Vikings are often depicted as large strong giants with superhuman qualities.
Tales of tall, treacherous, and brutal men ravaging through cities across Europe were obtained from several artifacts which helped create our current perception of what Vikings looked like.
Furthermore, this image we have of them has gained momentum in today’s culture. From games like God of War to TV shows like Vikings, the Northmen were often seen as tough, large human beings with a taste for war.
But let's take a moment to look at the hard facts so we can answer the question - how tall were the Vikings, really? Also, is there any evidence to support their height as portrayed by modern entertainment?
In this article, we will look at historic evidence to reveal the truth regarding the Viking’s actual heights.
Scientific Findings From Viking Remains
To learn the true height of the Vikings, archeologists have examined the remains from known Viking burial sites.
The researchers found that the average height of male Vikings was around 172.5 cm (5'8 to 5'9) which is a little less than the average height of modern Englishmen.
This tells us that the average Viking wasn't all that tall. But, maybe they were taller than other people at the time? Well...
The average Viking wasn't significantly taller than other people they raided. For example, at that time English men averaged just an inch shorter than the average Viking.
So, right now we can say the average Viking may have been a little taller than others at the time. But there is more...
Higher Ranking Vikings
It is worth noting that the skeletons from better-furnished burial sites that are believed to have come from high-ranking Vikings were considerably taller than the skeletons found in ordinary Viking burial sites.
Now we are getting somewhere! If we only considered these Vikings when considering their average height, it would be safe to assume that Vikings were tall.
But another question is presented. Why the difference in heights? Scientists believe this may be related to poor nutrition.
High-ranking Vikings were better-fed and would have lived a higher quality of life compared to average Vikings. With increased food availability and better nutrition, they were able to grow considerably larger in height with increased strength.
The Tall Viking Reputation
It is undeniable that Vikings have a modern reputation for being tall. But how did this reputation come about?
One possibility could be related to the Northmen sending out their best specimen to raid other countries. As we have learnt the highest ranking Vikings were taller than their average.
Probably the most famous account that talked about the height of the Vikings was from Ibn Fadlan. He was a traveller who met people he called Rus, who were Vikings of Swedish origin.
He wrote: "I have seen the Rus as they came on their merchant journeys and encamped by the Volga. I have never seen more perfect physical specimens, tall as date palms, blonde and ruddy..."
At the time, the average height of Swedish men was 176.0 cm, which is relatively tall. Furthermore, people in southern Europe were noticeably shorter and that is where most of the written records about the Vikings came from.
Thus, when record keepers described the Viking’s appearance, they may have seen the best Viking specimen standing at the front of the boats. Plus, they were comparing these superior Viking heights to their own shorter selves.
This may have led others to believe the entire Viking population was all of the same height, however, we know now this was not the case.
Contrary to popular belief, the average Viking wasn't significantly taller than the people they raided. Also, they weren’t significantly taller than the average European today.
Unlike tales and sagas, this is significantly proven by examining the remains of medieval Northmen.
However, the highest ranking "elite" Vikings were noticeably taller than their average. So with this in mind, it is not unreasonable to hear stories of the strongest Vikings being tall.
Another point to note about these findings is that these numbers are averages. That means, there would have been Vikings that were considerably taller than the rest and there are those who are considerably shorter.