Long or Short: How Did the Vikings Wear Their Hair?

It should be obvious. Vikings were barbarians, fitting of the description of “Noble Savages” who would have sported long, flowing locks of hair. Or were they?

Recent revisions to Viking history have painted a starkly different picture of what life was like for Scandinavians during the Viking Age. We’ve since learned that they were cleanliness-oriented, bathed weekly, and paid particular attention to their appearance. We know now that women decorated their clothes with colorful beads among other shiny objects, and the men groomed their beards daily. So with all of this new information available to us, the question stands: how did they wear their hair?

Contrary to popular conception, long hair was not universally a sign of a free warrior. In fact, long hair was well known to be a hazard during combat. Historians have noted that very short hair may have been reserved for slaves, but there exists evidence in the form of statues which contradicts this notion. Evidence from the archeological record—which includes statues, statuettes, and picture stones—shows men with many variations of hair cuts. Some may have worn their hair shoulder-length. Others may have had bowl-cuts. Many may have trimmed and groomed their beards into goatees. It appears that, precisely as it is today, hair styles may have been a form of self-expression.

By the end of the Viking Age, the Christianization of Scandinavia imposed rules surrounding vanity, ending the varieties of hairdos among Scandinavians (for a while). The Bayeux Tapestry shows us that military men during this period wore short hair, particularly in the back (pictured below).

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Ultimately, the evidence points to a culture that allowed self-expression. This may be a hard pill for some to swallow, but it appears the eccentric hairstyles fashioned by the Vikings in the History Channel’s series of that name may be closer to reality than the idea that they all had long, free-flowing hair.

For a more in-depth analysis of how the Vikings wore their hair, I highly encourage you to read this article by The Viking Answer Lady on the subject.

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