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The Lagertha effect

The “Lagertha effect” or what life was really like as a woman in the Viking age by Ayanna Raiha

Fearless, brave, and fierce is how the Vikings TV series depicted Lagertha and her shield maidens - admired by many men and women alike. But how accurate is this image? It’s of a woman that raises children, looks after the household, and stands her ground beside men in battle. Many discussions no less fierce than Lagertha’s battles have been fought with words over this subject.

The truth is not black and white but as grey and murky as an Irish winter as new evidence emerges to cause us to rewrite history.
The knowledge we have on the subject is a compilation of the sagas written down by Snorri Sturluson, the Poetic Edda as source for Norse Mythology, archeological evidence, and written sources from writers of other cultures. Unfortunately, the Norse tribes, like the Irish had an oral culture and passed knowledge orally; apart from some Rune stones much got lost over time.
The picture we have is like an historic puzzle, showing that even though most women would not fulfil the expectation of a Lagertha, many Viking women were highly respected in their roles as queens, warriors, seers, healers, craft artists, traders, mothers, and housewives.
In 2017 archeologists were surprised when DNA evidence confirmed that a famous warrior grave in Birka, Sweden was indeed a female. Buried with a sword, axe, knife, shields, and arrows, for years it was thought to be a male warrior; after all, how or why would a woman be buried with such an array of beautiful and valuable weapons. The importance and high respect given to this woman is also evident through the other grave goods such as 2 horses. Another of these surprise finds is the famous Oseberg longship burial in Norway. Only the highest-ranking leaders and warriors received such an honor and the immensely rich burial at Oseberg contained the skeletons of 2 women which are the source of much speculation.

The term Viking comes from the old Norse word “vikingr” which can be translated as to travel or raid. The word “Viking” actually describes the practice of going off to raid during the summer rather than to describe an ethnic group. However, over time it was adapted as an overall term describing the Danes, Swedes and Norse which went on raids during the summer months. We know that even though some women would accompany the men on their travels, most women stayed at home and oversaw the house, the farm, children, servants, and slaves. They had to make decisions that affected the survival of the whole family during the winter months and received respect for it.
One thing we know for certain is that Viking women also had rights that were lost in later Christian times. She could divorce her husband, inherit land and wealth and be a respected trader accumulating her own wealth. Some rich female Viking burials that contain grave goods such as weighing scales are evidence of this.

Even in Mythology the female goddesses are high ranking in the Norse Pantheon. Many people know that warriors who fall in battle are accompanied by the Valkyries - fierce female warrior-like half goddesses - to join Odin in Valhalla. However, it is Freya, goddess of war and love, who gets the first pick of fallen warriors after the battle. These warriors accompany her to her hall in Fólkvangr where they wait and train to join the gods in the final battle of Ragnarök.
At the Boyne Valley Viking Experience, you won’t find Lagertha, but you can meet a diverse array of strong Viking women; female warriors, respected on the battlefield; craft artists; traders; mothers; seers; healers and much more – todays women are as strong and beautiful as the Viking women of 1000 years ago.

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