Norse Viking Soap

The Honor and Hygiene of Vikings

Wash day – Laugardagr

Personal hygiene was especially important to the ancient Vikings. So much, in fact, that they named their Saturday “Laugardagr” – Wash Day.

When the Byzantine Empire accepted a truce with Swedish Vikings in the year 907, it was on the condition that Vikings could access the Byzantine public bathhouses.

Starting Wash Day with a sweat

It was common practice many places in the Nordics to start laugardagr with a trip the sauna. After sweating in the sweltering heat, the Vikings would hop into large wooden tubs and soap up, top to bottom.

The water in these tubs wasn’t exactly heated and would be refreshingly cold after sitting in the sauna.

Once lathered with soap, the Vikings thoroughly cleaned every nook and cranny of their bodies, focusing particularly on hair and beards. Tools such as tweezers, nail cleaners, combs, and ear picks were part of this process.

Fashionable haircuts and beards

Hair and beards had to be trimmed and taken care of after a long bath. Haircuts were serious business to the Vikings.

There are numerous archeological findings of combs and scissors from the graves of fallen Vikings. Names such as Sweyn Forkbeard and Harald Fairhair bear witness to how important hair and beards were to the Viking.

The Viking equivalent of a bathroom closet was found at an excavation in Randers, Denmark: a table with a bowl for washing, scissors, comb, and a mirror. Another testament to the importance of personal hygiene and appearance.

Haircuts

Fashion trends changed often for the Vikings, but we’ve discovered some of their popular haircuts from archeological sites.

The most common haircut was simple shoulder-length hair, combed daily. Another fashionable style was longer top and bangs and shaven neck, as seen in the TV-show “Vikings”.

Trimming and combing beards was also important, as one wouldn’t want to appear unkempt.

Symbolism in the Viking Age

Not washing one’s hair in soap and water was a typical sign of grief among Vikings.

According to Viking legend, When the god Baldr was killed his brother Váli refused to wash his hair or hands until he had avenged him.

Makeup

Believe it or not, but the rugged Vikings actually wore makeup. The Moorish trader al-Tartushi wrote of his visit to the Viking city Hedeby around the year 1000 and noted that both men and women wore eyeshadow.

According to him, this made them appear younger and prettier.

However, despite these records there has been no sign of makeup in excavations in and around Hedeby.

Whether or not Vikings decorated their bodies with tattoos is also disputed. According to another traveler, Ibn Fadlan, the Vikings he encountered near the river Volga sported dark green patterns and trees all over their bodies. No other sources can confirm his claims, however.

viking hygiene vasker hendenePeople were smelly in medieval times

As the days passed, even Vikings would start smelling worse. Their homes had open fireplaces which meant the smell of smoke would stick to skin, hair, and clothes.

One end of their homes served as a pen for livestock, and the smell from being around these animals would be hard to avoid.

That said, compared to the average European who only bathed a couple of times a year, the Vikings smelled quite nice.

WASHING AND LAUNDRY GO HAND IN HAND

We know, both from Arabic and English sources, that the Vikings also took good care of their clothing.

Since Vikings didn’t own a lot of different outfits, they did their laundry regularly. Presumably on Wash Day.

While the Viking bathed in a tub, his wife or a thrall would wash their clothes and dry them as much as they could. Woolen underwear would take a long time to dry, while a linen tunic and pants would dry faster.

PUBLIC BATHS IN THE VIKING ERA

Iceland had large outdoor pools with warm water from the famous hot springs, where Vikings of all ages and genders would meet to discuss worldly matters. In the Laxdæla Saga, the cunning Kjartan makes sure he attends the local pool at the same time as the beautiful Gudrun whom he adores.

Aron’s saga states that the city of Trondheim had a bath with two rooms, with space enough for fifty men each. In Sverris’ saga, it is written that many of king Sverri’s warriors were in this bath when the city was attacked.

Unfortunately, neither of these two sagas tell us whether women were allowed access to these public bathhouses or not.

 

Source: Bladet Historie.

Viking washing with vikingsoap