Did Vikings Paint Their Faces

Did Vikings paint their faces: The truth about the Viking face paint rituals and its meaning

Vikings are often depicted with painted faces slathered with an exotic blend of blue and black pigment and dark lined eyes. But, did Viking paint their faces in this way? Details about traditional Viking face paint are not mentioned in Norse stories but there’s evidence from other sources.

Today, we’re going to discover more about Viking makeup, including its meaning, use and how it was used by the men and women.

The Vikings were a group of seafarers who lived in Scandinavia and Western Europe between the 8th and the 11th centuries. Of all the rich cultures in human history, Vikings stand out because of their strong visual associations with them.

Over the years, Vikings have gained popularity in several entertainment mediums, including films, TV shows and video games.

These warrior people with brightly colored hornets, body tattoos and braided hair, endowed with brute strength, have made them perfect characters for elaborate and riveting storytelling.

There is evidence that Vikings also painted their faces with bright and vivid colors, adding more to their visual appeal. The Viking face paint practice did not only have aesthetic motives but was symbolic of their deeper values.

However, because the Vikings did not keep written records of their history, a lot of what we know about their appearance has been imagined by novel writers and movie directors. It leaves many people wondering if the portrayal of Vikings is based on myth and fantasy.

In recent years, we’ve developed a clearer picture of what Vikings may have looked like because of the findings of historians and scientists. They have been able to answer the many questions about their appearance, including a common one: Did Vikings paint their faces?

By reading this, you’ll get the details of the Viking’s face paint meanings, the symbolism, the colors of traditional Viking face paint, and how both men and women wore it. We’ll also compare Viking face paint with face painting practices in other parts of the world.

Did Vikings Paint Their Faces

Did Vikings paint use face paint?

Most people like to believe in the Hollywood version of Vikings, where they are seen with painted faces slathered with an exotic blend of blue and black pigment.

Such details are not mentioned in Norse stories, but there are third-party accounts that support that Vikings painted their faces, specifically around the eyes.

When an Arab emissary named Ibrahim Al-Tartushi visited the Viking marketplace in Hedeby, he noted that both men and women wore dark permanent Viking makeup around their eyes, which enhanced their beauty.

His description suggests that painting faces with foreign substances was customary among Vikings.

There is further evidence of Viking face paint from archeological findings. The remains of a wealthy Viking woman that dates back from 980 B.C.E was found in Fyrkat, Denmark.

It was evident that the woman was rich because she was buried with rare jewelry and fine clothes.

A box brooch that contained lead carbonate, also called white lead, was found at the burial site. Historians believe that the white lead was used as makeup, but it’s hard to prove this theory as no traces of the woman’s skin were found in her remains.

What was traditional viking face paint made of?

According to the interpretations of Ibrahim, the Vikings lined their eyes with kohl, a black powder made with lead sulfide or antimony sulfide. However, black kohl was not the only makeup that they used.

Whether they were sailing their dragon-headed ships at sea or battling in fields, they liked to do it in style, with a face painted in bright and vivid hues. They used various colors, including green, blue and red, and sometimes white, black and yellow.

The most common color was black because it was made with cheaper and more accessible material.

The color pigments came from various sources — some were produced locally while others were imported. It’s believed that the paint was made from a mixture of oxidized copper, chrysocolla, malachite, lead, ash, ochre, burnt almonds and ground antimony.

Why did Vikings paint their faces?

There are a couple of theories about why did Vikings paint their faces. The most popular one is that they painted their faces for war to intimidate their enemies in battle. It created a fearsome image highlighting their undying loyalty and allegiance to their clan.

It’s also believed that Viking warrior face paint was worn to ward off evil spirits as they fought on the battlefields. According to the Viking belief system, the makeup would protect them from bad luck.

They would paint their faces during rituals, using ash or blood to create a dark blue hue that was not permanent.

There are stories suggesting that Vikings even had runes painted on their faces before going into battle. They used symbols like Hagalaz, which represents Thor’s hammer. Some signs stood for victory, courage and strength, while others symbolized death.

Other accounts suggest that the Viking face paint symbols were related to Norse mythology. One of the designs represents Odin’s two ravens, Hugin and Munin, who gave him information from the universe.

Another design could have depicted Nidhogg, a dragon that gnaws at Yggdrasil, the world tree.

Other theories point out that Vikings wore paints on their faces to stay warm in cold weather and protect them from the sun’s glare. It also helped mask the smell of sweat when they were in combat.

The drawings on the skin were like bandages that prevented their battle wounds from being infected.

Did Vikings Paint Their Faces

Why did Vikings paint their eyes black?

According to the written sources of Middle Eastern visitors who visited Viking communities, both men and women wore something dark around their eyes that they applied to their faces directly.

Historians believe that Vikings may have used kohl, a type of eyeliner that originated in ancient Egypt. They made kohl utilizing a mixture of lead, burnt almonds, ochre, and ash to create a dark-colored powder to apply around their eyes.

Some scholars believe that the Vikings used the dark liner to look more attractive, while others believe Viking makeup for the eyes were used to make them look more fearsome to enemies.

They may have painted their eyes black for practical purposes. The black color protected their eyesight from the sun’s glare so that they could see as clearly as possible.

