Tue
Sep 2 2014 1:47pm

Better Identification of Viking Corpses Reveals: Half of the Warriors Were Female

female Viking warriors proof buried with swords bones rape pillage Vikings TV show

Shieldmaidens are not a myth! A recent archaeological discovery has shattered the stereotype of exclusively male Viking warriors sailing out to war while their long-suffering wives wait at home with baby Vikings. (We knew it! We always knew it.) Plus, some other findings are challenging that whole “rape and pillage” thing, too. (Updated 9/3, see below.)

Researchers at the University of Western Australia decided to revamp the way they studied Viking remains. Previously, researchers had misidentified skeletons as male simply because they were buried with their swords and shields. (Female remains were identified by their oval brooches, and not much else.) By studying osteological signs of gender within the bones themselves, researchers discovered that approximately half of the remains were actually female warriors, given a proper burial with their weapons.

It’s been so difficult for people to envision women’s historical contributions as solely getting married and dying in childbirth, but you can’t argue with numbers—and fifty/fifty is pretty damn good. The presence of female warriors also has researchers now wondering just how accurate the stereotypes of raping and pillaging actually are:

Women may have accompanied male Vikings in those early invasions of England, in much greater numbers than scholars earlier supposed, (Researcher) McLeod concludes. Rather than the ravaging rovers of legend, the Vikings arrived as marriage-minded colonists.

In many ways, this discovery is well-timed with the recent uproar over Thor becoming a title for both sexes instead of an exclusively male name. Fingers crossed this means that pop culture could start including more female warriors than just Sif and Lagertha (from The History Channel’s Vikings, above). Just so long as they’re not wearing boob plate armor.

Because, as we're always re-learning, women have always fought.

UPDATE: Commenter Andrew W. gives a wonderfully precise and informative look at the findings in this comment below, adding some context to the idea of female Viking warriors.

[USA Today via Jezebel]

Photo: The History Channel

140 comments
Erik Amundsen
2. Bigerich
I think perhaps Stubby should read the article again. Nowhere does it say 50% of the warriors. It says 50% of the migrants were women. Actually, it says 46% of the 13 bodies identified were female. Not a very impressive sample TBH.
Plus, some other findings are challenging that whole “rape and pillage” thing, too.
And this has been known for a long time as well. Cetainly they did a lot of reaving, but they did a lot of trade as well.
Steven Halter
3. stevenhalter
The study being cited by the USA Today article is at:
onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-0254.2011.00323.x/abstract
and is titled:
Warriors and women: the sex ratio of Norse migrants to eastern England up to 900 ad
The actual article is unfortunately behind a pay wall.
AlexandruConstantin
4. AlexandruConstantin
Sadly this is a bit of wishful thinking. For one, the sample of 13 is a bit low, second it's talking about settlers not raiders.
Athena Andreadis
5. AthenaAndreadis
The "rape and pillage" story has long been dealt with and is not so secret except perhaps among people who get their history exclusively from SFF. Inter alia, Varangians (=Vikings, used by the Byzantine court as the equivalent of the Roman Pretorian Guard) in the person of Rurik and his descendants, aka Rus, founded kingdoms based primarily on trade in European Russia that lasted for centuries.

It has also long not been a secret that when archaeologists bother/ed to examine the pelvic angle of many skeletons buried with weapons (or weapons plus mirrors or other culturally gender-specific signifiers) they discover/ed that some of them are of the "wrong" gender.
AlexandruConstantin
6. GrnShttrdLyte
"A recent archaeological discovery..."
"In many ways, this discovery is well-timed..."

Um, the article you linked to is from 2011. That doesn't exactly fit my definition of "recent."
Deana Whitney
7. Braid_Tug
@6: For some reason it's making the rounds again on social media. Sometimes academic items take a while to circulate to the general public.

This is one of those times.
The Norse were great traders and settlers. Thus why Ireland has Dublin. It was a Norse trading village.
AlexandruConstantin
8. Mighty Mike
You're shortchanging female warriors... you forgot Brienne of Tarth and Eowyn of Rohan ... which, of course still doesn't begin to fill the void of female warriors vs. male...
Rafael
11. Ryamano
Slow news day in feminist social media. In other news, a squirrel that looks like Abe Lincoln was found.
AlexandruConstantin
12. noblehunter
Is there corroborating evidence, like injuries or probable cause of death, that anyone buried with weapons was a warrior? I'd be amused if debunking one assumption they preserved another one. Maybe Vikings only buried people they liked with weapons or to cheat someone out of chattels in their inheritence.
AlexandruConstantin
14. Heath D Hansen
Marvel made Thor a woman? I thought they did that in 1964.
AlexandruConstantin
15. GonzoG
Have you seen Nordic women? It doesn't surprise me a bit. I dated a girl from Norway when I was younger. She towered over me and I'm 5'11". She was a sweetheart, though. Alas, she had to go back to Norway at the end of the year. :-(
C M
17. RiceAndSalt
Thus why Ireland has Dublin. It was a Norse trading village.

Slaving village, too, for three centuries of domination; the Norse not only kept a large slave population for themseles, but also had an active trading line with the Near East that exchanged furs, honey and slaves for silver dirhams (silver being both scarce and of religious import to the Vikings). Viking raids and Irish warfare kept a pretty steady supply of slaves heading to market in Dublin, from where they were sent all across the world. The trading essentially stopped in the 10th century, possibly related to (but not necessarily caused by) a shift in coinage from silver to gold under the Seljuqs, changes in Central Asian trading patterns, and the Christianization of the Norse.
AlexandruConstantin
18. Nikono
A relative of mine, that works as an archeologist, told me that earlier in Sweden when findings at a site didn't match up with current belives the items were just discarded.
AlexandruConstantin
20. Temple
I was glad to have this link shared with me by a friend, and, it
definitely reminds me why I don't read comment sections.

Comment edited by moderator for sections not in accordance with our moderation policy.
Katharine Duckett
21. Katharine
@19 Comment deleted. As moderator, I'd like to remind everyone on all sides of the debate to please behave in a civil manner towards other commenters. You can refer to our moderation policy for our specific guidelines. Thank you.
AlexandruConstantin
22. Edwin La
[quote]Fingers crossed this means that pop culture could start including more female warriors than just Sif and Lagertha (from The History Channel’s Vikings, above). Just so long as they’re not wearing boob plate armor.Small steps, small steps. Remember who you're dealing with. Change is hard for nerds and old men
AlexandruConstantin
23. Spearwielder
As a historian (by education, though not by vocation) and a historical reenactor focusing on early medieval northern Europe, I'd like to see more evidence supporting the assertion made by the author in his title (though the article is a little more reasonable).

And what's "hateful," Temple? The preponderance of evidence - linguistic, archaeological, literary, artistic, forensic - simply doesn't support this author's idea that half of "viking" warriors were women.
AlexandruConstantin
24. Random22
@6
Um, the article you linked to is from 2011. That doesn't exactly fit my definition of "recent."
You need to start hanging out with more historians then, or geologists, although for goodness sake do not hang out with astrophysicists as their definition of recent is anything that happened after the first ten pico-seconds of the big bang.

As for the article, well it has long been suspected by social historians and cultural sociologists that in even the most repressive eras of history, some women would not be happy to abide by the rules. That the cultural values would probably, much as they are today, be more honored in the breach than they were in the observance. This is just another bit of the jigsaw in supporting it. It is a hypotheisis that does by its nature lack evidence, since archeology is better at finding physical artefacts than it is at finding cultural practices and daily living. It does not surprise me at all.
AlexandruConstantin
26. kid_greg
I know the Vikings didn't record their history but weren't there a lot of documented accounts by the people they attacked?
I would've thought the sight of female warriors would confirmed for the Christian dominated lands that Vikings were of the devil.
Steven Halter
27. stevenhalter
Here is a more in depth article from the Bones Don't Lie blog:
bonesdontlie.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/viking-women-a-reinterpretation-of-the-bones/
AlexandruConstantin
28. Biscuitnapper
@kid_greg ...or maybe not, considering there were Christian Anglo-Saxon warrior princesses/military leaders and the tradition of warrior women continued well into the Medieval period.
AlexandruConstantin
29. Andrew W
I'm a historian who studies burial in the early middle ages, and the burial of women with weapons is one of my specialties! I'm in the process of publishing research about a woman buried with a spear in the 6th century, and am excited to see this important topic being discussed here outside the ivory tower at Tor.com.

The bad news first: while many women have been found buried with weapons, the evidence doesn't support the claim made in the title of equal gender representation on the battlefield. The 2011 study that the article cites concludes: 'Although the results presented here cannot be used to determine the number of female settlers, they do suggest that the ratio of females to males may have been somewhere between a third to roughly equal.' The key thing to note is the word 'settlers': the article is arguing that women migrated from Scandinavia to England with the invading Viking army in the 9th century. Several of these women, the article notes, were buried with weapons, but they are still far outnumbered by the armed men. Most of the women settlers mentioned in the study were buried with 'traditional' female outfits: brooches that held up their aprons.

