Medicine and the Body in the Viking Age

Some things never change, even after thousands of years. Scandinavians have always been thrown into the stereotype of tall and fair-haired, and this has been the case since the time of the Vikings. According to an article from the Hurstwic Organization, “The average height of men in Norway in the Viking era, based on skeletal measurements, was 176cm (5ft 9in), with a range from 170-181cm (5ft 7in to 5ft 11in), which was taller than other Europeans during this time.” So in general, that particular stereotype, as well as the stigma concerning hair color, reined true.

Further examination of skeletal remains shows that the general population was fairly healthy because of a good diet based in more coarse food and less sugar, but people in trade towns were more susceptible to disease because of low sanitation. Diseases were treated in many different ways. “Medical treatments consisted of: lancing; cleaning wounds; anointing; bandaging; setting broken bones; the preparation of herbal remedies; and midwifery” (Hurstwic). Injured people were treated by the few among them who had the ability to help them. Those with high levels of medicinal skill were very rare.

As seems to be the stigma with Vikings, they lived very harsh, simple lives. Medicinal practices were crude and not very developed, even though they communed with people of many different cultures, specifically ones with better healing methods. As Scandinavians mingled with other peoples through the ages, they gradually became more medically advanced. The sick role of a Viking was based on a culture where medicinal care was sparse and methods were not often very effective. Of European peoples, the Vikings had lower standards when it came to the sick roles they gave each other because of a comparatively harsh lifestyle.


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