The word “Viking” entered the Modern English language in 1807, at a time of growing nationalism and empire building. In the decades that followed, enduring stereotypes about Vikings developed, such as wearing horned helmets and belonging to a society where only men wielded high status.
During the 19th century, Vikings were praised as prototypes and ancestor figures for European colonists. The idea took root of a Germanic master race, fed by crude scientific theories and nurtured by Nazi ideology in the 1930s. These theories have long been debunked, although the notion of the ethnic purity of the Vikings still seems to have popular appeal – and it is embraced by white supremacists.
In contemporary culture, the word Viking is generally synonymous with Scandinavians from the ninth to the 11th centuries. We often hear terms such as “Viking blood,” “Viking DNA” and “Viking ancestors” – but the medieval term meant something quite different to modern usage. Instead it defined an activity: “Going a-Viking”. Akin to the modern word pirate, Vikings were defined by their mobility and this did not include the bulk of the Scandinavian population who stayed at home. Read more.