The good news, though: while women buried with weapons are rare, they *are* being found, and this is in large part thanks to an increased willingness to trust the bone specialists. Archaeologists have been using bones to identify the biological sex of skeletons for the past century, but when burials were found which didn't fit their notions of 'normal,' they tended to assume that the bone analysts had made a mistake. This is not entirely unreasonable, because bones are often so badly decomposed that it is impossible to tell the sex of the person. But I can point to cases where the bones clearly belong to a woman, and the archaeologists insisted that it had to be a man because only men were warriors. That's modern sexism plain and simple, and bad archaeology. But thankfully, archaeologists in recent decades have become aware of this problem, and as a result, more and more women are showing up with weapons!

But women with weapons are still a minority, usually fewer than 10% at any given cemetery. Sometimes there are no women with weapons in a cemetery at all. So they existed, but the evidence suggests weapons were still most commonly associated with men.

There are a few things to conclude from this.

First, we're just talking about graves (because that's what survives for archaeologists to dig up). Just because a woman is buried in an apron, does not mean she wasn't a warrior before she died. There was no rule (as far as we know) that warriors had to be buried with their weapons. What if they wanted to leave them to their daughters instead? And who says a warrior woman can't wear a dress to her own funeral? There might be many warrior women who are invisible because they were buried in 'traditional' female outfits.

Second, we can't be sure that everyone buried with a weapon was a warrior. We find infants buried with weapons sometimes; they clearly weren't fighters (though perhaps they would have been had they grown up?). Weapons were powerful ritual objects with lots of magic and social power, and a woman might be buried with one for a reason other than fighting, such as her connection to the ruling family, ownership of land, or role as priestess or magical healer.

Third, we shouldn't rush to map our modern ideas of how gender *should have been* onto the past. We should study the past for what it is, whether that's good or bad. Archaeologists who ignored evidence that Viking women weren't all housewives caused great harm, but going to the other side and saying that men and women were equal on the Viking battlefield isn't really any better. It minimizes the reality of gender inequality that Viking women had to struggle against, much like the inequality faced by their modern counterparts.

But finally, we do need to continue to reimagine the world of sword and sorcery to reflect the real role played by women in the past. Because some women *did* fight, even if they weren't in the majority, and that's incredibly important. And shoot, when we write fantasy, why not imagine that 50% of the warriors on the battlefield were women? That might not be how it was, but this is fantasy, and we can write the world as it SHOULD be.
AlexandruConstantin
30. AlexandruConstantin
@Andrew, excellent post. I like the idea of badass female warriors, but we don't want to jump to conclusions based on our own cultural wishful thinking.
AlexandruConstantin
31. Zanna
"By studying osteological signs of gender within the bones..."


SEX! Not gender! Gender is a social construct, sex is biological!

Get it together, Stubby the Rocket!
Valentin M
32. ValMar
Andrew @ 29

What's this, a break-out of sanity and reason!? ;)

Thanks for the post, it was much needed here.
AlexandruConstantin
33. Gingersnap
@Andrew W, I think you've contributed an insightful perspective to this discussion and I wholly agree with you. Thanks.
AlexandruConstantin
34. VermontGal
I've done a good deal of amateur Viking-age history, and there are a LOT of problems with these conclusions. Viking Warrior Women did exist, but they were not widespread.

Just because a woman was buried with a sword may not mean she was a warrior. If today, a person is buried with pennies laid on the eyes, it does not necessarily mean he or she worked at a mint, was a banker, or in finance.

I know a lot of those "swords" turned out to be weaving tools, too.

Finally, the Dark Ages and early Middle Age Scandinavians preserved many sagas, poems, histories, and the like. And while histories were not 100% accurate, it is remarkably so, especially in Iceland. It was not a society where 50 percent of women were warriors, sorry. There were many notable, strong, remarkable, and yes, a few shield-maidens, but the womenfolk were not full of warrior women.
AlexandruConstantin
35. Hjalti
So, as scholar of medieval Scandinavia, I'm going to have to call shinanigans on this article.

@Andrew W, thank you for the great and informative article. You said a lot of what I was just about to write.

With that being said, I did want provide a brief context for the original scholarly article and speak on my knowledge of the documentary evidence for Viking women warriors.

First, As a few commenters already noted, Shane McLeod (the author of the original scholarly article) does not claim that these women were warriors. McLeod wrote his article, "Warriors and Women: The Sex Ratio of Norse Migrants to Eastern England up to 900 AD", as part of a small debate going on in academia. This debate seeks to find out whether the Vikings who came to England in the 9th century were simply raiders (that is they came to England only to get wealth) or came as setters (that is they wanted a new home). McLeod's article lends support to the side that claims that the Vikings came as settlers.

To my knowledge, there is no historical documentary evidence that women fought as warriors. Yes, there is some indication that some free early Scandinavian women (ie: not slaves/thralls) had more social power/prestige than that of women elsewhere in Europe at that time. As Andrew W already remarked, there is also some indication of women possibly being burried with weapons. In the old Icelandic saga, The Saga of the people of Laxardal (http://omacl.org/Laxdaela/) we do find a women named Aud the Deep-Minded who is a considered something of a powerbroker in early Icelandic society. With that being said, early Scandinavian society was still patriarchal and Vikings believed that a woman's place was back at home where she would care for the children and mangage the household.

Now, if we look at Old Norse and Old English legends and myths we do find some women who appear to be warriors of a sort. In the Saga of the Volsungs there are several women who could be consiered warriors. And, we are all familiar with the legendary valkaries. Yet, in every instance, the authors make it clear that these are not women whose example should be followed. These women are typically bearers of bad luck and lead to horrible fates. Take for example, Grendel's mother from the Old Englis story, Beowulf (no, not the movie, the actual story; I recomend the translation by Seamus Heany). She (and her son) are both not really described as monsters (in fact, many of the same adjectives are used to describe both Beowulf and Grendel). But, the audience would have understood her as monsterous because she lives outisde of society and fights. Something similar could be said about the valkaries. Yes, they are the daughters of Odin and fly about the battlefield encouraging men to fight harder. But, it was not considered a good thing to meet a valkarie (because this means you would die) and when they were not out helping their dad on the battlefield, they were serving drinks to the fallan (male) warriors in Valhalla.

So, unfortunately Viking society was largely patriarchal just like every other early medieval society. With that being said, I agree with you, Andrew W, why should we let this hinder our creation of fantasy worlds in which women are also warriors. (If you wish to learn more about wome in the Viking Age, I recomend Women in the Viking Age by Judith Jesch.)
AlexandruConstantin
36. Carl42
Okay, more warrior women is cool. I've wanted Sif on the Avengers for about a decade. But another character using Thor's name is still stupid. Because Thor is a name. Not a title. Now if a woman became the weilder of Mjolnir? With associated lightning and thunder powers? Awesome, let's do that.

But her name shouldn't be Thor. It'd be like, let's say, Kara Zor-El, Supergirl, becoming head of the Superman family of characters for some reason, and going by Kal-El. That's a name, not a title. It's silly and lazy marketing.
AlexandruConstantin
37. Kevin G
I found it kind of humorous that the article asserts that because women were found buried as warriors in England, they shouldn't be seen as staying at home having kids, but the authors then speculate that the fact that women were found in the graves maybe indicates that the Vikings came to England with marriage on their minds. Of course, because you know women warriors would want to marry you before they kill you.
AlexandruConstantin
38. The Ragin Pagan
Yeah... I'm all for a re-vamp of the Viking image, a better recognition of Shieldmaidens, and stronger pop-culture presences of goddesses like Sif and Freyja. But I still think the female-Thor thing is crap. A being's identity - even a fictional one such as Marvel characters - should not be compromised for sake of political agendas.
AlexandruConstantin
39. John J. Hamrin
I had to ask, what kind of person makes a study of the sexes of corpses?
Someone with an axe to grind? What makes this necessary? Credits after
the movie is over? I would not assume that all Viking warriors were male
any more than I would assume that aliens were involved in Viking
battles. Jeez people, there are thousands of non-aggressive, positive hobbies available. Y'know, this is really why we can't have anything nice.
AlexandruConstantin
40. Laura Wright
I think it's important to remember, even though it's on the History Channel, "Vikings," is only vaguely historic. Likewise, the writer should rethink their statement, "It’s been so difficult for people to envision women’s historical contributions..." Every great warrior came from a woman, and often came to power with her help. Also, any woman who sacrificed her life in an arranged marraige, to a man she didn't love (or even detested), just to keep the people in her homeland alive and safe, or to create peace between kingdoms, is far more hardcore than any on a battlefield.
Vicki Rosenzweig
41. vicki
If I was looking for a non-aggressive, positive hobby, I wouldn't start with "insult people because I disapprove of their choice to study ancient history." In fact, quietly analyzing ancient bones feels less aggressive than, for example, medieval or Civil War recreation, football, or many video games. Archeology is about as aggressive as following the results from the Rosetta mission, or baking cupcakes.
AlexandruConstantin
42. Andrew W
In response to John (39),

We (archaeologists and historians) study corpses because it's one of the few pieces of information we have about important parts of the past. We only have one written source from England for the 200 years after the Roman empire left the island. If it weren't for archaeology, we'd know almost nothing about the changes that happened during those centuries. And those changes are important - somewhere in there, people stopped speaking Latin and started speaking English!

