde hair, even though that may not have been the case in other parts of Scandinavia.

Nonetheless, the high concentration of blonde-haired Vikings in one region is one of the likely reasons why some people are often led to believe that the Vikings were all blonde even though that is not the case.

Vikings Were Blondes, Brunettes As Well as Dark-Haired

To say that the Vikings were all blonde would be untrue though blonde-haired Vikings were, undoubtedly, more common than redheads and dark-haired ones in certain parts of Scandinavia.

Later, many Vikings with dark hair started to use harsh soaps to strip the color of their hair.

This could have happened due to a number of reasons, but primarily it was because blonde hair was considered more desirable, and the use of harsh soaps helped combat lice.

Due to these reasons, more and more Vikings seemed to have blonde hair.

Vikings Used Lye to Bleach Their Hair

The fascination for blonde hair led many Vikings to find ways to change their hair color.

It has been found in the archives of medieval accounts as well as historical analysis that the Vikings began to use soaps with large quantities of lye.

The lye in these soaps had a high concentration of potassium that acted as a bleach by stripping off the pigments from the hair.

This practice led to the Vikings, even those who were redheaded and dark-haired, to appear blonde.

Men Dyed Their Hair As Well 

In many modern societies, it is often women who dye their hair. Aging men sometimes consider covering their gray hair, but it is still done less frequently by men than by women. Many men in today’s society, tend to stay close to their original hair color.

However, this was not the case with the Vikings. It was not just the women but men, too, who would dye their hair or use bleaching agents such as lye to make their hair appear blonde.

Vikings Practiced Lightening Their Beards to Appear Blonde

Perhaps part of the reason people associate blonde hair with the Vikings is that many men with dark hair bleached their hair as well as their beard to a lighter shade. The Vikings often were mindful of their appearance.

There are archaeological studies that support this observation and can be seen, for instance, on the carved male head found at the Oseberg ship burial in Norway. [3]

The carving has a long elegant mustache and beard. Over time, bleaching their beards also became part of the grooming regimen. They would craft tools and put in efforts to keep their beards well-groomed.

The Viking Revolution Beard Care Kit mimics these early grooming practices of the Vikings in their product, which includes a wooden beard brush along with beard oil and styling balm neatly packaged in a tin box. [4]

Use of Lye Helped Combat Lice

Vikings placed great importance on the practice of personal hygiene. This practice is reinforced by one particular story about Odin.

Distraught after the death of his son, Odin refused to wash or comb his hair for days.

This detail throws a shining light on the personal hygiene practices of the Vikings. It implies how important personal grooming was at the time, and how the death of his son caused Odin to stray from this practice.

Hair-care products

Tweezers, razors, and combs have been found at many Viking settlement locations that are now archeological sites. The numerous combs found in this site goes on to show that people combed their hair regularly.

Washing hair made up a part of their personal hygiene, and bleaching their hair and beards went on to become part of their grooming routine.

Historians believe that aside from conforming to their notions of beauty, bleached hair would also help keep lice at bay.

Lye proved to be useful in this regard. It helped not just in losing color from the hair, but also to combat lice, and ended up being an added bonus to this widely popular cosmetic trend.

Setting the record straight

Based on historical accounts and the genetic studies that have been performed in regard to the Vikings, it is clear that some, but not all people from the ancient Scandinavian culture were blonde.

Viking men and women had preferences, and some chose to alter their hair color and become blondes while there were others who continued to retain their natural hair color.

References

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweyn_Forkbeard

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harald_Fairhair

[3] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bearded_man_carved_cart_Oseberg_ship_burial_Norway.jpg

[4] https://www.amazon.com/Beard-Care-Kit-Men-Ultimate/dp/B07B53Q3BX/

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