It’s also possible that the Viking’s black eye makeup was connected to their beliefs. It signified the ritualist lifestyle and was a tribute to the Norse god Loki.

Some historians suggest that it’s connected to the Eye of Horus, the sky god from Ancient Egyptian religion.

Did Viking women wear makeup?

There is no clear evidence of female Viking face paint, but that does not mean they did not do other things to enhance their appearance. They used natural methods such as oils and herbs to treat their skin.

Vikings paid attention to their aesthetics based on numerous items found with their remains. In ship burials, archeologists found several grooming items like scissors, tweezers, combs, ear spoons and brass washbowls.

This grooming kid included a mortal that had residue with contents that, after testing, could have been powder used for makeup.

The face shapes of Viking women were said to be more masculine than the women today. Their eyebrows were also more prominent, and they may have used makeup to soften their features. Dark kohl was worn around their eyes to give them a dramatic look.

Did Vikings tattoo their faces?

Historical accounts show that Vikings were comfortable with adorning their skin with paint. However, evidence shows that they used both temporary and permanent marks.

It’s widely accepted that the Vikings were heavily tattooed on their bodies and faces. This added to the fearsome appearance they created to intimidate their rivals.

While no Viking corpse’s ever been discovered with skin preserved where we can see tattoos on it, these were pieces of writing from Arab travelers in the 10th century.

Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, a scholar from Baghdad, mentioned seeing them on the Norsemen he met in the steppes of Russia.

On the Viking’s appearance, he wrote:

‘As tall as palm trees, fair and reddish, they wear neither tunics nor caftans. Everyman wears a cloak with which he covers half of his body, so that one arm is uncovered. They carry axes, swords and daggers and always have them to hand. They use Frankish swords with broad, ridged blades. They are dark from the tips of their toes right up to their necks — trees, pictures, and the like.’

His account about the tattoos on the Norsemen may provide additional clues to our inquiry: did Vikings paint their faces with temporary or permanent colors (or both)?

Could other cultures have influenced the Viking’s face paint practice?

The face painting custom is said to be native to Britons, who lived from 7000 BCE to around 875 BC, rather than the Vikings. Some historians suggest that the Vikings may have seen the face paint on the locals during their invasion and immersion in Britain.

The Britons were fierce warriors prepared to fight for their land until death. They demonstrated their pride by wearing their signature knot-work in ink on their body.

Other intricate designs included braids, spirals, knots and labyrinth-like designs — designs used to stimulate life.

Unlike Vikings, Britons used a substance called woad, which left a blue-green pigment on their skin. When Julius Caesar began his conquest of Britain, he mentioned that Britons dyed their bodies.

In “The Conquest of Gaul,” he describes their appearance: “All the Britons dye their bodies with woad, which produces a blue color, giving them a terrifying appearance in battle.”

We can get an idea of what this may have looked like from the movie “Braveheart,” where Mel Gibson and his army are seen with their faces painted in indigo hues, raising their swords as he screams, “They will not take our freedom!”

Did Vikings Paint Their Faces

What did the Vikings’ faces look like?

A mental picture of a Viking face will make it easier to imagine what they looked like with traditional Viking face paint on. Based on the interpretations of mainstream media, Viking men had scraggly beards and battle-worn, brutish facial features.

The reality is that our ideas of what the Viking’s faces looked like an educated guess and more open to interpretation. No records or artifacts, like written descriptions or portraits, depict the Vikings.

However, archeologists have made out some facial features from the skeletal remains found in Viking settlements.

The findings revealed that the facial features in males and females were more alike than they are today. The women’s faces were more masculine, with prominent brow ridges and pronounced bone structure.

This contrasts with the male Vikings, who had a more feminine appearance with softer jawlines.

Even to the trained eye, it’s difficult to detect the sex of the Viking skeleton based on the skull alone, and archeologists have to often look at the pelvic bones to determine the gender of the skeletal remains.

Considering the harsh living conditions of Scandinavia during the Viking age, it’s befitting that the woman had a rustic and edgy look that isn’t regarded as traditional feminine.

Why does Floki from Vikings wear eye makeup?

Floki (played by Gustaf Skarsgård) is a prominent and peculiar character from the TV show Viking who plays the role of Kattegat’s boat builder. He is primarily a trickster, but he is also worried about what the gods planned for his people.

His black makeup adds to his eccentric character and odd behavior, and it’s a detail that has sparked viewers’ curiosity.

The makeup artist for the show, Tom McInerney, shared the Viking face paint meanings, including the eye makeup, was applied on Floki because of the historical significance and to make him stand out and further enhance his personality.

The Viking makeup was more intense for Floki because it was connected to his belief system. It was an expression of the Pagan beliefs of the Vikings and his deep connection to them.

McInerney embellished the look on Floki to suggest an alchemic ritualistic approach to his craft.

So, did Vikings paint their faces?

The jury is out on that. There is good evidence that it was a custom practiced by the seafarers.

Whether or not it’s true, imagining blood-drenched Vikings screaming as they run across a battlefield to slay their enemies, with a face painted in red and eyes lined with black kohl, is a visual treat we should not deny ourselves.

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