Burials are one of the most common things we find from the early middle ages. Houses were built from wood, and the only traces they leave are the holes in the ground where their posts were buried. It's surprising how much we can learn from post holes, but it pales in comparison to the knowledge we've gained by studying how early medieval people cared for their dead. Information about families, religious beliefs, gender roles (hence the study of skeletons' sex), etc.

It's a little macabre, but it's necessary if we want to understand where we came from, and how people who lived before us made their way through life.

The chance to find cool things like women buried with full kits of war gear (shield, spear, and sword) is a bonus, but is just a small part of the real goal, which is to understand our history as fully as we can.
S. Stirling
43. joatsbuddy
So the actual article states nothing about the percentage of Viking raiders who were women; it's about Scandinavian -settlers- in England.

We always knew that the intial warbands were followed by families from the homeland, tho' there were also lots of single males settling down with local women.

So were there shield-maidens? Yes, of course.

Even when it's forbidden both by law and custom you get an occasional woman fighter, often in disguise or "disguise". I've run across this in contemporary sources throughout the medieval, early Modern and Modern periods (leaving aside places like Sarmatia or Dahomey).

It happened, and it was not vanishingly rare but definitely usually very uncommon -- for obvious reasons. There were all the usual dangers of following a very dangerous trade, and a whole bunch of other ones thrown in. You had to be very good and very determined to do that, and even than an element of luck was involved.

This only became vanishingly rare when universal medical examinations and careful records became common, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Even then it was possible to slip by, but very hard.

And in fact the Saga literature mentions the phenomenon occasionally.

Were there a lot of them? Almost certainly not.

(Just for starters, the hostile Christian clerics who wrote down the records we work from would certainly have noted this as evidence of pagan 'depravity'.)

The intial post is an example of "identity-protective cognition", the tendency of human beings to eagerly seize on any data which reconfirms their opinions and/or sense of group identity, and filter out, dispute, or simply ignore that which contradicts it.
AlexandruConstantin
44. Stollen
Really, what else is new? The pre-christian Norse culture was more modern than many are today.
There was a kind of representative democracy, quite similar to the american system, but different families had "heavier" votes, and the laws on Woman's Peace has been in the books since before we had books.
The arrival of Christianity scrapped most of that, though.
The church was more used to working with a strong monarchy so they made one, and they also imported the alien ideas of women being lesser beings.
When the Norse came to Christian England, i have a hard time seeing the Norse as the barbarians. They were probably trying to help..=)
AlexandruConstantin
45. Kevvo
studies by UWA aye? hrmm. wonder if they even thought to factor in rituals like the egyptians had, just about every viking gets buried with weapons to defend themselves in the afterlife. 50%? hahahahahahahahah
AlexandruConstantin
46. What
"Not everyone buried with a woman may have been a fighter"
That also applies to men.
"We shouldn't make assumptions based on political positions"
As opposed to assuming that only men fight because that fits in with the patriarchal viewpoint crammed down our throats by centuries of male historians.
"The women were colonists, not warriors"
Funny how people don't say that about the male skeletons, isn't it? A male skelton found with a weapon is a warrior first and a colonist econd, a female skeleton found with a warrior is a colonist first and not a warrior at all. Same evidence, different assumptions.
The point of of archaeology is to challenge and re-examine what we have been taught about history by examining the actual physical evidence left in the material culture. If you choose to ignore evidence in favour of perpetuating assumptions based on biased historical sources and archaic cultural values then you are despicable.
AlexandruConstantin
47. Eoin8472
Whats the latest update on that squirrel?
AlexandruConstantin
48. Queen MyrdemInggala
Firstly, read brennunjalsaga - the Saga of Burnt Njal - for a glimpse at one (probably) major role of women in Scandinavian conflicts. No spoiler alert from me, I'm afraid - you get and read it yourself. And there is of course the role played by the Norse descendant Lady MacBeth in some rather bloodyminded politicking.

Secondly, there are some quite consistent pointers that the societies and polities arising from the Germanic-speaking tribes were rather more liberal and equal when in came to women in conflict. The Saxon Confederacy that Karl der Grosse (Charlemagne) had such a problem subduing, at the last, when the villages were under attack, the young women took up arms to defend their homes and families. (Tacitus hints as much in Germania)

Thirdly, the Goths, the Vandals, the Burgundians and other leading Germanic tribes during the Age of Migration had a major impact on Germanic societies - they bested Rome, they beat the then superpower, they fought for and against the invading Hun empire. And the Vandals (and most probably the Goths) were allied to the Alans, a tribe of Sarmatians - formerly known as Scythians, just so as you know - who permitted women to ride to battle (Gene Wolfe makes the point in Latro in the Mist that the Amazons were most likely Scythian women warriors, and someone made the point that the centaurs were likely Scythian raiders seen from the terrified eyes of the average Greek farmer.).

So there was strong social, mythical, etc, support for the occasional woman who threw down her distaff and took up the sword and/or spear.

Lastly, I think the Moderation policy needs to be revised, so as to be more truthful: it should state, "Any use and user of links may be and most probably will be, deleted, for no apparent reason." Because that has been observed being done.
AlexandruConstantin
49. Cigfran
... the laws on Woman's Peace has been in the books since before we had books. / The arrival of Christianity scrapped most of that, though.
In Ireland and Scotland, at least, it is quite the other way around. Battles left behind the corpses of both men and women until 7th century St. Adamnan declared women non-combatants and non-targets -- an early form of "Geneva Rules of War".
AlexandruConstantin
50. mutantalbinocrocodile
I really don't have time to go through the paywall to Wiley when I'm not an archaeologist and I have about a million other articles I have to read, so: did the team look at any evidence for cause of death/differential age among the biologically female bones with weapons as grave goods v. the biologically female bones with brooches, etc. as grave goods? My mind immediately went to the Maidens of the Spear--young women who fight but who do sometimes (in real life, frequently?) stop fighting to marry. So was there any evidence of age differences between the two groups of female bones? Or evidence of violent death in the "warrior" group? That usually shows up in osteology.

As @42 eloquently pointed out, biological anthropology is a massively important element of learning about the past, especially when we have few or no primary texts to work with. And unless there are ritual issues with likely descendants of the deceased, which is pretty rare, it's also conveniently low on ethical issues compared to, say, even the most benign experiments on living humans like you might do at a university psych department for pocket money.

Comment edited by moderator, as labeling other commenters as trolls is not allowed by our moderation policy.
AlexandruConstantin
51. ArdyZulu123
This should surprise no one, actually. It was commonplace among the Germanic warrior tribes. Women would accompany and fight alongside the men if necessary. The Roman general Tacticus recorded some real horror stories of what his troops encountered with blond haired women who towered over his men, and when fighting alongside their men, screamed like demons when they attacked. But, I agree - 13 is hardly a representative sample.
AlexandruConstantin
52. kevinincornwall
Anglosaxon shield maidens buried with their spears, Queens leading troops....move along nothing to see here
http://www.lothene.org/women/womenvik.html
AlexandruConstantin
53. Tonybaron
So what this proves is that we've always been ahead of the rest of the world and even our ancestors weren't as barbaric as we've been told.
AlexandruConstantin
54. AEdge
I pulled up the article through my library's subscription -- during the migration time period they're looking at, the only migrants are part of two "great army" campaigns. So in the context of other archaeological evidence, these women *were* warriors, though this particular write-up of the article is a bit misleading.
AlexandruConstantin
55. Deidre Crouch
As others have pointed out here, this is taking some extreme liberties with the original article.

Also, burial with weaponry does not always mean "warrior". There are other cultures, such as the Mycenaeans, who buried non-warriors with weaponry (just an example.) While I myself would LOVE to know that women played a large part in Viking warrior Culture, in order to be convincing, there needs to be more proof, like for example, are there injuries found on some of these skeleton that could coincide with warriorism?
Also, there needs to be more sites examined than just the one when you claim that 50% OF VIKING WARRIORS WERE WOMEN. Not good.
AlexandruConstantin
56. Jane Cobb
And you illustrate this article with a highly sexualised picture of a pretty woman who is clearly wearing eye make-up and lip gloss, with her artistically tousled hair, holding her shield in a way that frames her face but would have her head off if an attacker simply lifted her shield (yes, that's a common form of attack). You wouldn't have portrayed a male warrior in that stereotyped sexual fashion, so why do you do it to women?
AlexandruConstantin
57. LadyGray
If it's any consolation, Jane Cobb, I've seen the television series this image comes from, and the men are absolutely sexualized in the same way this woman is. As a matter of fact, I remember at least one male character wearing eyeliner. It's because the show uses a historical premise to draw in a wider swath of viewers by giving us a dash of history with a lot of sex and violence. I don't mind - it's an enjoyable way to spend an evening and certainly not any worse than the other stuff on tv now.
AlexandruConstantin
58. justavoice
I think most of the uproar about the Thor title was that they're givin his -name- to someone else, not just his title and Mjolnir. If they went to calling this new persone (her name) the Thunderer, it'd be an interesting change. But Thor was Thor before he got Mjolnir.
AlexandruConstantin
59. TorOldsen
It's the "buried with their sword and shield" that people should take away from the story rather than the "nearly 50%" thing. This proves that the women were fighters (which we already knew), and that they did go with the men. Now it's just a matter of going back over the old battlefield remains and figuring out if there are any women in them. If so, then the women went with the men. If not, then maybe they went with the men sometimes or were buried in a different area, or weren't buried at all and instead burned on a pyre.
AlexandruConstantin
60. GorlaxTheWorldbreaker
I don't know that the data suggests anything except that Viking women were regularly trained for combat. It would seem stupid and contrary to survival odds to send women out on raids. Since humans have such long gestation, and only typically bear one child at a time, that puts a premium on the value of females in your species.
Rob MacAnthony
61. Robert MacAnthony
@Bigerich:

The headline is false, but I think it's just meant to generate clicks and the author probably isn't concerned with whether it is accurate or not. That's the reality of such reports online.

