Meet the vikings in real life

The Vikings and their lives have fascinated us for a long time. In both books and films, they have long been portrayed as domineering conquerors and beer swilling brutes. We now have the opportunity to get a unique insight into how they actually lived. At The Viking Museum in Stockholm you can even meet a thousand-year-old real-life Viking. Well, almost...

The idea for the The Viking Museum came about because there is a growing interest in the Viking era and Stockholm was simply missing a museum that solely focused on the life in Sweden of a thousand years ago.
– First and foremost is that we naturally want to convey knowledge about this fascinating part of our history, but at the same time we get the chance to create a fantastic tourist attraction, says Tora Larsdotter Andersson, archaeologist and guide at the museum.
And is archaeology closely linked to the museum?
– Yes, it would have been difficult to create a museum about the Viking era without archa- eology having a central role to play. It is where we find all the information about the Vikings and their lives, then we present our findings to the public in the museum.
– We need to focus heavily on archaeology otherwise there are only runestones available to give us information. It also means that our exhibition is constantly evolving as new discoveries are constantly being made. For example, just now in Uppåkra in Skåne, we
are working on a very large excavation that is already showing clear signs that Uppåkra was
a very big settlement in southern Sweden – it could turn out to be even more important than Birka. Obviously, this is something that will force us to revise current theories about how the country was built-up.
The Vikings are often portrayed as being conquerors and brutes, but presumably the majority of their lives was very different?
– Absolutely, this is actually one of the most important elements of our exhibition. Something not everyone is aware of is how strong the women were during the Viking era. There is often much focus on the men and their conquests but in a lot of cases it was the women who were the strongest in society.
– What is the most fascinating with the Vikings era, is that it was during this time that Scandinavians first started appearing in other countries and were described by other cultures. Previously we lived pretty isolated lives up here in the north. But the Vikings undertook many trips south across Europe, not just to conquer and brutalise, but also to trade.
The Vikings are often depicted in their classic helmets, so what is the actual story behind these helmets?
– This is quite interesting because during all the excavations that have been made, we have only ever found three helmets. Most were actually made of leather and the notion of the classic helmet is more something that was created by popular culture in the 19th century. Someone who had a major role in creating this myth of the classic Viking helmet was Richard Wagner, he made the helmet synonymous with Vikings and the people of the North with his operas!
What are you most proud of at the museum?
– There are many gems, but one thing I would especially like to mention is our DNA man. This is a model created using genuine Viking era DNA. So, you can actually meet a real Viking eye to eye!
– Our model, Estrid, is also created from genuine DNA. We have managed to map almost all of her life. We can even see from her skeleton that she fell in her seventy’s and broke her arm.
– Our train ride is another thing that makes our museum unique. First you walk around in our modern interactive exhibition section and then you continue through the Viking era on our special story train!
Do you have any special events or activities going on just now?
– We notice that the HBO series “Vikings” have generated a genuine interest for the Viking age far abroad the borders of Sweden. Many of our visitors wonder what’s accurate, and aline with Viking culture. That’s why we have created a guided tour that will answer these questions. We tell the real story about some of the series characters.
– We also believe in learning through experience, and that goes for all the senses. So during the weekends and between the school semesters, we have live vikings walking around. They are teaching how to do crafts from the Viking era. We also have returning dramatized shows, and battles are acted out. Both are entertaining and instructive.
– In our restaurant, you can try to drink REAL mead. During the everyday meals, the Vikings drank beer and a sort of soft drink, but during special occasions, they drank mead. The popular belief is that mead is similar to beer, but the closest thing we have today is honey-wine and not beer.
This fall we will also have mead testing, for the curious viking!

Text: Tony Manieri
Photo: The Viking Museum

Tora Larsdotter Andersson, archeologist and guide at The Viking Museum.