Viking-inspired tattoo designs are amongst the most popular styles of all. Sporting a Viking tattoo can make a person feel as strong as the legendary Norse warriors from all those centuries ago.
One of the best ways to display stunning artwork fit for a Viking warrior is in a full or partial sleeve. Men and women can rock this look, causing more of a storm than Thor and his hammer.
In this ultimate guide to Viking tattoos for men and women, Viking sleeve tattoos, and beyond, we explore Viking symbolism and the art of Nordic tradition that can inspire your tattoo design.
We also look into some more modern takes on Viking tattoos for men and women and answer questions about the history and culture of Norse tattoo art.
Traditional Viking Tattoos: Key Symbols from Norse Mythology and What They Mean
Choosing a Viking tattoo can be purely about the aesthetics, but it can also represent much deeper meanings. Something Norse mythology has no shortage of is symbolic imagery.
Using traditional Viking images with symbolic meaning as part of a sleeve can really help take things to the next level- making it more meaningful and impressive.
The list of possible symbols and images you could use in traditional Viking tattoos is long, but some stand out. Here are some of the must-know emblems worthy of Viking warriors.
Viking Ship Tattoo
Many a Viking traveled halfway around in their iconic wooden longboats- arguably the most instantly recognizable image from the entire Viking empire.
A Viking ship tattoo can be a bold standalone piece of ink art or the central focus of a larger sleeve design based on the idea of the sea or storms.
A ship tattoo can represent many things relating to the greatest adventurers of all time:
- The journey through life
- Pioneering and looking to the future
- Longing for adventure
- The afterlife
Boats were integral parts of how the Norsemen lived, explored, fought, and provided for their families. They even used them as their burial vessels to take their final journey.
The longboat is a great place to start if you want something meaningful in your Viking sleeve tattoo.
Viking Helmet Tattoo
Right up there beside the longboat at the top of the Viking totem is the helmet. Who doesn’t think of the horned helmet when they picture a fierce Norse warrior?
The symbolism behind most armor tattoos is mainly related to protection and going to battle.
If you want to create a sleeve based around the Viking helmet, consider carrying through the battle gear theme. An axe tattoo together with the helmet is a fierce look.
Viking Raven Tattoo
Most people automatically associate ravens with bad omens and even death, but there is a lot more to these shadowy birds than that. The raven is one of the most important images in Norse mythology and has close ties to the ultimate Viking god: Odin.
Traditionally, Viking tattoos featuring the raven were meant to honor Odin. Viking warriors believed that ravens were messengers from Odin, sent to bring prophecy, protection, and guidance.
Slain warriors were supposedly comforted by ravens on their passing to Valhalla.
A Viking tattoo sleeve could be considered incomplete without some nod to the raven.
If you want to dig deeper into Viking tattoo ideas and learn more about specific raven symbolisms, read this great article on Norse-Mythology.org about Odin’s two divine ravens, Huginn and Muninn.
Viking Wolf Tattoo
Wolf imagery is common in Viking tattoos for men and women. The most famous Viking wolf is Fenrir: son of Loki and father of all wolves. No Viking tattoo sleeve is at full ferocity without an appearance by this legendary mythical creature.
If you are solely interested in how to come up with the best Viking tattoos featuring a wolf, then stick with us. Those who want to learn a little more about the mythology and background of Fenrir can find it on Wikipedia before continuing.
Wolves appear throughout the Viking saga- usually concerning the idea of a powerful Norse warrior. However, they represent many things within the culture:
Depending on the style of wolf image you choose for your Viking tattoo, you can choose to represent the positive or negative connotations.
The way you bulk out your sleeve around the wolf image makes a huge difference to the message it will convey.
Think about how it works in connection with other symbols that you may be considering. A raven and a wolf together is an omen of success in Norse mythology.
The snarling Fenrir combined with a skull or fire gives a far more menacing aesthetic.
Viking Axe Tattoo
An axe symbol represents more than just the early Norsemen’s’ favorite weapon, although it is a must to include in a Viking warrior tattoo sleeve.
The axe is one of the most iconic items in the entire era and legacy of the Vikings: it was their signature weapon, and they were famed for their skills when using it.
In a Viking tattoo, the axe of a Viking warrior can represent battle, but it is also a symbol of bravery and personal strength. A Nordic tattoo featuring an axe can represent the idea that no obstacle can stand in your way because your mind, heart, and soul can cut through every barrier.
Viking Compass Tattoo
Another staple Norse tattoo packed full of symbolic meaning is the Viking compass. Viking warriors traveled by sea further than any had before them, to western and eastern countries seeking battle and development of their culture.
Most of those ships would have perished in the fierce waters without the early-day compasses created and used.
Although the Vikings did not use compasses as we know them today, the symbols are present in a lot of Nordic tattoos. There are many Viking compass tattoo ideas you can weave into a sleeve design, but the most popular and most traditional is the Vegvisir.
Depending on who you ask, the Vegvisir is or is not a true compass; rather a collection of staffs and Norse runes arranged to protect and guide Viking warriors at sea and in distant lands.
