Vikings—also known as Norsemen—were sailors who lived hundreds of years ago, but their legacy lives on to this day. One of their lasting impacts was the image we have when we think about these men and women. Something that comes to mind is their height and general appearance. For many people, what comes to mind might be a tall warrior ready to pillage and conquer. But is that image correct?
How Tall Was the Average Viking?
Surprisingly, the average Vikings were not remarkably tall compared to today’s standard. The average Viking male in the Middle Ages was about 5’6” (167 cm) with the average female being 5’1”(154 cm), based on archeological findings.
Who Were the Vikings?
The Vikings were people who came from present-day Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, also known as Scandinavia. The Vikings were seafaring warriors who would raid and colonize all throughout Europe for more than 200 years, all throughout the 9th through 11th centuries.
Even today, the Viking impact from centuries ago is seen throughout Europe, from the names of our days in English, to the architecture seen throughout their conquered lands, as well as long-lasting trade routes made throughout the continent.
While the Viking men were out at sea, the women were at home in Scandinavia, living with far more freedoms than their European counterparts. Viking women were able to own their own land and tended to the land while their husbands were away, and inherit that land. Some women even dressed like the men, wielded swords, and could divorce their husbands.
How Tall Were the Vikings?
At 5 feet 6 inches, Vikings weren’t overwhelmingly tall for their time. (Though, some sources say they may have been slightly taller, perhaps up to 5 feet 9 inches.) So, why do many think the Vikings were so tall? This could be due to a few reasons:
- Some people may believe that Vikings were tall because today’s modern-day Scandanavians are, on average, almost 5”11’ (180 cm), and are the Vikings’ closest descendants.
- The average Viking during the Middle Ages was actually shorter than the modern day man. However, the reason they might be depicted as tall all comes down to perspective.
For instance, the research by Richard Steckel, an economics professor from OSU, indicated that “heights decreased from an average of 68.27 inches (173.4 centimeters) in the early Middle Ages to an average low of roughly 65.75 inches (167 cm) during the 17th and 18th centuries.” Though humans have gotten taller throughout history, Europeans living in the 1600s and 1700s measured about 5’4” at that time, and thus were two inches shorter than the Vikings who lived several hundred years before them.
- There was a prominent Viking leader and chieftain known as “Thorkell the Tall”. There’s not too much information regarding how tall he actually was, but the name itself may give people a reason to believe Vikings were exceptionally tall.
- The Vikings traveled quite far from their homeland, and it’s therefore possible that when they had encountered people from different places, that they were taller comparatively.
- The Vikings were powerful, and it’s not uncommon to see powerful groups of people depicted in art as being taller and stronger compared to those they were conquering.
Would the Vikings Be Considered Tall Today?
With the average Viking male being about 5’6”, this is slightly below today’s average and even lower than the average for Scandinavian men today. But, if you’re wondering where you stand compared to Vikings, you can see how you measure up. There’s a chance you might be able to say, “I’m taller than the Vikings!”
Emily is a freelance writer and teacher. Originally from New York, Emily now lives and works in Europe.