That said, what the underlying study does actually teach reveals some interesting information about how assumptions in science can lead to faulty conclusions (such as assumptions about sex based on what an individual is buried with). I have no doubt women fought in much more substantial numbers, historically, than the average person believes. Further, this article is interesting in its own rights, in terms of who was migrating or settling these areas, and it didn't need to false sensationalism of the "warrior" label in the headline to make it interesting.
AlexandruConstantin
62. Jballs
War is the epitome of aggression and violence by definition. It is the saving grace of humanity that half of its composition has little interest in slaughtering one another. Please see prison population demographics for a clear understanding of the difference between sexes.

If a woman want to be a warrior that is fine. I would rather she abhorred it, and hope one day men can rise to their level and find better ways to resolve conflicts. Lauding praise on women because they may have been equally prone to warfare (capability has nothing to do with it) is really anachronistic and a little tragic. We need heroes who bring peace, not war. Women are well suited for this challenge, far moreso than men. We need their guidance and leadership to that end, not to drag them backwards in time to lionize the horrors of a battlefield.
AlexandruConstantin
63. Patrick Robinson
Being buried with a sword does not make you a warrior. Swords were a sign of status. Examples have been found of children being burried with swords.
AlexandruConstantin
64. m.asikainen
"McLeod’s report studied 14 burial sites in particular, making sure to test only those burials that could be undoubtedly confirmed as Norse, and Viking in particular. And thanks to modern genetic testing, he and his team were able to determine that six of the 14 burials sites were for women, seven were for men, and one was indeterminable".


Not 50%, but 42,8% to be correct.
AlexandruConstantin
65. Mike Ritter
How to start.
First - there are quite many weapons in graves of nordic women who definitely wasnt warriors. Volvas, noble woman and so on.
Second - there are big difference beetween Viking setlers and typical raiders.
Third - There was definitely inconvinient to be a warrior woman not only to yourself but also to society. Pregnancy and keeping the children is something not connecting very well with warriors life. Risk and time are two important factors. Death of even 90% of men is not very painfull for biological survival of society, death or havey injuries of 5 or 10 % of women is a serious blow.
And this is no modern society but historical period with high children mortality rate, quite ofen labour complications, not so certain birth control and risky if at all abortion.
So if i had written resources in sagas, law and other (both from raiders and raided), antrophology, studies of biology of human societes and so on and quite a lot of archeological researh vs one small archeo sample...well
There were some women warriors but definitly rare, not even uncommon.
And last but not least. There is big difference beetween setlers and raiders. Setlers usualy come with theirs family and was mostly karls - freeman, forming a millitia in time of need. Raiders was part a karls volounteers (but accepted by a raid leades) and a part huskarls - generaly professional soldiers. It means raiders was rather the bigest, strongest and most experienced. There was a really tiny miniority of women who could keep "fitness" requirements. If you have to row hardly you need to be phisically strong and there could be no gender norms in shieldwall.
AlexandruConstantin
66. V Jobson
In the Greenland saga, Freydis, Leif Ericson's sister, killed five women with an axe. They may have been tied up at the time, so she wasn't necessarily acting as a warrior, but she certainly was not squeamish.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenland_saga
Chris Nelly
67. Aeryl
@48, Comments with links from unregistered users are automatically thrown into moderation, it cuts on the spam. But if you go ahead and repost the same comment without links, it makes little sense for the moderation team to post it again, now does it?
Chris Nelly
68. Aeryl
@58, But Thor doesn't FEEL like Thor anymore without Mjolnir.

Do you not know any trans* people? Because I've seen many of them talk about how they don't feel like who they were when something crucial to their old identity is changed.
AlexandruConstantin
69. ad
I've noticed that all these stories about female warriors are about people who, like the Amazons, are just on the edge of vision. Somehow, whenever we can examine a place clearly, such people seem to evaporate.

Anthropologists, for example, never seem to discover such a society. I can't help but think there is a part of the male psyche that wants to find such women.

I doubt we are going to find many of them in the past. It takes just as much effort to train a healthy young woman to fight as a healthy young man. Then you get a soldier with half the upper body strength of her enemy, and no more skill. Common sense suggests that in an era of weapons powered entirely by the muscles of their wielder, armies are going to train young man rather than young women.

(Just to demonstrate that it can happen, the African kingdom of Dahomey in the 18th century is said to have had an all-female unit to guard the kings concubines. Presumably he preferred female guards for the obvious reason. But I gather they did take the field - in a part of Africa where disciplined armies were rare.)
AlexandruConstantin
70. Joe T
I'm not a regular here, but can I just say . . . Andrew W rocks!
AlexandruConstantin
71. Bjornsdotter
I agree with Andrew W, I don´t believe 50 % of the warriors were women. But archeological evidence strongly suggests that at least SOME of the warriors were women. And though most Norse women where either housewives on farms or servants/slaves, they could also be healers, seers, hunters (there are examples of that) or working with trade. The only thing that has been uncertain, is if pre-Christian Scandinavia had female warriors or not. It seems like they had.
AlexandruConstantin
72. El Baldwino
Let's not go overboard. I still like the boob plated armour.
AlexandruConstantin
73. El Baldwino
Actually, the article doesn't prove that 50% of the warriors were women, only that 50% of the warriors that died were women. You still need to prove that the death rate was equal for both sexes before you can assume that the ratio of dead warriors reflects the actual warrior ratio.
AlexandruConstantin
74. Reed R.
I don't know what kind of archelogical experience "Stubby the Rocket" has, but human remains can be identified in terms of gender by the width of the hips. A female body has to accommodate a birth canal and burial artifacts are not the first deterimination of gender.

That being said, I do not dispute the idea that there may have been female warriors in Scandinavian populations circa 900 A.D. However, to grossly imply such a high number on one study is not only misleading, but it's detracting from what could be a very important finding.

Your article is not winning you the acclaim you so badly want, it's taking away from what could be a really important discovery with conjecture and psuedo-science.
AlexandruConstantin
75. alilodge
As a female rugby player from the North East of England I can confirm their direct descendants have contacted one another through Facebook and are now looking to dominate Northern League 2 this coming season. Academic evidence aside, I know for certain this shit is real!
I always knew I was a Viking...
AlexandruConstantin
76. Leifer
"getting married and dying in childbirth..."

Yeah, everyone everywhere knows that's all anyone has ever thought women did. Way to go.

I admit: I like a good laugh at a strawman, same as any Norseman (ancient or modern).
AlexandruConstantin
77. LordWell
Turns out they weren't swords but cutlery knves for making sandwiches.
AlexandruConstantin
78. AlexandruConstantin
@76 Truthfully that is what women did. When your entire life is subsistance farming where a large chunk of your crop is given to your lord having children is the most important act a family could do. You need children to help you with the farm, have more children of their own, work, defend you, and finally take care of you in your old age.

In Anglo-Saxon England the life expectancy for a female was 43 years, it is also estimated that 1/3 of all children died before the age of 5. When your well being depends on having strong children to work and care for you, it's quite simple to imagine that a large part of a womans life was spent birthing and rearing.
AlexandruConstantin
79. Skeptical Anthropologist
A whole lot of wishful thinking here from "modern" people who are emotionally invested in the "warrior women" meme.

So far the evidence shows merely that less than 50% of the burials --- in a very small sample --- that were buried with swords are allegedly female. Having some actual forensic training and experience in sex identification from skeletal remains, I find myself extremely skeptical about the accuracy of McLeod and company's sexing of these skeletons. It is far from a 100% accurate process, even with a complete modern skeleton which can be compared to extensive contemporary skeletal statistical information. There's a lot more to it than "pelvic angles," as one poster referred to. Burials from a thousand years ago? Let's just say there's not much likelihood of McLeod's claims being accepted in any court.

And it is a completely unwarranted leap from "buried with a sword" to "warrior." A person is no more a "warrior" because they have a sword than they are a doctor because they have a stethoscope, or a musician because they have a guitar.

There is no evidence provided, for example, that any of these "women warriors" had any of the physical scars one sees in a warrior of that era: healed damage to the bones of the arms and legs, embedded arrowheads, evidence of enhanced muscular development in the dominant arm... There's far more to fighting with a sword and shield --- or an axe, spear, etc --- than merely picking them up and hacking away. Anyone who could be considered a "warrior" would have spent years in training, and that is going to show up on their skeleton.

And the historical record is very much lacking, as several people have pointed out. The references to female warriors in the sagas are almost nil, and what little there is makes it plain that it was absolutely not typical behavior. Nor is it noted by the vikings' enemies.

