The Beard Struggle

Viking Shield-maidens

Author: Jonathan Adcox

Published at: Mar 29, 2020

Hervor - Viking Shield-maiden

Vikings throughout history have been enthralled in legend. Popular modern conceptions depict them as a people who specialized in advanced sailing and navigational skills as well as being notorious savage warriors. They had a reputation for being the “Bad Boys” of the medieval world. According to National Geographic, when we say "Vikings," we think of any inhabitant of the medieval Nordic world. However, Viking literally means raider; it’s a job title. As such, it is not hard to think that with all this fame and notoriety to be had that there would not be a few women — or shieldmaidens — who would come down through history as fierce warriors.


In his Danish History, the medieval scholar Saxo Grammaticus describes Viking women who “dressed themselves to look like men, and devoted almost every instant of their lives to the pursuit of war.” These vicious Shield-maidens or (Old Norse: skjaldmær) were offering out bloodshed rather than kisses.

You have seen tales of their heroism throughout your life on the big screen and in Viking Sagas. Most notably is the tale of Hervor, who led her own fleet and did battle with the dead in pursuit of a magic sword. This was the main inspiration of J. R. R. Tolkien famous Shield-maiden Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings.

Historical Shield-maidens

Historically speaking Viking women were granted the same rights as men. could own and inherit land; they could choose to divorce their husbands; oaths to them were as binding as to a man; and they had many other legal protections.

Varangian Shield-maidens

The Byzantine historian John Skylitzes records that women fought in battle when Sviatoslav I of Kiev attacked the Byzantines in Bulgaria in 971. When the Varangians (not to be confused with the Byzantine Varangian Guard) had suffered a devastating defeat in the Siege of Dorostolon, the victors were stunned to discover armed women among the fallen warriors.

Swedish Shield-maiden

Near Birka, Sweden in 1880, the burial mound of a Viking leader was discovered, complete with a magnificent array of weapons and the remains of two sacrificed horses.  In 2017, the remains of the “Birka Warrior” were reexamined; and the suspicions of astute researchers were confirmed through DNA evidence – the remains are of a female.

The Tale of Hervor – Shield-maidens of Legend

Hervor Viking shieldmaiden who could summon the dead

In the Norse sagas, we see women portrayed as being just as courageous, wise, cunning, well-spoken, and respected as men.  An example of this is Hervor the daughter of a Viking Prince.

As a girl she was not interested in the things most girls were interested in that resembled a basic lady’s life. Instead, she ran away to become a pirate. When she grew into a woman and Captain of her own ship she arrived at a haunted island where she encountered the ghost of her dead father. He was guarding and enchanted sword known as Tyrfing. This sword would guarantee the wielder victory in any battle. She captured the sword despite her deceased fathers refusal saying “No woman could handle this sword or withstand the ring of fire that surrounded it” but Hervor proved him wrong and became the most fearsome and beloved Shield-maidens of the sea.

Stephanie, is the partner of Dan Zigler (Danzbeard) and assists him in promoting The Beard Struggle. She works as a fitness trainer and is showcased in the Featured image below.

 Dan and Stephanie

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