Due to their reputation as explorers and conquerors, the vikings are one of the most revered warrior societies in history. They were a Nordic seafaring people, who traded and raided their way from what is now known as Scandinavia across the Atlantic and large swaths of Europe during the 8th-11th century. Though their culture died out long ago, its vestige still lives on today in all sorts of popular art, such as the show Vikings and these rugged viking tattoos.
Believe it or not, vikings did not call themselves “vikings.” The name comes from the Old Norse word víkingr, which means “pirate,” and wasn’t assigned to them until the 1800s, long after they blended into the rest of European society. The selection of this inflammatory term shows how history best remembers vikings for their marauding ways. At one point, Christians even saw them as the wrath of God sent to punish them for their sinful ways, but vikings are actually responsible for a significant portion of the commercial and cultural diaspora of their day.
They sailed in what were known as longships — narrow boats that were light enough for portage. Equipped with both oars and sails and able to hold roughly 60 people, these large yet nimble ships enabled the Norsemen to travel from their homeland to remote destinations, ranging from Greenland to Russia, in the name of both conquest and enterprise.
Artifacts from as far as the Middle East have been discovered in viking hoards, which suggests that they were just as much of an agent of cross-cultural pollination as cutthroat piracy. In fact, the main reason that they garnered such infamy was due to the Church’s aversion to paganism, which vikings practiced. Because of the tension between the two groups, vikings became synonymous with destruction and doom in the Christian mindset, and this conception of them remains dominant in the current cultural zeitgeist, as illustrated by all the militant viking tattoos in the world.
To see more excellent body art, voyage over to these artists’ Instagrams. If you’re out to get a badass viking tattoo of your own, have one of them design it for you.