Whilst traditional and even some contemporary depictions of Vikings are often dripping with hypermasculinity, they are simply not historically accurate. Viking societies featured some of the most colorful, powerful, and interesting women of the early medieval period.
One of these illustrious figures is showcased in a modern day-Viking tour by STOEX. To experience her story firsthand, book your tour now.
While her existence as a historical figure is debated among scholars, Lagertha's legend has left an indelible mark on Viking lore and popular culture. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Lagertha: A true Viking Amazon
Whilst she is most famous nowadays as a character (who kicks ass) in the Netflix series Vikings, Lagertha, the mighty Viking queen, has been a staple in entertainment for over a millennium.
The rich tapestry of Norse sagas and myths recounts how Lagertha had been placed in a brothel when a King of Sweden invaded Norway.
The legendary Viking warrior Ragnar Lothbrok (another popular character on Vikings) came to avenge his murdered family and freed Lagertha from this lurid form of captivity.
However, upon gaining her freedom, she decided to take up arms and become a famous shieldmaiden, fighting battles and waging war as good as any man.
In fact, she was more than a match for Lothbrok as she refused his advances for marriage by setting her wild dog and pet bear upon him!
Whilst Lagertha is very much a character steeped in Norse mythology, her story indicates that women could have much more diverse roles in Viking society than the stereotypes we have about them.
Furthermore, the image of her as a fierce and courageous warrior, running into battle wielding a sword or an axe, challenges some very traditional gender roles that were inherent in Viking society – like the Amazons in Greek mythology.
Her bravery and martial skill prove that people in Viking societies revered great warriors, even if they were fictional.
- READ MORE: Women and power in the Viking Age - A primer
A Viking explorer of North America, Freydís Eiríksdóttir was the adventurous daughter of Erik the Red. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Freydís Eiríksdóttir: The intrepid explorer of the unknown
Imagine living in the shadow of your father for more than a millennium.
This is the sad fate of Freydís Eiríksdóttir, who, like her father, Erik the Red, was an avid explorer.
Whilst we all know that it was the Vikings who reached the North American mainland centuries before Christopher Columbus, Freydís, who lived during the 10th century, was (if we believe the Norse sagas) part of this Norse exploration of North America.
Although her father is traditionally believed to have founded the first Norse settlement in Greenland, Freydís went one better, organizing men and supplies to start a colony on Vinland – somewhere on the eastern coastline of Canada.
The sagas depict her as a strong-willed woman who was not only willing to travel across seas and oceans into the unknown but was not without controversy.
She was said to have participated in a massacre of Vinland's local inhabitants, whom the Vikings called Skraelings – but we believe to have been Canadian First Nations people.
Her complex character and exceptional courage – especially when facing the harsh North American wilderness – highlight that Norse women were just as much a part of the expansion of Viking peoples during the early medieval period as men.
- Planning a trip to Stockholm? Book your Viking history tour here!
Through her marriage to Harald Hardrada, Elisiv of Kyiv became a significant link between the Viking world and the Kievan Rus. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Elisiv: The last Viking queen, bridging east and west
The end of the Viking Age is traditionally marked by the death of Harald Hardrada on a battlefield in northern England in 1066.
Despite Hardrada being one of the most capable and feared warriors of his age, it was his wife, Elisiv of Kyiv, who surpassed her husband as being revered not just in one but two countries: Norway and Ukraine.
As the daughter of Yaroslav the Wise, the Grand Prince of the Kievan Rus, she held significant importance.
The Kievan Rus was a medieval multiethnic, multilinguistic, and multireligious state. Many Eastern European countries, including both Russia and Ukraine, trace their ancestry back to it.
Her marriage to the Norwegian King Hardrada solidified the ties between the two medieval polities.
Becoming Queen of Norway in 1046, she served as a vital bridge for cultural exchange between the East and West, connecting the Kievan Rus and Byzantine Empire with the Viking world.
She outlived her husband and witnessed the strengthening of ties between Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, illustrating just how skillful Elisiv was in forging diplomatic ties and constructing cultural bridges.
Astrid Njalsdotter, a pivotal figure in Swedish history, was the matriarch of the Stenkil Dynasty and played a key role in securing its royal lineage. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Astrid Njalsdotter: Skillfully secured a Swedish royal dynasty
Stepping outside the pages of the Norse sagas and into historical reality, the next Viking woman we deal with is Astrid Njalsdotter.
The matriarch of the Stenkil Dynasty, Astrid ruled the Swedish throne in an era when William the Conqueror was invading and destroying Anglo-Saxon England.
Born into nobility, her father was a distant descendant of Norway's first king - Harald Fairhair.
She spent much of her formative years in the courts of the emerging medieval kingdoms of Norway and Sweden during the mid-11th century.
Astrid later appears in the historical record as the Swedish Queen Consort, married to the ill-fated King Emund the Old.
While Emund was not her first husband, his reign was disastrous for Sweden. He caused a religious schism and oversaw policies that led to village uprisings and crop failures.
Emund's oldest son – who would typically be next in line to the throne – died before his father.
This left Emund to anoint Astrid's son (with her first husband), Stenkil, as his sole heir.
Though his reign was short (1060 – 1066), he founded a royal dynasty that would rule Sweden for over a century.
Through her marriage to the King of Sweden, she secured a dynastic legacy for her children and rose from a mere noble's daughter to the ultimate seat of power.
Her life is one full of political machinations, the acquisition of power, and the surprising agency of noble medieval women.
In a society dominated by men, Estrid Sigfastdotter stood out as a wealthy 11th-century Swedish noble, overseeing her family's estates and the creation of runestones. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Estrid Sigfastdotter: Love, power and breaking the patriarchy
Living in a society dominated by men, where women were seldom seen, let alone heard, must have been excruciating for half of the population in Viking societies.
It was even rarer for women to leave behind a historical record that we can read centuries later.
Luckily for us, we have several runestones that were erected by a Viking woman named Estrid Sigfastdotter.
Believed to have been a wealthy and influential 11th-century Swedish noble, her significance and influence lay in the power she amassed in a strictly patriarchal society.
Not only did she manage her family's vast estates and wealth, but she also oversaw the erection of runestones.
One of the most renowned of these runestones was erected in memory of her deceased husband, Östen, who was believed to have traveled to the Byzantine Empire on adventures.
In an era where men's deeds and thoughts often overshadowed those of women, Estrid's capability to manage a vast familial estate and orchestrate such an enduring tribute to her husband highlights her unique and influential position, as well as the strength of her legacy.
If this has piqued your interest in Viking history and you'd like to learn more, why not consider a guided tour with STOEX?
These intimate tours, scenic day trips from Stockholm, Sweden, can help bring the vibrant characters of the Viking era, including Estrid Sigfastdotter, to life.
There's simply no better way to get up close and personal with the Viking Age and delve into the intricacies of Astrid's life than with the passionate staff on a STOEX tour.
This branded article was produced in collaboration with STOEX, a partner of The Viking Herald. You can find out more about their Viking and history tours - and book one - here.
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