Even McLeod's assumptions about the sex ratio as being evidence of a large number of women in the viking settlements is weak. It ignores that this ratio merely considers the people who died in that settlement. The "traditional" view --- that women would have been stay-at-homes (in the settlement) while the men were involved in trade and raiding --- is not in the least disproved by McLeod's findings. Of course there are going to be a higher percentage of women among those buried in the settlement's graveyard, if many of the men are dying elsewhere.
AlexandruConstantin
80. adelady
One thing occurs to me about the men raiding and the women staying at a settlement to care for crops, children and the like.

Who defends a settlement if other raiders turn up? The raider/ warrior men aren't there. It would be down to the women to defend themselves, their crops and food stores and their children. Their fighting might have been contingent on being attacked, but it's fighting nevertheless. Knowing that it's a possibility, women would likely have trained in defensive fighting skills if not attacking and raiding skills.
AlexandruConstantin
81. Wishful Thinking
Genetics does not support this at all.
AlexandruConstantin
82. rev
Most interesting page I have read for a long time. Certainly stirred a lot of emotions.
AlexandruConstantin
83. Amateur Researcher
Interesting that this article should show up (again?) at this point.

This might add fuel to several folks' fire when it becomes publicly available:
The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World
by Adrienne Mayor.

I was only able to catch the "teaser" presentation by the author at this year's National Book Festival (in D.C.), but it made me curious enough to pre-order the book.
AlexandruConstantin
84. Andy Bolton
Excellent and thought out response from andrew w. I think it has to show the presence of women, but not necessarily their actions as fighters. Buried with swords? Magical/ceremonial etc. Doesnt mean they fought. Men were buried with grave goods etc. So were we invaded by a bunch of potters then? We shouldnt apply modern day equal ethos into past history. It was unequal and for good reason, it was probably pretty violent! That said we know of female warriors eg boudicca and may i add,a female defending her offspring is something i would rather avoid! Years of martial arts has shown me too that a female fighters are just as and more than capable of being extremely capable,but from history we know that we arent seeing battalions of female fighters. Settlement and support crew is more.realistic but in no way is meant to denegrate any females ability. I may be wrong but i doubt many actually fought unless pushed into the option of no other choice.
AlexandruConstantin
85. John Freck
Pseudohermaphodites are males who have skeletons that appear more female than other males' skeletons. Medical causes of male androgenous appearance can result from androgen insensitivity syndrome, and low fetal testosterone.
Viv Croot
86. Mehitabel
Andrew W and Hjalti thank you for excellent informative responses. I wish that all comments threads could enjoy such rational discussion....
AlexandruConstantin
87. Jon Effemy
So time for a re make of that great 1958 classic the Vikings! With strapping viking warrior ladies attacking with the men folk.

Who could you put along side a modern equivalent f Kert Douglas and Tony Curtis?

Please keep the title tune though. Cheesie though it may be I always enjoyed it.
Chris Nelly
88. Aeryl
@78, Yes women had babies and died in childbirth.

Just like they do now.

What you are ignoring, is just like now, that's not ALL women did.

And to the people who brought up the historical inaccuracy of eyeliner, modern civilization were NOT the first people to figure out if you outlined the eyes it made them look more striking. Eyeliner has been around for millenia.
AlexandruConstantin
89. David M. Perry
I'm also a medieval historian. I started to write a long comment, but it turned into a blog post about Viking women warriors in literature, so I'll just offer the link.
Deana Whitney
90. Braid_Tug
@89: The link just went to a page on Tor.com about their Blog archives.
You may want to repost the link, not as a hyperlink. Sometimes those go away from non-registered users.

@88: Eyeliner - very true.
Egyptians for one. About 10,000 BC (or BCE if you prefer)
AlexandruConstantin
91. John Anymous
I hope to be buried with my Smith & Wesson.
AlexandruConstantin
92. AlexandruConstantin
@88 No I am not ignoring the fact that some did not have children, I state in my above posts that of course there were outliers and individual warriors then just as today. What you are ignoring is the fact that MOST women just like today were having babies.
Katharine Duckett
93. Katharine
Moderator stepping in here, as this conversation is once again getting heated: please be civil and respectful when disagreeing with other commenters, and focus on the ideas presented in the discussion, in accordance with our moderation policy. Thank you.
Vincent Yin
95. vinsentient
For the people talking about Marvel's Thor becoming a woman... I've never understood if Thor and Donald Blake switched places (like Rick Jones and Mar-Vell) or if Thor was more kind of overlaid on top (like Billy Batson and the other Captain Marvel).

Maybe if Donald Blake had been Dana Blake, then calling on the power of Thor would have resulted in a female superhero in the same way that Mary Batson calling on the power of Shazam becomes Mary Marvel.
Chris Nelly
96. Aeryl
@92, What I'm saying is that even women who had children, did other things.
AlexandruConstantin
97. alexandruconstantin
@96 The chance of them raiding and being warriors with a life expectancy of 43 and a birthing average of 7 is really low. Female warriors in fiction are awesome, warriors are awesome in fiction period but reality isn't fiction. Dane raids were brutal, these are the people that raided unarmed monestaries, murdering hundreds for plunder. This is the culture that gang raped slave women before ritually killing them as part of their burial rites.
Deana Whitney
98. Braid_Tug
@97: Could you please provide me a source for your comment:
This is the culture that gang raped slave women before ritually killing them as part of their burial rites.
It has been a decade since my college class on the Norse, and about 5+ years since reading the Saga. But I don't ever remember that tidbit of information when talking about the burial of a warrior or king.
In the last five years my focus of study has been more on women’s weaving, but things like ritural rape tend to not get ignored when you talk about a culture.

Did rape happen on the raids? Yes
Did crappy things happen on the raids? Yes
Was ritual human sacrifice part of their burial practices? I really don’t think so. I think you are thinking of the Mayan and Egyptian cultures.

Even if there is one example, that does not mean it was pandemic across the whole culture.
Much like, there probably were some women fighters. There were also male craftsmen. Not every Norse male was a killing machine. Nor were all their crafts and trade goods created by the Thrulls and slaves.

But we also have to remember much of early Norse culture was not written down until Christian monks were around. And they put everything in the context they would understand or through their own filters.
Steven Halter
100. stevenhalter
Remember that life expectancy is an overall average and a large number of deaths in infancy have a large effect upon it.
Life expectancy after reaching a particular age is a more useful indication of the ages people reach once they have passed through childhood.
AlexandruConstantin
101. Kinney
What we have discovered about the Viking civilization, thus far, is one tenth of one percent of what it was. We know almost nothing about it. Beyond that we rely on logical deductions and speculations in regard to their living patterns.
Chris Nelly
102. Aeryl
@97, Just because the average birth rate was 7, doesn't mean that a majority of women had 7 children. There were some women who yes and 7-10 kids, who yes, didn't do much of anything else. But there are also the TONS of women who had far lesser number of children, and were actively involved in doing those things.

And you keep saying "warriors" I'm not talking about warriors, I'm saying that women did things other than lay around pregnant, getting pregnant, or birthing pregnancies. There are plenty of other ways women made palpable contributions to society that had nothing to do with being a warrior.

In addition, yes human children take a long time to gestate, which is fortunate for warrior women, because that means they are still capable of going into combat for many months of their pregnancies.
AlexandruConstantin
103. Devin McKernan
As the writer and narrator for a narrative podcast about a female knight, this news is joy to my... eyes. I already loved the hell out of Vikings, but this kind of thing makes it even more awesome. Every writer who reads this thread should consider not just creating a female character because it's different and appealing, but because in the end, anyone - no matter who they are - can be just as skilled and capable as anyone else. Physical strength can be overcome by finesse, and intellectual prowess is not the domain of one gender or the other. Anyone can be a badass! Anyone can be a champion!

For anyone interested, my podcast's at www.aknightadrift.com. I can't say it's the best thing in the world, but if you like cool heroines, you might want to give it a shot. Enjoy. :-)
AlexandruConstantin
104. Kate Anderson
Andrew W. - interesting post! You almost certainly won't have seen it, but if you're still doing research in this area you might want to dig out my PhD thesis (Edinburgh University) from 2012; overall its about weapons and warfare in prehistoric northern Britain, but there's whole sections on women warriors and burials and all that. Might be worth a look for some comparative work and an archaeological perspective.
AlexandruConstantin
105. Greek Myth and Artifacts
@80 adelady - phenomenal point. too bad no one with knowledge of the Norse has addressed it. i'm curious what they do know about that 'arrangement' for security back at home, and if females took any roles.
AlexandruConstantin
106. Brian O
From Andrew W's called out comment:

"The bad news first: while many women have been found buried with weapons, the evidence doesn't support the claim made in the title of equal gender representation on the battlefield...."

"The good news, though: while women buried with weapons are rare, they *are* being found, and this is in large part thanks to an increased willingness to trust the bone specialists."

Why are findings about ancient history being characterized as "good news" and "bad news"? Andrew W is betraying an emotional investment in one conclusion over another. And I assume that this is due to the political ramifications of either. It would be "good news" for feminism/gender equality if one conclusion is true, "bad news" if it's the other.

