Often depicted in popular culture as dirty, bearded, horn-helmeted barbarians, a new exhibition at Melbourne Museum, Vikings: Beyond the Legend reveals that actually… the Vikings were a highly refined, well-groomed and cultured lot. And as it turns out, their helmets didn’t have horns…
Vikings: Beyond the Legend sets the record straight about what Vikings and their culture were really like. Voyaging to Australia via land and sea, carefully packed in thirteen crates and seven shipping containers, this myth-busting exhibition includes 430 original artefacts and 40 replicas, combined with multimedia and interactive displays.
On loan from the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm, it’s the largest collection of Viking artefacts ever to visit Victoria. Exploring eight key themes, the exhibition provides insights into Viking people, their family life, their homes, religion, death rituals, craftsmanship, raiding and trading culture, and ships.
Visitors to Vikings: Beyond the Legend will be greeted by the Krampmacken, a replica of an 8.2m Viking merchant boat found in Gotland Island in Sweden in the 1920s – demonstrating how vital ships were to Viking expansion, travel and trade. It also features the first sail to be reconstructed using pictures that depict Viking mast and sails that were found on a 1000-year-old picture stone near where the boat was uncovered.
The exhibition demonstrates how most Vikings were farmers and merchants, not the barbaric warriors they are reputed to be. While some Vikings used their swift, agile boats to quickly pillage and plunder villages, most Vikings were farmers and merchants. They hunted and fished, raised pigs, and cattle, and grew crops like barley, wheat and oats. They also traded with people throughout Europe and as far away as North Africa and modern Turkey, prizing silver above all other goods.
We learn that women in Vikings society were powerful – they were often the head of the household (particularly on farms), and held great influence particularly if they were a member of the aristocracy. As long as they were free, they could inherit property, obtain a divorce and reclaim their dowries if marriages ended.
Among the rare treasures on display is one of the finest Thor hammer pendants ever found, picture stones used to mark deaths and important events and swords dating from 700-1100 AD. Much of the work done by craftsmen of the Viking Age is of such high quality that it is difficult to replicate today. Items will reveal surprises include incredibly well-preserved tweezers, razors and combs telling us that Vikings took great care of their appearance and personal hygiene.
And on the question of those horned-helmets? We blame this misconception on 19th-century European artists who added horns to the warrior’s helmets to make their paintings more dramatic. Popular culture continues to reinforce this myth today.
Vikings: Beyond the Legend
Melbourne Museum, 11 Nicholson Street, Carlton
Exhibition continues to 26 August 2018
Admission fees apply
For more information, visit: www.museumsvictoria.com.au for details.
Image: courtesy of Museums Victoria