Thursday, January 26, 2017

Guest Author Sabrina Jarema on Viking Helmets

My guest today is Sabrina Jarema, the award-winning author of The Viking Lords series, a family saga set in Norway during the ninth century. Always been fascinated by this intriguing, complex people and culture, she uses her love of research about this time to bring her stories to life. Sabrina lives north of Ocala, Florida, the Horse Capital of the World. She has a herd of fat, lazy Arabians on 40 beautiful acres, including the multi National Champion Sport Horse Mare Ivory Shaddara, aka Dumplin’. She also breeds and shows white German Shepherd Dogs and currently has several Grand Victrixes taking over her house. They’re joined by a menagerie of tortoises, turtles, fish and cats.
 To avoid farm work as much as possible, she loses herself in the worlds she creates through her novels, her art, music, dollhouses and jewelry. She has worked as a professional fantasy illustrator and has written fantasy romance for many years. Today, Sabrina is talking about the Vikings’ helmets. 

The Origin of the Image of the Viking Horned Helmet

Everyone knows the iconic image of the brave Viking warrior—tall, strong, wielding a sword and wearing a horned helmet. This portrayal can be seen in everything from paintings to an NFL football team logo. But it’s not entirely accurate. The Vikings rarely wore helmets during battle and none of those helmets ever had horns.

Think about it. A horned helmet would be heavy, unwieldy and unbalanced. Any means of fastening the horns to the metal would have to be large enough to support them and could dig into the wearer’s head. The horns would get caught in the rigging of ships or could stab other warriors, causing fights to break out before they ever got to the real battle.

In a fight, an enemy might grab them and control the wearer, making it easy to slay him. The horns would create a larger target area, catching any weapon aimed at the wearer’s head, directing the blow toward him. They’d get in the way of striking overhead with a two-handed sword, and block a spear thrower’s arm.

I think if a Viking were to see someone wearing such a contraption, he would either laugh himself silly or kill the fool for being so insulting. 

We know of just one complete helmet from the Viking era. It’s from a tenth-century chieftain’s grave in Norway. A rounded cap made of iron, it has an eye and nose guard with no projections of any kind. Such equipment would have been very expensive. Many Vikings may not have worn any head protection at all. And some might have worn helmets made of leather that didn’t survive the centuries.

Examples do exist of helmets with decorative projections from over a thousand years before the Viking Era (793-1066). They’ve been found in several places including Viksø, Denmark and Sutton Hoo, England. The latter was most likely from Sweden. These were ceremonial and would not have been used in battle.

There is an image of a man wearing a horned helmet on a tapestry found in the ninth century Oseberg ship burial that was excavated in Norway in 1904. The figure is believed to be that of a priest or a god. Again, none of these portrayals have anything to do with warfare. They are associated with religious rites and rituals.  

So where did this unfortunate horned image come from? There’s a lot of blame to spread around. It started with the Romans and Greeks. They wrote of the northern European tribes who had all manner of wings, antlers and horns sprouting from their headgear. The Germanic priests may, indeed, have worn such things for religious reasons, but this practice had faded over a century before the Viking era began.

During the Romantic period of the later seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, people in Europe began a love affair with all things Germanic and heroic. Teutonic myths became a popular subject for books and paintings. Artists and writers regarded the Romans as “experts” about the northern tribes and so relied on them for their inspiration.

Unfortunately, the Romans weren’t picky about the facts. They didn’t specify what these fancy helmets were used for. Artists wanted to make their paintings as dramatic as possible and, not being too concerned about historical accuracy themselves, used their artistic license with abandon. They painted grand battles with the warriors sporting highly decorated helmets to add to the drama.
At that time, it was popular to depict wings on helmets. Gustave Malmstrom, a Swedish artist in the early 1800s, was the first to paint horns on headgear and little by little, the practice spread into the rest of the century. 

Richard Wagner wrote his famous opera, Der Ring des Nibelungen in the mid 1800s. It is about the Germanic gods, but over time people made the mistake of connecting the opera to the Vikings. The costume designer for the opera, Carl Emil Doepler, gets a lot of the credit—or the blame—for the “classic” Viking look.

He followed this romantic Teutonic trend, most likely from plays about ancient Germans, and created a horned helmet for one of the characters. The Valkyries in the opera had wings on their helmets, but after Wagner’s death, they also got horns. Thus was born the iconic image of the spear-wielding blonde woman in a brass brassiere, singing with a horned helmet on her head.
Later in the 1800s, children’s books on Vikings, myths, and legends perpetuated this inaccuracy through their illustrations. This belief faded in the early twentieth century until it was later resurrected in popular culture through comic books and cartoons.

Today, the Vikings symbolize strength, bravery, and the adventurous spirit. They had all these aspects and so much more. However, the next time you see a picture of a warrior wearing a horned helmet on everything from product packaging to the logo of the Minnesota Vikings, remember that the image came from women’s costumes in an opera and erroneous illustrations in old children’s books.

Not quite the image it’s meant to project, is it? It just might be time to change that logo. 

Lord of the Runes

Following his father’s murder, Eirik Ivarson plunges into a maelstrom of brutal warfare. As outsiders threaten his homeland and all he holds dear, Eirik vows to maintain his focus and avenge the jarl’s death. In his quest for revenge, he will leave everything behind, all he knows, and all he loves.

Asa Sigrundsdottir, a spirited shieldmaiden with warm brown eyes, is wary of the golden-haired warrior discovered half-frozen in a storm. It is clear Eirik is a man of valor, bestowed with the gift of reading runes and destined for greatness. And despite the shadows in her past, he chooses her to help him on his journey. But when their bond is tested, it will take the strength of a hero to keep their love alive.

See it on Amazon

Comment for a chance to win Sabrina's book (your choice of ebook or paperback if you live in the US and ebook if outside the US). 

Keep up with Sabrina on her Website and Facebook


  1. Thanks so much for hosting me, Regan. If anyone has any questions, I'd love to hear from you.

    1. You are welcome, Sabrina. If you checked the "Notify me" box, you'll get the comments by email. Otherwise, best to check back throughout the day.

  2. Interesting post. I love the history. I haven't read anything by this author so I'm looking forward to reading her books.
    Have a great weekend,

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Lori! I love the history in historical romances, too! It's the way I write and the ones I love to read.

    2. Lori... you are the lucky winner. It pays to comment, right? Sabrina will be in touch to seek your preference on paperback or ebook.