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I am interested in understanding something which I have seen in the film 13th warrior where the Vikings all use the same bowl of water to clean themselves. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkcsLFSAS30

It also happens in the TV show Vikings (No link).

I am curious about a few things, (all really only one question).

What exactly is going on?

  1. Is it really a Viking thing?
  2. Why are they doing it?

Edit: Some clarrification.

I am looking for information concerning whether this is a real Viking ceremony, (or custom). In the 13th warrior (the linked video) there is no mention of this, or why it is happening, and as was pointed out - is an actual account of some traveler. However - in the TV Vikings (no link) there is a hint that this is some sort of ceremony for either travelling, or war, or a new ship.

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I feel sick now. :( –  Russell Apr 10 '13 at 8:11
    
@Russell That was not my intention. –  Inbar Rose Apr 10 '13 at 8:17
    
I know, don't worry. :) –  Russell Apr 10 '13 at 11:04
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3 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted
+50

I found at least one source that advances the notion that Crichton is referencing a source who had an agenda, and may have exaggerated for effect. Ahmad ibn Fadlan wrote about his visit to the Rus:

§ 84. Every day they must wash their faces and heads and this they do in the dirtiest and filthiest fashion possible: to wit, every morning a girl servant brings a great basin of water; she offers this to her master and he washes his hands and face and his hair -- he washes it and combs it out with a comb in the water; then he blows his nose and spits into the basin. When he has finished, the servant carries the basin to the next person, who does likewise. She carries the basin thus to all the household in turn, and each blows his nose, spits, and washes his face and hair in it.

Note: Ibn Fadlan's main source of disgust with the Rus bathing customs have to do with his Islamic faith, which requires a pious Mohammedan to wash only in running water or water poured from a container so that the rinsings do not again touch the bather. The sagas often describe a woman washing a man's hair for him, often as a gesture of affection. It would be likely that the basin was actually emptied between each bath: Ibn Fadlan would still have felt the basin contaminated by previous use. It does seem here that Ibn Fadlan may be exaggerating a bit for effect.

Viking Answer Lady, who is quoting Ahmad ibn Fadlan.

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Ahmad ibn Fadlan was (probably) real enough. Though through my journeys through all the sagas, I have yet to come up against a similar description. Other customs are described in detail; this I have yet to find. The vikings did, however, drink of the same mead-bowl. But that does not exactly set them apart from other groups at the time. And the film 13th warrior was - well - awful in a number of ways. –  Random O'Reilly Dec 2 '13 at 1:26
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I believe that the scene is 13 Warriors is taken from the account of Ahmad ibn Fadlān ibn al-Abbās ibn Rāšid ibn Hammād (Arabic: أحمد بن فضلان بن العباس بن راشد بن حماد‎) detailing his dealing with Northmen. This was a inspiration for Michael Crichton's Eaters Of The Dead which was a source for 13 Warriors.

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This is known to me, however, I am less interested in the movie, or historical sightings, only if it is real, many travelers embellished stories of foreign countries, and if there are no other sources, than it is only here-say. I am looking for proper information about if this was a Viking ceremony or a load of bull. –  Inbar Rose Apr 10 '13 at 9:22
    
@InbarRose Ahmad ibn Fadlan is a real person who wrote about real life Viking customs. He is not made up. Or did I misunderstood your comment? –  Sardathrion Jul 29 '13 at 18:58
    
You may have misunderstood, I meant maybe the accounts were not real. –  Inbar Rose Jul 30 '13 at 6:55
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@InbarRose: As far as I know, Ahmad ibn Fadlān ibn al-Abbās ibn Rāšid ibn Hammād (أحمد بن فضلان بن العباس بن راشد بن حماد‎) is a real person and his writings are considered a primary source. I could, of course, be wrong. –  Sardathrion Jul 30 '13 at 7:01
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The ritual bowl is not uncommon in Germanic tribal culture. Even in modern settings communal washing bowl would not be considered disgusting (participated myself in Iraq) Most of us are more unnerved by the nose blowing etc. I have seen it suggested that Ahmad ibn Fadlan, might not of seen them emptying the bowl. Regardless, Arabs of the time only washed in running or poured water. Thus he would of seen it as disgusting regardless and might well of made a few assumptions.

I would love to find a better answer as well, to me it makes no sense when you consider the amount of water available to them.

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Arabs at the time, except those living in coastal regions who'd bathe in the sea, probably barely washed at all as water was way too scarce... What little there was in most communities would be reserved for drinking and watering the fields. –  jwenting Feb 5 at 12:59
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