A History of Beards – Part Three

We have covered the first men, the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans. Next up we have the Viking era and boy did they like a beard! Check out A History of Beards – Part Three to find out all about the Vikings beard routines and how they looked after them.

Vikings

The Vikings, terrifying warriors, barbarians, thieves and bearded men with swords and shields. These people went on raids to plunder treasures, destroy towns and take whatever they wanted. They are portrayed as a violent race who like nothing more than killing, fighting, drinking and stealing. There was more to the Vikings than that though but lets have a bit of history on them first.

The first known raid by Vikings was on a small island called Lindisfarne, just off the Northumbrian coast, in 793. They invaded St Cuthbert’s monastery, taking treasures, prisoners and killing several monks. Scotland, Ireland and France would soon become victims to the power of these Northern warriors.

Originally the were called Dani, referring to the fact they came from Denmark. Norway and Sweden made up the other countries to whom the Vikings are credited. This was centuries before they became unified as Scandinavia with Finland joining them.

Why did they raid?

It isn’t fully clear why they started raiding but historians believe it could have been several factors. There was political instability in these countries with chieftains fighting for dominance and overpopulation making it hard to make a living. News of the riches that countries like England, Scotland and France had in their possession was probably another reason. They certainly took all the treasure they could carry on the longboats.

Raids started off fairly small with only two or three boats of men hitting specified targets. They would only go home once they had enough valuables or, occasionally, when they had been overpowered. In the 850s they started to establish fortified bases in England, France and Ireland where they could quickly launch raids inland and also so they didn’t have to make the journey back to the motherland.

Viking beards

According to legend, the vast majority of Vikings had beards. They were also rumoured to have long hair, usually braided in order to keep it out of the way in battle. Vikings are often depicted as big, burly, muscular men but it is now thought that Vikings were generally smaller. This is in part due to a poor diet and lack of medicine.

Vikings must have been dirty though, right? Big, unkempt, dirty beards. Greasy, smelly hair. Dirty faces and smelly clothing. Sounds about right, especially since it was the 800s and there wasn’t any beard wash or beard oil to keep them looking healthy. However, it seems like the Vikings were more hygienic than most of the people they raided including the Brits. What makes us think that?

There have been many Viking burial sites uncovered over the centuries and we have found evidence of excellent hygiene practices. Toothpick and tools for cleaning under the fingernails, probably to get rid of all the blood and flesh from them, have been found. Tweezers and combs have also been discovered, evidence that they did look after their hair and beards.

How did they keep their beards clean?

Vikings tended to wash at least once a week. It might not sound a lot but in those times it was more than most. They also had tweezers and combs, as found in the burial sites. They would use the tweezers to get rid of any unruly hairs and the comb to brush through their manes. The combs were mainly made of bone and they would use them often to keep their beards tidy, clean and free from food and grime.

Rumours are also rife that Vikings were a vain lot and would dye their hair and beards blonde using Lye soap. The reason for this is probably due to the fact that blonde men were considered more attractive back then! They would also braid their beards, as they did their hair, to help keep them clean and out of the way in battle or work. To keep the beard braided and stop it from unravelling, they might have used beard beads.

There is no specific evidence that points to Vikings using beads. Although, items of jewellery including beads, have been found that could signify that they did use them. It would make sense as well, especially amongst the warriors as they wouldn’t want to get too much blood in their well groomed manes. They would also want to keep them from getting caught or used against them in battle.

 

Modern day Vikings

Although the real Vikings eventually became more civil and stopped raiding, there are some people today that still represent the old ways. Not the bloodshed and violence but the way of living. The old markets, the clothing and more. There is actually a traditional Viking village in Nærøyfjord, Norway.

Back to beards and a lot of clean shaven people refer to us bearded men as Vikings. You look like a Viking is one of many comments I have had over the years as well as others I can’t repeat here! There are also several Beard product companies that have taken the Viking theme and used it.

The Bald Viking Beard CompanyOdins Beard Care and Vikings Mane are just some of the Viking themed beard companies that are on the market today. You also have clothing and accessory brands like Grimfrost who make and supply authentic Viking clothes and more. With the Vikings TV series, the beard companies and the clothing companies, it doesn’t look like the fascination with all things Viking is going away.

Thanks for reading A History of Beards – Part Three. Don’t forget to check out Part One and Part Two. Next up in A History of beards is The Middle Ages.

Take care and keep growing

Tony

 

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