Mark Neumayer

author of the Valda & the Valkyries series

Viking Tattoo Designs

Hi folks, I have a bit of a treat this week. The editor of vikingrune.com was kind enough to write a guest post for me with some excellent advice on how to pick a Norse tattoo that is both accurate and unique. If you get excited by what you read I would recommend checking out the rest of Victor’s site. He’s got a lot of good information on the various systems of runes and he even has a rune converter that will change English words into one of five different rune sets. It’s well worth a visit. Now on to Victor’s article.

Viking by MARTINEZ
Art-line Crew Tattoo, Poland

How to Make Your Norse Tattoo Unique

One of the most popular Viking tattoo designs is meant to represent an actual Viking warrior. If you are to get a Norse tattoo, you would probably want to have an image of something real, historically accurate. Then reject all the designs that represent Norsemen wearing helmets with horns. Such a presentation of a Scandinavian helm grew popular as late as in the 19th century. The only extant authentic helmet that dates back to the Viking Age was found in Gjermundby, Norway, and it has no horns. Norse warriors were very practical people and their weapons’ designs were usually rather simple. They valued usability, not spectacular effects. It is true that there are a few Viking Age images representing ceremonial helmets with two protrusions ending with birds’ or snakes’ heads, but they look altogether different and were not used in battles. The same applies to wings. Winged helmets are not historic. Vikings did not use them.
The other thing to avoid in authentic Viking tattoo designs is the massive double axe. The axes used by Norsemen were rather light and used single-handed. In the period of transition from the Viking Age to Middle Ages, Scandinavians also used the so-called Dane axe, which was indeed large, but it was not double. No double-headed axe has been found from early medieval Europe. Such wrong ideas about Vikings are certainly to be avoided in a tattoo.
A Norse inscription is perhaps the best way to make your Viking tattoo design truly unique. However, getting a correct inscription is a real challenge. I would advise to proceed as follows:

  • Decide whether you’d like to have an inscription in runes or letters
  • If you want it in runes, decide which runic system to use (there are several different runic alphabets)
  • If you still want it in runes, decide if it will be in Old Norse or just English words in runes

In my opinion, a cool Norse inscription does not have to be necessarily in runes. After all, the Icelandic sagas, our main source of information on Vikings, were not written down in runes. A quotation from a saga in the original Old Norse would certainly make a very cool Viking tattoo design.
If you want the inscription in runes and you’ve got the exact idea of what the inscription will be (you have the text in English or in Old Norse), then the next step is to decide which runes to use. The Elder Futhark was used by all Germanic tribes from the 2nd through the 8th centuries. The Younger Futhark started to develop at the end of the 8th century and was accepted in the whole of Scandinavia by the 10th century. It existed in two versions: Long Branch and Short Twig Younger Futhark. You may also want to use Anglo-Saxon runes. There existed even a secret variant of runes called staveless runes.

2 Comments

  1. jon macdougal

    June 3, 2014 at 4:35 am

    Your deffinetely WRONG about there never have “survived”; any Norse helmets with Horns – do your homework – I know mine; and at least One Viking helmet WAS found with (One) horn!
    Also; only the Beserkers wore the horns into battle – wooden ones – which is why practically none ever survived the test of time! And that’s not all they wore into battle — Bearskins; ‘behind’, Only, and…
    XXX XXXXXX XX XXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXXX in case anyone out there cares to know this fact as well ! (Edited by Mark N. because I am not running the sort of blog where we discuss those sort of facts.)

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment.
      Do you have a picture or a link to this helmet that you mentioned? I’d be interested in reading about it since all of the information I have come across indicates Viking horned helmets did not exist.
      It is true that wood is not long lasting. That would explain why we wouldn’t find any horns made out of wood – they would have rotted away by now. But those horns would have needed to be attached to the helmets somehow. At the minimum we would need a hole in the helmet at the mounting point. So far archaeologists have only found one complete helmet from the Viking Age (the Gjermundbu farm find.) That had no horns or indications that any had ever been mounted to it. In addition, none of the pictures from the actual Viking age show helmets with horns. Right now all of the facts (as the guest author of the original post explained) point to hornless helmets. I’d love to read any archaeological articles that prove otherwise.

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