The Vikings have often been portrayed as fierce invaders, raiding towns and taking what they wanted, and often depicted as dirty unsophisticated barbarians. While they may have been skilled ferocious warriors, they were not dirty nor unsophisticated.
The Vikings had a reputation for being clean, unlike some during that period. According to John of Wallingford who wrote:
"The Danes made themselves too acceptable to English women by their elegant manners and their care of their person. They combed their hair every day, bathed every Saturday, and even changed their garments often. They set off their persons by many such frivolous devices. In this manner, they laid siege to the virtue of the married women, and persuaded the daughters, even of the nobles to be their concubines."
So their cleanliness made them more desirable to the women, even those they were conquering. It is also rumored that the women went willingly with the Vikings when they were raided.
The Church, on the other hand, prohibited Christians from public bathing because they thought it would lead to immorality, promiscuity, and diseases, and known only to wash their hands and parts of their face and were especially careful washing around their eyes as they Church had them believing they could lose their eyesight.
Even when the Vikings came in peace, they stirred up jealousy in the community because of how they presented themselves and some of the best-smelling people in Europe. For example, it was customary for the Vikings to wash their hands before a meal and groom themselves before special events.
For their daily hygiene, they washed and cleaned their teeth and combed their hair every morning. The Eddic poem, Reginismal, states:
"Combed and washed every thoughtful man should be And fed in the morning For one cannot see where one will be in the evening It is bad to rush headlong before one's Fate."
However, the actual bathing day was on Saturdays; it often was a communal bath at a river or in a hot spring. The Vikings made soaps from animal fat and ash and even used them in their hair to maintain the shine and keep it a lighter shade.
Some sources state that lye was used in the soap for this purpose, using it in their beard and hair to enhance the color. Blonde hair was a sign of beauty, especially in Viking women. The women kept their hair fair, long, and shiny and their skin as light as possible; however, this was easier for the wealthy.
According to archeological finds, the Vikings were obsessed with grooming; tweezers, ear-cleaning devices, and combs were retrieved at old Viking dig sites. Many reports stated they even took their combs to the grave with them:
"We know from Norse sagas that hair had a great significance for Vikings as a mark of distinctiveness. They took a great deal of care with their grooming and often carried combs with their swords and knives on their belts. They frequently even took combs to the grave."
Combs were hand-made from deer antlers, and some reports also mention bones of animals; however, this is still being studied.
To the Vikings, being well-groomed and clean was equated with self-respect, honor, and self-worth.
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