Monday, December 5, 2011

The Vikings

Like many ancient civilisations the Vikings provide massive inspiration for body art, people wanting to represent their heritage or displaying an enthusiasm for the culture. Viking themed tattoos are not uncommon in modern tattoo art, a simple Google Image search of "viking tattoo" will bring up thousands of intricate depictions of Norse gods, Nordic runes, warrior men with plaits and flowing beards wearing horned helms.


The question that I have been asked and come across in my research is whether or not the Vikings themselves were tattooed. The  have proved to be some of the most difficult on whom to collate information on their tattooing. It is only over the past few hundred years with photography and tattoos becoming more common that we have been able to see solid records of tattooing.  When a body breaks down, the skin is one of the first things to decay and the Vikings themselves did nothing to assist in the preservation of their body art. A traditional Viking burial generally involved cremation so the only tangible evidence that we have of Viking era Scandinavians is if one had fallen into the ice and been preserved.

The Viking’s, the Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided and colonized wide areas of Europe from the late eighth to the early eleventh century. The Norsemen used their famed long ships to travel as far east as Constantinople and the Volga River in Russia, and as far west as Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland. This period of Viking expansion is known as the Viking Age, and forms a major part of the medieval history of Scandinavia, the British Isles and Europe in general. At some point in history the Vikings met the Scythians. The Scythians themselves had been all the way to Europe to plunder and ravage. The Scythians' way of seeing things influenced the way the Vikings worked their crafts - and tattoos. The Vikings left few written records behind but their surviving artwork shows they had many important designs and symbols. The original meaning of most Viking symbols remains a mystery to this day. Viking symbols range from complex knot work designs to ancient pictograms like crosses, swastikas and triskeles.


Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, the 10th Century Arab explorer provided some of the earliest and most quoted data on the Norsemen. Saying in his travels that he had come across hat has later been supposed as the earlisest recording of Vikings. They are described as having bodies tall as (date) palm-trees, with blond hair and ruddy skin. They are tattooed from "fingernails to neck" with dark blue or dark green "tree patterns" and other "figures"

Due to the lack of tangible records, there is no way for us to know exactly what the Vikings tattooed, whether they tattooed images of their gods or Norse symbols. There are reports that they would paint runes on themselves but short of Ibn Fadlan's report there is no evidence to show us what designs were used.


Images: Tattoos sampoerna, new car information
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