Few cultures are surrounded by the same level of lore and speculation as the Vikings are. We know them as fierce pagan warriors who changed the face of a continent, but what about the more minor details? Viking makeup is a fascinating topic that we wish we had more information based on fact.
Recent dramatizations of Viking culture raised questions about what they wore on their faces and why. Below, we do our best to answer those questions.
What Do We Know about Vikings and Makeup?
In all honesty, the answer is very little. Very few artifacts have ever surfaced that resemble brushes, templates, or pots that could have been for the application or storage, and there is not much mention of the topic in historical accounts.
What we can be sure of is that the Vikings took pride in their appearances and were exceptionally well-groomed. That said, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they made themselves up somehow, especially when they went to fight.
Without physical evidence, we must speculate based on theory and other available information. Here are three mays that the Vikings possibly used makeup, based on written accounts, reports, and a fair bit of guesswork surrounding the mysterious culture.
Eye Makeup in Battle
One image that has become popularly associated with Vikings is bold, dark, and dramatic eye makeup. It is believed they used kohl- a powder made from various ground down natural elements. Most likely it included crushed ash, lead, ochre, and antimony.
Wearing this type of eye makeup in battle was probably a sign of ferocity to frighten enemies.
It is also believed that the Vikings used this kohl mixture as face paint. They may have used it to cover more of their face and eyes to protect them from the glare of the sun or possibly as part of a ritual.
From what we know about Vikings, they liked bright colors and intricate details in their appearance, so the heavy black face paint was probably not for beauty purposes.
One written account of the Vikings suggests they were heavily tattooed. Sadly, it is impossible to know for sure since the skin does not fair well over 1000 years.
If the Vikings did have ink, they were likely to be Norse symbols very similar to the ones carved into wooden objects found at the time.
The travel diary entries of a famous 10th Century traveler talk about the Vikings being covered in tats over most of their bodies. Although there is no physical evidence of this, it seems likely and in line with much of what we know about the culture.
What is also interesting is the colors mentioned. The traveler said they were dark green and blue, so they most likely made ink using ash.
Did Viking Women wear Makeup for Beauty?
There is very little to suggest that women wore anything on their faces for beauty purposes at the time of the Vikings. Power and bravery were far more attractive, which is what the eyeliner, paint, and tattoos were meant to represent.
What Evidence Has Influenced These Historic Beliefs?
Sadly, there are no videos from the times of the Vikings giving us a tutorial telling us how to get their look (although there are some pretty great modern tutorials based on looks from the popular series Vikings!). Instead, we get far more information from the few accounts of those times and the broader understanding of who the Vikings were and what they looked like.
We know from the many hair tools, tags, beads, and other hair accessories that they used appearance as a sign of status, wealth, and power. It is possible that some of the cosmetic items they had back then were used for similar purposes.
Final Thoughts on Vikings and Makeup
Without more information, it is difficult to know exactly where the Vikings stood on makeup and how they used it.
From the evidence and understanding gathered so far about this fascinating culture, it is clear that appearance mattered to them, and they took pride in how they presented themselves.
Anyone looking to recreate some possible Viking looks should be looking for a good smoky black liner and smudging brush. A fine-point brush is also handy for creating more dramatic shapes. There are some great videos to watch on YouTube. Personalized with more information and tips on how to get the Lagertha, Loki, or Lothbrok look.
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