The Scandinavian warriors known as Vikings were known to take to the seas to conquer, pillage, and plunder. Talented shipbuilders and sailors, Vikings colonized large swaths of Europe in the period between the 9th and 11th centuries.
Numerous books and movies have centered on Vikings and their culture and many people wonder what these powerful seafaring warriors might have looked like, including the question of whether Vikings had dreadlocks.
After all, we’ve all seen the TV shows where many Vikings appear to have elaborate braids or long, flowing locks – male or female. But on the question of Viking dreads, historical sources have something to say about that.
Did Vikings have dreadlocks?
Vikings did not create or keep written records, so the question of whether or not Vikings had dreadlocks cannot be answered using original sources from people within that culture. That said, many cultures Vikings interacted with did keep written records, which is how we know today that Vikings did indeed wear their hair in dreadlocks.
The Romans created many accounts of Viking encounters, and described their hair as being “like snakes.” Most of the information historians use to learn about Viking hairstyles comes from carvings, statues, and ancient texts.
What we can assume about Viking hairstyles is that they were likely far removed from the depictions we see today in movies and television shows. The Vikings did not have access to the advanced hair care products, synthetic extensions, and teams of professionals it takes to create the Viking dreads we see in dramatic productions.
You may also be interested in: Did Viking Face Paint Exist? (The Historical Truth)
Did Vikings have dreadlocks or braids?
Researchers believe that Vikings may have worn both braids and dreadlocks. Interestingly, it appears that the hairstyle chosen by individual Viking men and women may have had more to do with their class and profession than their aesthetic preferences.
That is, historical evidence suggests that younger Viking women may have worn braids. However, the men seemed to favor dreadlocks or other hairstyles, not any form of braids.
There is also evidence on what Vikings looked like to support that some Viking men wore their hair short, at least in the back, while others may have had shoulder-length hair they brushed back and secured with silk or metal ties and ornaments.
When did Vikings start wearing dreadlocks?
There is no clear timeline for when the Vikings embraced specific hairstyles. These seafaring warriors were known to travel throughout Europe and beyond between the 9th and 11th century, and formed bands spurred on by strong leaders.
The word “Viking” comes from a Scandinavian word that means “pirate.” They were known and feared for their habits of burning, plundering, and pillaging the areas where they landed.
The Vikings who were focused on warfare may have worn their hair short in the back to make it easier to wear protective helmets. Some sources suggest they kept a long fringe in the front. That longer hair may have been coiled into dreadlocks by Vikings to make it easier to keep off the face while not wearing a helmet.
Other accounts suggest they let their hair grow long because they would travel for lengthy periods of time. Allowing their hair to naturally mat into ropy dreadlocks may have made it easier to manage, and to keep away from the face during combat.
And to add to the overall Viking look…check out Did Vikings Wear Makeup?
Did Vikings have dreads first?
The first civilization with a recorded history of dreadlocks is the Minoan Civilization, a group that dates back to 1500 BCE in Crete, an area now within Greece. However, Hindu Vedic texts from around 1700 BCE also mention “matted” hair.
Further complicating matters is the fact that bas relief sculpture from ancient Egypt also depicts pharaohs wearing a dreadlock-type hairstyle, well before the Viking dreadlocks would have made an appearance. There’s also the common-sense presumption that the cavemen likely were not paying close attention to their hair, and that matted hair was a “style” long before hair was intentionally styled at all.
The issue of who wore dreadlocks first has become something of a controversial subject. In recent years there has been an ongoing conversation about whether wearing one’s hair in dreadlocks is a form of cultural appropriation. Since there is so much evidence that multiple cultures embraced some form of dreadlocks, and no way to determine the exact origins of this style, many people believe that wearing dreads is perfectly acceptable for people of a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
Did the Vikings invent dreadlocks?
While the exact origins of dreadlocks may never be definitively proven, there’s enough evidence in the historical and archeological record to determine that Vikings did not invent dreadlocks.
Besides Minoan, Egyptian, and Hindu accounts of this hairstyle, it also seems clear that Germanic tribes and even early Christians may have worn their hair in matted, rope-like textures. Pacific Islanders, Somalis, the Massai, and New Guineans are also known to wear dreadlocks.
It should also be noted that the look and feel of dreadlocks is not standard among all cultures. Dreads can differ based on numerous factors, including the texture and thickness of the person’s hair, the humidity of the area, and many other personal and environmental factors.
What did Vikings call dreadlocks?
