‘Warrior-women’ in Viking Age Scandinavia? A preliminary archaeological study

‘Warrior-women’ in Viking Age Scandinavia? A preliminary archaeological study

By Leszek Gardeła

Analecta Archaeologica Ressoviensia: Funerary Archaeology, Volume 8 (2013)

Abstract: This paper seeks to provide a new contribution to the debates on Viking Age women by focusing on a rather controversial notion of ‘female warriors’. The core of the article comprises a preliminary survey of archaeological evidence for female graves with weapons (axes, spears, swords and arrowheads) from Viking Age Scandinavia. Attention is focused not only on the types of weapons deposited with the deceased, but first and foremost on the meanings which similar practices may have had for the past societies.

The author discusses why, where and how the weapons were placed in female graves and attempts to trace some patterns in this unusual funerary behaviour. In addition to exploring the funerary evidence, the iconographic representations of what could be regarded as ‘female warriors’ are also briefly considered. Lastly, a few remarks are also made on the notion of armed women in the textual sources.

Traditional historiography and archaeology perceived the Viking world as being dominated by men and the majority of studies concentrated on exploring the lives and material culture of the male part of the society. Also in popular imagination it was the male Viking warriors – with their iconic long beards, large axes and razor-sharp swords – who became a hallmark of the Late Iron Age Scandinavian societies (this view, however, has recently been revised in the new History Channel TV Series ‘Vikings’).

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