Vikings Didn't Have Horned Helmets. This Is Why You Think They Did

Vikings are, in a lot of ways, not unlike pirates. Both groups were fearsome warriors who terrorized their foes for centuries. Similarly, pirates and Vikings were both skilled seafarers. Another way in which Vikings and pirates are similar is that much of what we think we know about both groups is based on mythology and popular culture rather than historical fact. And indeed, most of what we think we know about both groups is wrong. Pirates, for example, didn't make their victims walk the plank, according to BBC News, they didn't bury their treasure, nor did they periodically say "Argh!" or "Ahoy Maties!"

One key "fact" you might believe about Vikings is that their helmets bore horns, as depicted in many artistic renderings, providing their bearer with a fearsome visage like that of a wild animal. As it turns out, those horned helmets were added to Viking lore centuries after the last Viking ship sailed, and indeed, there's a very practical reason why no warrior would ever want to wear a helmet like that.

Horned Viking helmets appeared in art 800 years later

The time of the Vikings was effectively over by 1066 thanks to the culmination of some cultural, religious, and historical events that basically rendered them obsolete, according to History. Then, in the 1800s, Scandinavian artists, such as Sweden's Gustav Malmström, began depicting them with horned helmets, 800 years after the fact and based on no historical evidence, according to another History report. In the 1870s, Vagner's Ring Cycle of operas depicted Vikings in horned helmets, further cementing this historical bit of fiction in the popular consciousness. These artists likely got the idea for horned helmets from archaeological evidence and descriptions of such helmets worn by other ancient peoples of the area, but those all predated the Vikings. According to the few historical depictions of Viking helmets we have, the warriors wore simple, round helmets made of metal or leather.

What's more, horned helmets make little sense as equipment for battle. The enemy could grab the horn, thus giving control of the wearer's head to his opponent (not a good thing in close, melee combat). The helmet could also get caught in a tree branch or embedded in an enemy's shield.