8 thoughts on “Viking Women”

  1. Does “warrior” mean “person who fought in a war”, or “person whose primary trade is fighting in wars”?

    The former was exceedingly common in preindustrial cultures, usually as camp followers or in home-guard militias which it was hoped would never engage the enemy but, if it came to that, the women were there and at that desperate point no one was going to turn away their aid. Usually with whatever light arms were available, sometimes trained and armed specifically for that purpose, occasionally with heavier ordnance.

    Women fighting as primary combatants in preindustrial societies was quite rare, and usually limited to auxiliary skirmishers. And female sovereigns would often make at least a token battlefield appearance. Women fighting as front-line infantry or cavalry, as anything but extraordinary individuals, is pretty much unheard of.

    It doesn’t take recent archaeology to know that when Vikings went a-viking, their women could fight most heroically at need. That much is recorded in the oldest sagas. It is unsurprising that Viking graves will include women who died as such, honored as such. But to extrapolate from this any substantial class of women whose trade was war, goes too far.

  2. It’s fair to say there were always Annie Oakley-class “warrior women,” and horse girls like Betsy King Ross. Whether it went beyond that is unknown. We still aren’t sure what was indicated by by armed female Kurgan graves. Best case, there are standoff weapons systems women could master since the late Neolithic. Doesn’t matter who puts an arrow through your eye socket. Goliath might make it come out the back of your head, but June Cleaver’s arrow is still lodged in your brain.

    1. “Doesn’t matter who puts an arrow through your eye socket.”

      But it takes a significant amount of muscle to pull a bow. Bows of that era seem to be around 90-100 lbs pull force, and up to 150 lbs by time time longbow use peaked.

      Also, prolonged bow use would likely show up on the bones, as it does for English bowmen.

      Reality is, women are too valuable in primitive societies to send them out as front-line fighters. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t fight if they were attacked, but no-one would send the women of the tribe out to get killed. The limiting factor in producing children is the number of women, so it would be suicidal for a culture that needed lots of kids (due to conflict and high infant mortality).

  3. Lots of people keep suggesting that women would use stand-off weapons, but unlike firearms, male archers have a big advantage in draw weight, and thus range and penetration. Penetration is important when the enemy is wearing even rudimentary armor backed by thick padding.

    Modern archery shops recommend a draw weight of 25-35 pounds for women, though with practice they can move up to a heavier bow. Men tend to hunt with recurves that run from 45 to 70 pounds, and many states require at least a 45 pound draw weight.

    In their heyday, based on Robert Hardy’s research on the longbows recovered from The Mary Rose, English archers used draw weights that were 100 to 185 pounds. Scientists could tell which of the crew were archers because their backs and shoulders were deformed.

  4. Quite apart from any other consideration, this facial reconstruction looks a lot more like Lena Heady from Game of Thrones than it does Kathryn Winnick from Vikings.

  5. Of course women fought. When the men were away at war, women, old men, and older children (remember that a teenager was considered an “adult” in most societies) were responsible for defending their lives, homes, and properties against raiders. Particularly in cultures where raiding is common, the men could sack an enemy town only to return to a sacked home.

    They fought somewhat differently–fewer shield walls, and more guerilla/delaying actions/defending fortified buildings. But, yes, they fought. And a handful of them went on campaign with the men, although their intended use would have been logistics and support, not front-line combat.

    This is, to some extent, click-bait.

  6. Selected corner cases don’t help. Women have been used as machinery for thousands and the skeletons of female slaves are just as deformed. The other thing to take into account is pre-industrial women, especially Bronze Age and earlier were considerably more fit than modern women. Roly-Poly HR Princess types were sparse on the ground much more than a few decades ago.

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