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Were Viking Berserkers a real thing?

Updated: Mar 11

Viking Berserkers, is there a more awesome warrior in the history of history?


Viking Berserkers were heroes of legendary power. They would charge into battle in a deadly whirling dervish of frothy spitty rage. Scantily clad and wearing no armour, Berserkers only had their devotion to the god Odin to protect them. They felt no pain, felt no fear, and were lethal in combat. Berserkers were undoubtedly the most feared warriors of any Viking Warband.


In the case of Berserkers, a picture speaks louder than words. So, here’s a picture of a gang of Viking Berserkers:

Viking Berserkers from the film 'The Northman'

Awesome, huh?


But did they actually exist? Or were Viking Berserkers just a figment in the imagination of a particularly excitable saga writer?


The exciting answer is that, yes, Viking Berserkers were - probably - a real thing.


Berserkers, or wolf skins as they were also called, would hang around at the front of a Viking army and then charge headlong into battle without a care in the world. When they leapt into battle they did so howling like wolves, and nothing could hurt them; not iron, not fire, not even someone saying mean things to them.


They didn’t know pain, they didn’t no fear, and they didn’t know how to solve complex mathematical equations.

Or simple mathematical equations for that matter. They only knew the rush of battle and bloodlust.

However, at the end of the fight, Berserkers were rendered physically exhausted. They would laze around like teenagers on a Tuesday morning in the summer holidays, utterly pooped out.



Now, that all sounds a bit made up, but there's a surprising amount of historical evidence to suggest that Viking Berserkers really existed.


Way back in the first century AD, the Roman historian Tacitus described Berserker-like warriors amongst the German tribes in his New York Times Bestseller 'Germania’. 500 years later, the Roman historian Prokopios wrote of “the wild and lawless Heruli”, again very similar to Berserkers in the way they charged into battle in little more than a loincloth. There are also numerous mentions of Berserkers in Norse sagas, skaldic poems, and other Middle Age literature.


There you go. Viking Berserkers were probably a real thing!


Which means the half-naked guys below likely did exist. Though perhaps without the gym bods. You know, because there were a lot less chickens, protein shakes, gyms, and body hair trimmers available in the Viking Age. Hooray for history!

More Viking Berserkers from the film 'The Northman'

 

If you are a Primary School teacher then you'll definitely want Imagining History to bring their 'How to Launch a Viking Raid' Interactive workshop to your school.


Have your students got what it takes to launch a successful Viking raid?

In this award-winning workshop, our practitioners will use interactive activities with a drama and performance twist to teach your students everything they need to know to raid the Anglo-Saxon monastery on Lindisfarne. Your students will:

  • Create a timeline stretching from the first Viking raid to the end of the Viking era.

  • Construct a Viking Longship using just their bodies.

  • Interact with replica Viking Weapons, Armour and tools, including a sword, shield, spear, and sunstone.

  • Use their teamworking skills to test out Viking navigation techniques

  • Launch a raid on Lindisfarne & outsmart the Monks to steal their treasure.




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