It is more present amongst mythology and the Nordic symbols of Odin than actual Viking history, but it certainly looks great in a sleeve tattoo.
Even if you don’t know the word Valknut, you have probably seen a Valknut tattoo before. They are one of the most popular Viking symbols used in body art because of their simple design and deep meaning.
It is a triple knot consisting of three interlocked triangles- often used as a standalone tattoo design for a discreet, small piece of art, or as part of a sleeve or armband.
Many people choose to include the Valknut in their tattoos without looking into the meaning, because they look pretty cool, but it is worth knowing a little about them first.
To the Vikings, the Valknut was a symbol of fallen warriors. They would tattoo the image on their bodies in honor of someone they lost. Because of this, it is sometimes referred to as the death knot.
There are two main things people a Valknut can make a Viking tattoo symbolize:
- The idea of fearlessness, courage, and acceptance of fate
- To represent and honor the passing of a loved one, much like the Vikings did all those years ago
Viking Rune Tattoo
Viking runes are small symbols that represent divine power in the Norsemen’s religious beliefs. There is a sense of magic that runes carry because of their supposed connection to a higher power.
On the surface, these Viking symbols make pretty and delicate tattoo designs, but they also represent spiritual connection and faith in higher power- in this case, a Viking god or gods.
A rune tattoo can be seen to bring luck, power, protection, fertility, strength, and much more. If you are thinking about including them as part of a sleeve or any other tattoo design, read a little more into what symbols mean what.
Other Symbols and Images
These Nordic symbols make excellent features in a Viking sleeve tattoo, thanks to their deep meanings and dramatic looks. However, traditional imagery and marking are not the only ways to represent your Viking warrior spirit.
Portraits have long since been staple Viking tattoo ideas. Featuring a Viking warrior, a Viking god, or any other figure rocking those Viking vibes surrounded by other Nordic symbols and images is a stunning way to build a sleeve tattoo.
Here are a few alternative options to think about based on the idea of Viking tattoos and portraiture.
Modern Viking Man or Woman
Anyone can be a Viking in modern tattoo designs. Take any face and give it a Viking overhaul with Norse symbols, iconic weaponry and clothing, and more.
You can get creative with these Viking tattoos since they are not necessarily trying to be historically accurate. If you want your Viking woman to have full-glam makeup, then go for it.
Consider, however, what Viking symbols are appropriate for the style you are choosing. Body art is and should always be expressive, but nobody wants to cross the line into offensive, ideally.
Viking Warrior Tattoo
One of the most commonly-requested Viking tattoos for men is a sleeve featuring a fierce Viking warrior. Your Viking warrior tattoo can be as traditional or modern as you want- choosing to draw from historical references or the Norse Gods of modern popular culture and media.
The classic Viking warrior is incomplete without an axe or some sort of battle weaponry. You may also want to create an entire sleeve based on the idea of Viking battle and the warrior.
If you want to get into really intricate designs, why not consider some tattoo inception? Does your Viking warrior tattoo have Viking tattoos of its own?
Viking Berserker Tattoo
Berserkers were extreme- even by Viking standards. Helmets and other armor were optional for these warriors: they went to war with little more to protect them than the powers of Thor and Odin! Think animal skins and war paint for this type of Viking design.
Viking Shieldmaiden Tattoo
The ferocious shieldmaidens of the Viking age are still one of the most hardcore images of all time. These female warriors defined the meaning of girl power and were equals on the battlefield long before most cultures got the hint.
Shieldmaiden Viking tattoos have the same basic principles as the masculine warrior. They should also have their weapons and battle symbols woven into the tattoo design.
Viking Skull Tattoo
Ok, so a skull is not technically a portrait, but it still works well in these types of Viking tattoos. Your dead Viking can still make for some pretty impressive body art- especially when combined with some of the other symbols mentioned in this guide.
Whatever way you look at it, a skull represents death one way or another, but death was something glorious and celebrated in Viking culture. A Viking skull tattoo is best when used as part of a larger sleeve design to create part of a story.
Here are a few possible Viking skull tattoo ideas to serve as possible inspiration:
- Skull ship: Use the skull as the helm of the boat and weave in storm imagery to make the background of the sleeve.
- Helmet-wearing skull: Think Viking left for dead still wearing his horned helmet in the afterlife as he charges through Valhalla.
- Skull with a raven: A raven standing on a skull ties into the idea that Vikings believed Odin welcomes fallen warriors personally. Combined with a Valknut, it could be a tribute to a particular person or the idea of honor in death as a whole.
- Tattooed Viking Skull: Who said skulls can’t have tattoos and beards? Take a classic skull design, give it Viking tattoos, braids, and a beard worthy of a Norse god
Top Tips for Building a Viking Tattoo Sleeve Designs
There is no shortage of possible inspiration when it comes to Viking tattoos. The tougher part is deciding how to bring it all together in one flawless Viking sleeve design.
Let us start by saying: take your time! We are all familiar with that burning urgency to get your new body art on, healed, and on display as soon as possible, but some things are worth planning.
Here are six things to think about when planning Viking tattoo designs (or really any designs) for your sleeve.
