Unfortunately, there has never been found a body that has been so well preserved that the skin is intact. Unless we are lucky enough to find a frozen tattooed Viking somewhere in the mountains, we will never have definitive proof. To this day, there has only been found skeletons or ash, which leaves no evidence if a Viking were tattooed or not. But we have some historical texts from the Viking age, that gives us some indications.
One of main sources which often is being used when people discuss this topic is a book from the 10th century, by the Arabic diplomat Iban Fadlan. He went traveling north, not to Scandinavia, he did not even step foot in Scandinavia not even close, in fact, it was more than 2000 km away (more than 1200 miles). He traveled from the Caliphate capital in Baghdad to Volga, which is in present-day Russia. And while he was at Volga, he met the ”Rus people”, this group of people has long been thought of as being Viking traders from Scandinavia.
Description of Viking Tattoos
Iban Fadlan describes their appearances, quote: Never have I seen a people with a more perfect body than them. They are tall like palm trees, with blond hair and ruddy skin. From fingertips to their neck, each of them has a collection of trees, figures and the like. It is the last part that is by some is thought of as being evidence that the Vikings were tattooed. However the Arabic diplomat does not mention it as tattoos, it could be something that was painted on their skin. In some translations of his book, he writes that their figures on their body are dark green. This color would probably not have been a typical color to make tattoos with it the Viking age. It would presumably have been gray or black colors made from ash or charcoal.
Description of Viking Fashion
Iban Fadlan keeps describing their appearances, quote: The men neither wears tunics nor kaftans. But the men wear a garment which covers one side of their body and leaves a hand free. Each man has an ax, a sword, and a knife, and keeps each with him at all times. Each woman wears on either breast a box of iron, silver, copper, or gold; the value of the box indicates the wealth of the husband. Each box has a ring, in which there is a knife. The women wear neck-rings of gold and silver. Because when a man owns ten thousand dirhems (An Arabic currency) he makes a necklace for his wife.
When he has twenty thousand dirhem, he makes two necklaces. And in that way, the wife gets a new necklace for every ten thousand dirhems that the man increases his fortune with. Because of this some of them often has many necklaces around their neck. Their most prized ornaments are green glass beads of sand, which is on their ships. They try their best to get hold of them, they buy a bead for a dirhem and tie the beads together for necklaces to their women.
Vikings had a Good Hygiene
We know from excavations that the Vikings thought very much about their appearances, they were clean, stylish and in good shape. They used combs, tweezers and even ear cleaners. Some of them might have chosen to decorate their body with tattoos with beautiful patterns or with devotions to the Gods. I think it would probably have been the same motives as they used to decorate their items.
Tattoo art has been known in Scandinavia, there has been found tattoo needles from the Bronze age in Denmark. While this is many hundred years before the Viking age, it could still have been in use. Everyone would probably not have gotten a tattoo, just like today. It might have been a subculture within the society, and some might have liked it and some not. The Vikings have also met other societies while traveling, we know they met the Celts who were definitely tattooed and the Picts at the Scottish border.
There is no proof if Vikings were Tattooed
If the Vikings had or didn’t have tattoos is still an unanswered question, that I was not able to answer. Future excavations and better technology to conduct these excavations by the archaeologists, might one day solve this riddle.
Regardless of the answer, it should not hold you back if you want some Viking tattoos. The Vikings were a curious society, that is why they explored and traveled the world, and I am sure if they had the ability to get a tattoo back then, some of them would probably have gotten it. You should also not be afraid to use runes or Norse symbols, just because some groups use them in an unacceptable way. Be proud of your inheritance, and don’t be afraid to show it.