While winged Valkyries hovering over a battlefield may be fiction, the myth of the Viking shieldmaiden is firmly rooted in reality.

The era of Vikings is one of those bits of history full of well-documented facts, but still often seem more like myth and legend. We’ve seen representations in pop culture regularly through the years, and the History channel’s The Vikings has been popular since it started in 2013. Despite everything that we do know conclusively about Vikings, the History channel’s series prominently features one detail we’ve only just confirmed; females both fought and served in leadership roles in the military.

Her skeleton was excavated in the 1880s, and people thought it looked like a female skeleton, but weren’t entirely convinced, so it’s just been largely assumed that the remains were male until recently. Now that DNA tests have confirmed that it’s a woman, it’s likely to require some rethinking of anthropological conclusions drawn prior to the revelation, though the likelihood of there being at least some truth to the shieldmaiden mythos has been fairly well accepted. Her status as a warrior is easily enough confirmed by the presence of a small arsenal of different types of weapons in her grave, but her stature may be just as telling. This shieldmaiden would have stood around 5’7”(170cm), which was the average height of European men at the time, something like the Viking equivalent of Brienne of Tarth.  

The modern debate about women in the military often comes down to feminists insisting that it’s sexist to hold women to the same standard as men, and everybody else insisting that lowering the standards puts lives at risk. I imagine this particular Viking would take umbrage with the modern feminist point of view. I suspect her enemies on the battlefield would as well, given that her death did not appear to have been caused by trauma from combat, suggesting that she was pretty good at her job.

Fighting prowess aside, they also believe her to have served in leadership roles in the military as well, with a working knowledge of tactics and strategy making her someone capable of leading troops into battle. Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson of Stockholm University, who led the study, explained, “What we have studied was not a Valkyrie from the sagas but a real life military leader, that happens to have been a woman.”

The thing that led the researchers to conclude her role as a military leader was “a full set of gaming pieces” buried alongside her. It turns out, the mythical Shieldmaiden and legendary Gamer Girl are one and the same.

 

Feature Image via the History Channel

 

  • XY

    How can a DNA test determine which pronoun ze preferred?

  • True.Epic.Crusader

    ” her death did not appear to have been caused by trauma from combat, suggesting that she was pretty good at her job.”

    Or pretty cowardly.

    • PunJabber

      A coward got an upscale burial? From Vikings? That’s a pretty creative anachronism.

      • True.Epic.Crusader

        White-Knighting might have existed back then.

        • PunJabber

          As I said, pretty creative.

          • True.Epic.Crusader

            I don’t know why you’d assume that beta-orbiters are a new thing.

  • I_h8_disqus

    Archeologists make a lot of life assumptions from some items in a grave. Thousands of years from now, will Dungeons and Dragons players be assumed to be great military leaders if their dice are found in their graves?

    • MLMII

      Probably, just imagine what myths will be spun when the ruins of Elvis’ estate is dug up.

      • Casey Kowalchyk

        “These televisions were murdered with a large caliber handgun.”

    • GTKRWN

      Dice, maps, tactical figures, and grimoires meticulously detailing the weaknesses and battle strategies of the beasts they battled against! We have even discovered evidence of a “Dungeon Master” which we assume was the highest ranking of their tribe of warriors!

  • Gina Davis

    Didn’t they figure out like 5 years ago that the ‘shield maidens’ were actually the wives of warriors who got buried with their husbands things? Like….This is a huge logical leap.

    • MLMII

      There is usually a (tiny) grain of truth in most legends so I imagine that both are probably true to an extent (And no, I’m not trying to argue about women in combat or that we are physically equal to men, especially in hand to hand combat so please don’t misunderstand me.) so I have a hard time imagining that the legends and histories talking about Shield Maidens are all simply tall tales.

  • Rusty Esq

    I would like to see more details. Did she have any signs of wear and tear on her joints, or signs of high muscle growth? What about broken/chipped/sliced bones? How many Viking graves have damaged skeletons of a similar age to this woman?

    The woman who did this research was a Phd, so she should be given latitude that she’s not a fool.

    Also, keep in mind that less than 20% of women identify as feminist, so that’s better than 80% that the author of the study is not a feminist (ie. good odds she’s a good woman).

    We really need more context. Is this grave typical? How many graves do we know about? Were they buried with the same equipment?

    Try and keep an open mind. It’s sad that less than 20% of women (ie. feminists) have given the other 80+% such a bad name. Some of these comments make me feel for the good women. My wife (an engineer) constantly complains about what feminism has done to women.

    If you find evidence she’s a feminist, all bets are off.

  • ytuque

    Maybe she identified as a man, so this article misgenders her.

    • Joe Shmoe

      Microaggression alert went off. Run for your lives! 😀

  • One-Eye

    VIKINGS is a great show but it’s really pushing the progressive agenda lately, with Lagertha (pictured) having a lesbian relationship and a majority of her army being women.

    I guarantee we’re only a season away from having black vikings.

    • ineradicable

      It will be revealed this season that Floki really murdered Athelstan because of an unwanted gay advance, not his religion.

    • Nicolas Fabbroni Leroy

      I see where you’re coming from… but I’m gonna have to give Lagertha’s lesbian action a pass ’cause…. hawt!

    • Jack Johnstone

      Lesbians didn’t exist in the 8th-11th century? And it’s known that women (shield-maidens) fought alongside the men. Even if that’s not true, it’s a badass idea IMO.

  • webkilla

    I dunno – could just as well be that she was a wealthy noble, burried with a lot of fine ceremonial stuff. I mean, rich people throughout history had a funny habit getting buried with loads of swag

  • Nicolas Fabbroni Leroy

    Heh reminds me of the recent discovery that stone age women’s remains had a way of showing up far from their homelands while men’s tended to be found at home.

    “See!? SEE!!?? Womyns wuz explorers!!!”

    Or maybe…..

    When the defending side lost the battle, men ended up buried in the area they defended while women were taken away as slaves/prizes.

    • Thomas

      not a maybe at all, the men were lucky to buried… usually left for carrion

  • Freedom?

    Females being able to go to combat is a matter of society and of training.

    We have neither capable of developing GOOD female combat soldiers.

    • Thomas

      mate, you’re talking fisticuffs. in a shield wall you’re a shield, a spear and MAYBE a sword or axe as well. vikings realised that courage was the most important thing on a battlefield, the spear and shield will do the rest. the only difference physical size would make is perhaps how long you’ll be able to hold them up… but sheer determination can make up for that too

      that is, it doesn’t matter if the spear hits your chest with 50% force or 100%… you’re still getting hit in the chest with a spear and you’re still going to die

      • Freedom?

        No, not true at all.

        Physical size does matter, especially when you have the enemy surging against your wall, or trying to batter a mace through plate armor.

        No, size matters a great deal in a straight up fight.

  • bookish1

    Kewl!

  • PunJabber

    Cue all the Statistical Justice Warriors who don’t understand that bell curves overlap*, in 3 … 2 … 1 …

    * i.e. the very strongest women are well above the average men … etc.

  • Bob Randall

    maybe she took hormones because she wanted to be a man