Find the Right Tattoo Artist
A tattoo artist can make or break your body art. Shop around and look for someone with experience and understanding of the Viking tattoo culture.
Remember, the style of your tattoo can completely change who is the best choice. Some artists excel in portraiture and realism, while others work better with fine line work and intricate detail. Considering how varied Viking artwork can be, you need to be sure they can handle what you want.
Ideally, you want someone who can work with you on the design of your sleeve and is honest about where their skill set lies. Then, you can begin to collaborate on a masterpiece of a tattoo that all the Vikings in Valhalla can admire.
Pick Your Central Symbol or Symbols
It is easy to get carried away and over-fill a sleeve with too many focus points. Decide what image you want to keep front and center, or what message you want the sleeve tattoo to convey.
You can have more than one main image, for sure, but they have to make sense together. Knowing what symbols are the most important to you can help make it easier when finalizing the tattoo design.
Decide on Placement and Size
When you have an idea of the base for your Viking sleeve tattoo, you can work out where exactly it looks best and what proportions your primary symbols should have.
If you chose Fenrir as your core image, does he look best on the ball of your shoulder facing out or the front or side of your bicep? Longer images such as Viking ships or a raven may lend themselves better to a forearm sleeve.
Getting your Viking tattoo symbols to work together with the shape of your body can end up completely changing your original vision.
Have an open mind going in knowing that the best sleeve tattoo for your shape and symbolic preferences may look a bit different from what you thought you wanted.
Think About the In-Between Areas
You have your images; you have your placement: now, you need to bring it all together. Filling the gaps in a sleeve tattoo is often trickier than working out the primary artwork.
Too many Viking tattoos are ruined by ill-thought-out shading and background work that can detract or distract from the work. Decide going in how solid you want the sleeve to be a.k.a, how much or how little skin you want on show.
Some possible ideas for filling the gaps in Viking tattoos for men or women include:
- Storm clouds (works with most Viking tattoos)
- The sea (behind a boat or compass image)
- Subtle rune symbols (for less solid coverage)
- Lightning (works well with Thor’s hammer)
- Intricate Nordic design work (similar to the hilts of swords and wooden carvings)
In general, Viking tattoos for men tend to be more densely filled than women’s tattoos. Heavier ink tends to look better on bulkier bodies, so bear that in mind when coming up with ideas.
Additionally, heavy shading gets lots more easily on darker skin. Pale people can get away with more background filling because it shows up better, but dark skin doesn’t need it. When you tattoo Viking symbols without any background in certain parts of the sleeve, they stand out more.
To Color or Not to Color?
Bright color is not generally associated with Viking tattoos, but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate it in your sleeve design if you want to.
From what we know or at least believe about the Vikings, tattoos would most likely have been dark blue rather than black because of the natural materials they used to dye the skin.
To that end, if you want a really authentic Viking tattoo, you could consider a navy tone.
Of course, the vast majority of tattoos nowadays are grey scale or with solid black ink and shading. This color scheme works well with the style of the Vikings and the tattoos dedicated to or inspired by them.
Viking Tattoos for Men
Viking tattoos for men are more common and have a lot more source material to choose from. Other than tattoo sleeves, the most popular placements for Viking tattoos for men are:
- Full or upper back tattoo
- Chest tattoo
- Armband tattoos
- Leg sleeve
- Rib sleeve tattoos
Viking tattoos for men represent power, resilience, ferocity, bravery, and also a strong sense of loyalty: all qualities most men hope to posses.
Viking Tattoos for Women
Any Viking tattoos for men can also be adapted to suit women, and all the same symbols apply.
Generally speaking, women love Viking tattoos that lean more on symbolic meaning rather than bold, harsh images. Some of the best Viking tattoo designs for women include:
- Helm of Awe (similar to the Viking compass featuring fine lines and rune symbols that represent protection)
Frequently Asked Questions
Did Vikings really have tattoos?
Popular belief tells us that the Vikings probably did have tattoos. Based on what we know about the culture, imagery and symbolism were part of everyday life.
They adorned their ships and weapons with symbols, so it stands to reason they did the same to their bodies.
Historically, there is only one piece of evidence to back this up: a journal that mentions the Vikings covered from head to toe in tattoos.
What symbols are most popular in Viking sleeve tattoos?
Most sleeve tattoos inspired by the Vikings combine a portrait with iconic images. Some of the most popular choices in Viking tattoos for men include:
- A Viking God
- Vegvisir (the Vikings’ compass)
Are there any Viking images to avoid when looking for tattoo ideas?
Generally speaking, Viking tattoos are pretty safe. However, some images are used by unsavory groups of people, including white supremacists.
Sonnenrad and Triskelion symbols can be seen as racist in some circles, along with Odin’s two ravens.
Viking Tattoos for Men and Women Summed Up
Viking tattoos for men and women are bold, beautiful, and deeply meaningful. The symbols of Viking mythology and history are perfect for body art and connect well with one another to make stunning sleeve tattoos on arms, legs, and rib cages.
Sporting a powerful symbol from the time of the Vikings can help anyone feel strong and fierce.
From Thor’s hammer to the Helm of Awe: the Vikings gave us plenty of tattoo inspiration to work with.