The Truth Behind the Horned Helmet

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A lot has changed since the Minnesota Vikings first began play during the 1961 season. Players have come and gone, new stadiums have been built, and uniforms have been updated. However, one thing that has never changed is the team’s iconic horned helmets. From Fran Tarkenton in 1961 to Everson Griffen in 2016, every Vikings player has donned the horned helmets. This week we explore the Truth Behind horned helmets in the Viking Age.

Why do the Minnesota Vikings have horns painted on their helmets? Many believe it’s because helmets had horns in the Viking Age. In popular culture, we find them everywhere. The comic Hägar the Horrible is just one example. There, helmets with horns are standard; even children, dogs and ducks wear them!

The truth is that Vikings never had horns on their helmets. It would have been very strange if they did. Helmets are defensive weaponry and protect against sword blows. A blade striking a bare helmet glances off. Knobs, on the other hand, absorb the shock into the skull. We have never found any horned helmets from the Viking Age. No contemporary pictures of Viking warriors show horns on their helmets.

The costume designer Carl Emil Doepler designed winged helmets for Richard Wagner’s opera series The Ring of the Nibelung in 1876. Doepler then added horns in an 1882 book on Germanic gods and heroes.  The horns have become a signature of Viking imagery ever since.

The image of a Viking with horns on the helmet is simply too good to pass up. Even Scandinavians love to wear them, especially as fans of their national sports teams. The horns serve as identification. They also stress the wildness of the Vikings in berserk mood. As such, they fit perfectly on the helmet of the Minnesota Vikings right where they have always been.

Henrik Williams is the renowned authority of Old Norse languages, returning to the American Swedish Institute as an in-demand speaker on topics encompassing the Vikings, runes, Old Swedish and Old Icelandic. Awarded a 2015 Rudbeck medal for groundbreaking research, Williams is a scholar and Professor of Scandinavian Languages at Sweden’s Uppsala University. As a philologist, he studies languages in written historical sources, essentially combining literary criticism, history, and linguistics.  A 40-year Minnesota Vikings football fan since his years as an exchange student, Williams is currently debunking Nordic myths and advising the team on the authenticity and meaning of its symbols.

These programs are made possible through the collaborative efforts of the American Swedish Institute, Uppsala University, American Friends of Uppsala University, Uppsala University Alumni Association – Minnesota Chapter, American Association for Runic Studies and The Minnesota Vikings.  To learn more or reserve a spot please visit the link below. 

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