Grooming and Hygiene

A common misconception about the vikings is that they were filthy and unkempt. In truth they appear to have been unusually fussy over cleanliness and personal grooming. This misconception probably arises from their reputation for ferocity which is in turn associated with barbarism and a lack of civilised habits such as grooming and bathing.

Standing against this assumption is the evidence in archeological finds, in the commentaries of literate contemporaries and in written preservations of the oral legends and histories of the vikings themselves. These sources indicate that personal hygiene was an important and routine part of life for the nordic people during the Viking Age.

viking comb
A viking folding comb

Grooming Tools Found by Archeology

Combs, razors, tweezers and even spoon-like implements for cleaning ears are regularly found in archeological finds. Moreover the larger settlements had bath-houses.

Contemporary Commentary

The prior of St. Fridswides, John of Wallingford, complained of Danish settlers in England that their unusual cleanliness allowed them to seduce local women. He notes that they comb their hair everyday, bath at least once a week and regularly change their clothes

An arab by the name of Ibn Fadlan observed vikings in Russia washing their faces and hair in basins of water and cleaning out their noses. A practice he says they did everyday.

The Sagas

The poem Hávamál, sayings of the high one, indicates that washing hands before meals was an accepted custom. It also indicates that important meetings such as the Thing prompted extra efforts towards cleanliness.

In the poem Völuspá, Odin refrains from washing his hair as a sign of mourning for his slain son Baldr which indicates that regularly washing his hair was his usual practice.

In conclusion far from being dirty savages the vikings were unusually fastidious in their attention to personal hygiene and grooming.

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