Scholars Now Have Strong Arguments for the Existence of Queer Vikings

Scholars Now Have Strong Arguments for the Existence of Queer Vikings

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LGBTQ+ history is often ignored for a more heteronormative version of the past. On this week’s informal edition of “Queer History from Around the World,” we’re diving into Viking-age gender fluidity and the possibility of queer Vikings.

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While Viking culture today is seen as hyper-masculine and stereotypical, the truth about this early Scandinavian society is a lot more interesting. While gender boundaries were very much enforced, the Vikings were certainly also familiar with what we call queer identities today.

One way we know this is through graves.

In cases where archaeologists can’t discern the sex of the dead (through bone or DNA analysis), they will often look at what the deceased was buried along with. For example, being buried with a weapon typically suggests the grave of a man, while being buried with jewelry suggests a woman.

Of course, Neil Price writes that “the obvious problems of conflating sex and gender, and also effectively sexing metal, these readings risk simply piling one set of assumptions on another in what forensic decision-makers call a ‘bias snowball’ of cumulatively questionable interpretations.”

Not to mention that the science itself seems to prove this method of categorization is wrong when archaeologists find people buried with items that would typically be associated with the opposite sex.

Viking helmets from the 7th century, part of ‘The Vikings Begin’ museum exhibit. Photo courtesy Gustavianum, Uppsala University Museum

Occasionally, archaeologists will find male-bodied skeletons wearing types of dresses or brooches more typically buried with female bodies. Conversely, they’ll find female-bodied skeletons buried with enough weapons to suggest the identity of a warrior.

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When the remains of a Viking warrior (along with weapons and two slaughtered horses) were discovered some years ago, scholars assumed they belonged to a woman, “a finding that threw into question a once commonly accepted view that Vikings ascribed to traditional gender roles.”

However, more recently, the possibility that this warrior could have been “transgender, non-binary or gender fluid” has been posited. Relying on Viking-age sources, Neil Price reminds us that these folks didn’t necessarily view gender binaries the way they are most commonly accepted today.

“Vikings actually had laws forbidding men and women from dressing and behaving in ways that were not in line with the gender they were assigned at birth. The very existence of these laws … indicates that some Vikings must have been breaking them.”

Are you surprised to hear about the existence of queer Vikings?

Featured image from the History channel’s series ‘Vikings.’ Photo courtesy Jonathan Hession/History

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