We know for sure that the Vikings did not have horns on their helmets. Yet a debate has recently emerged in regards to whether or not the Vikings wore helmets into battle at all. Two divergent camps continue to argue over the prominence of protective headgear during the Viking Age, and neither appears to be gaining the upper hand. This is because from a scholarly position, we simply do not know. Only one Viking Age helmet has ever been recovered in archeological digs, leading many to suspect they were uncommon. The following are the two sides of the argument on whether or not the Vikings wore helmets.
The argument against helmets:
Archeologists have only recovered one helmet (pictured below), dating back to the 9th century, which likely means they were uncommon. Other items such as swords, axes, various articles of clothing, ships, and even maille hauberks have been more commonly found in Viking Age burials and dig sites. The fact that helmets are such a rare find is a strong indication that, at the very least, iron helmets were not commonly made or utilized. Until more artifacts are found, the presumption should be that Viking Age Scandinavians did not commonly wear headgear.
The argument for helmets:
The lack of archeological specimens of helmets does not necessarily indicate that they were not commonly used. Metal was in high demand in the Viking Age, and even more so later in the medieval period. Quality metals, such as those found in helmets, may have been melted down, refined, and repurposed, which may explain the lack of helmets in the archeological record. There is evidence in the historical record, such as in the representation of a Viking attack on Guérande in the Annales D’Angoulême (pictured below), in which the Norse warriors are all drawn as having protective head gear in one form or another. This is indicative that the Vikings did wear headgear that simply did not survive to today.
Who is right?
There is not enough information to make a definitive assessment on the matter. A lack of helmets in the archeological record poses a particularly perplexing argumentative problem because it neither proves nor disproves the use of helmets by the Vikings. This problem is further compounded by artistic representations by historians from the time whose artwork may or may not be accurate, and there is no way of knowing for sure. Short of a lucky find of a mass grave containing helmet-clad warriors, we may never know for sure. Thus, for now, it is up to the individual’s interpretation of the evidence to decide, and the debate shall continue.