The next step in this line of thinking is to mischaracterize the findings, and we see the media is already doing this. Andrew points this out, to his credit.

Next step after that is to fudge the findings. For the greater good. Many won't care about the truth if it harms a righteous cause. It's a bigger truth they're fighting for. And so proceeds the politicization of science.
AlexandruConstantin
107. Kate Anderson
@106: or possibly, the news is good or bad because he is speaking in the context of this article. The article is making a point, and so the news is bad *for the article* where it doesn't support the findings. And good where it does. And better where advances in methodology are being made, and unsubstantiaed thinking is being weeded out.
AlexandruConstantin
108. alexandruconstantin
@98 The Poetic Edda has Brynhildr herself describe instruction on how to prepare and sacrifice slaves for the ritual.
"Bond-women fiveshall follow him,And eight of my thralls,well-born are they,Children with me,and mine they were As gifts that Buthil his daughter gave."

Also a quick google will give you the Ibn Fadlan, the Arab merchant that witnessed a burial ritual.
AlexandruConstantin
109. alexandruconstantin
@102 I keep saying warriors because that's what the article is trying to push. If you look up through my post I clearly state that women were clearly part of the Viking culture and most likley pivotal in raising children, running farms, etc. The point of contention is that 50% of women were "warriors" that the article is attempting to get across on weak evidence.
Stefan Raets
111. Stefan
Comment 110 unpublished by moderator, in accordance with Tor.com moderation policy.
AlexandruConstantin
112. Brian O
@107, Kate. Yeah, could be.

Maybe every time Andrew K referred to a fact, he was interpreting that fact through the emotional/political filter of, "I sure hope this article is right!" Cause that would be useful.
AlexandruConstantin
113. Odin
Im so glad the patriarchy didnt exist in Viking culture.
AlexandruConstantin
114. David S Mills
Re. 43 Joatsbuddy: your talk of the difficulties of slipping by as a warrior while a female put me in the mind of the Roman Catholic Church being fooled into consecrating a female Pope. Can't remember what actually got her ratted out but there was COSTERNATION. The old rule of fool me once your bad, fool me twice my bad swung into operation and a special chair was constructed which had a curiously shaped hole in a strategic place on the seat, if you get my drift. This chair still exists in the Vatican. As to whether a presumptive Pope still has his balls palpated I'm not sure. Titillating trivia. Gotta love it!
Michelle Wardlow
115. mlw107
Andrew W.

Did any of the researchers look forensically into the bones to see if there were marks of battle on these women skeletons? I have a man who likes those shows, and I pick up on that sort of thing now. I think forensics could play a crucial role in showing us what part these women played on the battlefield if at all! Thank you for your comments also!
AlexandruConstantin
118. David M. Perry
#94 Mayhem - Thanks for publishing my link. I should have come back to check.

#97 - Gang-rape and murder of slave girls: That story comes from Ibn Fadlan's mysterious encounter with people he calls the "Rus." Elements of it are actually dramatized rather nicely in the "Thirteenth Warrior" movie. I often show the first 11 minutes or so in class (one might debate the artistic merits of movie after the first 11 minutes, but its historical merits after that point are slim to none).

There's an excellent edition of the Ibn Fadlan encounter here, along with commentary about the "Normanist" debate. Basically - are these Vikings or Slavs? It's a hotly contested contemporary political issue as well as a scholarly one. One thing for sure - Ibn Fadlan didn't know. IF was a canny observer and not given to invention. He critiques the Rus for being filthly (IF was kind of a clean freak), but he also reports on the Rus mocking Islamic burial traditions. In the text, he describes the gang rape, murder, and ship burial of a slave girl with the body of the king. It's a disturbing but important primary text. There are big scholarly debates about the use of slaves as grave goods - how common it was and when it ended.
Katharine Duckett
119. Katharine
@116 @117 Comments unpublished. Please remember to abide by our moderation policy, and refrain from using disrespectful language, especially towards other commenters. Thanks.
Rafael
120. Ryamano
@ 114
I think you’re referring to Pope Joan. Pope Joan is a legend. Here’s the summary according to wiki:

[i]Pope Joan was a mythical female popewho allegedly reigned for a few years some time during the Middle Ages. The story first appeared in 13th-century chronicles,[ and was subsequently spread and embellished throughout Europe. It was widely believed for centuries, though most modern historians consider it fictitious, perhaps deriving from historicized folklore regarding Roman monuments or from anti-papalsatire.[/i]

The first mention of the mythical female pope appears in the chronicle of Jean de Mailly, but the most popular and influential version was that interpolated into Martin of Opava's Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum, later in the 13th century. Most versions of her story describe her as a talented and learned woman who disguises herself as a man, often at the behest of a lover. In the most common accounts, due to her abilities, she rises through the church hierarchy, eventually being elected pope; however, while riding on horseback, she gives birth, thus exposing her sex. In most versions, she dies shortly after, either being killed by an angry mob or from natural causes. Her memory is then shunned by her successors.


The procedure regarding the chair and the scrotum of the pope candidate could be true, but from what I’ve read it had to do with eunuchs. Apparently some early Christians thought self castration was interesting, but most of the Church didn’t (the council of Nicea, in 325, prohibits self castration in its first article), at least amongst the clergy (castrati singers are a different matter).

http://popes-and-papacy.com/wordpress/the-sedes-stercoraria-and-the-legendary-pope-joan/
Erikur Hinrichs
121. eiriksohn
Dear Readers,
There is unfortunately much erroneous information concerning the Vikings, see the note of the Viking ship in the Mississippi below.
Although the recent news of a Viking ship discovered in the Mississippi river is most likely fraudulent:
http://worldnewsdailyreport.com/usa-viking-ship-discovered-near-mississipi-river/#sthash.HbHQvTZR.dp... - See more at: http://yournewswire.com/usa-viking-ship-discovered-near-mississippi-river/#sthash.MIwceQQ5.dpuf
the research outline below offers a more serious attempt to discover the truth about the Vikings in the Americas. Much of the truth about the Viking and Norse presence in the Americas has been repressed by the Vatican. Serious scholarship on academia.edu has attempted to discern the truth concerning Viking history. The role of women in Viking society was unprecedented with respect to her superior physical stature, ability to divorce her husband in the Althing (rudimentary parliament), and engage in combat (and murder).
Freydís Eiríksdóttir , the daughter of Erik the Red, single-handedly repelled Native American warriors, as reported in the Icelandic Sagas. Þorvarður went and killed all his rival men in Vinland (Newfoundland). Then Freydís took an axe and killed five of the women in cold blood herself. She was the half-sister of Leif Erikson, who discovered America 500 years before Columbus, and was one tough and formidable warrior indeed!I have exhaustively demonstrated in two of my books the centuries-long presence of Vikings and Norsemen in America, as well as early attempts at evangelizing the North Americans as described below:
500 Years of Viking Presence in America by Eric Hinrichs (Jul 31, 2014)
Eric has written books on 500 Years of Viking Presence in America (Xulon Press) and Viking Christian Missionaries in the Americas (Amazon.com) which reveal the startling discovery that our Norse forefathers lived for centuries in the Americas and intermarried with North American Indian tribes. Early attempts by Viking Christians to evangelize are reflected in the language and customs of several Native American Indian tribes, including the Narragansett, Mandan, and possibly the Aztecs.
$30.99 $27.89 Hardcover
Product Details
Viking Christian Missionaries to the Americas: Linguistic, Biological, Historical, Artifacts, Geographical, DNA, Cultural, and Christian Influence of ... Indian Cultures from 1000 to 1500 Anno Domini : Biological, Historical, Artifacts, Geographical, DNA... by Eric Torbjørn Hinrichs and Dr. Karen Ann Butery (Jul 4, 2014
$24.99 $22.49 Paperback
Hardcover: 166 pages
Publisher: Xulon Press (July 31, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1498407986
ISBN-13: 978-1498407984
The books are available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and the Xulon Press.
Eirikur
AlexandruConstantin
122. Mandoe
Ad comments.... Bottom line... women warriors existed but were flukes and freaks....

Well... if the above was the case, then why did the Catholic church and the christian kings deem it necessary to make laws AGAINST women serving in the military/as warriors?
And let's face it... the view the Catholic church have displayed towards women for more than 1.000 years, and the fact that it controlled what was written down as history, leaves a lot to be desired.
We cannot trust a history solely written BY men ABOUT men and FOR men... religious fanatics at that, and guided by a women-loathing philosophy.

