Smell Like a Viking - The Viking Odor Was Strangely Superior!
Sailing, exploring, and raiding. Three activities well-loved by Vikings in their time. These Scandinavian seafarers spent their days as brutal warriors, pillaging and colonizing cities all over Europe. In particular, the city of York was invaded by a group of Vikings called the “Great Heathen Army” in 866 AD and over time York became known as the Viking capital of England. Once invaded, the city of York was renamed Jorvik by the Vikings, a name that is still used in many tourist spots in the region.
The JORVIK Viking Centre is the most popular tourist attraction in York. A museum filled with life-sized dioramas, mannequins, and historical artifacts it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. In 2014, the JORVIK Viking Centre decided to take its lifelike re-imagining of Viking life a step further and helped develop the first-ever deodorant spray designed to smell like the Vikings of ancient York. Viking smells, it turns out, were better because of diet and personal hygiene characteristics the non-Vikings just didn’t have!
Historical accounts attest that Viking smells were pretty great and non-Viking women really noticed this! (Visit York)
What’s That Smell? Well, It’s a Viking Smell!
Over the course of two days (May 17th and 18th, 2014) visitors were able to smell the distinct scent of rough-and-tough Vikings from the old days. Visit York, a travel website dedicated to those wishing to visit the historic Viking city of York, collaborated with Viking experts at JORVIK to develop the Viking smell scent. They dubbed the deodorant spray “Norse Power,” a fitting title for such a strong and distinct scent.
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According to the experts, Norse Power had hints of mead, seawater, fruit, nuts, and pine. Not so bad, right? Wrong.
Norse power also had hints of the less-desirable smells of Vikings, including blood, gore, mud, animal meat, and sweat. They also finished it off with a smoky scent reminiscent of their hearths and the settlements and cities they burned.
This man will teach you how Vikings ate and if you eat this Norse diet long enough you too may gain a bit of that Viking smell! (YouTube screenshot / Gortin Glen Forest Park)
According to Visit York, the “Norse Power” scent was highly renowned for its accuracy thanks to the expertise of the JORVIK Viking experts. The mead, fruit, nuts, and unfortunate meat scents were reminiscent of the food and drink consumed by Vikings on their conquests. The seawater, of course, represents the smell of the salty seas the Vikings sailed on from place to place. The other scents, mud, pine, blood, gore, and sweat all represented their physical travel through different cities, as well as their bloody fighting as ruthless warriors.
Combining these strong yet varying scents results in a strange combination that can only be described as a hardy Viking smell, a good smell, after a long, long day of hunting, pillaging, looting, and sailing.
Numerous historical accounts attest to the regular bathing and daily changing of clothes in Norse cultures, and this too added to the benefits of the Viking smell, including, of course, seduction. (ati)
The Hygienic Viking Smell Was Also Great For Seduction!
Though the thought of smelly Vikings doesn’t typically evoke a sense of attraction, Vikings were apparently notorious for seducing women in the very cities they raided. The potential reason? Their hygiene.
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According to several writings from the Middle Ages, the Church held somewhat strong beliefs towards bathing. According to the Church, public bathing was a sin as it could lead to immoral acts including promiscuous sex and adultery. As a result, many Christians went for long periods without bathing to avoid risking temptation in the eyes of God. This point of view was much different than the Vikings, who took their hygiene strikingly more seriously. An excerpt from the chronicles of John of Wallingford, a Benedictine monk between 1246-1247 AD, claims:
“The Danes, thanks to their habit to comb their hair every day, to bathe every Saturday, to change their garments often, and 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.”
According to this excerpt, the Vikings bathed on a regular schedule (every Saturday), and also made a point to comb their hair and change their clothes daily. Compared to the hygiene culture of Christians of the Middle Ages, this was much cleaner and likely improved their smell. Both married and unmarried women of the age took note of this hygiene and found themselves attracted to the Viking smell, sometimes even willingly committing adultery with Vikings or leaving their spouses entirely for them.
Clearly, the men of the Church did not like this. They spoke out against the “immorality” of the Vikings and their behavior often. Ultimately, it was no use. The Vikings continued their cultural behavior anyways.
The Norse cultures in more than one way were cleaner, ate better and thus smelled better compared to the medieval Europeans who hardly bathed, ate poorly, and smelled so bad perfume was invented! (Science Feed)
Squeaky Clean Evidence
Some of the artifacts found by historians and archaeologists in York include grooming tools such as combs, ear spoons, and tweezers. Combs are the most common grooming tool found in Viking areas and are usually made of bone, horn, or antler. It is theorized that Vikings used their combs not only as a grooming tool but also as an object of trade with other Vikings. This would suggest that Vikings held a high enough respect for grooming that they spent quite a bit of time and money creating, selling, and buying their tools. In fact, some Viking remains have even been found with their grooming tools buried with them in small “kits.”
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The Codex Regius, a Nordic book written in the 1270s, contains several Old Norse poems that illuminate the Vikings’ hygiene habits further. According to some poems in the book, Vikings had to wash their hands before partaking in a meal and were obligated to groom themselves before participating in important societal events. The only periods described in these poems in which a Viking would not maintain his physical hygiene is in stages of intense mourning. While in mourning, Vikings would refrain from washing or combing to symbolize their grieving. This would continue until the Viking was no longer in deep mourning, whether until burial or longer depending on the individual.
By now the reader, men and women, must be curious to try “Norse Power” and see what the Viking smell is all about. (Visit York)
A Smelly Return? No Matter! The Viking Smell Lives On!
Given the history of Vikings’ priority for hygiene, it’s likely safe to say they would have enjoyed trying “Norse Power” a time or two. With only one bath per week, it is certain that the scent of Norse Power is highly accurate in representing the smell of a grown Viking the Friday before bath day. For now, we can only imagine the smell of “Norse Power,” but perhaps in the future it will be re-released to the public for our smelling pleasure (or displeasure).
Top image: The “Norse Power” deodorant was designed by Norse experts in York, England so that anyone can have the Viking smell and all its powers! Source: Visit York
By Lex Leigh
Griggs, M. B. 2014. You could smell like a Viking. Smithsonian Magazine. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/you-could-smell-viking-180951575/
Johnson, B. n.d. York, England - The Viking capital of England. Available at: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/York-England-The-ancient-Viking-capital/
JORVIK Viking Centre. 2012. About the JORVIK Viking Centre. Available at: https://www.jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk/about/
Logan, F. Donald. 1992. The Vikings in History (2nd ed.). Routledge.
Skjalden. 2018. Vikings seduced women across Europe. Available at: https://skjalden.com/vikings-seduced-women-across-europe/#
The Northern Echo. 2014. Sweat, mead and mud; the great smell of Viking. Available at: https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/11219210.sweat-mead-mud-great-smell-viking/
Van Riel, Sjoerd. 2017. Viking Age Combs. Local Products or Objects of Trade.
Visit York. n.d. Plan your visit to York. Available at: https://www.visityork.org/