Big, bad and brutish: Debunking the Viking myths

The Viking boat Krampmacken greets visitors at the start of the exhibition. It was built in the ’80s to specifications from the only reliable Viking sources.  Photo: Nicklaus Ng

By  NIKLAUS NG

Dirty, crude and barbaric – that’s the basic Viking stereotype vividly portrayed in a host of popular media.

But it’s wrong, and debunking those stereotypes is the aim of Melbourne Museum’s latest exhibition Vikings: Beyond the Legend.

Running until August 26, the exhibition features more than 430 original Viking artefacts on loan from the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm.

The exhibition, which is the biggest of its kind, showcases eight key elements of  Viking life: family, homes, religion, death rituals, craftsmanship, raiding, trading and ships.

The curators of Vikings: Beyond the Legend, Katherine Hauptman and Lena Hejll, explain that popular culture such as Netflix’s The Last Kingdom and Vikings have made people curious about the history of the Vikings.

The Vikings cleaned themselves more often than other civilisations of their time. Photo: Caitlin Mills/Melbourne Museum

While popular culture has often portrayed them as dirty, sinister and barbaric for dramatic purposes, contrary to popular opinion, there is evidence that the Vikings has a sophisticated civilisation.  

Saturday in Scandinavian countries is known as Lørdag (or similar); derived from Old Norse Lörgadagen, the term translates as “day to wash”.  The discovery of combs and hairpins also suggests the Vikings were essentially neater and cleaner than most other civilisations of their time.

The museum employs the use of modern technology, making the exhibition engaging and interactive.  The features allows for guests to digitally excavate a boat, play a Viking board game and even participate in quizzes about Viking culture.  Guests are also able to hold and lift a replica Viking sword, the weapon of choice in those days.

The collection showcases the beauty of the jewellery worn by the Vikings, most of it made with such detail that it is almost impossible to replicate.  The jewellery worn by Viking women reflects the role they played, often as a person of great influence and the head of the household.

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The exhibition also highlights the influences that the Vikings have had on modern society.  The most notable influence is the origin of names of our days of the week, which trace back to Viking mythology.  Wednesday as the day of Wodin (Odin), Thursday from Thor’s day and Friday from Freya’s day.

Originally venturing from Scandinavia to as far west as North America, as far east as Russia and as south as modern day Iraq, the Vikings have arrived in Melbourne at the Melbourne Museum – it is an educational exhibition not to be missed.

Tickets start at $14.