Did Vikings have horns on their helmets?
Simple answer? No.
- The first rule of Viking helmets is: there are no horns on Viking helmets.
- The second rule of Viking helmets is… there are NO HORNS on Viking helmets!
The horned helmet idea is a misconception derived from bad archaeology and overactive imaginations in the Victorian period.
If you only impart one piece of knowledge from this entire topic, impart this:
NO HORNED VIKING BATTLE HELMET HAS EVER BEEN FOUND, PICTURED, OR DESCRIBED IN CONTEMPORARY SOURCES
In fact, only one Scandinavian helmet from the Viking age has ever been found: the Norwegian Gjermundbu helmet, which looks like this:
“But I’ve seen pictures!”
No, you haven’t.
What you may have seen is this:
Danish Bronze Horned Helmets
These two finds are indeed Danish, but they’re also from the Bronze age, dated about 1200 years BEFORE the Vikings. That’s the same distance between them and the Vikings as between the Vikings and us. Not only that, but this is not a battle helmet. It’s for use in ceremonies and holy rites, probably as some sort of stag/Lord of the forest type affair.
The Waterloo Helmet
The Waterloo Helmet was found in the Thames in the 1860s and is now in the British Museum. It’s Iron Age, dates from around 150BC-50AD and is made of beaten bronze. So it was probably being worn (again, ceremonially) by the native British at the time of the Roman invasion of Britain, a minimum of 700 years before the Viking age.
Ah, now this is more like it! A panel from the Sutton Hoo helmet! At least we are in the correct millennium…
But a) the Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo burial is dated at least 100 to 200 years before the Viking Age and b) these are again drawn in a ritual context. Yes, they are holding weapons but they are also engaged in a ritual dance in ritual clothing (and no trousers or shoes!). Perhaps they are about to strip off like the chappie above. The irony is, this is a panel from a helmet showing horned helmets on a helmet that is not horned. Mind = Blown!
And what you have most likely definitely seen is this:
Carl Emil Doepler, the original designer of the Operas in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, looked at the classical Roman and Greek descriptions of Barbarians who wore horned helmets (again, ritually), thought horns would look cool, and was therefore pretty much responsible for introducing the modern idea that Vikings have horns on their helmets.
So there you have it. There is NO evidence for horns on Viking Helmets.