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