Berserker: a ferocious Viking warrior

Berserker: a ferocious Viking warrior

By Christie Ward

Published Online

Introduction: The modern popular conception of the Viking warrior is one of a murderous savage, clad in animal skins, howling in battle. This conception probably owes more to literary tradition than to historical fact: it reflects not the ordinary Scandinavian warriors, but rather a special group of fighters known as berserks or berserkers. The etymology of the term berserk is disputed. It may mean “bare-sark,” as in “bare of shirt” and refer to the berserker’s habit of going unarmored into battle. Ynglingasaga records this tradition, saying the warriors of Odin “went without coats of mail, and acted like mad dogs and wolves”. Others have contended that the term should be read “bear-sark,” and describes the animal-skin garb of the berserker. Grettirs Saga calls King Harald’s berserkers “Wolf-Skins,” and in King Harald’s Saga they are called ulfhedinn or “wolf-coats,” a term which appears in Vatnsdæla Saga and Hrafnsmál.

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