The Vikings are identified by many things. The most common depiction of them today is with the horn helmets and drinking horns. The issue is that the current description of who Vikings is not entirely accurate. In the same way, Vikings are not just brute and ruthless warriors always seeking out war, they also did not wear horn helmets. As for the drinking horns, that may be a different story.
But considering the ambiguity that surrounds the existing information on Vikings, it is only natural to question the truth in every fact you read about them. This includes whether or not Vikings drank from horns. This post will focus on exploring this fact. It will also look at why they used drinking horns and whether it was their invention.
Did Vikings Drink From Horns
Yes, the Vikings indeed drank from horns but they never wore helmets that contained horns. It is said that the Vikings would use the entire animal. They would use the meat for food, hide for clothes, bones for jewelry, and inscription and horns for drinking mead, water, and milk.
There are several traces of horn found in burial mounds that existed in the Viking Age. Most of these graves belonged to females, probably because they were the ones responsible for making and serving the mead. There are at least twenty whole or parts of drinking horns preserved in the NTNU University Museum’s collection. The oldest ones date as far back as the early and late Iron Age up to the Viking Age. Those from the late middle ages are normally well preserved because they were passed down through generations and not buried in the soil.
The drinking horns were art pieces with varying beautiful decorations. The horns often feature wide metallic fitting – often brass – at the mouth of the horn and at times at the bottom. The horn may also have the inscription of runes which were later replaced by Latin letters in the middle ages. During the medieval time, the horns were considered memory horns used to honor the deceased, similar to the Iron Ages. The difference is that in this period, the honor was for dead Christian figures as opposed to Odin and Thor.
The drinking horns used were mainly made from animal horns, most probably farm animals. This means that the horns weren’t more than 1 liter. But why animal horns? That is because, in the past, people had to do what they needed to survive. Sometimes food or game wasn’t enough and so they used up every bit of the animal as possible including the horns. The Vikings mostly used farm animals like goats and ram because they were the most available to them.
Why Did Vikings Drink From Horns?
Initially, the use of drinking horns was mere because they were popularized cups for drinking beverages. There was nothing more to it, but as the Vikings interacted through trade with different cultures like the Greeks, the mysticism of the drinking horn and the mead grew stronger in the Viking culture. Now families would pass down horns to the next generation. Some families would even add their inscriptions to the horn to increase its mystique and value. This tradition was for the living, the relation between the drinking horn and the dead was a completely different thing.
Despite modern depictions, women were the ones who were buried with drinking horns and not men or warriors. That is because women were the ones who served the mead so they were the ones who held them. According to Viking beliefs, drinking horns were also a token from Valkyries to the fallen warriors to welcome their souls to Valhalla. As such it was believed that only the truest and bravest warriors deserved to receive the drinking horn that would let them into Odin’s hall. This connection between the horn and the afterlife only grew stronger over the years leading to the popular connection between drinking horns and Viking warriors in pop culture.
Drinking Horns – A Viking Invention?
Today when you picture a drinking horn or hear the term, you can’t help but visualize a Viking holding one. That is how closely connected the Vikings are to drinking horns, so, it would make sense that they were the ones who invented the drinking horn. But that is not the case.
The Vikings were not the first nor were they the last to use the Drinking horns. Many other cultures including the Greeks and Scythians were also known to use the drinking horns. Even Early Christians used the drinking horns at some point in history. The truth of the matter is that there is no certain known time for when the drinking on was first adopted, or who invented its use in the first place. We could just say that its use evolved as a necessity of survival and later developed into a popular drinking vessel.
What is known is that the use of drinking horns was especially popular between 2,500 and 2,600 years ago. Its use can date as far back as 450 BCE or earlier, where Greek pottery depicts a deity drinking from a horn. In 900 BCE, there were nomadic people in present-day Siberia who also created a rich culture around using drinking horns. Some cultures would use real animal horns like the Vikings or Greek. Others would fashion them from wood or precious metals like gold and silver.
Interesting Facts About Viking Drinking Horns
The following are five main interesting facts about the Vikings and their Drinking horns:
It is a 2,000+-year-old tradition
The Vikings have been known to use these horns for over 2,600 years now. They were mostly used as practical drinking utensils, although on some occasions they were used for rituals and ceremonies. Although the drinking horns are tied to the Vikings, they may have existed long before the Vikings even discovered their use.
It was used due to the Viking’s habit to use the whole animal
The idea of never wasting game or food is an ancient one that dates further back than the Vikings. It is possible that the use of drinking horns was incorporated into the Viking culture due to older cultures before theirs trying to utilize all parts of the animal.
It was passed down through generations
As the mystique and value of the drinking horn grew among Vikings, it became a tradition to pass them down through generations. The horns became family heirlooms and important ceremonial items as well as symbols of prestige. As such, most of the inscriptions on the horns were of the families they belonged to, or who it was passed on to, or an emblem of the family.
It was considered the cup of fun
This is because of several reasons. One of them has to do with the strong connection between drinking horns and wine or mead. The horns were often associated with alcohol and revelry. The drinking horn was also seen as the key into Valhalla, where the slain warriors would feast and be merry.
It was believed to be from the gods
Aside from being a culinary item, the Viking drinking horn was used as a ceremonial symbol to praise the divine. They were seen as symbols of abundance and also of life.
To sum it up, the Vikings did drink from horns that were primarily made of animal horns, specifically farm animals. The horns started as simple cups and later became important family heirlooms passed down through generations. This was a practice that existed for over 2,000 years, still, it doesn’t mean that the Vikings were the ones who invented the drinking horn, many cultures before and after them also incorporated it. The horn, however, wasn’t the only item used for drinking, the Vikings also used cups and bowls, the horns were simply a popular option.