Vikings are some of the coolest and most interesting figures in history, still having a cultural impact today. Norse mythology inspired the creation of the superhero Thor and his villainous brother, Loki. The Viking culture itself inspired film and television with shows like Vikings and films like Pathfinder.
Who Were the Vikings?
They existed roughly from the eighth to 11th centuries. These Norsemen from Scandinavia became known as Vikings, not because they were a unified culture or nation, but because of the raids they conducted across Europe. The word "viking" comes from Old Norse, meaning "a pirate raid."
Did the Vikings Have Tattoos?
While there isn't 100 percent proof that viking wore tattoos, it is believed that some may have had them. According to 10th century Arabic traveler Ahmad ibn Fadlan:
Each man has an axe, a sword, and a knife and keeps each by him at all times. The swords are broad and grooved, of Frankish sort. Every man is tattooed from finger nails to neck with dark green (or green or blue-black) trees, figures, etc.
Many people of Norse heritage get inked to show their pride in their Viking roots, while others simply find they are fascinated by a culture from the distant past that is steeped in mystery.
The mystique of Viking culture and their beliefs still remain relevant today. The level of interest can be seen in many incredible Viking tattoos. Here are some of our favorites:
You would not want to meet this Viking on the battlefield.
If you want an amazing tattoo like the one seen above on the head of tattoo artist Sean Parry, then head on over to Denmark's Meatshop Tattoo. This piece on Parry's head was inked by Peter Blackhand Madsen.
Interesting fact: while the above tattoo of a Viking is amazing, the common image we have of the brooding bearded Viking donning a horned helmet is simply a fabrication. A Viking with a horned helmet was never depicted in Viking lore, and the only verified Viking helmet (found in a burial mound near Gjermundbu, Norway) did not have horns.
Viking Symbol Tattoos
Not all Viking tattoos just depict rugged bearded men in helmets wielding axes. For those who want to delve deeper into Viking lore, they incorporate Viking symbols into the artwork they get inked on their bodies.
For instance, the sleeve tattoo below includes The Helm of Awe (left) on this guy's shoulder. It was seen as a symbol of protection and might. (In Icelandic, the symbol is called Aegishjalmur).
A Norse poem included the following:
The Helm of Awe
I wore before the sons of men
In defense of my treasure;
Amongst all, I alone was strong,
I thought to myself,
For I found no power a match for my own.
Surrounding The Helm of Awe are symbols for various things, including the M-shaped symbol for horse and the R-shaped symbol next to it for "ride."
A very similar looking symbol in Icelandic is the Vegvisir, meaning "signpost." It's meant to guide people through bad weather.
The Valknut Tattoos
What these three interlocking triangles symbolize isn't fully understood, but there are educated theories. Rudolf Simek, an Austrian scholar, believed it may have been used in religious practices related to death. While English antiquarian and academic Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson theorized it was connected to the god Odin and "mental binds," meaning he could make men helpless in battle, or he could "loosen the tensions of fear and strain by his gifts of battle-madness, intoxication, and inspiration."
The Ouroboros, a snake eating its own tale, dates back to ancient Greece, but in Norse mythology it is the serpent Jormungandr, one of the three children of Loki and Angrboda.
The three drinking horns, also referred to as the Horn Triskelion, symbolizes Odin.
Carlos Rubio tattooed the Valkyrie (above right). In Norse mythology, a Valkyrie (which comes from the Old Norse valkyrja, meaning "chooser of the slain"), was a female figure who decided who died in battle and who would live.
Women were Viking warriors as well. A woman who chose to fight as a warrior was referred to as shieldmaiden.
This Viking is surrounded by some solid Celtic knot work.
Colin Dale tattooed this sleeve filled with Norse imagery.
Thor knows how to handle a dragon (Tattoo by Larry Brogan).
What's not to love about a middle finger tattoo of Odin?
Like father, like son: Thor and Odin.
Teresa Sharpe tattooed this colorful piece.
This tattoo is just brimming with Norse mythology. The horned guy on your left is a traditional depiction of Loki.
Stefan Johnsson tattooed this Valkyrie in the American traditional style.
The above tattoo is based on the Australian actor Travis Fimmel who plays Ragnar from Vikings, the hit TV series on the History Channel. He was actually a historical figure. Ragnar Lodbrok was a legendary Viking ruler from the 9th century.