After the Adomnan law was adopted, eagerly it should be said, by kings all over western Europe as they were chistianised, women disappeared from the battle field.
The law might have been a relief for women in already christian countries, but for the women of Scandinavia it was a disaster. In one stroke they went from being the equals of men, to being "objects" to be "protected" and owned.
AlexandruConstantin
123. Josh R
After having read Andrew W's comments as well as many others, I'm curious whether or not there's any evidence that it was not so much that women were buried with their swords, but rather swords were buried with women. Viking anthropology is nowhere near my area of expertise, but considering the scandinavian interaction with Eastern China and Persia, it doesn't seem illogical to take a small leap and open a discussion on the idea that many women found buried with weapons were often female slaves or concubines offered as a sort of sacrifice to the spiritual powers of the weapons and their weilders, accompanying them into the next world. It was not a new idea, burying fallen lords with their weapons and women to pay homage to the dead and send them on honorably into the afterlife. There's even some historical texts that describe the practice in Norse communities. Wouldn't this account for at least some of the percentage of women found with weapons in Norse graves?
Stefan Raets
126. Stefan
Messages #124 and #125 were unpublished by the moderation team, in accordance with Tor.com's moderation policy.
AlexandruConstantin
129. Håvar Eriksen
@120 According to Matthew 19:12, the eunuchs are able to ascend to heaven. But as he mentions eunuchs of different kinds, he says there are eunuchs that made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. So apparently the practice predates Matthew's gospel. Most likely the practice stems from a passage in the book of Isaiah (56:3-5) where eunuchs that are true believers would in the end receive rewards, "Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters.: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off." The best known sect of self castration was the Valesians that were active during the second and third century.

But most of the clergy disapproves. It is clearly forbidden as in Deuteonmy and Levitieus to let a man with defective or missing organs to be part of the congregation or to bring forth any offering.

It is a source of contradiction that one one hand the members of the congregation should be sexually healthy and procreate. On the other hand celibacy was celebrated and later demanded of the priests. Damned if you do, damned if you don'y.
AlexandruConstantin
130. Håvar Eriksen
@97, @98, @108, @118, @123
All of you refer to the gang rape and sacrifice of slave girls. I have not seen any contemprary source in Europe saying anything of gang rape of the slave girls, and it would seem to be insulting to their dead lord to do so. However, in many parts of Europe at the time it was customary to deflower a virgin before she was killed, whether she was killed as a sacrifice, punishment for a crime or some political reason. This was usually performed by the executioner, not a gang. It seems strangulation was the most used method of executions for such sacrifice. Strangulation or hanging were usually attributed to sacrifices to Odin, since he himself hung for 8 days on Yggdrasil in order to discover the secret of the runes.

As for the sacrifice of slave girls, it did happen when someone of importance died. And there is archeological evidence for this. At the Oseberg ship burial site, a slave girl followed her mistress to the grave. At the Gokstad ship, they also found horses, dogs and a peacock buried with their master.

As much as we dislike the idea now, human sacrifice was quite normal during the viking age if we are to believe the christian chronicles of the time. Adam of Bremen and Thietmar of Mershebourg give detailed accounts of such sacrifices in Denmark and Sweden. It seems the number 9 was important. And every 9 years they sacrificed either 9 or 99 of men, horses, dogs, cocks and other animals. It seems mostly men were sacrificed to the gods, and women more often as company for the dead. All this seems barbarous today, but this was a time when dismembering, blinding, and the flaying alive of your enemies was normal. Not just in the areas the vikings came from, but also in the rest of Europe.
AlexandruConstantin
131. Cigfran
Re: "gang-rape", not according to Ibn Fadlan. In his telling, just as shown in the movie "The Thirteenth Warrior", the girl volunteered for sacrifice, and thus for the sex with the warriors prior to boarding the ship.
When their chieftain dies, his family ask his slave-girls and slave-boys, “Who among you will die with him?” and some of them reply, “I shall.” ...
Meanwhile, the slave-girl who wished to be killed was coming and going, entering one pavilion after another. The owner of the pavilion would have intercourse with her and say to her, “Tell your master that I have done this purely out of love for you.”
And as for her soliloquy before dying, the movie kept the spirit of it.

Ibn Fadlan:
I quizzed the interpreter about her actions and he said, “The first time they lifted her, she said, ‘Behold, I see my father and my mother.’ The second time she said, ‘Behold, I see all of my dead kindred, seated.’ The third time she said, ‘Behold, I see my master, seated in Paradise. Paradise is beautiful and verdant. He is accompanied by his men and his male slaves. He summons me, so bring me to him.’”
The movie:
Lo, there do I see my father. Lo, there do I see my mother, my sisters and my brothers. Lo, there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning. Lo, they do call me, they bid me take my place among them, in the halls of Valhalla, where the brave may live forever.
AlexandruConstantin
132. ge
I am often flummozed by the people who seem to think the Vikings were never raiders, only merchants and settlers. How did they settle the already settled lands? It seems to be another kind of revisionism, that everything negative about them was slander.
AlexandruConstantin
133. PeterTHooper
Not to make claims about how the scholarship of the article should be criticised or interpreted, I do note with interest the large percentage of male-named commenters here who take the "women couldn't have been warriors" position.

Just sayin'.
AlexandruConstantin
134. Roger Menvielle
A very enlightening piece of information, wow
AlexandruConstantin
135. Lara Gale
Jeannine Davis-Kimball published Warrior Women in 2003, it's an excellent roundup of her research into burial sites across Central Asian and into northern Europe evidencing strong, honored feminine roles in ancient civilizations. Worth a look if this vague and unsupported blurb piqued your curiosity.
AlexandruConstantin
136. Lusketrollet
Complete nonsense.
AlexandruConstantin
138. Duane Baker
She (pillages) just like a woman, yes she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks (heads) just like a (Viking) girl.
Bjorb Dylanson
AlexandruConstantin
140. Annacarin Magnusson
Actually Thor in female names are not new in Sweden. it was common when I grew up (I'm born 1965). Male: Thorbjörn (Thor bear) female Thorborg (Thor Castle)
AlexandruConstantin
141. Emmy
"Women may have accompanied male Vikings in those early invasions of England, in much greater numbers than scholars earlier supposed, (Researcher) McLeod concludes. Rather than the ravaging rovers of legend, the Vikings arrived as marriage-minded colonists."

Yeah, totally... let me put myself in the shoes of one of those women warriors buried with my sword and shield- .....yepp, totally marriage minded.

Why, just because a person is female, does it make her "marriage minded".

Why can't she just be a warrior?
AlexandruConstantin
142. Cigfran
Presumably even a "marriage-minded" colonist, male or female, would also be a "defend-the-home-from-attackers-minded" colonist... due to unfriendly native inhabitants thereabouts....
AlexandruConstantin
143. Kate A
@123: in terms of identifying whether weapons belonged to the individual they are buried with, my expertise relates to northern British Iron Age burials. From an archaeological perspective, my analysis related to things such as whether the weapon appeared to have been new or old, in good condition or battle-damaged, and particularly size in relation to the skeleton. The results suggested that there was no reason to suppose that weapons buried with women in the area and period I was looking at did not belong to those women. A secondary finding was that in general, there was a strong likelihood that weapons were made specifically for women at this time. This is not to say that your suggestion is not possible, both in the area I studied and elsewhere, just that it is far from being the likeliest possibility in all circumstances.
AlexandruConstantin
145. Håvar Eriksen
The concept of female warriors have always been with us. There are historical sources mentioning them, but most detailed account come from old verses or stories that are maybe more myth than reality. That people drag in totally fictional characters like Eowyn and Brienne that has been written in modern times, just proves how peoples imagination leads us astray from the facts. The most famous women warriors of all times, the amazons, are still mythical beings, though some think they have some connection to the scytians or illyrians. In the stories from Scandinavia and Island we find little mention of women warriors. Most stories of shield maidens among the norse people concern the valkyries and we can't take that as historical fact. Indeed, the valkyries seemed to be special because they were women warriors, as if that was against the norm. And it probably was.

Not to diminish womens status at the time. When the husband went away for raiding or trading, the wife was left in charge of the famliy and the farm. This was unheard of in the rest of Europe at the time. Indeed, the slave girls that became mistresses, called a frille, of the man in charge, were treated just like a wife. Though without the real wife's autority. But the children of a frille and the man in charge had an equal right to the inheritance as the children he had with the wife. So the role of women in their society was not something to be ashamed of, and though men were in charge and were the ones with a vote at the ting, the sagas show the women still held quite a deal of power over their men. But there are not many female warriors to be found and the closest they had a warrior queen was queen Margrete, that ruled Denmark-Norway on behalf of her son Olav from 1375 and for Erik from 1397-1412. This was more than 300 years after the viking age, and she never fought herself. She did wage war with the swedes and forced Sweden into the Kalmar union and she ruled all 3 countries with an iron fist. It would be more proper to compare her to Elizabeth I, than to the warrior queens of old.

And that is where we do find some really interesting reading concerning female warriors. Perhaps the warrior queen we have most stories about is Queen Medb. She ruled in the province of Connacht in Ireland. I can't find any source that describe her fighting in any detail, but she did murder her sister with her own hands. And at the battle of Garach she charged into the lines of the men of Ulster 3 times. It must be assumed that she charged into the lines in a war chariot, as that was the norm for the nobility to fight at the time and such vehicles are frequently mentioned in these stories. However, when the hero Cuchulain catches up with her, she hides underneath her chariot pleaing for peace. Cuchulain replies that he does not slay women, and let her go. So it seems women on the battlefield were unusal at that time, too. and there are no mention of women on the battlefields, though there are a few warrior women that shows up in the stories. Like Skatha, a legendary woman warrior that ran a fighting school where many of the heroes were trained. Such heroes as Cuchulain, Ferdia and Fergus. All these stories are perheps more myth than reality, but we do have the grave of queen Medb. Her cairn is at Knocknarea in Sligo, and she is supposedly buried in armor, standing upright with shield and spear, facing Ulster. It would be very interesting to see what one would find if that cairn ever were to be excavated.

