If you enjoy having interesting pieces of trivia to share at family gatherings during the holidays, or just to have on hand at dinner parties with friends or colleagues, you will want to hold on to these three facts about the use of saunas during the Viking Age.
Sauna Fact #1: Saunas were also dwellings (at first).
Among their many other claims to fame, the Finns are probably most proud of having invented the sauna. The first saunas are thought to have doubled up as the primary dwellings of early Finns, and they began turning their houses into saunas by heating stones in the fireplace for extended periods of time and pouring water over these stones to create steam. The temperature in the room is thought to have risen enough for the Finns to take off their clothes. What happens after that is well known history.
Sauna Fact #2: Saunas were a common feature on Viking Age Scandinavian Farms.
The Vikings are known for many things, but cleanliness does not usually top the list. Interestingly, the people we refer to today as the Vikings were in fact extremely personal hygiene oriented. Recent revisions to history have demonstrated that cleanliness was a cultural must among the pre-Christian Scandinavians. Saunas were readily adopted from Finland and became a common feature of the farmstead. Like their Finnish neighbors, they used heated rocks to create steam in small washrooms and bathe at least once per week if not more. The Vikings also made use of hot springs to bathe in winter where available.
Sauna Fact #3: Vikings loved their saunas so much, they built them where they went.
It seems obvious that Scandinavians who left home would take with them a desire to remain clean in their new colonies, but until recently building saunas abroad was not a verifiable practice. Evidence of Viking saunas abroad have turned up in archeological digs in several countries in recent times, supporting the idea that saunas were a cherished cultural phenom. Most impressive among the finds is evidence that colonists in Greenland and Newfoundland built saunas, leaving behind traditional bathing platforms and an array of scorched stones.
Dubois, Thomas. Nordic Religions in the Viking Age. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999
Nordskog, Hautala. The Opposite of Cold-The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition. University of Minnesota Press, 2010.