Vikings didn't have horned helmets as is often depicted. Where can I find accurate representations how vikings and viking society looked?

4 Answers 4


For our purposes, there are two kinds of Vikings; western, or Norwegian Vikings that settled Greenland, Iceland, and Normandy, and eastern, or Swedish Vikings who settled Russia and the Baltic region.

There is a fair amount of literature on the first group of Vikings, who were called "Norsemen" (later Normans). One example is from Encyclopedia Britannica:


The reason is that their destiny later "merged" with that of (relatively literate) Western Europe, which kept track of them.

The eastern or Swedish Vikings, on the other hand, were less literate than their Norwegian counterparts, as is true of the lands they settled, vis-a-vis Western Europe. As a result, most literature on the Swedish Vikings is in the form of (their) "runic" inscriptions, which are the subject of study to this day.

  • 2
    There is very little evidence of cultural differences though, and most likely both groups would have dressed very similarily. Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 7:37
  • @LennartRegebro: I wouldn't quarrel with that claim. But the western Vikings' activities and dress would have been better documented.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 23:13
  • 1
    Eastern Vikings, or Varangians, were well-described as well: they have ruled Kievan Rus for centuries. As the rulers of the region they commanded all the local attention, and after Kievan Rus acquired Cyrillic writing in 10th-11th century quite a few birch sources about them appeared. Also, some Varangians went as far as South as becoming Varangian Guard in Bysantium, which was more literate then either Rus or the West at that time.
    – Michael
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 1:57
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    I don't understand the up votes for this. This answer says absolutely nothing about "how the vikings looked" which is what the main point of the question was. At least Hutton's answer (2 votes) gave a book series (Osprey) in which the OP could look up information. Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 15:48
  • @TylerDurden: I did give a source for western Vikings, and postulated a theory about why it was hard to pin down eastern Vikings (other than Varangians), except through runic inscriptions.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 15:59

If you are happy to focus on the military side of things, you could do quite well with some of the resources for the wargaming hobby.

Osprey books, for example, have a good reputation for accurately documenting the appearance of just about every culture's military personnel. And many of the miniature manufacturers take their cues from them or similar research.


Kit, Regia Anglorum are the premier Early Medieval living history society in the United Kingdom. They actively research historical social and military life, and have built permanent settlements in the Norman and Anglo-Saxon style, as well as having Viking ships. See http://www.regia.org/research/history/vikings.htm and http://www.regia.org/research/history/viking2.htm which will give you a flavour of the people we refer to as 'Vikings'.


Yes, they did wear horned helms. The British Museum allegedly has a lot of horned helms and also boar helms (though for some reason they are not displayed). For example, in Beowulf you can read of the hero's helmet:

...wonderfully formed, beset with swine-forms so that it
then no blade nor battle-swords to bite were able...

Picture of vikings with boar helms (circa 8th century):

boar helms

Horned helms actually predate vikings considerably and were more used by the Gaels actually, and their successors such as the Belgae, the Allobroges and the Teutons (ie Germanic Gauls of various types). The vikings did use horned helms, though of course, such elaborate headgear would be that of princes, like Beowulf, not common men. Here are two photos:

horned helm gunstrouphorned helm bezerker

The one on the left is a detail from the Gunstrup cauldron (4th century), and the other is a depiction of a berzerker from the 7th century. Also, this quote from Diodorus Siculus:

On their heads they put bronze helmets which have large embossed figures standing out from them and give an appearance of great size to those who wear them; for in some cases horns are attached to the helmet so as to form a single piece, in other cases images of the fore-parts of birds or four-footed animals.

  • hornet helmets were largely ceremonial, not for general use in battle... Maybe helmets had studs as vestigial horns but large ones as depicted in those pictures are just impractical in combat and vikings were practical people.
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 4:50
  • @jwenting The quote from Beowulf I listed seems to suggest "boar" helmets were used in battle. More to the point, however, the OP asked "how vikings looked". The quote from Diodorus Siculus shows that he at least, a contemporaneous historian, considered ornamented helms to be a distinguishing characteristic of their appearance. Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 7:52
  • Didorus lived hundreds of years before the Vikings; he is no more contemporary of the Vikings than Froissart is for us. Beowulf is also pre-viking age and the boar helmets were long out of fashion when the Viking raids started for real.
    – andejons
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 8:08

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