One warrior queen we do know is not a myth, is Boadicea. She was a queen of the Iceni tribe of celts, and she led a revolt against the roman occupation of England in 61 AD. Several other tribes joined the rebellion, and they overran and sacked the cities of Camulondunum, Verulamium and Londonium. Reades discrecion is adviced. The way the celts dealt with the citizens of these cities is rather gruesome. The revolt ended when her army met 2 roman legions just south of Verulamium, modern day St. Albans, and her army was wiped out. Unfortunatley, we don't know the exact place of the battle. That would be quite a site for archeologists. Both the roman and local sourses say there were many women in the ranks as battle was joined. But an excavation would unearth sceletons of women that were not fighting, too. Many celtic warriors were so confident of victory that they had brought their families to watch the spectacle. So behind the front line there were many carts pulled by oxen, containing women, children and the elderly. This made the celts retreat impossible, and created chaos when the front line collapsed and the celts tried to flee. The roman legions killed everyone they got within the reach of their weapons , even the oxen. So even on a battlefield, not everyone that falls is a warrior.

But those looking for woman worriers should look at this place and time in history for some undisputed documentation. Tacitus , Dio Cassius and Julius Caesar give us good accounts of fierce celtic warrior women, but we also hear about women fighting among the Gauls and many germanic tribes. The tribes on the mainland had very much in common with the culture of the Britons. The nordic people share ancestry with many of these german tribes, but at that time in history we have no records from the nordic countries. And so we can't for sure know if women were fighting like the women further south or not at that time.

But the vikings really didn't have the culture for it. And turning to such things as a female Thor is just silly and takes focus away from the women that really should be remembered as warriors. If you want warrior women, turn to where they can be found.

The results from the dig this article takes it information from is interesting. But as stated, these are settlers and not raiders. The finds of weapons in graves are interesting, but there may be many reasons people were buried with them. It would be very interesting if someone took the time to examine whether the weapons hilts were a proper size for the hands of the one in the grave, and how the lenght and weight of the blades match with the stature of the person in the grave. Both to see if they really could have been their personal weapons and to learn more on how fighting was conducted at the time.

There are many reasons people would be buried with a sword. Alot of grave goods were things they were thought to have use for in the afterlife, while other things were something the deceased had taken great pleasure in during their life. Some things are offerings, or presents from mourners to show their respect.

Swords can be meant for protection, or even as a political statement. During the viking age and the middle age, it was custumary to place a naked sword between a man and a woman that were not married, to mark that there would be no hanky panky. Swords were hung up at court rooms to symbolize that a criminal court were in session.
And among the farmers in Norway the groom were to carry a sword to his wedding. In more recent times the farmer often had no sword of his own, and had to borrow one for the occation. Being an officer I already have a sword and will keep the old tradtion should I ever get married. But whether they will bury me with it or not, is out of my control.

On an end note I'd say that when women take up arms, they also loose the protected status they have had. Against agressors that don't respect such a status or that view them as lesser humans, no such protection will be given anyway. But also in more civilized times and among more civilized people, the militarisation of women would make them loose any protected status as a whole, and do we really want that?
AlexandruConstantin
146. Reidar Fylling
Australian Scientist with viking theories, why not.
Deana Whitney
147. Braid_Tug
@131: Thank you for the source and quote. Yes, that does put a different spin on the tale. A volunteer vs. randomly chosen slave. Major difference.
Going from one hut to another to willingly have sexual encounters with various men, is also not a 'gang-rape'.

And as @118 pointed out: The story from Ibn Fadlan's is not of the Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland or Iceland Norse. The Rus & Slavs are a different branch. Different traditions. Each country listed had / has different traditions.

Just like Native American tribes. While some have related cultures, no one can claim they all practiced the same traditions.

I’ve looked up a few other joint burials. There are questions about some of those. Not all can be proven to be a sacrifice. At least one is proven to be a couple (presumed married) buried in the same grave, years apart.
Birgit
148. birgit
On saturday the German-French TV channel Arte will show a documentary about Viking women. It will be online at Arte+7: 13.09-20.09.2014.
AlexandruConstantin
150. N. Strada
@Andrew W., comment #29. In order to address this issue of women who could actually have been warriors but buried with a female dress, couldn't be a solution trying to analyze actual warriors skeletons to identify possible alterations of the structure due to fighting activities, and then search for them in female skeletons?
Just asking for my information, I'm ablsolutely not fond of the subject
AlexandruConstantin
151. Experiential
These comments make me question:

Why 3,477,829,638 of the 6,895,889,018 people in the world, are so insecure?
AlexandruConstantin
153. Joe Sonyx
I remain open to new discovery, but I don't find the idea of a half-female battlefield easy to believe. For the simple reason of biology. For the same reasons that all sports are sex-segregated: to counteract men's biological advantages in the athletic arena. Let's face it, if women could compete with men in sports, there would be no 'women's' sports at all.

But I don't disbelieve in the existence of some female warriors.
AlexandruConstantin
154. David E. Williams
To add to #66 V. Jacobsen's reminding us of Freydis axe massacre of the five women, let us not forget what Freydis allegedly did in the Skraeling attack that was going against the Vikings. She seems to have challenged the courage of the other Viking fighters, then picked up a sword and - standing in full view of the locals - slapped the blade against her (presumably ample) naked breasts. She called out to draw attention to herself, and that was enough to put fear in the hearts of the Skraelings and send them running. No doubt this helped secure Freydis' position as a leader of the expedition.

Of course, some of the most intelligent and educated folks I know continue to maintain Columbus got here first, and the Norse never even came close to North America, and the sagas are all just myth and fantasy. Yup. Sure thing. Let me buy you another drink.
AlexandruConstantin
155. Sock Puppet of Evil
The article indicates that of the six female remains indicated, one was found with "axes, seaxes, and sword pieces in mortuary" and one with "sword hilt grip, shield clamps and knife". Given the cost of a sword, it would seem unlikely that a sword would be used as grave goods if the woman had not been considered a warrior at some time in her life. It'd be like burying a Lexus with somebody who never drove.

A different culture, there's also support for Celtic women fighting in both legend (both Cuchulain and Finn McCool are taught how to be warriors by women), in classical accounts (Plutarch, Diodorus Siculus, Tacitus) and in Brehon law (as a Bishop of Armagh banned women's participation in battle in the 7th century).
AlexandruConstantin
156. Sock Puppet of Evil
I'll also note that only two of the male burials (out of five) in the cited paper were buried with weapons (swords). One additional male was buried with a knife. Two of the six graves withs females had weapons.
While a small number, the ratios don't support that female warriors were rare compared to males.
AlexandruConstantin
157. Joe Sonyx
>> Given the cost of a sword, it would seem unlikely that a sword would be used as grave goods if the woman had not been considered a warrior at some time in her life.

Not necessarily. Perhaps some women of warrior families, or even just rich and/or powerful families, were buried with swords.
AlexandruConstantin
158. Ashador Zaan XXV
"22. Edwin La Tuesday September 02, 2014 05:59pm EDT
Small steps, small steps. Remember who you're dealing with. Change is hard for nerds and old men"
What change? Nerd culture is crawling with warrior women, especially video games. It's more like women (and men) who aren't warriors/mages/other badass characters are erased or marginalized in fantasy or sci-fi.
When I was a kid/teen, I always thought that conscription applying only to men is because of misandry and because most of women are cowards because they were badly brought up.
After years of playing games and reading fantasy novels I learned about stuff like sexual dimorphism only when I was in late teens and I was watching an interview with a female kickboxer in which when asked about fighting against male kickboxer, she explained that it would be an unequal fights because of differences in muscle mass in the same weight class and stuff like that. I was pretty shocked and disappointed by that revelation.
From my experience, nerds tend to be rather clueless about the above and more likely to fantasise about strong female warriors.
Though I suspect that when fighting with weapons and clad in mail raw physical strenght has lesser importance than in kickboxing.
One thing that I have noticed that all these cultures known for warrior women had relatively lightly armed warriors which didn't have to carry lots of stuff. One problem in modern army a large part of duty being carrying very heavy stuff, kit being very heavy and due to units fighting in small squads or teams a need for ability to carry a very heavy dude and his very heavy gear in all team/squad members.
One thing that is interesting is the claim that "fewer than 10%" of skeletons with weapons turned out to be women. Accidentally, less than 10% happens to be the overlap of between male and female population when it comes to physical strength. Which would suggest that only women that were stronger than the weakest men were fighting.
By the way, after decades of playing cRPGs and reading fantasy novels RL statistics are really depressing - there's a less than 10% overlap between male and female strength and over 99% women are weaker than an average dude (average dudes incldude construction workers, etc. so examples of wimpy nerds don't count).
AlexandruConstantin
159. Sifv
I don´t believe more than 50 % of the men were warriors. But archeological evidence strongly suggests that at least SOME of the men were warriors. And though most Norse men where either housebands on farms or servants/slaves, they could also be healers, seers, hunters (there are examples of that) or working with trade. Not all men buried with a blade had, or even knew how to, wield it. Not all men were warriors. Warriors were warriors, males and females.

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