Vikings and Horned Helmets

Generally considered a myth, there turns out to be contemporary images of a man wearing a horned helmet from the Oseberg tapestries.
It seems like the figure with the horned helmet is leading the procession. He is somewhat larger than the others, something that may indicate his high status, and the figure is possibly portraying the god Odin....

The horned figure also appears in another textile fragment discovered inside the burial chamber. He is holding a pair of crossed spears in one hand facing a man wearing something that reminds of a bear skin. It is tempting to interpret the scene as Odin and a Norse berserker warrior (Old Norse: ber-serkir, meaning “bear-shirt”) who was said to be Odin’s special warriors.

The fragment also portrays a group of women bearing shields interpreted to be “shieldmaidens” (Old Norse: skjaldmær), women who had chosen to fight as warriors.
The article assumes the tapestry was capturing a myth, or a ceremonial costume.


Sam L. said...

It seems to me that a horned helmet would be likely to be knocked off or well askew if struck by a sword or an axe.

Lars Walker said...

Historians have known about the horned figures for a long time. There are also small metal (bronze?) figures found in graves, illustrating men in horned helmets. These are likely to represent priests in regalia, performing ceremonial functions. As Sam says, helmets with horns are extremely impractical in battle conditions.

These figures are probably where the illustrators and Wagnerian opera costume designers got the idea for the horned helmets in the first place. They just misinterpreted them.

Tom said...

Could they have marked leaders? Samurai helmets often had impractical attachments on the top as well.