Danishnet logo

Cleanliness - Did Vikings Take Baths?

The Vikings have long since had the reputation of being filthy, wild animals. Even in modern day films the Vikings are portrayed as dirty savages. However, close examination of the facts seem to dispel the myth of the filthy Viking.

One needs to remember that most of our accounts of the Vikings come from Christian writers. A Vikings writer would not be likely to give an account of the general cleanliness of his people as a whole. The Christian writers were writing about a fearsome group of pagan people who were ravaging Europe. A Christian writer would have strong biased to present the evil pagans in the worst light. To this day it is the writings of these Christians which give us the impression that Vikings were dirty savages. The reality seems to be quite the opposite.

What we do know from the excavation of Viking burial mounds is that personal grooming tools are some of the most common items found. Items such as razors, tweezers and ear spoons have been found. In fact combs seem to be the most common artefact found from the Viking Age. We also know that the Vikings made a very strong soap which was used not only for bathing, but also for bleaching their hair. Vikings bleached their hair as blond hair was highly sought after in the Viking World.

We also know from the accounts of the Anglo-Saxons that the Vikings who settled in England were considered to be ‘clean-freaks’, because they would bath once a week. This was at a time when an Anglo-Saxon would only bath once or twice a year. In fact the original meaning of Scandinavian words for Saturday (laurdag / lørdag / lördag) was ‘Washing Day’.

There are also writings describing the cleanliness of the Vikings in the East. The Arab writer Ibn Rustah comments on their cleanliness. The comments by another Arab writer Ibn Fadlan are a little misleading. He notes that he is disgusted by the Vikings all sharing the same bowl to wash their faces and blow their noses. However, Ibn Fadlan does say that they do this each morning. This confirms that they did wash each morning at a time when European Christians did not. Ibn Fadlan was likely disgusted because of the Muslim world’s concept of cleanliness, where people would use running water and each person would each have their own bowl.