Because the Vikings did not create or maintain written records, there is no clear understanding of what they might have called their dreadlocks. Written records from cultures that encountered the Vikings do mention “snake-like,” roped hair and coiled hair, but there is no specific name mentioned.
Were Viking dreadlocks special?
Without photographic evidence or the existence of art from the period that clearly shows Vikings wearing dreadlocks, it’s difficult to determine whether their dreads were any more special or different than the deadlock styles favored by other cultures.
What is known about the Vikings is that they sometimes used lye or other substances to stain or bleach their hair to a lighter shade. Since there were many red haired Vikings along with the more typical blonde ones we see today in pop culture, bleaching would have created a distinct and memorable dreadlocks appearance.
Virtually all hair will naturally mat and form dreadlocks if left alone for a period of time. The appearance of those dreads will differ based on how carefully they are groomed and how long they are allowed to grow. There is no question that the Vikings had dreadlocks that were different in texture from those of African and Indian origins (although recent studies and historical sources suggest that there were also Black Vikings, whose hair was likely of a different texture from those Vikings who were genetically Northern European).
Were dreadlocks important to the Vikings?
It’s important to note that historical and archeological evidence suggests that Vikings paid close attention to their grooming. While modern pop culture depictions of Vikings would have you believe they were unkempt and rather rough around the edges in appearance, the evidence supports the use of combs and a preference for well-groomed beards and hair.
An old Norse myth talks about the god Odin and his emotional distress after losing his son. The tale goes on to say that Odin was so distraught after the death that he refused to comb or wash his hair for many days. This suggests that regular hygiene included cleaning and grooming hair.
There’s also the matter of the impressions various hairstyles made. Just as we choose how to wear our hair based on the impression we’d like to make on others, there’s no reason to think that the Vikings, with dreads or otherwise, didn’t also consider how their appearance would be perceived.
Long, thick dreadlocks were no doubt intimidating to the residents of the coastal areas where Vikings wreaked havoc, especially when combined with the traditional Viking tattoos it’s believed they had. The Vikings having dreadlocks might have been an intentional part of creating a lasting impression as they traveled far and wide.
Where Viking dreads for females, too?
Some historians believe that unmarried Viking girls may have worn dreadlocks for special formal occasions or festivals. Other descriptions sound more like braids than dreadlocks, and mention accessories worn in the hair along with the special style.
Either way, it appears that younger Viking women let their hair grow long, sometimes so long that it could be tucked into their belts. Leaving their hair loose or in braids could signify their unmarried status.
Once a Viking female was married, evidence supports the shift to wearing her hair in a twist or knot at the top of her head. That bun might be left plain, or covered with a small hood or cap. The more ornate this covering, the greater the wealth of her husband.
There is also evidence of Viking women wearing their hair in ponytails. This style would have been convenient and practical while moving through daily tasks, exactly like it is today.
Did Celtic dreadlocks influence Viking dreads?
Vikings are known to have lived in the area of Northern Europe we now call Scandinavia. The Celts were their relatively close neighbors to the south. As Viking culture is largely centered on voyaging and exploring, there is no reason to believe that Vikings didn’t have significant interactions with Celtic peoples.
Celtic dreadlocks are a bit different. Known as “fairy-locks” or “elflocks,” this hairstyle seems to have been made from a combination of tangles and knots.
Celtic folklore talks about fairy-locks developed when fairies visited sleeping Celts to tie knots within their hair. It was said to be bad luck to comb these tangles and knots out.
While there is no clear evidence to say that the Vikings picked up their hairstyle from the Celts, or vice versa, it seems reasonable to assume that each culture took note of the appearance of members of the other.
It is also reasonable to assume that dreadlock-type styles may have developed simultaneously due to the relative ease of allowing hair to become matted over time. Dreadlocks may have also served practical purposes within every culture in which this style is documented.
Final thoughts on Viking dreadlocks
In any culture where there wasn’t a focus on writing down records or creating artwork depicting their lives (at least not any that has survived until today), it’s always difficult to say definitively anything about that culture relating to appearance.
Fortunately, there are some other groups that provide us with an indication of whether Vikings had dreads. While the Vikings themselves haven’t shed a lot of light on this subject, we can thank those who encountered the Vikings – even if they weren’t thrilled about it at the time, I’m sure, given the Vikings’ less-than-welcoming reputation – for discussing the topic, at least to a point.
This means that while there may not be a completely certain answer to the question of whether Viking dreadlocks were really a thing or not, there are some solid suggestions that they were – and, surprisingly, perhaps even more than the over the top braids we often see Vikings wear on screen today.